Last week USIAID head Anthony Fauci inched a bit more toward the possibility that the new coronavirus was perhaps a man-made virus released from a lab in Wuhan. Fauci’s hedge was surely manna from heaven from a U.S. political class that created such a massive economic and human rights disaster in 2020.
But first, it’s useful to stop and consider Fauci’s flip flop. It’s a reminder of something I stress over and over in my new book, When Politicians Panicked: what we know to be true rarely ages well. In Fauci’s case, he rather famously got a lot wrong about AIDS in the 1980s, including how it spreads. Put another way, the “science” that Fauci believed he was following in the 1980s was often incorrect.
About it being wrong, this doesn’t indict him. It’s not science unless there’s doubt, unless there’s all sorts of trial and error on the way to knowledge. What indicts Fauci now is that he didn’t let his past along with – yes – science – get in the way of his own certitude. The very idea that the virus came from a lab was wholly dismissed by the USIAID head. Worse, Fauci was clear in his view that politicians shouldn’t be held back by the truth about the evolutionary process that is knowledge; instead, he clamored for lockdowns regardless of their personal and economic implications. The time for questions would be later.
Fauci was wrong in so many ways. Precisely because knowledge evolves with time, freedom is most crucial when knowledge is least certain. Think about it. Just as Fauci misunderstood how AIDS spread, it wasn’t unreasonable to speculate that he wasn’t fully versed in how the coronavirus made its way around. At the very least we know he was unsure as evidenced by his 2020 flip flopping about the worth of masks, among other things.
Contra Fauci, free people are a virus’s best friend. They produce information in addition to the economic growth that produces resources for doctors and scientists to seek answers, and solutions to answers. Free people taking all manner of precautions, along with free people throwing caution to the wind, produce information about how a virus reaches us. Are expert assumptions correct, or are they wildly false? We can find out most quickly via free people approaching a spreading virus in all manner of ways.
Tacking back to the Wuhan Lab theory that Fauci initially dismissed, he’s no longer so dismissive. Maybe he was right early on, maybe he was wrong. We don’t know. All we know is that Fauci has been able to be wrong, or to flip flop, a great deal over the past 16 months, and he’s been able to without missing a meal or a paycheck. Others in the U.S. and around the world weren’t so lucky. Fauci’s certainty brought with it immense job loss, business death and impairment, along with poverty and starvation around the world. For much of the world, Fauci’s stridency was enormously costly.
At the same time, Fauci’s track record over the past 16 months should give us pause. That he’s been so consistently incorrect at times, and at other times uncertain, should have us wondering about the latest lurch. Is reality finally intruding on Fauci’s vision, or is he flip-flopping to yet another incorrect conclusion? In other words, just because Fauci is now open to the possibility of a Wuhan lab leak isn’t the same as the latter being true. If Fauci has been so routinely incorrect as conservatives in particular have reasonably argued, they can’t have it both ways. Just because he agrees with some of them now doesn’t render him wise all of a sudden.
The view here is that the better approach is to be skeptical about Fauci’s latest pivot. And not just because Fauci has a weak W-L record in the correct category.
Skepticism in similarly in order when it’s remembered just how advantageous it would be for Fauci and the political class he helped gull into tragic lockdowns if the Wuhan Lab leak theory turns out to be true. If so, attention will shift. To China. Politicians, experts, pundits and others will rage about how the Chinese released a virus, that either their ineptitude or sinister ways caused endless global hurt, along with economic tragedy right here in the United States. Except that the rage would be misplaced.
Stated simply, there was never any excuse for the lockdowns. Never. If we’re realistic, the worst arguments for the lockdowns were the initial ones about protecting U.S. hospitals from overflow (“Stop the Spread”), along with the one about millions of Americans dead. They were because they presumed a level of carelessness on the part of the American people (and humanity more broadly) that doesn’t exist. Really, who among us needs to be forced to avoid behavior that might result in hospitalization, or worse, death?
Ok, and what would have happened if the virus had been a major cause of hospitalization or death? The answer is simple. Any political force would have been meek relative to individually arrived at precautions taken by free people. Translated for those who need it, people don’t require laws or force to avoid harm. It’s ingrained in us to avoid what might hurt us.
Which speaks to why we should approach the Wuhan Lab leak story carefully, while also being circumspect in our reactions if it turns out to be true. That is so because we once again can’t have it both ways. Indeed, a major reason we were against the lockdowns beyond the injustice of them was a growing realization on the part of conservatives that the virus was extraordinarily unthreatening for people who were young and healthy. For those who were rather old, otherwise very sick, and very obese, the virus was more threatening, but even then not extraordinarily so. Conservatives have long dismissed the virus as a major threat, and with good reason. For them to change their tune based on the virus’s origins would be for them to dismiss their past calm as fake, or worse, political.
The better approach is to seek answers. If the answers take us to a lab in Wuhan, that’s all well and good. Let’s just not let the U.S. political and expert class off of the hook. They erred with their lockdowns, and did so inexcusably. Let’s not do as they wish, and shift our rage to China. It would be misplaced, plus it would take the spotlight off of the U.S politicians whose actions most need spotlighting.