NOW ON KINDLE: The Corona Conspiracy: Combatting Disinformation about the Coronavirus
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Books: Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (SUNY, 2003), and The Corona Conspiracy: Combatting Disinformation about the Coronavirus (Kindle, 2020).
Frank Visser brings light and sanity to the miasmal confusion of suspicions and misinformation. (David Quammen, November 23, 2020)
The Million-Dollar Question About COVID-19
The Corona Conspiracy, Part 22
If there is one thing that we really would like to get clarified about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, what would that be?
In the Corona Conspiracy series we've covered a lot of wacky ideas about the pandemic, and introduced many scientific discoveries and advancements in the process. Where does that leave us? If there is one thing that we really would like to get clarified about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19, what would that be? What is the burning question on everybody's mind, even if our opinions sometimes seem to be irreconcilable?
That's the million-dollar question about COVID-19 we will explore in this chapter.
LESS IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
It is not, as we found out, the question: does this new virus actually exist? Though we have met many virus denialists in the previous chapters (Icke, Part 1, Kaufman, Part 2, Lanka, Part 7, Cowan, Part 19), I believe denying its very existence is beyond ridiculous. It takes a massive data-blindness to maintain that "the virus has never been isolated", as the familiar phrase has been among these pre-digital tribes. Not only has SARS-CoV-2 been photographed with exquisite quality pictures, but the full genome of the virus was found within days, by brave Chinese researchers (and made available through a virological online platform before Chinese closed its doors on all communication). Furthermore, in the past twelve months thousands of genomes have been assembled, all over the world, which enabled researchers to track and trace any of the thousands mutations that have happened in the meantime (Part 12). (RNA viruses such as SARS-CoV-2 happen to mutate frequently, that is quite normal).
Is it perhaps the question about the origin of the virus: was it a natural origin, as it jumped from a still unknown animal species to us humans? Or has it escaped from a lab, intentionally or by accident, with the Wuhan Institute of Virology being a prime suspect, if only because it is so close to the supposed epicenter of the pandemic? Is it a Chinese bio-weapon, as some maintain? Is there a way to find out? Conventional scientifists have claimed the viral genome proves the virus had a natural origin, but this has been disputed by renegades claiming the exact opposite (see Part 17). Is the genome of SARS-CoV-2 in any way "suspicious"? This is a very interesting question, not only in an academic sense but also one with future implications, for it determines how we will try to prevent these pandemics from happening again. And yet, perhaps we will never know the answer. A team of scientists is currently actively researching this origin question in China, but twelve months have passed by now, so this might very well be a cold case. Regardless, whatever the origin of the virus, we need to accept that it exists and deal with the consequences.
Then, there is the issue of the PCR test (Part 13), which has been raised again and again by lockdown skeptics. An official retraction request has even been sent to the scientific journal Eurosurveillance, which published a first protocol for this test in record time in January 2020 (see Part 20). Is this test reliable and able to spot the virus in humans? Again, I consider this a foregone conclusion. Dozens and dozens of different PCR tests are now used by various labs all over the world. The very first test might have some shortcomingsafter all, the first pancake always failsbut the scientific community has provided robust means of testing for the presence of this new virus. Can this test be used to diagnose its disease COVID-19? That's an open question to me. Strictly speaking, the test only spots carefully chosen fragments of the virus. That's not because the virus is fragmented, but because of the technique behind the PCR test, which looks specifically for unique viral fragments (Part 13). But by detecting these viral fragements, the test proves one is or has been infected by the virus. That is important information for surveillance.
Some claim that the really important question is: how do we know that SARS-CoV-2, assuming that it exists, is the real cause of COVID-19 (assuming that exists as well)? This relates to the famous Koch's Postulates, which were formulated in the 19th century, in an age when the existence of viruses slowly came to be recognized (Part 16). Further refinements by Rivers and Fredericks have been formulated, which rely not so much of on establishing a cause of the disease, but of a steady correlation between the presence of the virus and a variety of symptoms. The link between the virus and the disease is further strengthened by the clarification of the numerous mechanisms the virus enters the cells of the human body and affects its organs (from the lungs to the veins to the kidneys to the brain). If one wants to explain a pandemic without a virus causing it, one has to entertain a whole lot of intellectual creativity to come to a plausible hypothesis (5G, pollution, stress, diets, lifestyle, etc.) Yet, some virus denialists, as we have seen, go so far as denying both the existence of the virus and it being the cause of COVID-19 (Part 7).
And then some, as we have seen, claim that it was all a setup from the start, a planned pandemic, a "plandemic" (Part 14). They point to the plans for a Great Reset, promoted by the World Economic Forum headed by Klaus Schwab (Part 21). Also, there was an "Event 201", a pandemic exercise sponsored by the John Hopkins Center for Health Security in partnership with the World Economic Forum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in November 2019, New York. Coincidence? Enough to make all alarm-bells of the conspiracists ring. But preparing for something is not the same is creating it, least of all out of malice. As we have seen in the last Part 21, the much-feared Great Reset, with its stated goals of equality, climate action and clean air, is hardly anything to be afraid of. A milder version of this outlook is that capitalism might not have started the pandemic, but it definitely has taken advantage of it (given the fact the billionaires of this world, mostly running online companies, have added billions to their wealth). True enough, but that's a different story altogether.
There's the issue of how best to treat COVID-19. While the majority of scientists put their hopes on a vaccine (actually there are dozens of these in development, with only a handful being endorsed by the health agencies), a vocal minority claims that cheap and effective medication is already available (think: hydroxychloroquine, remdesivir, and many others). I haven't touched on this field much because it requires medical knowledge I lack, but I get the impression that the field is polarized into those who claim successive trials have failed to find they are effective, and those who claim these cheap and effective solutions are suppressed by the vaccine industry. Besides, they are skeptical of the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, especially the new mRNA "vaccines" of Pfizer and Moderna. Often they point to the value of stimulating your immune system, but to be honest, there seems to be no better way to do exactly that than taking a vaccine (which teaches your immune system to spot specific viral intruders and kill them).
And what about the various COVID-19 vaccines that are currently rolled out in different countries? The above vaccine tracker of the New York Times lists 75 candidates, only 2 of which have been officially approved (Pfizer and Moderna, both mRNA vaccines). The debate about the safety of vaccines lights up with every new pandemic, and this one is no different. As we can see from this list, only very few candidates will make it to the finish (and reap the financial rewards), leaving the others with huge investment costs. Also, the speed of development of these vaccines has made many hesitant about their safetyespecially when a brand new technology is used. Some critics don't think this new technology is safe enough to be rushed to the market, or see adverse complications when applied to the elderly with comorbidities. Some even fear there is a chance, however minimal, that our DNA will be changed by the mRNA vaccins. Yet, thousands have been tested in earlier safety trials and the number of complications seems to me to be very modest indeed.
And finally, the matter of lockdowns and their (in)effectiveness should be mentioned. Obviously, lockdowns are the most costly of the measures agains COVID-19, because they result in the closure of businesses, festivals, events and cafes. The evidence seems mixed, but of course they are the height of common sense: less social contacts will lead to less opportunities for the virus to spread. Lockdowns are clearly an extreme measure, a last resort, and have effect only as long as they last. When lockdown measures are lifted, people usually return quickly to their old habits of mixing socially. The main aim of these stringent measures is to bring the level of infections down to an acceptable level again, so as to unburden the healthcare facilities that threatened to be overrun. But everything starts and ends with people understanding that they are both the problem of the spreading of the virus and the solution to its prevention. The virus, in and by itself, does nothing, sees nothing, knows nothing. And yet, the smallest of all creatures, it has held the world in its grip for a whole year now!
We have covered most of the items on my list of "things to be denied" when it comes to the nature and treatment of COVID-19. Here it is again, for the very last time:
My personal choice of the crucial question about COVID-19 which cries out for an answer would be: how bad or harmful is the SARS-CoV-2 virus, actually, and how can we eradicate or at least mitigate it without ruining the lives of millions by destroying their jobs, businesses and livelihood in general. What costs are we willing as a society to take to save lives? Which measures are effective and which counter-productive? It is this issue that is taken up by lockdown skeptics all over the world to oppose the lockdown measures, and it is an important one, but rife with disinformation.
But to me, in the end, this is all a matter of finding the right balance, the middle ground we can all agree on and avoiding extreme positions. And a little bit of wisdom.
In the end, this is all a matter of finding the right balance, the middle ground we can all agree on and avoiding extreme positions.
Finding the right balance
Here's a way that might help reaching that goal. A simple way would be to align all possible opinions on the current pandemic on a single spectrum:
When it comes to assessing the severity of the pandemic, we can err towards to sides: either exaggeration or alarmism on the one hand and downplaying or denialism on the orther (see Part 10). Alarmists see a doom scenario with millions of deaths and even more affected by this new virus, for which we don't have immunity. At the start of the pandemic early 2020 some predictions were really dire, but these have been adjusted to more realistic figures as more data became available.
Of course, absolute figures don't tell us much. How many people die on a daily basis? How many die yearly of the flu? How many people have died of other diseases because they couldn't get proper treatment due to hospitals being flooded with COVID-19 patients? Has there really been a substantial amount of excess mortality in all these countries? And was that 5%, 10%, 20%? And how much is "acceptable", if we may use that word, to justify lockdowns? I have seen hundreds of graphs as supposed evidence for every possible point of viewa true mathematical heaven. Or a case of "how to lie with statistics"? Hard to tell.
However, at the moment of writing (January 2021), the Coronavirus death toll has reached 2.169.929 deaths, with 100.939.468 confirmed cases in 219 countries (Worldometer). This amounts to a Case Fatality Rate (CFR) of 2,1% (which, to be accurate, can vary enormously per age group and country, so this is an overall world average). To the layman this may seem a low number, but with contagiousness into the mix the result can lead to a huge number of fatalities. This is from Wikipedia:
If that isn't alarming, then what is? Yet, die-hard COVID-19 skeptics would say: "Spanish flu? No big deal: 97.5% has survived it!" Sounds familiar?
The other extreme is downplaying the severity of COVID-19 with denialist tactics: "its just a (heavy) flu", "there is no excess death anywhere" and "we have reached herd immunity", and so on. More often than not the sources used are doubtful. Again, statistics are used in support of these opinions, and it takes quite some expertise to evaluate their merits. A different approach in this camp is claiming the costs of our battle against the virus are too high and the gains to little. Of course, it is argued, every human life has value, but how many costs are we willing to take to save it, especially when it concerns very old people? This is a minefield of cold data and strong human emotions. How do we manage to honor all valid positions?
A more psychological approach might therefore be helpful in charting these different stances and difficulties in reaching a workable consensus:
This scheme can easily be flipped, starting from the opposite point of view:
Downplaying the severity of the problems occurs on both sides. We should be able to find common ground.
If we accept that "the virus is real, the pandemic is real and is caused by the virus" (as virologist James Hildreth formulated it so well, see Part 2), and every effort is made to combat this deadly virus and save as many lives as possible, the challenge remains to acknowledge what the true costs (financial, economic, human) are of this operation. Pointing to these costs, but only within this larger context, is legitimate and should not be dismissed out of hand as callous.
Two complications arise in this psychological field: allergies and pitfalls. Even if one is convince of the severity of the pandemic, there is always a chance that this danger is exaggerated to unrealistic dimensions. When a new mutation shows up, as recently happened in the UK, South Africa and Brazil, two things can happen: alarmism ("the vaccines won't work anymore!") and denialism ("viruses mutate all the time"). The task is to asses, granted that all viruses mutate all the time, which mutations might be especially harmful, for example because they make the virus more contagious (or even more lethal). The jury is still out on this, but in the media both extreme interpretations can already be found on the front pages. See how hard it is to stay on course?
And even when it is fully acknowledged as fact that these new mutants are more contagious, again the two mechanisms are in full swing: alarmism ("this will cause more deaths") and denialism ("viruses by nature become more contagious and less harmful"). Again, we should critically evaluate these claims. Even if a virus variant is more contagious and less deadly, on balance this can paradoxically result in more deaths (after all, SARS-CoV was more deadly and less contagious than SARS-CoV-2, but the latter has caused much more deaths because of its infectiousness).
Those who accept the severity of the pandemic will be allergic to anyone downplaying it seriousness, but must at the same time be on guard not to exaggerate it either. The continuous challenge is to focus on the most effective ways to beat the virus with a clear eye on the costs it will take. Conversely, those who focus on the costs and damage to the economy should also realize the real harm done by the virus (and not only in terms of deaths counted, but also of the health damage it does, often long-term, to those who survive it). Both need to take an inclusive stand, instead of waging a tribal warfare over what action we should take to move on.
But what we should not do is argue that every opinion should be held as equally valuable, so that professional virologists have to argue on prime time against those self-proclaimed experts who deny the virus even exists, or is in fact a benign entity. Or that PCR tests just don't work and merely produce "garbage" (Part 20). Or that we only have to boost our immune systems and all will be fine. Or even worse, that viruses are actually exosomes! Or that it is all caused by 5G. Well, you get the idea.
That would be a case of false balance and has to be avoided at all cost. But pieces of the COVID-19 puzzle might lie everywhere if all are willing to cast their nets far and wide.
The continuous challenge is to focus on the most effective ways to beat the virus with a clear eye on the costs it will take.
83 Vaccine Myths from docbastard.net
To all those who claim SARS-CoV-2or any virusdoes not exist: the virosphere consists of 4 realms, 9 kingdoms, 16 phyla, 2 subphyla, 36 classes, 55 orders, 8 suborders, 168 families, 103 subfamilies, 1421 genera, 68 subgenera, 6590 species. Take that. https://talk.ictvonline.org/taxonomy/
A summary of early parts of this series has appeared in the Dutch magazine Skepter 33(3), September 2020, as "Viruses don't exist" (covering Parts 1-5). German: Skeptiker (December 2020); English: Skeptic.org.uk (January 2021)
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