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L’absurdité cruelle

Not long ago, I posted that events in the UK distantly echoed

“the cruel absurdity of the Roman princes, unable to protect their subjects against the public enemy, unwilling to trust them with arms for their own defence” (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire)

But events in France offer more than an echo.

France’s general population remains under extremely strict lockdown; the police have been ordered to enforce the rules ruthlessly. Permits to leave one’s home were limited to 60 minutes, once a day, and no farther than half a mile. … more than 915,000 citations have been handed out; 15.5 million persons have been stopped and checked …

People living in no-go zones [zones-urbaines-sensibles “sensitive urban zones”] are treated differently. Police officers have been told by the government not to stop them at all and to avoid as much as possible going near where they live.

(Excepted from France’s No-Go Zones: The Riots Return.
Read the whole thing.)

The ‘zones sensibles’ of Gothic immigrants in the dying western Roman empire were not ‘urbaines’ but they enjoyed the same cruel absurdity of being exempt from the harsh laws Rome enforced on the areas it still effectively controlled. They showed the same pattern of growth too. In 2005 there were less than 100 zones urbaines sensibles; today, France has more than 750 zones where the absence of lockdown casts the growing reality into stark relief.

The evolution of ruling attitudes makes another parallel.

In 2005, the police tried to quell the riots, unsuccessfully. For three weeks, the country seemed on the verge of a civil war. Today, because members of the government seem to believe that if riots occur, a civil war really could happen, the police are asked not to intervene and to stand aside until the destruction stops.

In ancient times, a similar period takes us from the Battle of Adrianople (378 AD) when the empire tried and failed to quell ‘rioting’ Gothic immigrants, to that of Frigidius (394) where the emperor used a Gothic army to defeat his internal rivals. The Goths lost heavily in that battle, which probably did not bother the emperor – but also did not slow much the speed with which they rotted the empire. I doubt Macron will lose sleep if the ‘zones urbaines sensibles’ lose people to the virus through ignoring his lockdown – which they won’t much, certainly not enough to slow their rate of growth much.

A similar number of years then takes us from Frigidius to the fall of Rome in 410. One day soon, France may do something sensible about the ‘zones urbaines sensibles’. Or, one day, France may do something horrible because for too long political correctness forbade her doing something sensible. Or Paris may ‘fall’ – may become one big zone urbaine sensible.

Meanwhile, I find it a disturbing symptom that the French government seems so acclimatised to the cruel absurdity of enforcing laws that take liberty from natives who obey you, while allowing exemptions that give liberties to immigrants who don’t. I can dislike a law yet dislike its arbitrary enforcement more. I do not care for this ‘lockdown pour nous, mais non pour vous’. Between 2005 and 2020, a kind of degeneration has taken place.

36 comments to L’absurdité cruelle

  • Phineas Phosgene

    The parallels between the fall of the Western Roman Empire and now are chilling.

  • Mr Ed

    But they vote for this crap, time and time again,

  • But who really want to start a civil war now (even though it can very probably be won) when it is so much easier to leave it to one’s children or grandchildren (when it probably cannot be won).

    Keep safe and best regards

  • NickM

    Good point Nigel. It’s like seeing Mr-T at The Mall.

  • Thomas w Allan

    Reminds me of the famous Winston Churchill statement:

    : He who feeds the crocodile hope to be the last one eaten

  • Paul Marks

    Yes they are Phineas Phosgene.

    What Gibbon (indeed basically any British writer before the modern era) called the “cruel absurdity” of disarming the general population is now the standard view of the Western World.

    Any other opinion is punished – and even in the United States anti “Gun Control” opinions will eventually be banned as “Hate Speech” (so no need for “shadow banning” by the Social Media company Collectivists) if the Democrats win in November and, via the Presidency and the Senate, control the appointment of judges (including to the Supreme Court). No doubt my dear friends at “Conservative” Central Office will be hoping for a Democrat victory so that this totalitarianism can be enacted.

    As for the historical implications – Gibbon was correct.

    For example, even Hannibal feared to attack the civilian population of Rome – think about it, he had (in a series of battles) killed tens of thousands of Romans – and yet he did not attack Rome, because he feared that a siege could not succeed against an armed population.

    But in 410 AD a small “army” of Goths had no fear of besieging Rome – the population of the city now being disarmed for centuries, and used to obeying any regulation (order) no matter how absurd (such as our own “Lockdown” regulations which only what Aristotle would call “natural slaves” would obey).

    It was the same in MOST of the rest of the Empire – a handful of barbarians would arrive, and the local population (who vastly outnumbered them) would fall on their faces. After all they had been doing that for Imperial officials for centuries.

    The Goths and other Germanic people (sometimes with blond hair – which high born Roman ladies tried to copy with blond wigs, “cultural appropriation”? or FEAR? the desire to ingratiate themselves?) were indeed either invaders or “Federates” – Federates were “invited” into the Empire and did not pay taxes, giving pledges of military aid instead.

    This was at time when the state took about half of the crops, much the same CRUSHING rate of taxation that Western nations have now.

    People who will accept having half their income taken by the state (in various different taxes) and will accept “lockdown” as well, will accept ANYTHING – and their enemies will note that carefully.

    The Franks (the “Freemen”) were the classic “Federates” – they were openly Pagan, but the Christian Roman Empire that persecuted pagans (destroying their temples – or stealing them) did not dare interfere with the Pagan rites of their “friends” the Franks. The Goths were “heretics” – but an Empire that persecuted “heretics” did not dare apply those laws to the Goths (even when they were serving in Roman armies).

    The Franks did not pay taxes – but they did offer military support, till they decided they did not want to.

    But then “King” Clovis, who killed the last Roman Governor of Gaul and created “France” (as it came to be called) converted to Christianity – as a sop to his new subjects. Religion mattered to the people of Gaul in the 6th century AD – just as it does NOT matter to the people of France now (the people of France will not fight and die for Jesus Christ – not against their own government, or against anyone else).

    Modern France?

    President Macron is busy getting rid of what remains of Freedom of Speech in France (again “Central Office” and the Social Media companies will be delighted).

    President Macron is a good example of a late Roman Emperor – he talks in grand poetic language (taught to do so), he oppresses the population without restraint, and he is a COWARD who would not dare go against people who would FIGHT BACK effectively. His own skin is very precious to him.

    Islam has been in conflict with the West for some 14 centuries, and a comment is not the place to give the history of those 14 centuries, other than to say that the bad deeds were NOT all on one side.

    What is interesting now is that in most Western countries (for example FRANCE) it is now a crime (or sort of crime – the laws and “policies” are now confused) to mention that Islam and the West are in conflict – it is NOT Muslims who normally punish “Islamophobia” (is stating that 1+1=2 “mathematicalphobia”, or saying “water is wet” “hydrophobia”?) it is the Western regimes who punish “Islamophobia”.

    All the above leads to an obvious question – and it is NOT an anti Islamic question.

    The question is “do societies that are so weak, so cowardly and degenerate, as most modern Western societies, deserve to survive?”

    An honest answer has to be – no they do NOT deserve to survive.

    And please no pictures of weapons, or other such, in “reply”.

    The only weapons that most Westerners are interested in are the weapons they use to kill their own babies. Correction – they get other people to kill their babies, indeed they will not even look at the pictures of it being done (and seek to have such pictures banned).

    Nations that have disarmed themselves. Nations that accept half their income being taken in various taxes. Nations that accept “lockdown” totalitarianism – in a way that shows that they are what Aristotle would call “natural slaves”. Nations that persecute Freedom of Speech – and will not even admit that their foes are foes (punishing anyone who points it out). And Nations that kill their own babies.

    The line “the world will be well rid of them” springs to mind.

    Religion? Nations that will accept, for months, the closing of their churches – have no religion.

    “But Paul some areas of the United States reject all this evil”.

    Perhaps they do – but I doubt that will last.

  • Agammamon

    Meanwhile, I find it a disturbing symptom that the French government seems so acclimatised to the cruel absurdity of enforcing laws that take liberty from natives who obey you, while allowing exemptions that give liberties to immigrants who don’t.

    I always thought that was weird. You import people who violently resist your authority, and once they’ve done so and rendered you impotent your answer is . . . import more of them.

    Not just open a border to those who flee, but actively going out to find more to bring back. When there’s a strong core of those you’re bringing not only will not vote for you – or your party (for the rare selfless politician) – but would have you up against the wall in a heartbeat if they ever got the power to do so.

    I’m pro-immigration and even I think its insanity to go out *looking for immigrants to bring back*.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Speaking for myself i have more sympathy for the Goths than for the Romans circa 378 AD, the latter being a pathetic bunch of degenerates afaik.

    The Romans up to the 2nd Punic War are a different matter: they seemed to be closer in attitude to the Goths, and pagan Germanic people in general, than to the Romans of the Empire.

    Parallels to modern “Europe” are left as an exercise to the reader.

    I note, however, that people in the ‘no-go zones’ who do not respect the lockdown are, at worst, wetting their own nest.

  • bobby b

    “I note, however, that people in the ‘no-go zones’ who do not respect the lockdown are, at worst, wetting their own nest.”

    What do we know about covid-19 death rates in those zones?

  • Phil B

    About the only thing I disagree with in Paul Marks’ post above is the rate of taxation.

    For a while (about 15 years ago) I kept a spreadsheet showing my salary, spending and the rate of taxation. It has been lost in a hard drive crash but from memory, taking into account income tax, N.I contributions, local council tax and the VAT/Duty on the stuff I bought, the amount of tax paid was over 70% of the incoming cash and spend.

    Saving the rest in a Building Society account was, you guessed it, taxed on the interest earned which was NOT included in the spreadsheet.

    As Peter Hitchens said in his latest Sunday column in the Mail on Sunday, all the money that the government is shovelling into the pockets of those forcibly made idle with the lock down will have to be paid back somehow which will be via higher taxation, both direct (PAYE) and increases in hidden taxes (VAT, duty on petrol etc.).

    It might be worth keeping a spreadsheet of your income, expenditure and the tax paid at every stage just to make the point and ram the lesson home.

  • NickM

    Paul,
    I get you. More latter. I guess you have read Robert Johnson? I guess it is all down to:

    Sahih International: And the Jews say, “The hand of Allah is chained.” Chained are their hands, and cursed are they for what they say. Rather, both His hands are extended; He spends however He wills. And that which has been revealed to you from your Lord will surely increase many of them in transgression and disbelief. And We have cast among them animosity and hatred until the Day of Resurrection. Every time they kindled the fire of war [against you], Allah extinguished it. And they strive throughout the land [causing] corruption, and Allah does not like corrupters.

    – I have already given the citation for that in the first line of the quote.

    It is late and this needs more work but basically 2+2=4 (ask me about Co-Op steaks!) – more later. I can’t believe in a God that invents truth (well defines it ad-hoc).

    The Reals and Naturals just have their (different) cardinalities and that has fuck all to do with Mohammed (or even Cantor). They just do because that is how it is.

    This is not a belief. It just is.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “The Reals and Naturals just have their (different) cardinalities and that has fuck all to do with Mohammed (or even Cantor). They just do because that is how it is.”

    If we start by asserting our usual set of axioms, sure. 🙂

  • Paul Marks

    NickM – the conflict between Judaism and MAINSTREAM Islam is only partly theological and historical, it is also philosophical. The philosophical conflict between a belief in moral agency (what some people call “free will” – although I dislike the term) and determinism. And the conflict between natural law (the belief that human reason can find what is morally right and what is morally wrong – and CHOOSE to go against our evil “passions” and do what is morally right) and a definition of “moral good” simply as whatever God commands, and “moral evil” as just anything God forbids.

    I am not Jewish in religion – but I may have been influenced by Jewish thought on this matter by my father and others.

    It will not astonish you that what horrifies me about, for example, the words of Martin Luther is NOT his rantings about wanting to burn the Jews – “yes Martin, lots of people want to do that – have a go, and I will shoot you in the face”.

    No – what horrifies me is his determinism (his denial of moral agency – his denial that humans are beings, his reduction of humans to flesh robots), and his doctrine that moral good is just whatever God commands, and moral evil is just whatever God forbids.

    That there is no standard of MORAL REASON to judge scripture by – that one should just blindly follow whatever is in scripture (not that one has a choice anyway – as, according to Dr “Bondage of the Will” Luther, there is no such thing as human moral choice).

    Certainly there is the hypocrisy of someone who took books out of the Bible, if he did not like them, and rejected even books in the Bible he-left-in if it was later pointed out to him that scripture contradicted him (for example when it was pointed out to Dr Luther that the Epistle, Letter, of James contradicts his theology – Dr Luther just rejected it as an “Epistle of Straw”) – so much for holding scripture to be sacred – “scripture is my guide – apart from Books of the Bible that I cut out, and Books of the Bible I leave in, but are later shown to contradict what I am saying”. But that is NOT the real point.

    Scripture is mostly written by MEN (not by God – very little of the Bible even claims to be written by God directly).

    Think of someone who actually followed whatever scripture said.

    They would, for example, stone people to death for adultery – for that is what scripture says to do. If there is no moral reason (and Dr Luther denies that there is – he has the same view of “that whore reason” that David Hume does) then there is no way to judge scripture to see whether it is ordering something good or something EVIL.

    Now Muhammad had no need of Martin Luther, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, Jeremy Bentham and the rest of the dismal crew. He had come to their conclusions long before they were born.

    If scripture says X then do NOT put your hand over the horrible thing scripture is ordering.

    On the contrary “raise your hand” (the old Islamic cry against the Jews had nothing to do with asking them to surrender – what it meant was raise your hand from the page of scripture and read out what is written there).

    If scripture says do X – them do X. Who are you to judge scripture? There is no moral reason.

    And, besides, there is no real choice anyway – as (at least according to mainstream Sunni Islam – the Shia might dissent on this point) all actions are Predetermined.

    So, for example, if a man leaves Islam – kill him (the holy writings command it, the word used is man, so there is some dispute over what to do if a woman leaves Islam). And if a man or a women mocks Muhammad – kill them. Again this is what the holy writings command, and what Muhammad did himself.

    Do not feel bad about something you have done (for example you start to have doubts about that Jew you tortured to death, by lighting a fire on his chest, to make him tell you where he had hidden his treasure) – as you are following the “Perfect Model of Conduct” and your actions were Predetermined anyway.

    You can not tell moral good from moral evil (there is no moral reason – just the holy writings and the personal conduct of the founder) and your actions are predetermined.

    So, as the German National Socialists used to say, you are “free not to be free” – you are free from tormenting GUILT, you have freed yourself from your moral conscience – as theology-philosophy has “proved” there is no moral reason and no moral agency.

    And remember, everything you did was predetermined (you had no choice to do other than you did) – so it would be utterly absurd to feel bad about your murders, rapes and so on. Reason, if it exists at all, being just the “slave of the passions” as Mr Hume put it.

    To be moral agent, to be a human being, is indeed to live in PAIN – the endless pain of the struggle between good and evil in the human soul (if only in the non religious Aristotelian sense). The agony of resisting the evil in one’s self each day – and the agony of regret (remorse) over those times one has failed in the past.

    Various forms of religion (most certainly NOT just Islam) and various forms of philosophy seek to “free” humans from this terrible burden of moral responsibility.

    Thus a human (no longer a person – not a human BEING) following the philosophy of, for example, Thomas Hobbes can “live freely”. “Free not to be free” – free from the terrible burden of moral choice, moral responsibility.

    Like a rabid dog.

  • Paul Marks

    Phil B – yes the level of taxation in the modern West is terrible.

    I believe (although I could be mistaken) that the overall burden of taxation and government spending is highest in France – ironic as French economists in the 19th century were the best in describing what terrible harm government spending and taxes do (British economists, such as J.S. Mill, were not nearly as good).

    By the way on the mass abortion point.

    In archaeology a classic sign that a town or village had become Christian was that one no longer finds the remains of babies in rubbish heaps.

    In the Pagan world killing babies was fine – but for the Christians (as for the Jews) killing babies was forbidden. Ditto Gladiatorial Games – forbidden to devout Jews and Christians.

    Homosexual acts were also forbidden to Jews and Christians – although turning this into a general prohibition enforced by the STATE was a major change.

    There is a vast difference between an Amish (or other Christian) community “shunning” someone whose conduct they disapprove of, and someone such as the Emperor Constantine or the Emperor Justinian killing people whose conduct they disapproved of.

    The Emperor Justinian claimed to not be killing people – he “merely” had their sexual organs cut off. But given the state of medical knowledge of the time and the brutal way this “operation” was done, it often led to death.

    Bringing the “Sword of State” into moral and religious matters utterly CORRUPTS them.

    The distinction between sins and crimes should also be kept in mind.

    All REAL crimes are sins (I mean crimes against the natural law – not “crimes” in the sense of whatever ravings the state has come out with), but all sins are NOT crimes.

    It is quite possible for something to be a sin and NOT a crime. For example, denying charity (not helping a poor person, you could have helped, when they are in desperate need and appeal for your aid) is a very severe sin – but it is NOT a crime, you have NOT committed an injustice.

    Justice is to each their own – there is no “Social Justice”, the concept is an abomination.

  • NickM

    NiV,

    Do you know the N=NP? Can you apply that rule on Earth?
    – Nick 38:33

    (If so can I have your specs for my next PC?)

    Paul,
    It is difficult to comment on your points in the time I have (God, that sounds portentous though that’s because I have a birthday party to go to so time is limited*) but I do appreciate them.

    I have spent some time trying to craft a suitable partial response… Nah! Can wait.

    Y’all know how the lives of Cantor and Gödel panned out…

    …and they were wizards.

    *I have said too much… But if “Prof. Lockdown”** can hook-up with his (to someone else) my wife and I can take a cake round to her Mum… And if Chris-the-Gollum-Whitty wants to incite a restless lynch mob then just fuck him.

    **Never trust a statician with a goatee – especially not the female ones.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Do you know the N=NP? Can you apply that rule on Earth?”

    We pick axioms to align with the laws of physics as we understand them. What we can compute is defined by physics, since computation is a physical process. And we are normally trying to apply our mathematics to the physical world, so we choose axioms useful to that purpose.

    But as we discovered with quantum mechanics and relativity, the laws of physics are not necessarily what our intuition thinks they are. And as with quantum computers, what we can compute in reality is not necessarily what our physical model with its classical physics axioms of computation predicts. We’re working with an infinite-dimensional Hilbert space, in which an infinite number of things can happen at once. And we still don’t have a theory of quantum gravity. We are going to need new axioms.

    Whether the laws of physics could be other than they are (and thus had to be ‘chosen’ somehow) is an open question. I suspect not, but I’ve got no evidence for that besides mathematical aesthetics. Whether the laws of physics are other than we believe them to be is certain – relativity and quantum mechanics are inconsistent, so we know something is wrong. And so, whether P = NP applies here on Earth is likewise an open question.

    “If so can I have your specs for my next PC?”

    First, assemble your wormhole interferometers…

    “But if “Prof. Lockdown”** can hook-up with his”

    His argument was that he’d already had COVID-19 (confirmed by a test) and so was immune, and so was in little danger of transmitting it to anyone. (Maybe, maybe not.) So if your mother-in-law has already had it and recovered, you can certainly use his excuse.

    Otherwise, my view would be that it ought to be OK if everyone at risk gives informed consent. If you, your wife, and her mum agree to take the risk of slowly suffocating to death, and you all plan to go into isolation for 14 days afterwards so you don’t give it to anyone who hasn’t given consent, then I’m not going to grass you up. 🙂

  • What do we know about covid-19 death rates in those zones? (bobby b, May 17, 2020 at 10:38 pm)

    The inhabitants of the zones urbaines sensibles extract much money from the French welfare state – often under the direction of gangs who are, shall we say, more interested in maximising the amount received than in ensuring the strict truthfulness of all representations made to receive it.

    So it would enhance the numbers if money is available for those who report their relatives as suffering from it, but it would diminish those numbers if benefits are still available for those who forget to report their dying from it. In short, treat any data you encounter with caution. When Lord Burleigh received the strength returns that England’s captains sent him after they defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588, he complained that

    “The men are dead, but not the pay.”

    My patriotism – or something 🙂 – is giving me a very hard time imagining that data from a zone urbaine sensible is more accurate today.

    My French is not up to tracking down the only places where you could even discover what the French government thinks is happening: generalised maps like this NYT-reproduced one are of no use. I think the French authorities are not eager to highlight zones urbaines sensibles so do not overly assist breaking their data out of more general/historic geographical subdivisions. (But bear in mind what I said before – French is my best foreign language, and when in Switzerland I survived by using it to extract data and info I needed, but I am not the person to find such data.)

    As for other sources of info, well (for example) the only times I saw e.g. a tourist asking on trip advisor if they should avoid the zones, they got exclusively positive responses like

    … the whole thing was a wild-eyed flight of uninformed paranoia based on supposition, scaremongering, and 20-year-old maps that was later recounted with an apology. The lawless pockets of despair not only don’t exist now, they never have.

    interspersed with

    “:- Message from Tripadvisor staff -:-

    This post was determined to be inappropriate by the Tripadvisor community and has been removed.”

    I love the way the staff and the community are as one on Tripadvisor. :-). (But to be fair, at least they apparently do not – or at least did not in the past – actually hide that replies had been removed.). Again, a native French speaker is the person you want for this, not me.

  • bobby b

    Niall Kilmartin
    May 18, 2020 at 6:58 pm

    “My patriotism – or something 🙂 – is giving me a very hard time imagining that data from a zone urbaine sensible is more accurate today.”

    I was curious mostly because I was wondering if the residents of those zones are indeed, as SG said above, wetting their own nests, or if they were doing just fine. If lockdowns truly bestow no great benefit (as some suggest), it pains me to say that these residents might well be our allies in liberty to some extent – yelling an Arabic version of “don’t tread on me” at their supervisors.

    I suppose the true tale will be told by the future actions of those same defiant residents. If they realize that they’re dying at a high rate, their own chosen leaders might well shut down their anti-police behavior (as regards lockdown), and then we’ll know something about their true numbers. If they just continue to fight back against a lockdown – assumably because they’re not dying – we’ll also have a clue about their numbers.

    Either way, they could make a valid control group in the lockdown argument.

  • bobby b writes:

    If lockdowns truly bestow no great benefit (as some suggest), …

    This gives me a bit of a hook to hang an opinion on.

    The primary purpose of lockdowns is to delay most of the infections until means are found to stop people dying (or acquiring and suffering serious long-term morbidities).

    In the current circumstances (ie vaccine not available, probably continuing for some time, and anyway not guaranteed possible) we should be looking hard and fast for anti-virals and non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs).

    Also, given the importance of timing with such a fast-acting infection, early-stage treatments should be applied – rather than waiting until hospitalisation becomes necessary to suppress the worsening symptoms (eg through oxygen). It should be remembered that the early-stage treatments are to assist the patient’s immune system in winning – rather that those reinforcements turning up after the battle is lost or too far gone for saving.

    Then the recovered patients become part of the immune division of the herd; eventually enough being immune for the disease to die out, or become a very minor probably somewhat seasonal thing (at least in temperate zones) for which vaccination helps maintain long-term suppression.

    Moving on, it is interesting to note that the general public are getting increasingly desperate for good news; also good news soon (which rather leaves immunisation out in the cold). POTUS Trump seems to be making use of this great desire with his current personal choice of prophylactic, which is not that of the Swamp.

    As well as saving lives and reducing serious future morbidities, more public confidence through actually effective early-stage (in fact mid-stage too) treatments and also prophylactics would make ending lockdown easier – and seriously mitigate the risk of it bouncing back (because the UK is a northern hemisphere temperate zone) in November (or even latish October) as the IRD (Infectious Respiratory Disease) season starts again.

    And reconnecting with the OP: of course, all portions of society that are less sensible need to be taken into account – as pockets of ongoing infection; not least in our ever-improving computer models. It’s not just our First World selfishness that causes this (allegedly through ‘deprivation’), but wilful self-deprivation. Maybe that’s a currently especially beneficial reason to close down those areas.

    Keep safe and best regards

  • bobby b

    Nigel Sedgwick
    May 19, 2020 at 7:38 am

    “The primary purpose of lockdowns is to delay most of the infections until means are found to stop people dying (or acquiring and suffering serious long-term morbidities).”

    Perhaps that’s the new rationalization, but it was first sold through the argument that re-introduced the word “hump” back into polite discourse.

    Lockdown was originally supposed to throttle back the surge of new serious cases from an acute peak into a lower, but more elongated, one, so that we never overran our treatment capacity. The thinking was that just as many people would eventually become ill, but not so many at one time that we couldn’t find beds for them.

    I’m not sure when it switched over to “not one death”.

  • @bobby b: no argument wanted, however …

    “so that we never overran our treatment capacity” is a subset of “means are found to stop people dying (or acquiring and suffering serious long-term morbidities).”

    And: where did I ever say or imply “not one death”. It is clearly a matter of a lot less of the bad things, not none of them – and that is what would help restore public confidence. We must not be too binary.

    Keep safe and best regards

  • Nullius in Verba

    “I’m not sure when it switched over to “not one death”.”

    I think it was when we realised how the elongation would have to be, and realised that there was no point in going for herd immunity (at the cost of a lot of deaths) when it wasn’t any faster or significantly more onerous than waiting for a vaccine/treatment.

    Over the past month we in the UK have infected about 5% of the population at a cost of 30,000 dead. (Some say the excess deaths is more like 50,000, but I’ll go with the official figure.) To get to herd immunity, we need to have infected at least 50% of the population. (1-1/R0 gives 60-80%, but with minor precautions we could probably manage with a bit less.) So we need to do the same thing 10 times over. That would put us at least 10 months down the line, which is not far off the time optimists figure vaccines could start to be rolled out, but with ~300,000 dead.

    We’ve got to maintain R0 = 1 for all that time anyway, so if we get the number of ongoing infections down first, we can get to the finish line with far fewer deaths, and at the marginal cost of keeping the most intense lockdown on for an extra month or so at the start.

    Going for herd immunity arguably makes sense if you can do it very fast. It results in quite a lot of deaths, but is better for the economy. But if it’s going to take almost as long as waiting for the vaccine, it no longer gives any advantage over waiting.

  • Nigel Sedgwick (May 19, 2020 at 7:38 am), I have to agree with bobby b (May 19, 2020 at 8:29 am). Lockdown was sold as “flatten the curve” and could be argued for in those terms: an abruptly overwhelmed health system would indeed cause avoidable deaths. The relevant numbers could be monitored. The rationally-defensible duration was short enough that this was not ‘killing the health system to save it’.

    The only things you can lockdown till effective treatment arrives are things you would have been ready to lockdown, for example from circa 1980 until an AIDS vaccine arrives. I cover my mouth when I cough – something my ancestors may well have been doing since the black death or earlier. (A missionary aid worker friend told me that in some east African tribes, coughing indoors when there is a group in the hut, even with hand over mouth, is seen as rude.) I see a significant western cultural aversion to face-masks as a routine thing – but we’ll see how well that survives the pan(dem)ic. But if you can’t imagine doing it for decades, it is time to stop doing it – or (to speak in terms of practical politics) to start stopping doing it – or at least to find other reasons not than “till a vaccine arrives”. We may be lucky on that score. We may not.

  • it pains me to say that these residents might well be our allies in liberty to some extent – yelling an Arabic version of “don’t tread on me” at their supervisors. (bobby b, May 18, 2020 at 8:39 pm)

    As a US citizen, you may be better placed than me to guess how many people resisted prohibition out of high-minded defence of liberty versus how many just wanted a drink and were not too troubled in their consciences if such as Al Capone waxed fat and flourished thereby.

    I see the zones urbaines sensibles as much more innately dangerous. It is not prohibitions but permissions that let their criminality wax fat and flourish. (The prohibitions were on their critics, e.g. hate speech laws.)

    There are of course US precedents for that kind of permissiveness, e.g. New York City circa 1915:

    A man who can vote ten times in a single day for you, and who has a lot of followers who, if they like you, will vote ten times in a single day for you, is worth cultivating. So the politicians passed the word to the police, and the police left the gangs alone, and they waxed fat and flourished.

    It is strongly claimed that Jim Jones movement worked similarly in San Francisco in the early 70s. And of course ‘vote early and often’ Chicago is well known.

    I have suspicions, but no real data, about the political usefulness in French elections of the gangs that run ‘les zones’ .

    But my post is because I see a deeper danger than these more recent historical analogies.

  • Generally, and somewhat responding the Niall (as I commented over on Raedwald’s blog):

    If people are not dying much and not suffering much from serious long-term morbidities, the social, entertainment and tourist industries are more likely to recover – and sooner.

    Is that something that anti-lockdown enthusiasts might appreciate, as a short-term or medium-term benefit.

    Remember that I am arguing here for short-term (or at least November-ish) anti-virals and NPIs.

    On those anti-virals and NPIs, it needs to be remembered that many to most of them will have undesirable (mostly) longer-term side effects. It is those that need to be traded against the short-term Covid-19 suppression benefit and the earlier and fuller lifting of lockdown. An example of this is therapeutic nicotine.

    Keep safe and best regards

  • [Aside. Looks as though I might have tried posting this on the wrong thread, which then decided comments were closed; then reposting on the correct thread failed as it was the same comment. Either that or my comment is in moderation. Anyway, I am changing the comment to see if my problem is the former, and that the Samizdata Bot is not too smart.]

    Generally, and somewhat responding the Niall (as I commented over on Raedwald’s blog):

    If people are not dying much and not suffering much from serious long-term morbidities, the social, entertainment and tourist industries are more likely to recover – and sooner.

    Is that something that anti-lockdown enthusiasts might appreciate, as a short-term or medium-term benefit. []

    Remember that I am arguing here for short-term (or at least November-ish) anti-virals and NPIs. []

    On those anti-virals and NPIs, it needs to be remembered that many to most of them will have undesirable (mostly) longer-term side effects. It is those that need to be traded against the short-term Covid-19 suppression benefit and the earlier and fuller lifting of lockdown. An example of this is therapeutic nicotine. []

    Keep safe and best regards

  • NickM

    NiV,

    We pick axioms to align with the laws of physics as we understand them.

    Ya what? You regard mathematics as sub-ordinate to physics? So, ultimately, you’re saying, let me get this right, that 2+2=4 because two beans plus another two beans equals a very small casserole?

    Fuck that! Yes, I know ZFC (and it’s better than KFC but so is bowking one’s duodenum in a Leeds 7 gutter after an interesting ‘kebab’).

    Mathematics is truth by definition. Physics isn’t. Physics has to be proven in the shop.

    I would really like to discuss (what I think) is quite a statement – logic is derived from the physical Universe? Wanna do it privately? I bet Perry can exchange our email addresses in a way that means neither of us gets a 2.5m “Love Cuddles” Sex-Panda from Wuhan Plasticionics.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Ya what? You regard mathematics as sub-ordinate to physics? So, ultimately, you’re saying, let me get this right, that 2+2=4 because two beans plus another two beans equals a very small casserole?”

    2+2=4 because we choose to assert the Peano-Jordan axioms of arithmetic, and in Peano-Jordan arithmetic 2+2=4 is a theorem. That is the case irrespective of physics. However, the reason we choose to assert the Peano-Jordan axioms is because that enables us to count beans, which is a useful thing to do. The axioms come from physics – they’re only regarded as ‘obviously true’ because they describe how our intuition about the physical world works.

    As it happens, if you look closely enough it turns out physics doesn’t work that way. In quantum field theory, the number of particles is a quantum observable – it is the eigenvalue of a quantum operator (the so-called ‘number operator‘, which is the product of the creation and anihilation operators) applied to the state. An eigenstate of the number operator has an exact number of particles in it, and is called a ‘Fock state’. However, there are lots of states that are not pure Fock states, but quantum superpositions with a mixed/ambiguous/undefined number of particles. You can have a box that contains no particles (is a vaccuum) according to one observer, and is full of particles (Unruh radiation) according to another. All that is required is that one observer is accelerating relative to the other.

    Likewise with adding velocities. What do you get if you add the speed of light to the speed of light? Do you get motion at twice the speed of light? What do you get if you add 90 degree rotation to 270 degree rotation? How can the answer ever be ‘no rotation at all’? What if physics was such that a 720 degree rotation of some object could be equal to no rotation at all, but a 360 degree rotation is not? Is that even conceivable? We have different sorts of numbers, following different axioms, to model these alternate bits of physics. Why integers? Why not complex numbers? Or quaternions? Or numbers modulo 3? Then 2+2=1, and madness rules.

    Our intuition about counting beans is wrong (although a damn good approximation!) Our selection of axioms is ‘wrong’, if we’re planning to use it for bean-counting. We could have asserted axioms for QFT number operators, instead. However, the basic reason we picked Peano-Jordan axioms as an interesting system to study was precisely and solely because they are simple and a very good approximation to the ‘number of particles’ property of quantum states. We think of the Peano-Jordan axioms as ‘obviously true’ because of physics. The world doesn’t have to be that way, and in fact isn’t.

    In a somewhat different but related way, computation is a physical process, and what we can compute is actually a question of physics. What we can compute is a separate question to what is mathematically true. So we have the concept of ‘computable numbers’ which are the output of some algorithm, and because the algorithms are countable, and the Real numbers are not, we discover that almost all our numbers are inaccessible to computation! We can’t calculate with them. There are logicians who ask questions about whether they would be computable if the laws of physics were different. What if you could carry out ‘supertasks‘? What if you had a time machine? What if you had an ‘oracle’ that could do one specific sort of impossible computation – could you use it to then perform all the others?

    Given a set of axioms and rules for manipulating them, all the logical consequences of them are implicitly defined, all at once. However, getting to them explicitly is a computational process. Theorem proving is physics, and what theorems you can prove depends on the laws of physics. So for example, if there is only a finite amount of time and space in the universe, you are time and memory limited in your proofs. Mathematics has to be proven in an actual physical brain, or computer, obeying the actual laws of physics. If performing the proof requires breaking the rules of physics, then it may well be true but there’s no way to know it.

    Our entire logical framework, our choice of axioms, our ability to compute and prove theorems, are all constrained by the fact that we are thinking about it all on computers made of meat that are required to obey the laws of physics, largely for the purpose of modelling the physical world. Physics determines what maths is possible to do. It has a lot to say about what axioms are considered interesting or useful. Maths and physics are inextricably intertwined.

    It’s a fun topic! And I’m sure it’s less annoying to have me going on about physics here for a few comments than some other things I could be arguing about. 🙂

  • bobby b

    Nigel Sedgwick
    May 19, 2020 at 8:59 am

    “@bobby b: no argument wanted, however …”

    None offered, actually. I’m not arguing the merits of lockdowns or distancing, or really even disagreeing with you – just commenting on perceptions.

    Initially, the availability of ventilators was seen as the limiting factor in our treatment possibilities. The “peak” was initially defined by the number of available ventilators. I think the “lower the peak” argument suffered a fatal blow when it was discovered that ventilators weren’t needed – indeed, could be contraindicated – in this virus treatment. Once that limitation was disposed of, we could have found a way to handle a much higher peak.

    Then, we learned more about the virus’s effects, as we gained more data to play with, and a different rationale for lockdown became applicable.

    But this change was never communicated. One day we woke up and the new rationale was being touted as if it had been the rationale all along. I don’t know if it was because the PTB didn’t want to appear uncertain and confused, or if it was assumed that everyone understood the change, but it left the credibility of the public health authorities somewhat in tatters.

    I think this has contributed as much towards public pushback against lockdowns as has any actual knowledge of the virus.

  • APL

    Nigel Sedgwick: “The primary purpose of lockdowns is to delay most of the infections until means are found to stop people dying (or acquiring and suffering serious long-term morbidities).”

    Nope. The mantra was to flatten the curve and save the NHS.

    Flattening the curve doesn’t lessen the number of deaths overall. Just spreads them over a longer period.

    Saving the NHS, well, the whole point of the NHS was that it would save British citizens.

    But that’s now been inverted and perverted. British citizens are now, – right now, being sacrificed to the NHS. It’s as if we’ve stepped into a ‘wormhole’ and find ourselves back in time staring up at an Aztec pyramid watching the heart being carved from the chest of some hapless sacrificial victim. Meanwhile the priesthood chant: ‘flatten the curve, save lives, nobody should drown in their own fluids’.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “Flattening the curve doesn’t lessen the number of deaths overall. Just spreads them over a longer period.”

    Flattening the curve prevents the NHS being overwhelmed, which would result in millions of people being unable to get hospital treatment, which would increase the number of people who died, and mean far more young/healthy people died. The primary purpose was to save lives. Protecting the NHS’s ability to treat everyone who needed treatment was just the means to do so.

  • APL

    APL: “The mantra was to flatten the curve and save the NHS.”

    NiV: “Flattening the curve prevents the NHS being overwhelmed, “

    One point of agreement, Good.

    NiV: “which would result in millions of people being unable to get hospital treatment”

    How? Would the hospitals buildings disappear? Would the doctors put down their stethoscopes? Nurses go full time into tik tok video production? No.

    Your scare was always predicated on the total overnight collapse of the health service. Demagoguery at its most impressive, but untrue.

    And Ferguson’s wild predictions, they were also false.

    NiV: “and mean far more young/healthy people died”

    Young people don’t succumb to COVID-19 to the extent of those over 60. So that was and is another scare tactic.

    NiV: “The primary purpose was to save lives.”

    False. The public and declaired purpose was to save the NHS.

    NiV: ” Protecting the NHS’s ability to treat everyone who needed treatment”

    False.

    The NHS doesn’t have an ability to treat everyone who needs treatment even today, even when it isn’t being stressed. It is a rationing mechanism, always has been and always will be.

  • Just in case anyone cares to help, my comment of yesterday at approximately 11:17 GMT is still in moderation, where it has been now for some 12 hours.

    Keep safe and best regards

  • bobby b

    APL
    May 19, 2020 at 10:52 pm

    NiV: “which would result in millions of people being unable to get hospital treatment”

    “How? Would the hospitals buildings disappear? Would the doctors put down their stethoscopes? Nurses go full time into tik tok video production?”

    It wasn’t so much being unable to get NHS treatment as it was an artifact of the ventilator problem. It was expected that, as people became severely ill, mechanical oxygenation would be their savior. Thus, if a hospital had 100 ventilators, and 120 patients showed up in extremis, 100 would be saved, while 20 would surely die. The flattening was to keep those extra 20 people healthy until next week, when (presumably) ventilators would be available.

    No one’s talking about ventilators now, but we seem to have forgotten to adjust our capacity-math. The fact that so many beds were left empty during this crisis makes that apparent.

  • Nullius in Verba

    “How? Would the hospitals buildings disappear? Would the doctors put down their stethoscopes? Nurses go full time into tik tok video production?”

    No. You would simply have more people needing hospital beds than there are beds. You would have many hospitals-worth of patients for every hospital you had.

    The NHS has about 100,000 beds in total, most of which are already occupied, and at the start of this crisis had about 8,000 critical care beds. If 80% of the population catches it on the way to herd immunity, and 5% of them need hospital treatment to survive, that’s 2,600,000 patients. If the epidemic rises and falls in two months, and it takes two weeks on average to recover or die (i.e. you can divide by 4), you’re going to have on the order of 650,000 patients (plus the background level of sick people from everything else) chasing 100,000 beds/doctors/nurses and nobody is going to have time for tiktok!

    They raised the capacity to around 20,000 critical care beds, but that’s still not going to be enough if 100,000 patients need them. That would still leave 80,000 needing critical care and not getting it. They would die, and the overall death rate would soar.

    *With* hospital treatment, we know around 1% of people who catch it die. *Without* hospital treatment, we don’t know. But if 5% isn’t an unreasonable guess, then the deaths rise from 1% x 80% x 65,000,000 = 520,000 up towards 5% x 80% x 65,000,000 = 2,600,000. Instead of being mainly old people near the end of their life, a lot of younger people will die. A lot of the survivors would have permanent damage. And with the hospitals stuffed full and the doctors and nurses operating triage, a lot of other sick people with cancer and heart disease and so on wouldn’t get the level of treatment they needed.

    “Young people don’t succumb to COVID-19 to the extent of those over 60. So that was and is another scare tactic.”

    Here’s the age profile that the CDC observed. The first two intervals are twice the width of the others, but even so, you can see that younger people do get hospitalised at high rates, they’re just more likely to survive with treatment.

    “False. The public and declaired purpose was to save the NHS.”

    The slogan was “Stay at home > Protect the NHS > Save lives”. The declared purpose is to save lives. The first two parts described how.

    It’s no more true to say the declared purpose was to “Protect the NHS” than it would be to say the declared purpose was to “Stay at home”. You can’t just stop reading halfway through and leave off the conclusion.

    Staying at home protected the NHS from getting overloaded which saved lives. Saving lives was the goal. The slogan explains succinctly what to do, how it works, and what it achieves.

    There’s an ongoing controversy where the opposition parties are claiming that the new slogan is too subtle for the dumbnuts of the general public to understand, whereas the old slogan was easy to understand. I thought that was rather insulting to the general public. But maybe even the old slogan was too hard for some to understand?

  • APL

    Who would have thought it? COVID-19 may have been at large for much longer than anyone thought. Which means the herd would have been much further advanced along the path to immunity and the ‘lockdown’ and associated social and economic ruin completely unnecessary.

    Huh!

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