Against “Omicron and governance theater”
Curtis Yarvin’s latest analysis of the pandemic is lazy, stupid and wrong.
On Sunday, neoreactionary thinker Curtis Yarvin (aka Mencius Moldbug) posted a series of strange, stream-of-consciousness ramblings about the pandemic to his Substack, Gray Mirror. He’s long tended towards lazy, ignorant alarmism when it comes to Corona, but his latest piece on “Omicron and governance theater” is particularly awful. It is time to say it plainly: Yarvin’s best thinking is years behind him now, and many of us should probably start paying a lot less attention to him. After this piece, I’ll be doing that.
Everything in Yarvin’s essay is some degree of wrong or manipulative or stupid. There is his laughable and totally broken distinction between “the meta-organization that is Science” that only “grudgingly” approved the vaccines, and “scientists in the meta-organization that is Capitalism” who actually invented the vaccines—as if pharmaceuticals and the regulatory apparatus that surrounds them could ever be disentangled from each other. There is his ridiculous statement that “Science’s headlock on the product cycle is strong enough that we only have very leaky, slightly dangerous first-generation vaccines,” as if humans hadn’t tried and failed to develop successful vaccines against coronaviruses for decades. There are his slanderous lines about the Swedes “licking doorknobs” and “committing … strongly to ignoring the virus,” and his hilariously wrong statement that Singapore has decided to do the same thing, which they can get away with because “Well, it’s Singapore.” There is his acknowledgment that “Covid should not be exaggerated,” which was “an error” he “committed in the past (probably because I was betting on it lol).” It’s comforting that he’s able to laugh about errors like this, almost two years after participating in a mass hysteria that has brought about some of the widest-ranging, most destructive and pointless interferences in civilian life since World War II. He presses his nonchalance further, insisting that
It is a gnarly disease, not an apocalyptic one. It has surely cost way less QALYs than World War II. But it is still gnarly. The mortality rates of covid for younger populations do not justify emergency governance measures; the morbidity rates for middle-aged populations do.
Yarvin has only internalised that subset of information about Corona and the pandemic that support his belief in mass containment. In fact, Corona increases everybody’s mortality risk proportionally. The only reason it’s worse for middle-aged populations, is that middle-aged populations are more likely to die already. If the heightened mortality risk for younger populations isn’t enough to “justify emergency governance measures,” then the proportionally greater mortality risk that 48 year-old Curtis Yarvin faces isn’t either.
But these are side matters. What Yarvin really wants, is for the West to be more like China, because China has proved “that controlling the virus is possible,” thereby allowing its “subjects” to “live … with far fewer covid restrictions than citizens of the reddest American red state.” Alas, he laments that instead we have ended up not with proper rigorous Chinese-style containment, but with mere containment theatre.
This is a bad argument, and Yarvin should stop making it. To begin with, it is obvious that China is engaging in its own kind of theatre. It is pantomiming containment competence to gullible western observers like Yarvin. It can get away with this, because Corona is far, far less deadly in East Asia and the Pacific than it is in the West. Precisely why it is less deadly there, doesn’t matter. Corona behaves differently in different places, depending on prior cross immunity, on age and population structures, on latitude, and a wealth of other regional and seasonal factors. To the extent that Chinese mitigation measures work and are not merely an international charade, that is because they are directed against the relatively mild threat of Asian Corona. Otherwise, the Chinese better hope their measures aren’t working and that it is all a lie, because neither they nor anybody else will ever succeed in containing SARS-2 forever. Why it is a good strategy to remain immunologically naive to a pervasive respiratory virus while the rest of the world develops antibodies, nobody has yet explained.
In Europe and North America, we have mass containment theatre, because we have European and North American Corona, and this variety of Corona cannot be contained. It could never have been stopped by “Seal[ing] international borders,” as Yarvin still believes, because SARS-2 was circulating in Europe as early as September 2019—before anyone knew anything about it. It is the same with the variants, which always turn out to be widely seeded by the time they come to the notice of health authorities. Corona causes mild infections in too many people to be successfully surveilled, and no amount of technology will permit Yarvin’s fantastical all-seeing state to achieve real-time monitoring of virus replication in the respiratory tracts of billions of humans.
Yarvin makes ridiculous errors like these, because he suffers from a deep, personal fear of infection. He is especially worried about contaminated air. “Trade in the 21st century,” he tells us in a moment of acute absurdity, “does not require travel—merely shipping.
In real governance, it is easy to keep shipping routes (air and sea) flowing, without mammals sharing air. The breath of the foreigner can be considered suspect, toxic, radioactive, diseased. The tourism industry can be paid for empty rooms and flights until the crisis is over. All the disruption this causes is trivial in comparison to the disruption of a pandemic.
Emphasis mine. The thing is, variant lineages of SARS-2 will be circulating among humans for millennia to come. This crisis will never be over, and borders will have to be closed to everything but this mysteriously non-infectious “shipping” forever. If you think you have SARS-2 under control, and you open your borders, you won’t know when it’s crept back in until it’s everywhere. Our public health bureaucrats are some of the dumbest people ever to have walked the earth, but at least—unlike Yarvin—they realise that by the time somebody in South Africa raises the alarm about Omicron, Omicron is already scattered to the four winds. At least—unlike Yarvin—they have the wisdom to engage in nothing more destructive than border sealing theatre.
Yarvin hilariously beleives that “mandatory covid tracking apps” are the way out of this, because “the state needs a precise, high-frequency idea of everyone’s location … to know who is infecting whom.” You shouldn’t worry about this, unless “your government is … a nest of perverts, clowns, thieves and rascals,” which our governments very clearly are. Yarvin writes that “A regime which is unnecessarily intrusive for perverse or nefarious reasons will do other bad things for perverse or nefarious reasons,” and we know this is true, because our governments are already doing perverse and nefarious things under the pretence of containment. In Germany, Corona hysteria has been a means of driving stodgy conservative boomers into the arms of lunatic socialist parties, of enforcing ever greater reliance on culturally destructive technology and making the smart phone a mandatory daily accessory, of pouring billions of Euros into the coffers of scamming manipulative pharmaceutical enterprises, of stifling not only political but cultural expression, and of turning our cities into drab humourless work camps. We aren’t in charge, our enemies are. I don’t care if it means dying of the bubonic plague—these people and their dumb hygiene house arrests are to be opposed now and forever.
When Yarvin gets to talking about lockdowns, he reveals an understanding of Corona that hasn’t matured beyond the vintage panic pornography of Tomas Pueyo from March 2020. Yarvin wants short, hard lockdowns to crush the curve:
In a true lockdown—not a lockdown theater—no one leaves their house. Supplies are delivered. Since the government knows who you are and where you live, it knows what you need. If you have a car, you may even be drafted into doing deliveries.
In a true Yarvian lockdown, therefore, nobody leaves the house except the vast numbers of people who must leave the house because they are “drafted into doing deliveries.” This means that in a Yarvian lockdown the virus will bide its time among the vast army of delivery drivers, and break out into the general population once everybody reopens. This is the central problem with the Zero Covid cult: Containment just doesn’t scale. Before the world went crazy in January 2020, testing, tracing and lockdowns were only ever envisioned for a few, regionally confined infections. The more broadly you apply containment measures, the more people you’re going to have to let out of the house, unless you want the lights to go out and people to starve in the cold. And in the meantime, SARS-2 is circulating in your hospitals and your institutional care facilities regardless.
Yarvin gives vent to further fever dreams about pandemic quarantine hotels staffed by people wearing respirators and daily antigen testing and so forth, before he gets to this:
Two weeks of true lockdown is a long time. It will end with certain pods which have to stay in home isolation, because they were exposed. Once every home is past the incubation period, any kind of massive, sustained infection will be gone—what’s left will be the residue of accident and noncompliance.
It is not the two weeks of lockdown that will last a long time. It is the indefinite years- or even decades-long containment regime, featuring multiple hard lockdowns every winter, that will last a long time—all while populations that didn’t opt into this unwinnable game develop antibodies to SARS-2 and move on with their lives.
Once the delivery-driver-lockdowns have crushed the curve, Yarvin proposes to “Chase sporadic cases with detective work.” He writes some amazing things at this moment. Things like this:
New Zealand seems to have failed in controlling its covid leak because the virus, as is usual in pandemics, went straight for the (Pacific Islander) urban underclass. Any kind of lumpenproletariat is a natural disease reservoir resistant to public-health measures, because such a class is relatively unseen by the state.
It turns out that the people doing all those deliveries and maintaining other essential services are more likely to develop Corona. Who could have guessed. Beyond these stupidities, though, there obtrudes again Yarvin’s bizarre hypochondria, his fear of the bad air lingering among the urban refuse. Testing is for him a cleansing ritual. “Everyone has to brush their teeth every day,” he reasons, so everyone should have to test every day too. Other people want to kill Corona with air filters, but for Yarvin it is the testing that purifies, and so he proposes continually testing the very air we breathe:
PCR amplification is an epic technology … If large public spaces … have covid detectors which run a PCR cycle every few minutes on whatever gunk they just pulled out of the air, such spaces will stop superspreader events before they happen. Everyone will be very happy to leave the building, then take a test, if the covid alarm goes off.
I am sure there is some depressing techbro startup somewhere at this very moment developing Corona smoke alarms to pull undefined “gunk” out of the air and alert everyone to superspreading in progress. This sounds like a great plan.
Yarvin’s hygiene dystopia will never end; he writes that “Covid is a generalist virus,” and supposes that “Every once in a while a deer hunter may get covid from a deer,” at which point it’ll be time to dust off the “mandatory contact-tracing and contact-testing response” once again. For Yarvin, the only reason we haven’t redirected all of western civilisation to eradicate a respiratory virus, is that our sclerotic oligarchic liberal democracies are incapable of mustering the proper authoritarian governance that China has brought to bear on the problem. His proposed solutions, though, are nothing but a mix of laughable technology fantasies (many of which have already failed) and obviously wrong, discredited measures that never had a chance of working in the first place.
We are a part of nature, and to the extent SARS-2 is a problem, there is an obvious, natural solution. It is very likely that in 1889, a betacoronvirus jumped from cows to humans, unleashing seasonal pandemic waves that caused serious mortality throughout the world for six years. That virus, HCoV OC43, still infects humans today. It causes minor cold-like symptoms and nobody—not even Curtis Yarvin—cares about it. Humans developed immunity, the virus mutated, humans got better immunity, and the virus mutated again, eventually ceding a lot of functional virulence for better fitness in a world seeded thick with antibodies. This same process must play out now between humans and SARS-2. Slowing infections is a futile, pointless activity with nothing but downsides. Everyone will get Corona whatever we do. The vaccinated will get Corona, the boostered will get Corona, and Curtis Yarvin will get Corona. It is important that all of these infections happen at more or less the same rate across the globe. Hold-outs who cultivate a Native American-style innocence of the virus will be punished, perhaps very harshly, in the longer term.