This is the introduction to the new Blindsight is 20/20. The author, Gabrielle Bauer, is happy to take your questions in the comments.
Why would a 66-year-old woman object so strenuously to policies designed to keep her safe? My book Blindsight is 2020, recently published in English by the Brownstone Institute and in Spanish by Mandala Ediciones, takes on the question. The book grew out of my deep misgivings about the pandemic lockdowns, mandates, and what I call Covid culture. I’m honored to share a few details about the book with this community.
Remember the early days, when everyone was telling us to follow the science? Like many others, I had a problem with this slogan. From the day the lockdowns were announced, I wondered: Why are only scientists being consulted? Where are the mental health experts to tell us how social isolation will affect our most vulnerable, both young and old? Where are the economists to insist on a cost-benefit analysis? Where are the ethicists to weigh in on the appropriate balance between risk avoidance and human rights? Or the philosophers to zoom out to the big questions, like the perils of splitting off biological subsistence from meaningful living?
These perspectives, so often missing in the Covid discourse, carry no less weight than the epidemiologic one. A young human-rights lawyer has important insights to impart about a pandemic, as does an aging philosopher. Or an author of ground-breaking fiction. I stumbled into their thought leaders in magazine articles, academic papers, podcasts, and elsewhere, and felt it was important to gather their insights in one place. That’s why the 46 dissenting thinkers showcased in the book include not just scientists and doctors, but philosophers, ethicists, economists, politicians, lawyers, writers, musicians, as well as a comedian and a priest.
Beyond the science
The book takes the position—shared by many scientists, as it turns out—that a pandemic is not just a scientific problem, but a human one. “The novel coronavirus response is being driven too much by the epidemiology,” Mark Woolhouse states in his book The Year The World Went Mad. A professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh and one of the people I feature in the book, Woolhouse shares my dismay at the curious and conspicuous dismissal of the mental-health, human-rights, and economic perspectives on the pandemic. “We epidemiologists were repeatedly told it was someone else’s job” to worry about these things, he writes. But “whose? Nothing was ever made public.”
As a health and medical writer who works with doctors most days of the week, I have a deep respect for science. But science alone cannot dictate pandemic policy. The UK government, for one, understood this in the pre-Covid era. “Before Covid, [we] had a much broader view of pandemic management,” UK medical sociologist Robert Dingwall told me in an interview. “Our whole-government approach, which saw pandemics as a societal threat rather than a public health threat, was much admired in Europe.”
Managing a pandemic is not just about containing a virus, but about shepherding the human family through a massive societal upheaval. An upheaval that threatens not just lives, but livelihoods. Not just lung health, but mental health. Not just heartbeats, but hopes and dreams. It’s about striking a balance between collective action and individual agency. It’s about respecting that not everyone brings equal capabilities or resources to the navigation of public health directives—considerations that were jettisoned with Covid.
Epidemiologists can do epidemiology. Public health experts can do public health. But none of these experts can do society or human nature any better than intellectuals from other disciplines or even “ordinary people.” No scientist has the legal or moral authority to tell someone they can’t sit next to a parent on their deathbed.
Letting people die alone may align with the goal of viral containment, but that doesn’t mean it serves the “greater good,” whatever the term means. Yale University philosopher Samantha Godwin made this point in 2021 Tweet: “We have collectively accepted, without meaningful debate, the ideological belief that the greater good can be equated with maximum COVID mitigation, without concern for or recognition of the collateral harms caused by these mitigation efforts.” I wrote the book to give pride of place to such insights, which the mainstream Covid narrative has summarily discounted.
The dominant narrative positioned the virus as the enemy in a planetary war—an enemy we must fight to the bitter end, costs be damned. But as it became clear that we were waging an unwinnable war, a second story began gaining momentum. This story cast Covid as a guest that, while not exactly welcome, was here to stay, so we needed to find a way to coexist with it without destroying our social fabric. In his book Gone Viral, Justin Hart calls the supporters of each story Team Apocalypse and Team Reality, respectively.
My book runs with the second story: attempting to eliminate all risk from Covid is a fool’s errand and carries too high a cost. “The world today is much closer to 2019 True Normal than it is to 2020 New Normal, and a lot of that is because what the Covidians wanted is both logistically and psychologically impossible,” says Heidi Buxton, the brilliant Colorado nurse and editor who reviewed my manuscript before publication. In other words, pandemic policies must respect biological realities and human nature—a point made by several people quoted in the book.
As an essayist and memoirist, I also enjoy weaving some personal anecdotes into the mix. From my attendance at a freedom rally and therapy with a Zoom shrink to a trip to Sweden and an LSD trip on a lake, I recount several personal experiences that sprang from my despair about the Covid policies.
No book should try to be all things. While I have much respect for the researchers who continue to investigate the origins of the virus, early treatments, and vaccine side effects, the focus of Blindsight Is 2020 lies elsewhere. Its diverse voices shed light on the fears and follies that set the Covid era in motion, and suggest a saner path forward. I hope the insightful and colorful characters featured in the book speak to you as they did with me.
BLINDSIGHT IS 2020 currently available on Amazon and LuLu as a printed edition or in e-reader format. Amazon reviews are gratefully appreciated.
Was the response driven by epidemiology, though? I'd argue it wasn't.
They threw out actual consensus science on pandemics, as well as the appropriate response to one. The 6' rule was reached by haggling. Masks aren't effective. The CDC knew early on this was airborne, yet everywhere the official message was mask-mask-mask instead of urging the vulnerable to absolutely isolate. The non-vulnerable - at least half the public - didn't need to isolate at all.
I think it's a mistake to say we focused only on science. We did no such thing.
I have not read Blindsight is 2020 so forgive me if I'm making points that have been already been addressed.
When it comes to the initial lock downs (March 2020), I believe we did the right thing in being a little over cautious. At that time, as far as I can tell, I think it's fair to say we didn't know much about the virus or what the worst case scenario might be. It seems prudent to err on the side of caution, given that if the worst case scenario is as bad as it theoretically can be for a highly transmissible influenza, we would be in deep trouble.
I am in full agreement that public debates and honest discussions should have been going during this time, allowing us to fully weigh the costs and benefits of continuing to extend lock down. That said, one of the initial reasons I recall for the lock downs in the first place was to "flatten the curve" to avoid overwhelming our healthcare system. As someone with dozens of friends and acquaintances working as doctors, nurses and in healthcare IT, it seems they had their hands full even with the lock downs in place. If the healthcare system collapses, we all lose.
I guess my questions for Gabrielle are, do you think it's fair that we weighed the opinions of public health officials more? And perhaps more broadly, when it comes to tackling problems at this scale, how do we decide which voices that should be amplified (if at all)? Lastly, I'd be interested to hear your take on if and how the information landscape made this whole problem worse?