For someone who prides themselves on being grounded in all sorts of paths of life, when it comes to theory, I, like many professors, have a bit of a problem living in my own head. How that manifests is that somehow I assume that everyone is fully conversant with what I write, and will be bored if I explain something over that I’ve already covered on the blog, or that you ought to be able to reason toward from the first principles I’ve written about. I think at some level it’s the academic hammer beating on the side of my head for the production of novelty.
This is, of course, ridiculous. I can’t even remember everything I’ve written.
With that in mind, I thought I might explain, in compact form, why the various experts during the COVID pandemic, who have advocated for all sorts of extreme positions like lockdown, masking children, forced vaccinations, etc., will never apologize for their actions, as well as why it would never occur to them to apologize. That’s just not what they do. It’s not in the social physics.
To start, one has to understand that the main folks driving our COVID response can be roughly partitioned in a couple of ways. From a disciplinary perspective, it would be epidemiology and medical doctors. From an organizational perspective, it would be federal and state agencies like the CDC, as well their upstream suppliers of all sorts of information in the university system. Though experts from a vast array of academic institutions have participated in the COVID melee, the heaviest hitters always come from the most famous and highest status schools, with the largest programs. This matters in terms of attracting media attention (no one’s going to quote an aerospace engineering professor from a second-tier land grant institution, no matter how insightful) when they can get someone on the line from Harvard or Johns Hopkins.
It’s also no surprise that inside the medical community, the most vociferous advocates for all the various power-and-control interventions are emergency room physicians. Yes, there are others. But there is likely no other group as traumatized-as-a-norm as ER docs. So it should be no surprise that they are statistically likely to support any and all power-and-control measures — precisely because their own lives are so chronically out of control.
Even people who are on the opposite side of the Zero COVID crowd are more likely to engage in what is called schismogenesis — the creation of identity through division. You only need to spend a day on Twitter to see that most of the COVID Zero takedown crowd will find the most obtuse of the COVID Zero crowd and literally beat that dead horse. It IS entertaining, but what it also does is keep debate inside mental models that people are inherently comfortable with. Though it can shed light to solution pathways, it usually doesn’t, and well meaning people end up in the trap of repeating the message of the people they’re fighting far more than actually advancing their own worldview.
Which then says something about the way they think. They were authority-driven, but now they’re shocked that the authorities have betrayed them. I think that for many, they’ve become more rational in the process — that’s the result of Survival-based grounding validity. The tragedy of the various COVID Zero positions have destroyed their lives, or altered their children’s development. And now they’re reconstituting their worldview with new data that they likely just ignored before. That’s OK — just realize that whenever there’s a dance going on, it usually involves multiple parties.
What that also means is that people are still in closed informational systems — the difference between the ones in the institutions arguing for COVID Zero policies, and the critics on the outside, is that the critics have one ground wire that has forced them to change their minds. The stories I’ve read on Twitter about mothers with special needs kids are a great example. You might want to believe that masking your kid will prevent them from getting COVID –so absolutely nonsensical when you consider that a six-year-old has more in common with a baby orangutan than a 40-year-old person. Just try to keep a mask on a baby orangutan!
But it turns into a horrific daily event if your child is severely autistic, or has a hearing disorder. You can’t deny reality, because reality is the child that you love screaming at the top of their lungs at you while you attempt to get them ready for day care. You’ll stop believing in masks right away, because you’ll just get overwhelmed by the insanity of all of it. It’s as Survival V-meme a moment as any one of us is likely to have.
The key point here is that sub-institutions inside bureaucracies are inherently ungrounded. What that means is that information is contained inside closed structures. And dependent on the culture of that institution, they will be more or less rigid. And as we’ve seen, it’s mostly “more”.
So we have a series of social structures running the COVID Zero side of the debate that are basically Authoritarian/Legalistic. And basically all of them have heavy penalties with disagreeing with the decrees that issue from the top of the hierarchical stack. Disagreeing quite literally means getting cast out. Look at the fate of the various FDA commissioners that quit in disagreement over various points in the vaccine efficacy debate. I’m not quite sure what happens, employment wise, but quitting is unlikely in the current milieu to open up lots of interesting employment opportunities.
What it does do, though, is, to use the vernacular, show that said individual is not a “team player”. The general public thinks that being “right” ought to be what is prized out of an organization ostensibly dedicated to public health, which should have some connection to reality. Actual truth, or “Right” implies a complex knowledge structure, blending laboratory and real-world experiments and experiences that aspires to a higher truth.
But nothing could be less desirable to an institutional rigid hierarchy. This kind of nuanced truth will inherently make the people in charge appear stupid, or at a minimum, unworthy of the kind of devotion they expect inside their shop. And here is the key point — such an individual who figures something out that goes outside the accepted wisdom disturbs the institutional homeostasis – the desire of a given institution to self-regulate both the presented knowledge and the knowledge structures, as well as the social structure of the organization. If the top dude or dudette, and there is no better example of both than Tony Fauci at NIAID/NIH and Rochelle Walensky at the CDC, has staked themselves to a particular piece of knowledge-as-reality (like masks work against viral transmission) then if the organization is authoritarian enough (and obviously, both NIH and the CDC are) scientists inside those organizations going against those pronouncements must be eliminated. And they will be — as these types of organizations have all sorts of institutions-inside-institutions that function like our own immune systems to devour anyone presenting profoundly different memetic knowledge.
It’s why such organizations are great at refining knowledge while totally sucking at changing their minds or self-correcting.
What is also wild was that such organizations like the CDC and WHO had long-term established bodies of knowledge on how to handle pandemics. Masks, for example, were known to produce no positive outcomes before this all started. But now one can see how the memetics of a moment of crisis were utilized to throw that baby out with the bathwater.
This is a complex thought — so you may have to read it over.
All institutions, regardless of their social structure (even rigid hierarchies) have some potential to get at absolute truth. But if you’re stuck in that rigid hierarchy, the way you will end up covering the solution space will be an endless fractal cascade, down to smaller and smaller refinements. You’re not going to come in and just dump what you know — unless, of course, it IS a crisis.
And what will happen in that crisis? Organizations will have their own moment of extreme neuroplasticity (masks didn’t work, but now masks work!) in order to hold on to their position of authority in a society. And what they will reconstitute as their guiding knowledge must inherently map to the v-memes/value sets that compose the social structure — especially in the short term. That evolved complexity of prior solutions just gets flushed down the toilet.
What that means is inside an organization like the CDC, obviously run by people with OCD and extreme social phobias, who are organized in a rigid hierarchy, will grab whatever strategies on the outside that reinforce power and control — like lockdowns, social distancing and masks — regardless of their researched history. The brains of the people in that organization will have no natural affinity for the complexity of the long, historical narrative. In a crisis, that narrative is the first thing to go.
And what comes after will be what is immediately accessible to the brains in those organizations. And it’s not some complex, nuanced narrative. The new, freshly generated narratives come about emergently in the absence of the rational process we believe these organizations should follow. But if the pandemic chaos hasn’t been enough to convince you that rational process DOES NOT underlay these organizations, you’re beyond my reach.
And worse, the implicit safeguards inherent in creation of policy also get thrown out. These organizations (and really — all federal agencies) are set up with seemingly endless rule-making processes, that demand public input, outside review and so on, before a regulation is enacted. NEPA is a great example. There’s an emergent reason for all this — legalistic agencies really don’t produce rational people. But they do produce algorithmic rule followers. And those algorithms at once bound these organizations, while at the same time remove any self-development that would cause the majority of folks working in those agencies to think for themselves.
It’s not called GroupThink for nothing. My friend and fellow activist, Al Espinosa, a fish biologist with the US Forest Service for most of his career, characterized the bureaucrats he had to deal with while protecting fish habitat from logging inside the agency. Lap Dogs, Displacement Specialists, True Believers and more. The names are more than descriptive enough.
While inside any institution, there is emergent forcing of social physics inside a given organization to maintain that institutional homeostasis, it’s also important to understand that there are very likely individuals at the top of any given institution that know when a given policy, like masking, isn’t working. Masking is especially easy because the level of complexity to understand how it doesn’t work in stopping viral spread is relatively low. The basic grounding, easily observable — masks leak, they can’t stop aerosols, RCTs fail, and population curves between masked and unmasked populations with similar demographics are undifferentiated — are really obvious enough. So you can be sure that at least SOME of the leadership knows this.
But now, especially at this point in the pandemic, it’s that you run into what I call the “Nazi High Command” problem. This is not necessarily to insinuate the various powers-that-be are Nazis, nor are equivalent (though I think there is an argument to be made about responsibility for human rights violations by the principals). Nor is it to go full Godwin’s Law either. It’s just that the extreme situation generated by Nazi behavior during WWII is very useful in understanding system dynamics, as a limiting case, precisely because the behavior was so depraved and out there.
By 1943, the Nazi High Command had figured out the war was likely lost. Allies had, for better or worse from a military perspective, landed on Sicily. It was becoming obvious that there would also be an attack from Britain through France. The Eastern front had deteriorated. So the conscious leadership KNEW they were cooked.
But instead of working through a peace process, in spite of a few Hitler assassination attempts, they doubled down on the war. Why? Because the top of the leadership pyramid knew if they lost, they would hang. And there was another fact. The Nazi High Command would, of course, be held accountable for all the different war crimes in combat that occurred during the war. But even worse, they were hiding a bigger secret — the Final Solution and the methodical extermination of the Jewish and Slavic people.
This layered issue, though obviously of lesser magnitude (let’s make this perfectly clear!) has similar potential in the current situation. Not only might leadership be held accountable for the tragedy of public policy regarding lockdowns and other harms during the past two years. But more importantly, they might also face the music for the origination of the pandemic itself. We know enough that Tony Fauci and others have historically supported Gain of Function research on viruses. We have the whole Peter Daszak debacle with Shi Zhengli, the Bat Lady, at the Wuhan lab. And regardless whether you regard me filling in the blanks regarding bioweapons in this piece, or you care to read the excellent Vanity Fair article here, there is a ton of evidence of layered wrongdoing that maybe insisting that children wear cloth masks is the least of their sins. When you cap it off with the fact that masks themselves communicate Tribal-v-Meme memetic information, it’s no surprise that people like Walensky will return again and again to that well. We’re going to badge all of you so you cannot question what we’re doing. And the nonbelievers will sort themselves automatically into the other pile.
This memetic defense is particularly fascinating in the context of the notion of a Disqualifying Narrative that I’ve written about here. Disqualifying narratives inherently divide a larger social system (in this case, the USA) through a hard boundary or series of boundaries that other views can’t penetrate. No matter how supported with data, they simply won’t be considered by the “other side” — or the larger polis. In my piece on bioweapons, I posited what many may find a disqualifying narrative — that China, facilitated by the US and the CIA — were/are crafting racially-based bioweapons as a response to U.S. hegemony in all other aspects of military competition. Here’s the wild thing, though. If history is any illuminator, the odds are that any story I can create through connecting various paradigms is likely less bizarre than what actually happened. One person’s imagination and knowledge pool simply cannot keep up with the vast numbers of interactions inside and between self-interested, insulated transnational bureaucracies.
That’s why we end up with conspiracy theories. The thing to remember is not that the outcomes of the various conspiracy theories are necessarily wrong (though they often are.) It’s that the outcomes of the actual systems in question emergently rise out of those social systems interacting at multiple levels. And precisely because these are complex systems, the outcomes are typically outside the guessing game of even a very astute observer.
And you only have to look at the Daszak proposal to see how imagination is immediately stretched. Who would have thought it was a good idea to spray SARS-COV2 viruses on bats in caves in Yunnan province? Yet here we are.
I could go on. But let’s recap.
- Institutions are inherently filled with people interested in maintaining institutional homeostasis of their systems. Stability is what bureaucracies provide, and people who cannot provide that stability, and disrupt that homeostasis are rejected.
- Leaders of such institutions may be self-aware, and actually conscious of outcomes they are either advocating for or propagating. But those acts of advocacy must intersect with the same needs of institutional homeostasis, or that leader will be expelled.
- People in such bureaucracies will inherently move up to leadership positions inasmuch they promote institutional homeostasis.
- Larger apologia of wrongdoing simply doesn’t fit into any of the social physics of these types of institutions, unless the institution is in danger of collapse from outside forces. Truth telling only happens as an end game. And even then, most of the players will not only deny, but often advocate for historic policies. That is exactly why Adolph Eichmann had no problem in making sure the trains ran on time to the death camps.
- Nazi High Command problems occur when there are two levels of understanding of institutional action and strategy. When leaders are forced at one level of accountability to confront the possibility that confessing at that level will necessarily lead to exposure of even worse sins, even if they are self-aware and making data-based decisions, they won’t give in.
- These types of scenarios occur over and over in history. For those that are interested, read up on Watergate, or the Challenger disaster.
It’s really just the same old institutional shit. It’s the way they roll. And apologies only come after the external forces are so powerful that they basically steamroll the institution committing the sins. Because of the actual Nazi High Command problem, Arthur “Bomber” Harris, of RAF Bomber command fame, burned down virtually every city in Germany with nighttime incendiary bombs, and was, at the time, considered to be a war criminal himself by Winston Churchill himself.
Something to think about! But don’t hold your breath for that apology. It ain’t coming. It’s not in the structural memetics.
And the memetics never lie — because they’re the information physics you’re up against.