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The Scariest COVID-19 Casualty You Can’t Talk About Is Free Speech


“The moral of coronavirus19 will be that social contagion via social networks is more dangerous than biological contagion.” March 17, 2020

I tweeted the quote above a little more than a year ago, and pinned it. I thought I was stating the obvious. At that point, mass hysteria was already in overdrive, and anyone with even an inkling that the biggest dangers to society are the irrational actions of crowds should have understood my point.

Instead, I was pilloried for it. How could there any effects be worse than that of coronavirus? Why do you care about the economy more than lives? And on and on.

March of 2020 will be looked back on as the Great Mass Delusion. By early March, a “mass decision” had been made that COVID-19 was super-dangerous and unlike anything we’ve seen before. It wreaked havoc on the ability of anyone within the mass delusion to think rationally.

Common sense was gone. COVID panic shifted the burden of evidence such that (i) normal baselines about a cold virus now had to be proven to an unreasonably high standard, (ii) numerous hypotheses about COVID being especially bad in some respect required no serious evidence to support them, and (iii) civil-rights-violating interventions, even if explicitly not recommended prior to 2020, suddenly became common-sense measures that would be so effective we could use them as a pandemic control dial.

By mid-March, numerous false narratives spread like wildfire: COVID-19’s infection fatality rate was devastatingly high for the entire population; asymptomatic people were rampant and dangerous; COVID-19 is extremely risky for the young; immunity doesn’t apply like it normally does; a COVID bout could leave you with chronic health issues, unlike infections from other coronaviruses; forcibly confining healthy populations to their homes and shutting down businesses is an entirely sensible measure without downsides; masks work because surgeons wear them; and more.

All are false and easily discovered to be false given data we had even in early March. All were nevertheless widely believed and hyped by corporate media. A poll from July 20, 2020, for example, found that the typical survey respondent believed that about one in ten Americans had already died of COVID by summer 2020.

This is—I wish it was needless to say—several orders of magnitude high. At the time, in fact, their estimates were more than 225 times too high, according to the poll. Subsequent polls have continued to find Americans wildly overestimating the deaths and risks of COVID.

Something happened in early March to “do this” to billions of minds worldwide, and, as a consequence, the complex public policy calculus was replaced with just one variable: COVID cases and deaths. Even that was being tallied in ways we never tallied any other seasonal virus, ways that led to much much higher tallies.

Jobs, businesses, civil rights, and quality of life were nowhere to be found in the calculations. While there are multiple factors in the inception of a mass delusion, including infectious positive feedback between a pandemic-afraid populace, journalists, politicians, and academics, one key trigger was the World Health Organization’s early conflation of the always-much-higher case fatality rate (CFR) with the always-much-lower infection fatality rate (IFR), comparing the CFR for COVID with the IFR for flu, a criminally negligent blunder.

The astronomical degree of incorrectness about the nature of COVID-19 was overshadowed only by the righteous indignation fired at anyone pointing out the data available, or reminding everyone that we have to balance all sides of the utility calculus, including the economy, civil rights, and the myriad harms from masks and other disease intervention attempts.

In mid-March 2020, I got my first of many doses of moral outrage in real life when a dozen CrossFit friends and I were working out outdoors at a park, even socially distancing. A lady driving by saw us, pulled over, and proceeded to accost us (and demand our names) for 15 minutes about how we were endangering her and society. We only escaped her by picking up our gear and jogging away faster than she could.

One might giggle at the image of a finger-wagging, middle-aged, out-of-shape woman chasing a bunch of CrossFitters through the park, but in that scene lies the seeds of totalitarianism. A billion finger-wags equals totalitarianism.

The events over the last year are exceedingly dangerous, and we’re by no means alone in recognizing this. The rational and non-deluded have coalesced, and they’re from the left, the right, and the middle.

The hysteria emanating from last March has, in fact, reoriented much of the political debate. No longer is it left versus right. Instead, it’s up versus down, “up” being those who see the dire once-in-a-lifetime threats to free expression and freedom, and “down” being those who support ever greater civil rights violating measures to quell a perceived pandemic (something I discuss in this Moment video).

Whatever happened in March to create the Great Mass Delusion, it involved a failure of free expression. And when free expression breaks, freedom more generally is at risk. We decided the world desperately needed a research institute devoted to the mechanisms governing free expression and how they relate to society. Free speech shouldn’t be left to lawyers.

So, one year into the madness, Dr. Tim Barber and I launched FreeX: The Free Expression Group. Our goal? “Securing the mechanisms of free expression and the fruits of freedom to which it leads, while ensuring those mechanisms function smoothly and avoid the mass delusions that are civilization’s greatest threat.” This is, in our view, the Societal Holy Grail.

Freedom of expression usually focuses on securing speech against government restrictions. But the government was only a small part of the problem for free expression over the last year. The populace at large righteously enforced the COVID cult at a grassroots level.

Academics knew not to even think about speaking out skeptically, much less actually publish a paper. Big Tech began censoring, fact-checking, and banning voices outside of the COVID doom narrative. When our freedoms were under the greatest threat—freedom of movement, freedom of dress, freedom to keep our businesses and livelihoods, etc.—our ability to even speak against the threat was choked off.

With the world connected into one large social network, the time is now to do groundbreaking research on free expression from a 21st-century science perspective, and to communicate to policy-makers and the public why free speech is crucial to a healthy society. That’s FreeX.