The Presocratic Greek Philosopher, Xenophanes, said: “If cattle and horses … had hands … horses would draw the forms of the gods like horses, and cattle like cattle …“. 2500 years later, Abraham Maslow said: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” As many countries slowly move out of coronavirus lockdowns, every activist group is blaming the pandemic on their targeted campaign threats and hammering their interests into post-COVID-19 blueprints for the new world order.
According to a myriad of environmental interest groups, now all claiming expertise on health and the coronavirus, COVID-19 was caused by:
- Climate Change. The climate activists are blaming the coronavirus on climate change and biodiversity loss and are calling for more restrictions on fossil fuels, travel and industry. Post-COVID-19 Blueprint: Launch a stricter Green Deal.
- Pesticides. The anti-pesticide groups are blaming industrial agriculture for the biodiversity loss and are calling for a post-COVID-19 world fed by local, peasant farming practices. Post-COVID-19 Blueprint: Ban all (synthetic) pesticides and fund organic farmers.
- Deforestation. Biodiversity campaigners argue how deforestation has moved man closer to wildlife creating more likelihood for such diseases to leap species. Post-COVID-19 Blueprint: Rewild massive tracks of agricultural land.
- 5G. Anti-vaxxers have a multitude of conspiracy theories, but argue strongest that the coronavirus was caused by 5G towers. Post-COVID-19 Blueprint: Stop our reliance on technologies that interfere with nature.
- GMOs. Groups against seed technologies and GMOs argue that zoonotic diseases are becoming more frequent and more fatal due to the unknown consequences of the genetically-modified livestock feed creating superviruses that then leap species. Post-COVID-19 Blueprint: Ban GMOs and return to farming based on saved heirloom seeds.
- Globalisation. Anti-globalisation activists claim trade, travel and development allowed the COVID genie out of the bottle and must be stopped. Post-COVID-19 Blueprint: Social justice warriors are calling for the end of capitalism.
None of these groups is correct that their campaign target was the cause of the coronavirus crisis. None of their solutions would actually lower our vulnerability to a new pandemic. None of this seems to matter as gurus in these groups preach on message to their large, single-minded choirs and line up with the other cattle and horses at the trough of opportunity.
“If cattle and horses or lions had hands … horses would draw the forms of the gods like horses, and cattle like cattle …“
Lots of nails, lots of hammers nailing lots of cattle and horses to a diversity of crosses. What these relentless ideologues all share in their heady opportunism is the belief that the solution to prevent such a pandemic from ever happening again is more precaution, less technology and innovation and further disruption to human progress.
They all also agree that if we can shut down our societal institutions and economies to save lives from a virus, then we could easily shut down these elements again to implement their ideological paradises. A society with no airplane or personal car travel? No problem, it has already been done. The world kept turning even though global trade and finance dried up. And who needs 5G anyway? More precaution will make a better world (and it can be paid for with freshly-printed “coronabonds”).
The COVID-19 coronavirus is a generational game-changer, hence the dash for cash (at least three trillion USD committed in the US and EU with more free money being discussed). But as the cattle and horses jostle for attention and influence to ensure a world moulded according to their cultist political interests, shouldn’t reality have some influence in this ideological idiocy?
As tragic as this catastrophe has become, and despite some state-sponsored conspiracy theories and activist opportunism, the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis is the result of some horrible bad luck. The pandemic was not caused by climate change, deforestation, biodiversity loss, pesticide use, 5G, GMOs or globalisation. While these tribal gurus build their arguments and shade in the narrative to maintain their influence, are our leaders still capable of having a rational discussion?
Risk Management Failure
This bad luck was worsened by the absence of proper risk management procedures in most Western countries. Lockdowns that economically strangled societies and psychologically tortured its citizens were imposed as precautionary pull-backs paid no attention to the dire consequences imposed on humanity.
Even more catastrophic is that this zero-risk precautionary mindset that has prevailed in Western policy debates over the last two decades has replaced stable risk management. Precaution is applied when a risk cannot be accepted; it is a zero-risk mindset that removes any hazardous substance or activity by demanding that it be stopped, banned or restricted.
This zero-risk mindset was catastrophic in a situation like COVID-19 where exposure risk was inevitable and required important management skills (rather than just locking down entire countries when the pandemic overwhelmed poorly protected healthcare systems). There were no preventative risk management measures in the ten weeks leading up to the mid-March lockdowns until many European healthcare systems were on the brink of collapsing. Precaution, the banning, closure and stopping of human activity, was not a risk management measure, but the last resort resulting from the absence of any risk management strategy.
Risk management finds the best means to reduce exposures to hazards (protecting the weak and vulnerable by ensuring access to benefits). Precaution removes any exposure to a hazard (protecting the privileged while often harming the vulnerable with lost benefits). With COVID-19, we needed risk management but we got precaution (and the world stopped).
The only thing saving humanity at the moment is the healthcare and research community working tirelessly to save lives and find medical and innovative solutions. Ironically they are doing this with technologies, industries and corporations that the precaution-based activists have been campaigning to restrict or banish from their ideologically purified world. But the experts giving advice on fighting the coronavirus are often climate campaigners, organic food lobbyists, social justice warriors or anti-vaxxers. Nice pivot.
So as we move into the next phase of the coronavirus crisis, with more outbreaks, broken supply chains, a looming global famine and a collapse of the global economy, the obvious solution is not more medieval precautionary blood-letting and anti-development leeches but rather a return to innovation and technology. But none of our stakeholders seem to be talking about this in their Post COVID-19 Dash-for-Cash Blueprints.
Why are we Still Listening to Them?
How is it possible that these destructive charlatans, these cattle and horses, are still allowed at the table, still allowed to try to influence the narrative and are even still leading the discussions on the post-COVID-19 Blueprint? In a rational world, these precautionistas should have at the least been shown the door.
How is this madness of policy abuse even still possible?
There are several elements at play which allow these cattle and horses to continue to drive the narrative, even in the face of catastrophic failure in their risk management policy tools. With social media, we have lost our capacity to engage in objective dialogue. Our leadership has been locked in a policy process where precaution is the only tool that will allow them the come to any decision (even if the decision is destructive). And the notion of stakeholder and interest group has changed radically since the early notions of what dialogue should be.
1. Lack of objective dialogue
Social media has evolved into a series of tribal silos – echo-chambers – which only confirm bias and block out objective, rational debate. Intelligent discussions have been replaced by untelligent fear-mongering by groups who only listen to people who agree with them. Ad hominem attacks have replaced rational debate or facts. Anecdotes repeated incessantly become validated as “evidence”, political pressure and policy theatre substitute for consultation.
These horses and cattle, from the climate activists to the anti-globalisation campaigners to the anti-vaxxers, do not engage with those they disagree with (derogatorily labelled as deniers, capitalists or sheeple) so how would they ever know their positions on the causes of COVID-19 were erroneous? Social media tribes are self-sustaining founts of knowledge where ideas are circulated in bubbles of confirmation bias. Algorithms bring together like-minded people; intolerance bans those who may challenge the dogma.
Following Kant, there are two meanings of objectivity: objective facts as the universal truths everyone agrees on (which post-modernists have convinced us does not exist); objective facts as those that are not subjective (if enough people agree, then a statement is objective). In these self-sustaining social media tribes, it is not difficult to find enough people agreeing with a claim. So it is an objective fact then, that the COVID-19 coronavirus was caused by 5G towers. Somebody pass me a torch.
And if I disagree, then I have “alternative facts”.
2. Failed leadership
Our present class of leaders are tail-end baby boomers having come of age, like the Risk-Monger, at the time of the AIDS crisis in the mid-1980s. I have referred to this as Generation AIDS. This culture was shaped by a global crisis that threatened humanity demanding a precautionary pull-back seen as the only mitigating risk management approach while waiting for science to develop a vaccine (sound familiar?). With the cruel, slow death from the HIV virus, the demand for a zero-risk solution became paramount.
What the AIDS crisis taught today’s regulators is that we could manage a health risk without invoking any real sacrifice on a population (with a few simple adjustments in their behaviour). In an affluent society, precaution did not involve any widely-perceived trade-offs. Generation AIDS does not intuitively trust scientific expertise (scientists had made several erroneous pronouncements about AIDS risks) and have come to bracket expert advice with demands for certainty and zero-risk.
Driven by the expectation to engage all stakeholders, our regulators (our risk managers) seek out consensus. Given that social media tribes have become intransigent, the only possible means for authorities to actually govern is to start from precaution (as the reversal of the burden of proof). If the innovators can prove that a substance or process is safe, with a degree of certainty (two emotional, subjective concepts underlying the call for zero risk), then they have the right to develop their technology. But if they cannot satisfy this demand (and achieve consensus at that), then the precautionary principle must be applied.
Needless to say, in a docilian-driven zero-risk world, precaution, by default, has become the sole functioning policy management tool for the last two decades. It has allowed for an expedient solution to the messy dialogue process. Come back to me when you can prove, with certainty, that your substance or activity is safe. And let’s pretend you can.
Precautionistas don’t want technological innovations to solve our present issues – they want us to abandon these practices and return to their idealistic, bucolic, Malthusian world. To fight climate change, we don’t need new, less-polluting planes and cars, we need to stop travelling, industry and global trade. To remove health threats from pesticide residues on food, we don’t want better synthetic crop protection products or disease-resistant seeds, we want you to stop using any pesticides.
This approach, however, does not work so well when faced with the risk of a global pandemic.
3. The Rise of New Interest Groups
The present European policy process was built 20 years ago with the White Paper on European Governance, when trust in authorities was at a low point, participatory engagement tools were fairly new and few stakeholders were sitting at the table. Stakeholder dialogue in 2001 involved a group of industry actors, a few relevant NGOs, academic groups and governments. There were no social media echo-chambers then to muddy the messages. The funding of these groups was easy to follow and understand, their interests were clear and the dialogue was predictable.
Today this regulatory system, based on engagement and dialogue, is creaking under a fragmentation of stakeholders, interests and funding that is anything but transparent or manageable. The case of glyphosate, for example, shows how a UN authority like IARC can be influenced by a group of scientists and academics secretly paid millions by US tort law firms via shadowy NGOs so that IARC can challenge other risk management authorities with the sole purpose of creating doubt in the science and winning lawsuits in the US against industry. By suing these companies either into submission or out of existence, this adversarial regulation bypasses the traditional risk assessment process and effects the change the activists wanted (while making a lot of lawyers and bent scientists very rich). What sort of dialogue (or science) would we be able to have in a world polluted with these “stakeholders”? Indeed glyphosate hasn’t got a hope in hell of getting past the EU precautionary firewall in three years and the consequences for consumers, farmers and the environment will be dire.
Add to that the social media tribes controlling public narratives and weak public authorities unable to reach any viable consensus, it becomes clear that precaution is the only tool regulators can reasonably use. I was at my lobbying peak in Brussels in 2005-06 – at the height of the REACH regulatory process – and it was clear then that the EU participatory system was unable to function under the weight of fragmented interest groups and chemophobic campaigns. Fifteen years later, no one in Brussels doubts that the system is broken beyond repair.
So in the face of the catastrophic failure to manage the risks of a coronavirus pandemic, our authorities have no other practical policy tool at their disposal than … more precaution. And as the cattle and horses line up with their precautionary solutions, who among us will tell them their zero-risk docilian demands were what got us deep down this rabbit hole in the first place? This will surely end badly.
The bodies are indeed piling up
As humanity suffers from the failure of two decades of non-existent risk management, are the dialogue tools robust enough to even have a discussion on building a new blueprint for policy? The precautionary activists are controlling the narrative and framing the debate and their intolerance to alternatives or technological innovations is legendary.
A year ago I stated, bluntly, that the only way the precautionary policy nightmare would come to an end is when the bodies start piling up and our affluence melts away. The bodies are now piling up but the precautionistas are poisoning the well with more rhetoric and more catastrophic “zero-risk” solutions. As the stench of rotting corpses overpowers their air of well-being, how long will it take for common sense to intervene, put reality above ideology and shut these dogmatic zealots down? How many corona-famines will it take? How many will need to die from a deep economic depression?
Xenophanes knew these artistic cattle and horses were talking nonsense 2500 years ago. Why can’t today’s leaders wake up and figure this out?
I wish I could answer that question. I wish I knew why the precautionistas are still driving the narrative and why these privileged cultists will be allowed to impose more horrible suffering on society’s most vulnerable.
All I can do within this void of common sense is put forward an alternative blueprint for risk management in a post-COVID-19 world and beg for clarity of thought. The next section will detail how a stable risk management process should be conducted (and how it failed in the COVID-19 crisis). The final section in this trilogy will put forward my blueprint for risk management policy in a post-COVID-19 world.
Holy Cow image