The Downfall of the Gurus

The Downfall of the Gurus
Thousands of people gather at the Lincoln Memorial to protest COVID-19 vaccine mandates on Jan. 23, 2022. (Shutterstock)
Jeffrey A. Tucker

Scott Adams, creator of the insightful Dilbert comic strip, earned his status as an influencer not only from his acidic commentary on the bureaucratization of business life. He was also very early in noticing that there was something special about Donald Trump. There were moments back in the day when Trump was wizard-like, he said. Adams was bold in noting it and predicting his eventual triumph, which came in 2016.

Four years later, Adams, like so many others, was felled by the COVID pandemic when he seemed on board with the lockdowns and, later, embraced vaccines as a certain path to end this pandemic. But bless him, he has been relatively out front with both his opinions and mistakes along the way. He has recently released a video in which he said he was clearly on the wrong side of this one.

To be sure, his language in the mea culpa was not entirely satisfying. He constantly refers to the refuseniks as “anti-vaxxers,” which is offensive to those who merely had doubts about the tax-funded and police-enforced universalization of this experimental technology. Further, he seemed to credit the party that turned out the vaccines with only being correct, not due to insight and intelligence, but merely to a bias that doubted all official pronouncements.

Additionally, he says that “it was a coin flip and some guessed right.” That’s a cop-out. No, we used our brains and happened to look up whether and to what extent vaccines are actually useful for unstable pathogens like coronaviruses. Given that we have no record at all for vaccines for this or any similarly mutating pathogens, many people very reasonably decided to take a pass.

Still, at least Adams is trying to be open and honest about his own failures. That’s good. One wishes he would also address his unwarranted coronaphobia and support for lockdowns too.

Still, that’s far more than can be said about many former gurus, many of them highly educated and knowledgeable. I’m thinking of Nassim Taleb, author of “Antifragile,” who of all people should have understood the capacity of society to manage this pathogen without the destructive “help” of government. He ended up on the wrong side, and squandered his well-earned guru status by agitating for every awful policy. He has never apologized to the multitudes of dissidents he insulted.

There are so many in this category. My friend the philosopher Jason Sorens, who is an excellent historian of ideas and once regarded as a solid libertarian. In fact, he inspired the creation of the Free State Project in New Hampshire, the idea of which was to inspire a wave of emigration to the state to influence policy there more in the direction of liberty.

But when the pandemic hit, Sorens completely lost his moorings. On March 30, 2020, now two weeks into the lockdowns, he wrote on Twitter: “If EVERYONE IN THE WORLD were to isolate for 3 weeks, we’d kill the virus completely, never to trouble our species again, and the hit to world GDP would be just under 6 percent (3/52), with a rapid bounceback. But would require every country in the world to cooperate, so Instead we’ll have months or years of economic stagnation & quite possibly the virus will be with us forever.”

Someone did not pay attention in 9th grade biology. You cannot make a virus go away by hiding from it any more than you can make the moon go away by not looking at it. When you reappear or look again, it will still be there. The prevalence of a virus is governed by its severity: a dumb virus kills its host but a smart virus does not and thus moves to the next person. SARS-CoV-2 is the fifth coronavirus virus in the world and it was always destined to circulate forever. Only two viruses have been declared eradicated—smallpox in humans, and rinderpest in ruminants—and that’s because they are stable (non-mutating) pathogens.

Still, many fell for this suppressionist strategy, despite what it meant for the whole human population: the biggest and most sweeping rights violations of our lifetimes. Many medical professionals and scientists went silent because their careers depended on it. But some, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, were in a position to correct the record and did not. He was a lockdowner and mandater and still is. Thus does he relinquish his whole status as a science communicator and educator.

We could mention Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx in this context, who both threw away all their credibility by continuing to insist on obvious untruths. But there are many more besides. Tyler Cowen of George Mason University is among the most respected economists today but when the virus hit, he fell in fully with the lockdowners and later the vaccine mandates, viciously attacking anyone on the other side. He further used his heavy influence in his circles—young professors, think-tank officials, grant-giving foundations—to force conformity with his ill-formed views.

There are many other gurus who fell apart. One might mention Noam Chomsky, from whom I’ve learned for many years. He is a fascinating figure. To the astonishment of many, he came out not only for hard vaccine mandates but defended the idea of segregating whole cities by vaccine status, even though doing so would exclude 40 percent of the black community from restaurants, theaters, and libraries.

But also you can imagine my own sadness when two personal heroes of mine, the two most brilliant living scholars I know, somehow bought the baloney being served up by Fauci and company. I’ve been hesitant to mention this because it is deeply embarrassing to me but their names are Robert Higgs and Deirdre McCloskey. The first is the best living historian on the growth of the state and the second is easily the most productive and erudite historian of economic growth. They both signed up as suppressionists, endorsing what they had long fought—namely egregious statism—and leveled very hurtful attacks on those of us who rallied around traditional principles of public health. Higgs, I believe, came to see the errors of his ways, and Deirdre I feel sure had decompressed from this unfortunate period too.

We could also mention the tragic case of Walter Block, a famed anarchist and student of Murray Rothbard, who somehow got very confused in thinking that passing on a respiratory virus is a form of aggression that the state is right to punish. Such a position would of course mean that freedom could never exist. From his armchair, he never considered that the acquisition of natural immunity might just as easily be regarded as a positive externality to provide protection against illness. This is why many generations practiced deliberate exposure in the form of variolation. Indeed, I was personally exposed to chickenpox and grateful for it!

I’ve reflected much on how all this came to be. How did so many seemingly intelligent people fall for such brutality, defend it, and on such childish grounds? Partly it results from academic specialization: economists don’t understand cell biology any more than biostatisticians understand monetary policy. They even take pride in it! Still it is not an excuse. Any one of these thinkers could have downloaded “Molecular and Cell Biology for Dummies” from Amazon and corrected their misunderstandings in one evening.

What is it about the appearance of a new virus (with a very low under-70 fatality rate) that caused their heads to explode? Why were they so willing to throw out principles they held for most of their lives? And it is not just that they were wrong. They used their influence to demonize, smear, and censor those who dared to disagree.

In addition, the problem of fallen gurus is complicated by financial scammery. Oxford philosopher William MacAskill earned his fashionable intellectual status by pushing the idea of “effective altruism” but that idea became very lucrative once it melded with Sam Bankman-Fried’s money laundering operation called FTX. Pandemic planning became FTX’s raison d’etre, which raises a question about Cowen’s obsequious interviews with both MacAskill and Bankman-Fried, in addition to the vast funding given to campaigns of 1 in 3 sitting members of the House of Representatives.

There is also the problem of class bias among intellectuals. They kept going on about the need of people to isolate, mask up, and vaccinate, with nary a thought about the hands-on workers who actually keep society functioning. They are just blind to the lives of the working class. They otherized them as fodder. It’s just that simple.

And, no, Professor Sorens, society cannot go three weeks without the shelves being stocked, the electricity working, the trucks being repaired, the ambulances running, babies being birthed, and food deliveries being made. You can hide under your sofa but others have to keep society working for you and others who enjoy such privilege. If this plan had been enacted, it would have led to mass death.

I’m left with this thought: thank goodness the intellectuals don’t have more influence than they do. Many of our gurus have fallen. Let that be a lesson to us. Scott Adams has the right idea even if poorly carried out: they should all be honest with us now about how badly they failed.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Jeffrey A. Tucker is the founder and president of the Brownstone Institute, and the author of many thousands of articles in the scholarly and popular press, as well as 10 books in five languages, most recently “Liberty or Lockdown.” He is also the editor of The Best of Mises. He writes a daily column on economics for The Epoch Times and speaks widely on the topics of economics, technology, social philosophy, and culture.
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