“A picture gradually emerged of a young child who pretty much was isolated and had no friends, and a man who increasingly became concerned about his own health,” Raymond D. Fowler, PhD, a former American Psychological Association CEO, concluded in a forensic psychological autopsy on Howard Hughes’s mental and emotional condition two years after his death. The diagnosis had been requested by Hughes’ estate in order to determine why the billionaire entrepreneur had become increasingly germophobic and reclusive in his later years, largely cheating him out of enjoying the last two decades of his life.
Obsessed with cleanliness and terrified of getting sick, Hughes gradually became a shut-in and – interestingly – stopped bathing and didn’t even trim his fingernails as his illness progressed. So in his obsession with cleanliness and fear of (what was a very real and measurable risk of) disease, he actually got dirtier; and his obsession for health actually further endangered his health.
Today, the Howard Hughes lifestyle is the Australian “new normal” under its strict lockdown over the COVID pandemic. Australians need an officially approved “excuse” even to leave their homes in much of the country and are socially tracked by their government when they leave their homes. What Hughes did in his mental illness is now backed up by the guns of local police departments across the country as a web of national regional and local policy. The risk factors for death from COVID are well known, and two key ones are obesity and vitamin D deficiency. By keeping its residents indoors and away from producing natural vitamin D from the sun, as well as making it extremely difficult to exercise outdoors and easier to sit and overeat in front of the television, the Australian government may actually be increasing the dangers to COVID (and other diseases) for its citizens.
Part of the problem is the enormous media-generated pressure on political authorities to “do something,” even if it’s only the appearance of doing something. But it’s also the lack of ability of citizens to rationally assess risk and demand autonomy for their own risk comfort levels. There’s a pathosis in a mother who says: “Tens of thousands of people die in car accidents every year. No six-month dentist check-up is worth my son’s life.” The risk of driving a child to a dentist appointment is real, but it needs to be weighed against the benefits of a dental check-up, which are also real. It also needs to be weighed against the individual freedom to make choices of rational risk preference.
The general lockdowns that took place in March and April of 2020 were generally found not to have been effective in controlling the virus. The lockdowns of 2020 were a trial without data, but the Australian lockdowns of 2021 are lockdowns imposed while knowing they won’t change the infection R0. Australian officials haven’t touted any mathematical claims of benefits from the shutdowns, in part because they have no data upon which to make the claim, but also because the rate of risk is not relevant to the population trained by the mass media to be vaguely fearful.
In America, the issue of mask mandates are similar. The claimed social benefits of mask mandates haven’t been borne out by any sort of demographic data (even few scientists could pass the mask test), but even if we accept the vague claims that masks help to some degree there was really never a case to be made for a government mask mandate. Society has always allowed people take much higher risks than going to a store without a mask: Society tolerates tobacco smoking, which kills a much higher percentage of habitual users than COVID ever will. Society permits obesity, which kills even a higher percentage of people than smoking.
Now, the argument can be (and already has been) made by proponents of the nanny state that the person who smokes or becomes morbidly obese endangers only himself, though some social scientists would take issue with the claim that the harm is only individual because these habits tend to be passed on to family members and close associates. Moreover, the argument can also be made in the previously mentioned argument about driving to a dentist appointment that a mother on the road is a risk to other motorists and pedestrians. There has always been a risk of disease transmission when people congregate in public together, but government officials and their mainstream media henchmen globally have largely been silent on these pre-COVID social risks while banging the gong in a loop about the vague “risk” of transmitting COVID. The person afraid of contracting COVID-19 hasn’t been given the data by public officials on what the added risk is of going on a visit to the zoo, or the reduced risk of going on an afternoon jog. Nor have they been given the data on the risks (which are non-zero) of the vaccine versus the risks of getting seriously ill COVID at a particular age, BMI, blood type, vitamin D levels and vaccination status. And with alarmist fear-porn being blasted in a loop, the cadence to “trust the experts” or “trust science” is dangerously misplaced.
Republics and democracies are designed for the people to be informed of the risks and costs, and then for the masses to make the decisions. The managerial state, like that imposed upon Australians, are by definition totalitarian. It gives zero priority to a person’s individual agency and freedom. That Australia hasn’t yet gone to running train cars to gulags and shooting dissidents in the streets is a measure of tactical forbearance on the part of officials; it’s not a matter of difference in principles or a practical limit to claimed powers. Fear has always been the basis for all infringements upon liberty. It’s what gave America the Patriot Act and universal surveillance.. It brought the Caesars to Rome. It’s the tried and true path for turning any republic into a tyranny.
Australia – like most island nations – has been blessed by being geographically isolated from the rest of the world in terms of the COVID pandemic; like most island nations the infection rate thus far has been lower than countries on larger continents such as Europe, Asia and the Americas. But it’s now an example of how not to construct a society. The same Creator that gave all people life and enabled our prosperity also gave us our freedom. Freedom and security are not trade-offs, they are essential companions.
Thomas R. Eddlem, LAMA Communications Director
Named posts represent the authors’ opinions and do not constitute official LAMA policy statements unless explicitly stated otherwise.