But the folk were gathered in the assembly place; for there a strife was arisen, two men striving about the blood-price of a man slain; the one claimed to pay full atonement, expounding to the people, but the other denied him and would take naught…Iliad, book 18
Whenever a mistake is made that costs lives or money, people naturally look to find the person — or people — responsible, and to punish them. This instinct is perhaps the origin of law itself and the concept of justice in the west: a wrong deserves retribution. It in fact requires retribution, in some greater, cosmic sense… at least, that is how people have felt throughout history. Whether this retribution is justified intrinsically, or for other reasons (such as procedural objectivity, correction and restoration, or appropriate distribution of utility) is usually a secondary consideration. The demand for repayment comes first; ex post facto theories of justice arise in response to this demand.
On the horizon, perhaps even emerging now, is such a demand, caused by the novel Corona Virus.
Now ordinarily, major events that destroy lives and damage property have some “plausible deniability” as far as responsibility is concerned. Hurricane Katrina, great earthquakes, tsunamis, and to some degree, even mass shooters, all seem like “acts of God.” There is no “enemy” to hold to account. And attacks like the Boston Bombing or 9/11 are sudden. The responsible parties are clear, and foreign. 9/11 killed thousands of Americans, and their blood required vengeance. Fundamentally, that’s what the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were about: vengeance. The responsible party: a foreign institution (al Qaeda) with an alien ideology. Eventually, their leader was hunted down and murdered, and the organization more or less eradicated. I say “murdered,” and not “executed” or “killed” because for me, as an American, it makes me feel better to say “murdered.” I like to imagine it as something personal, perhaps even something brutal. As a conclusion, it feels more satisfying. In both cases — attack from a foreign power, or an “act of God” — there is room for authorities to deny responsibility.
But what makes the virus different than — for instance — the September 11th attacks is that dealing with the virus has been such a drawn-out process.
The corona virus pandemic was not an instantaneous event, nor was it the result of an enemy, but occurred over a period of months, leaving a broad and interactive period of decision-making for those in charge, many alternative forks in the road which could have been taken. And as a result of the particular combination of turns we took, 40,000 Americans have died.
Because of the extended time and the lack of a clear malicious actor, the responsible parties feel like our own leaders.
From the politician’s perspective, the entire situation is an exercise in navigation between Charybdis and Scylla — the whirlpool that will sink your whole country, or the monster that will devour some. If the government does not respond in some semi-authoritarian fashion, then more people will be infected, and more will die. Organized, planned responses can and do mitigate some of the effects of pathogens. On the other hand, a national-level quarantine, shutting down the economy, will cut people off from their work, their routines, and essentially closing off the circulation of money and value that keeps the nation running. And without that circulation, extremities necrotize.
People have not just been losing income, but losing their jobs. Stuck at home, we can expect domestic arguments to increase, as well as drug and alcohol abuse — perhaps exacerbated by the stress and uncertainty associated with the pandemic. Experts expect that suicide will be going up. There are all variety of hidden costs to averting the risks of this corona-virus, which — though perhaps dangerous — does not seem to be especially dangerous to healthy people. Most of those who have been hospitalized or died from the virus seem to have been older and also suffering from some previously-existing disease, especially respiratory conditions. Obesity also seems to be a factor. Aside from the disease being “novel” and there being no vaccine, it really does appear to be just a slightly nastier variant of influenza.
What I have described so far sounds like a very difficult administrative decision. Lives will be lost no matter the decision, or set of decisions. That’s the lot of the statesman, and it is why we tend to pay so much attention when selecting our senators and our Commander in Chief.
But what makes it difficult to feel sympathy is the dishonesty which resulted in neglect from outset. This dishonesty from unelected “leaders” seems to claim responsibility by creating a causal chain in our response (or lack thereof), and specifically included at least two major lies: (1) declaring that the coronavirus was not transmissible to humans, and (2) that masks are ineffective and that people should not buy them.
“There is no specific evidence to suggest that the wearing of masks by the mass population has any potential benefit. In fact, there’s some evidence to suggest the opposite in the misuse of wearing a mask properly or fitting it properly.”Mike Ryan, Executive Director World Health Organization, March 30, 2020
Both of these lies probably cost thousands of lives and millions if not billions of dollars each, not to mention all of the anxiety and fear associated with the whole ordeal.
And we know now, with certainty, that they were lies.
Regarding human transmission: the chief health official of Taiwan believed that human-to-human transmission was a risk, and expressed his concerns to the WHO on December 31, 2019.
Their health authorities replied to the media that the cases were believed not to be SARS, however the samples are still under examination, and cases have been isolated for treatment […] If being treated in isolation is not a warning, then what is?Chen Shih-chung, Minister of Health and Welfare, Taiwan
The WHO was aware of this possibility. But because China is a large source of funding for the WHO and China officially denies the existence of Taiwan as an independent state, the WHO denied the concern. You can, in fact, watch this denial in video:
This was what led to their statement in late January that there was “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission.” This intentional prioritization of China’s political interests over global safety, which led to a false conclusion and a false assurance. China lied, and the WHO complied.
The second lie — the one about masks not being effective — looks on the surface as if it may have been more calculated, but it is difficult to say for certain.
Just so that we are on solid ground, the CDC now admits that we should be wearing masks, and that this is, in fact, a reversal of position.
We haven’t suddenly gained new insight in the way that water particulates move in relation to masks in the past month. This change in position was not the result of new medical information. It had to do with the economics of limited masks and poor planning. This is something which the U.S. Surgeon General manages to summarize succinctly in two Tweets:
If you have the time, Eric Weinstein explains it perfectly:
Now, from a cold, grand-level perspective, one might almost find this deception to be a kind of “noble lie:” not “good,” but at least defensible from a kind of Machiavellian perspective. Sure, it doesn’t look great, but what about the greater good? We have to protect our health-care workers, no?
But when one considers the way in which even doctors and nurses were often prohibited from wearing masks, it begins to look as if self-delusion and ass-covering were the motivation behind the lie, not something noble.
So who — specifically — is responsible for this? Who are these leaders? What is the blood price, and perhaps most importantly, will it ever be paid?
As far as responsibility goes, the most obvious answers are the liars at the CDC and WHO who lied to cover up poor planning and political corruption (the name for the conflict of interest that the WHO suffered regarding China and Taiwan is “corruption”).
Behind that, of course, is China as a state. There is good reason to believe that the virus did not, in fact, originate in some wet market, but from the world-renowned virology lab which coincidentally studied these exact kinds of viruses, located a few blocks away from the alleged wet-market source.
Finally, at a more general level, some blame belongs to globalists and internationalists as a group, for encouraging open-borders and calling Trump a racist and xenophobe — not merely when he closed the border with China in January (contrary to the opinion of the CDC and the WHO), but more generally in the past five years.
But there seems to be very little reason to expect any kind of serious accountability.
Many protest groups have already become familiar with that sinking feeling of impotence, or worse: subversion. Occupy Wallstreet in 2011 was subverted. The Tea Party in 2009 was subverted. Bernie supporters in the 2016 primaries were simply pushed aside without even the pretense of care. It is hard to see any reason to expect anything different today.
It seems that there are enough checks and turns and Kafkaesque castle-twists in place that our “leaders” and managing bureaucrats really are no longer accountable to the people whose interests they ostensibly represent. They exist apart from the peasant rabble, exacting tax resources from them, and then saying the right words — carefully engineered by marketers and psychologists — to maintain the appearance of accountability. But there is no accountability — we know that there is no accountability because no one pays the price for mistakes… assuming, contrary to later evidence, that tragedies were in fact mistakes.
Someone might get fired. Someone might even get fined, but don’t hold your breath. Trump cutting of funds to the World Health Organization (WHO) isn’t a bad start, but compared to the effects of the lies — billions of dollars, tens of thousands of deaths — it seems paltry… like giving someone a month-long jail-sentence for violent rape. On this scale of a mistake, the blood-price has to be blood. Those whose corruption, negligence, and dishonesty poison and halt nations ought to be hung from the neck until dead, if not drawn and quartered.
In Skin in the Game, Nassim Taleb talked about how kings and emperors and statesmen of the past used to die primarily by assassination or on the battlefield. That was their link to their people — their “skin in the game” that justified the legitimacy of their authority. It was, in a way, a kind of accountability: poor decisions on that scale could result in death, and had to result in death because their own decisions could kill thousands of others too. There was only any kind of equilibrium of power (a representative state hinges upon an assumed exchange of this sort) if the leader shared in the risk, and how else could a leader share in the risk of decisions in which thousands might die? The leaders sharing in the risks and bearing full — and not limited — responsibility for their decisions was the only justification for their inordinate power, protection, and prestige.
Our leaders are now arguably more powerful than ever before in history. They have more money, more technology, more information, and more people at their disposal than ever before. Even the leaders of the WHO and CDC make millions, hold the ears of heads of state, receive millions of dollars and hold the lives of millions in their hands.
China, the WHO, and globalists in general — and their parrots in the media — have abused their power, and now it has cost thousands of lives.
When was the last time one of our leaders died for abusing that kind of responsibility?
I don’t mean to be blood-thirsty. I am not a sadistic or cruel person. But from the standpoint balancing power, there seems to be no other way to even approach bringing the incentives of representation into alignment without institutionally requiring politicians to suffer for actions of clear neglect and deception that cost lives. If a soldier were to behave in a similar manner, he’d be court-martialed and sent to Leavenworth for conspiracy, false official statements, manslaughter, and perhaps false pretense to obtain services.
If the full blood-price on offer now, for the corruption and lies that caused all of this death and mayhem, is just cut funding… I wouldn’t want to accept it.
…but then what?
The entirety of Western Law and the legitimacy of the state rests upon the assumption that an objective court may take responsibility for “honoring the furies” and resolving the question of the blood-price without leading to blood-feuds. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., in his book The Common Law, wrote “it is commonly known that the early forms of legal procedure were grounded in vengeance.” Paying the blood-price is the foundation, and the entire edifice of the Western legal cannon rests upon the state’s ability to fulfill this function. In his play Eumenides, Aeschylus depicted this concept in mythic form, with the city-Goddess Athena turning the “furies” of the restless dead, which called for blood-feuds and war, into “eumenides,” spirits of good intention, satisfied in the justice of the land:
ATHENA: And you [the furies], if you have a place of honor at the house of Erekhtheus, you will be honored by the processions of men and women and you will have more honor than you would ever have from other mortals. So, do not place on my land whetstones that hone my peoples’ desire for bloodshed, harmful to the insides of young men, making them lose their minds with passionate feelings caused not by wine; and do not turn my people into fighting-cocks, making reckless internecine war for them, so that they kill each other. If there is war, let it be with outsiders, and let it keep on happening, since war brings a terrific passion for genuine glory; but I say there will be no bird-fights in my dwelling place. I make it possible for you to choose to do good and to be treated well and with genuine honor to share in this land that is most dear to the gods.Aeschylus, Eumenides
So what happens when the wrongfully dead are not honored with justice anymore? Will the spirits of good-intention revert to furies, driving cycles of vengeance beyond the control of the state? Or will the state simply clamp down on such yearnings for justice without delivering the goods itself, establishing a de facto tyranny out of some dystopian novel?
Or will people simply forget it all when the newest reality TV seasons and video games and movies come out?
We have seen failures of justice in the past. But it is easy to forget when a few soldiers die overseas. But now, the effects are more concrete, and on our own soil. It is harder to forget the lies and their effects when you still don’t have a job, or when your kids ask you if it’s going to be like that time where they weren’t allowed to visit friends for a month.
When your grandmother doesn’t come back to life.
COVID-19 is not some disagreement in abstract theory; it is a pandemic disease from a foreign power. Its cost to human life mixed with the lies and corruption that permitted its spread have incurred a legal blood-price… one that probably will not be paid.
It’s not clear what the outcome will be, but whatever the outcome is may be of great importance in determining the future trajectory of our nation and the Western world in general.