Perhaps the best thing that could come out of this entire debacle and turning America into a police state — where people are arrested for going somewhere in their cars and never leaving their cars — should be a total disdain for and disbelief in computer models.
The Imperial College of London model that terrified our largely scientifically illiterate politicos and therefore killed the world economy, like every other model that tries to model human behavior, assumed a spherical cow of uniform density in a frictionless vacuum.
What am I talking about? Exactly what I said.
Computer modeling can be incredibly useful, particularly when you’re modeling physics: an object dropped from such and such a place, which has such and such velocity, will impact on such and such a place with such and such force. However, as the mother and wife of STEM people for whom physics is a game and who create such models for fun, I know that the accuracy of the model depends on how much you put into it and how much of the real factors on that day, in that place, you can put in.
That spherical cow of uniform density in a frictionless vacuum has long been a joke among physicists, because of course cows aren’t spherical, nor do they have a uniform density, and a vacuum, such as we know it, is never frictionless (unless it’s in a small, contained enclosure, usually in a laboratory, a vacuum contains small particles.) And all of those variables mean that your model will be wrong if they’re not included in it. So, at its basis, if you’re designing a computer model for fun, or to settle a bet with your brother (yes, my family is weird), you can ignore all the variables. When you’re actually modeling a real-life situation, you cannot and should not.
Unfortunately, we have willfully and on purpose, over the course of the last 50 years, blinded ourselves to one of the most important factors when modeling disease in human populations: culture. We have taught our kids in school that culture is food and clothing, and sometimes — but not always — language, but that culture is inherently the same underneath those trappings.
That is what’s assumed by those models, and it is enough of a lie to be a d*mned lie.
Mind you, the computer modeling of humans in general is always hazardous. This is why no one can give accurate predictions of what will happen with the economy at any given time, and that is why most legislators are completely baffled when the second- and third-order effects of their legislation hit. Because to them we are all spherical cows in a frictionless vacuum.
However, culture is the most important – or should be the most important – in modeling the spread of any disease in a human population. Next and almost equal to it, should be the physical home of that culture: where do the people live? How dense is the population? How much air do they share?
The models for how bad COVID-19 would be, and the measures for mitigating its spread all, without exception, ignore these factors.
I don’t think COVID-19 is a hoax. (Though frankly this news makes me wonder, but that’s another matter.) I do think it has got really bad “in clusters.”
I also think if you go and look at the clusters, you’ll find that there are reasons why it got exceptionally bad there, but not anywhere else. And it was never going to get as bad anywhere else. And the measures should have been taken specifically in those places, without the ruinous cost of crashing the economy.
For instance, my friend in Albany, Georgia, tells me he assumes part of the reason it got so bad in his neighborhood (the worst per capita in the U.S. last I looked) is that “we are the touchiest, most social people I know.” I.e. there is a lot of touching and hugging.
At a guess this is the reason it got so bad in Italy, too, but not nearly as bad in Germany, where frankly people aren’t that touchy/feely/huggy.
New York City — Do I really need to say this? — is not Colorado.
I can go months without using an elevator. I can’t remember the last time I used a subway, and the last time I used public transport was last year while visiting my parents in Portugal – and even then only when I was going downtown Porto because it’s almost impossible to park – and if I keep the curtains closed in the bathroom, I can’t see my closest neighbor (who admittedly is close, but that’s on one side). That’s in Denver. I have open space in the front and back of the house, and the only people I share air with are my family.
Now, in NYC, besides the fact they all live in modified closets with shared air, you can’t get anywhere without rubbing elbows with strangers. Subways and elevators are simply parts of daily life for most New Yorkers. And as for social distancing… well! Every time I go East, when I hit the first layover, I want to start singing, “Don’t stand so close to me.”
So, would a complete lockdown of the city, with perhaps distribution of food so the grocery stores could be closed, make sense for NYC? Sure it would. Of course it would.
A grave violation of everyone’s rights? Sure. No doubt about that. But perhaps necessary for a limited time in a limited space.
Does a complete lockdown in places where the culture is completely different make any sense? No. Also no. With a side of no.
Now, there are still differences that don’t make a lot of sense, like the difference in death rates between Portugal and Spain, but that might be entirely because we don’t – frankly – know much of events that take place in other countries. When I told my mother (yes, still in Portugal, as is all my blood-family other than my sons) that I couldn’t figure it out, she said something about various demonstrations and civil unrest in the lead up to the outbreak. She said it in the off-hand manner that assumes of course I’ve heard of this, but I’m ashamed to know I hadn’t since frankly I rarely read European news these days. So I have no idea how significant that is.
The other thing is that I remember – lost in the flurry of early news – that Spain’s first response to this was the nationalizing of its health care system. Which means that before this “emergency” Spain had (as to an extent even we do) parallel public and private health systems. At the onset of the epidemic, the private health care system was folded into the public.
Not only would this have caused the usual difficulty of socialized medicine – that a patient is treated as a figure and that figure is in the debit column – but it would also undoubtedly have caused confusion, disorganization, and general mess as many different hierarchies were folded into an overarching one, and doubly so, because Mediterranean cultures are not really good at organization in general. That alone would explain things like the abandonment of elderly people in old-age homes (in some cases part of the health care system) as well as other horrors we heard of. These problems are not caused by malice, but by utter pants-on-head disorganization to a level Americans can’t even conceptualize.
Our media relays scenes of panic and death without the slightest context that might make the rest of us realize that the factors leading to those are unlikely to obtain in our own neighborhood. This is partly because most of our so-called journalists are incredibly ignorant and glib. And it is partly because they think crashing the economy and blaming it on Trump will get the Democrat Spokeszombie elected. But that’s a whole ‘nother matter, for another article.
So, yes, COVID-19 got very bad in spots (though the rates of both infection and death surfacing as more studies in Europe are done, as well as the rates of infection and death for the Diamond Princess, still indicate that those “bad spots” are nowhere near as bad as has been advertised).
And we might have been justified in closing down, isolating, and stopping travel to and from those spots.
It would have been economically painful enough since one of those spots is NYC. However, with the rest of the country (or the majority of it) working, we should have been fine.
It wouldn’t have been the disaster that it’s been made by the blithe “multiculturalist” assumption that “culture” is all about clothes and food, and not about how people behave and act in concert, due to cultural assumptions and the physical environment of their daily lives.
I can only pray that in the destroyed hopes of our children and grandchildren, in the scorched landscape of the world economy, in the revolt – dear Lord, I hope it’s a revolt to come otherwise the United States as we knew it is dead – against the police state imposed during this madness, people will see what multiculturalism and inane computer models have wrought.
I hope if no other good comes of this, that people will open their eyes to the insanity of treating humans as equal widgets who all behave the same way and all cultures as essentially the same under their colorful wrappings.
If we learn that lesson, then perhaps greater insanity – like the Green New Deal or ever new and shinier forms of socialism – can be avoided along with even greater mortality, ruin, and blighted lives.