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The fundamental hubris of modern humanity

Some interesting analysis by commenter Wintergreen.

When I ponder the societal response to COVID, the theme that leaps out at me is the fundamental hubris of modern humanity. Of course I’m speaking in sweeping generalities that don’t apply uniformly to all individuals, but modern man has convinced ourselves that we are the masters of the universe. We scoff at the benighted fools who went before us, we tear down their statues if they do not rigidly adhere to every tenet of certain strands of modern philosophy. We laugh at their belief in the old gods, or in old now-falsified scientific theories, but always lacking the self-awareness to see that our recent forebears who are now the target were doing the same and that we will soon be the butt of the joke.

We have torn down the old gods, and I’m not here to tell you that they were true (or to agree that they were false), but it is audacious hubris to be certain that there was nothing at all to be taken from the millennia of distilled thinking on the human condition that they represented. They sometimes led to horrors – crusades, inquisitions, jihads, witch hunts, and those horrors confirm our rectitude. But in their place, men have been forced to find other animating reasons for being. Nationalism, Marxism, socialism, totalitarianism, environmentalism, and now scientism and Wokism have all attempted to fill this void, and they have produced their very own horrors, but no matter. Yesterday’s intellectual craze that lit the world on fire is discarded and replaced by a new one, and this time it will surely be utopia.

So confident are we in our status as masters of the universe that when the utopia fails to materialize, it takes at least a generation to consider that perhaps the new ideology was not the answer. In the mean time, it must be that other humans have foiled the triumph, because humans have conquered all (confusingly, the high priests sometimes acknowledge that we are small, not particularly physically-gifted creatures trying to use our brains to carve out an existence for ourselves on a small rock circling a small star in a small galaxy in some far-flung corner of a largely empty and cold universe, but do so to buttress their own authority rather than admit their own fallibility). So some group must be otherized and the blame laid on them. Depending on the ideology that’s been foiled, it might be a religious or ethnic group, it might be the opponents of the ideology in question, or it might be polluters, capitalists, or the unvaccinated. In any event it must have a purely human source because to consider other possibilities would be to shake the foundations of the fundamental hubris. If people are hungry, it must be because some other human is hoarding resources. If people are not reaching their potential, it must be because some other human is oppressing them. If people are sick, it must be because some other human is failing to subjugate themselves enough to “stop the spread”.

Even an ideology that rejects objective truth and grand narratives like post-modernism is used not as it might be to reject human hubris but rather simply as a cudgel with which to kill the old gods and the old ideologies. All ideologies have the potential to fall into hubris and otherizing, but the risk can be greatly reduced when an ideology embraces the notions of inalienable individual rights, freedom of thought, and freedom of expression — notions that if they were ever truly embraced have now been disregarded as the the cynical refuge of the scoundrels who are blocking utopia.

The opiate of the masses being deployed in this moment is not promises of an afterlife but promises of a life after – a life after two weeks then months then years of being deprived of some of the most simple pleasures of human existence. Just as the priests of old could not actually deliver on their promises in a verifiable manner, neither can the priests of today. As many of their parishioners await their future reward, they may die of non-COVID diseases, suicide and drug abuse, their intellectual and social skills may atrophy, but surely they will emerge on the other side sicker and older and weaker because no amount of intellectual posturing can overcome the physical constraints of the human condition itself.

Scientism is proving to be one of the most dangerous of the new ideologies because it mutates with the speed of a virus, and each mutation wipes out the memory of the previous iteration so as to not puncture the hubris of its adherents. It can credibly claim to do so by expropriating the mantle of science, which is a way of thinking that requires old beliefs to be jettisoned when evidence demands. Scientism, though, plays fast and loose with the evidentiary requirements, treating hypotheses as theories and requiring that the currently fashionable hypotheses be venerated as in a faith.

So now a vast campaign of othering has commenced against those who refuse an experimental vaccine for a disease they are very unlikely to suffer serious harm from. That it is completely infeasible, even with an utter disregard for individual rights, to vaccinate 8.8 billion people in time to prevent new variants from emerging is no matter. The first major campaign demonized those who refused to accept indefinite house arrest, the wonton suspension of economic and civil liberties, and the complete disregard for all aspects of life other than virus avoidance. The second demonized those who questioned the efficacy of cloth talismans. Woven throughout was the dismissal of those who questioned how this disease emerged and whether it may in fact itself be a manifestation of human hubris, and of any possible remedies that didn’t line the pockets of DME manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies. But this new campaign is the most vicious, because while the others were at least theoretically temporary in nature, there is no way to walk back an injection, and the campaign now seeks to physically rather than simply rhetorically otherize its opponents.

The admirers of the experts (e.g. Fauci) will defend their flip-flops by saying “the science changed”. Well, actually, the science didn’t change. Perhaps our understanding changed, but the workings of the natural world that we are grasping to understand did not (of course, viruses evolve and conditions change etc., but that’s not how it’s being invoked). Maybe you should show a little humility as a result, and submit yourself to honest cross-examination while allowing people to dissent.

23 comments to The fundamental hubris of modern humanity

  • Rudolph Hucker

    Great article, thank you.

  • Paul Marks

    The big question is – is the irrational, and counter productive, response to Covid 19 seen in most (although certainly NOT all) countries, an example of “hubris” as the writer claims – or is there a plan at work?

    Surely if “hubris” (overwhelming pride) was at the root of the response to Covid 19 seen in so many countries the first thought would have been “how do we treat this disease?” We would have seen governments and private organisations pushing treatments – whether those treatments really worked or not.

    But nothing of the kind happened – instead the OPPOSITE occurred. Early Treatment of Covid 19 was not pushed by governments and private organisations – instead Early Treatment of Covid 19 was systematically SMEARED on an international level. Even after 17 months (and a vast amount of evidence that Early Treatment with a combination of long standing medications, normally works) the chant of TINET, there-is-no-early-treatment, continues.

    “We can not treat this disease” is not a statement of “hubris” – it is quite the opposite.

    There are also the odd coincidences…

    For example, for many years (under such names as “Agenda 21”, “Agenda 2030”, “Sustainable Development” and so on) various international organisations, both public and private (and hybrids – such as the World Economic Forum, which started as the private group of Klaus Schwab, but is now endorsed by the United Nations and others) have been pushing the concentration of property in the hands of governments and a few vast corporations (such as banks – but not just banks), in order that the life of humanity be can be “planned” – supposedly (as with Sir Francis “New Atlantis” Bacon, Jeremy 13 Departments of State Bentham, Saint-Simon and his “Technocracy” and-so-on) for the good of “the people”.

    It-just-so-happens that the policies pushed, supposedly as a response to Covid 19, all fit this agenda – they all (“by coincidence”) have the effect of undermining small business enterprises and small scale private property owning – and have the effect of concentrating property in the hands of governments and a few large corporations (such as banks – but not just banks).

    Early Treatment of Covid 19 with a combination of long standing medications would NOT fit this agenda – as then few people would die of it, and it would be hard to justify “lockdowns”, rent “moratoriums” and-so-on. And, by some coincidence, Early Treatment has not been pushed – it has been SMEARED (on an international basis). Organisations such as “American’s Frontline Doctors” were systemically smeared, as were leading academics such as the Professors of Epidemiology (for example at Yale).

    And countries that did practice Early Treatment (for example in Africa – but also Honduras) were just ignored – treated as if they did not exist. Whereas countries such as Peru were praised for their Early Lockdown and Mask Mandate – even though Peru has the HIGHEST Covid death rate on the planet.

    How can a country, Peru, with the HIGHEST Covid death rate on the planet be a success story? The praise for its early lockdown and mask mandate just makes-no-sense. Nor was it any different in Europe with such countries as the Czech Republic praised for their early lockdown and mask mandate – and the great numbers of people dead from Covid in these countries ignored.

    So there may indeed be hubris at work – but it is PERHAPS the hubris of thinking “the ends justify the means” and that in order to produce a supposedly much better “planned society” a lot of people have to be left to die “you can not make an omelette without breaking eggs”. As one could not justify the lockdowns (to bankrupt small business), the rent moratoriums (to bankrupt small property owners and concentrate ownership in the hands of the banks and other “pet” corporations working hand in hand with governments) and other policies to achieve the supposedly much better “planned society”, without a large number of people dying of a disease. The “Climate Change Emergency” did not have the effect on public opinion it was hoped that it would – but Covid 19 did, with large numbers of people dying very radical policies (such as lockdowns and rent moratoriums) could be justified.

    The above may all be much too cynical – but the policies followed in most countries had no rational basis. Such works as “Stakeholder Capitalism” by Klaus Schwab were NOT a “response” to Covid 19 or the “Climate Change Emergency” – “Stakeholder Capitalism” (essentially the manifesto of the Fascist Corporate State we are seeing international efforts to build) was published in 1971 – how could it be a “response” to things that no one was talking about in 1971?

    Agenda 21 (the legally “nonbinding” United States agreement – that was then turned into law and policy in many countries) was agreed in 1989 – the CO2 is evil theory was only just underway, it is hard to believe that Agenda 21 can have been a “response” to this theory (after all it had been in discussion for years in various national and international forums – it is OLDER than the C02 is evil theory), as for Agenda 21 or Agenda 2030 being a “response” to Covid 19 – that just makes no sense at all (unless one believes that someone had a time machine in 2020 and went back to the 1980s and started pushing Agenda 21).

    Lockdowns, rent moratoriums and so on had never been a response to a pandemic before – so why this time? And those nations that did not follow these policies (even Social Democratic Sweden, or left wing Nicaragua, or Soviet Belarus) did NOT see higher death rates for Covid 19 than Britain or the United States which did follow these policies – indeed they had LOWER death rates for Covid 19.

    Again the idea that Covid 19 was used as an excuse for policies the international establishment wanted to follow anyway may be TOO CYNICAL – but the idea that these policies were really about Covid 19 does not make any sense.

  • Paul Marks

    There is also the matter of the origin of Covid 19.

    It is now fairly clear that it was released, by accident or by design, from the Wuhan lab in about September 2019 – at about the same time that an international games was held in Wuhan (with lots of slogans supporting the United Nations and general international Agenda 21 stuff).

    And for some months the danger and the spread of Covid 19 was downplayed by the World Health Organisation and other groups – till it was too late to keep the disease out of most Western countries.

    Even after all this – such people as Peter Daszak and Tony Fauci were not arrested or even asked to resign from their positions, in spite of their “Gain of Function” research going horribly wrong – if one assumes that Covid 19 was an accident (that they were NOT deliberately trying to kill vast numbers of people).

    Instead people such as Peter Daszak and Tony Facui were treated as noble experts – and their “advice” was slavishly followed, not matter how totally irrational the “advice” was.

    I remember well Tony Facui saying there was little chance of Covid 19 spreading to the United States – and the media (and just about everyone else) undermining President Trump’s effort to keep it out.

    Then Early Treatment was systematically smeared – with such things as crudely fraudulent “studies” in the Lancet. Some people even turned up on Samizdata parroting the official line that Early Treatment (with a combination of long standing medications) was useless, and claiming that Covid 19 had no connection to the lab at Wuhan.

    Their lies became so absurd it was hard to know whether to laugh or cry – or both.

    I am sorry – but it is hard to accept that all of this was just due to “hubris”, at least not just the sort of hubris the writer is pointing to.

    Perhaps it is NOT an international policy agenda – but it must be something more than just “hubris”.

    None of it, the policy response in most Western countries, makes any sense.

  • Lord T

    I see it even simpler than that. I believe these people actually believe that what they are doing good. Their mind works in such a way that they are incapable of evaluating the situation and rely on ‘trusted’ sources. The last 40 years of a socialist education has reduced our capability for rational though while actually increasing our belief that we are the brightest and best. Living in relative peace for 70 years means that we think everything is all sugar and spice and as kind people we look to share that with others. We want everyone to get on and anyone that opposes that doesn’t deserve to live. They actually believe that imposing whatever actions are necessary will keep them safer and extend their lives but also that it will do the same for you and everyone else. It’s for your own good. Bit like a religious person killing someone that has a demon in them. The afterlife will sort it out so no harm done.

    Worse than their stupidity and arrogance so they can feel safer and potentially extend their lives they would sacrifice not only everyone else but even their own children’s lives. What a bunch.

    The worst thing is that most people don’t believe all this hype. However, they also believe that TPTB are benign and they are genuinely trying to help because they too have the capability of holding two conflicting thought on the same subject and believe both of them.

    In the meantime a vocal minority push our stupid governments around and those wimps are too deep in the trough to risk being kicked out.

    So they West will disappear in a whimper while others, more distrustful, will take over the helm. So endeth the Western civilisation.

  • Paul Marks

    Some people in the West just said NO – such as the Governor of South Dakota and some others.

    And some people actually changed policy when they thought about it – for example the Governor of Florida who (many forget this) actually did order a lockdown for a period of time, but then realised the HARM it was doing and changed policy.

    If Western Civilisation is to survive – such people must come to power, at the national level.

    The Sword of State can not be wished away – so it must be in the hands of limited government people, not the “Planned Society” people who now control the Sword of State in most countries.

  • Paul Marks

    Correction – the “nonbinding” Agenda 21 was agreed in 1991 (not 1989). However, I still think it is not plausible to think it was a “response” to the CO2 theory that really only started to get pushed hard in 1988. Most of Agenda 21 really has nothing to do with the Global Warming theory – the “tacking on” is obvious. The international “educated” classes looking for excuses to do what they wanted to do anyway – establish a Planned Society.

  • JohnM

    You may speak/write for yourself and some others, but do not include me in your “WE”

  • Wintergreen


    As I suppose is the case for the overwhelming majority of readers of Samizdata, I too have a strong aversion to the collective “we”, especially in the political realm. I had hoped that the second sentence “Of course I’m speaking in sweeping generalities that don’t apply uniformly to all individuals” would serve as a sufficient disclaimer. Apparently it was not nearly as strong or explicit as I intended so please accept my formal release of you and any other individual from the collective “we” as used in my comment.

  • bobby b

    It would probably help their cause if they could pick their priests better. Archbishop Fauci has been at best a muddled witness for the faith.

  • Stonyground

    This article is discussing some thoughts that had occured to me with regard to governments coercing people to have the Covid vaccine.


  • Brian Micklethwait

    This piece, by Anton Howes, seems relevant.

  • Exasperated

    I’m just musing and rambling in this comment, and I know this is broad brushed. Maybe civilization and advanced technology do lead to increasing feminization and infantilization; so many seem cocooned from reality. It’s baffling because, on the one hand, they have great faith in the system and technology to protect them, and on the other, they are innumerate and magnify threat, whether it’s the covid virus or fear of flying. Their ability to assess risk seems flawed. I don’t think most of them would fare well if they could be dropped into the world of even a hundred years ago, where danger, tragedy, suffering and loss was always hanging over everyone.

    In Canada, a couple of weeks ago, the story of the burial of First Nation children in unmarked graves emerged to be recycled. Of course the hucksters were front and center with their wildly extrapolated claims and inflammatory accusations: abuse, neglect, murder, Nazi genocide. They wouldn’t get away with it if the public didn’t fall for technological and medical “presentism”. The claims exposed a real ignorance of how people lived in the past and what they had had to work with. Of course, for many it is an occasion to express faux empathy and selective compassion. Their maudlin sentimentality is strangely missing when it comes to all the children, urban or rural, rich or poor, in whatever era, on whatever continent who died from TB, diphtheria, sepsis, malnutrition, or an impacted wisdom tooth. My point is, just as they take their phones and internet for granted, they cannot imagine a world without electricity, mass production, plastics, antibiotics, clean water………

  • Sam Duncan

    treating hypotheses as theories and requiring that the currently fashionable hypotheses be venerated as in a faith.

    The mass media, in particular, doesn’t even seem to know the word “hypothesis”. Maybe it’s too long for a headline.

  • Bruce

    Doing the rounds:

    “I remember when experts were on tap, not on TOP!”

  • Paul Marks

    Yes Brian Micklethwait – in the past people looked for treatments that worked, they were not really concerned with WHY they worked. People did write out theories (normally wrong) about why a certain treatment worked – but they were really concerned with was “does it help?” not “why does it help?”

    We know from bodies found with long healed wounds that even drastic wounds could be successfully treated by battlefield surgeons. And we know that often people were cured of terrible diseases – for example by the much despised “Jewish healers” who the rich could turn to in desperation (it was very risky to be such a healer – if you failed you might get into terminal trouble, and even if you were successful you could face danger as Sir Walter Scott reminds us in his novel “Ivanhoe”).

    Monks also researched the medical arts – and also poured over the records of long dead monks, to see what worked and what did not work.

    The “scientific clergyman” both Catholic and Anglican was a feature into quite modern times (think of monk Mendel and genetics) – and like the “scientific country squire” or the “scientific gentleman” did not depend on science for their INCOME.

    People who depend on vast bureaucratic bodies for their basic income tend to conform to those bodies – one is not likely to get independent research from systems like “peer review” or establishment journals with their “Public Health” and “Social Justice” ideology.

  • Paul Marks

    Some of these past researchers were people of great strength of character.

    For example, we know a lot about the Black Death because the personal physician of the Pope wrote a careful account of what he witnessed – even as people died around him and he himself got the disease.

    He kept careful notes on all the horrible things that happened to others – and to himself.

    By the way – both the Pope (who never got the disease – sitting behind a wall of flame, through which everything was passed before he touched it) and the physician who got the Black Death himself, survived.

  • So some group must be otherized and the blame laid on them.

    Thomas Sowell (‘A Conflict of Visions’) identifies this ‘localisation of evil’ – this denial that certain problems are innate and can only be handled by trade-offs – as a key distinction between those who swallow ‘The Vision of the Anointed’ (title of another of his books) and those who don’t.

    In ‘A Conflict of Visions’ (unlike ‘The Vision of the Anointed’), Thomas tries hard to present both visions fairly, describing each as its adherents see it without favouring either. If you knew nothing else of him, you’d deduce which vision was his by meta-reasoning – it is clear which vision would prompt a man to write fairly about both sides and which (on principle, not just for propaganda reasons) would not.

  • Paul Marks


    Again they are NOT saying that Covid 19 can be treated – that is exactly what they are denying. They are saying the disease is so deadly that society must be shut down – regardless of the consequences of doing that.

    It is not hubris in the sense of thinking every problem can be solved – they are saying the problem can not be solved. That the many medical doctors who insist that they have successfully treated thousands of people for Covid 19 for over a year, are-all-lying.

    TINET – there-is-no-early-treatment has been the main cry of the international establishment since at least March 2020. That is how they have justified everything they have done.

  • Paul Marks

    What the international establishment have said since March 2020 is that we must all be like the Pope during the Black Death – trapped behind a wall of fire, with everything he drank first boiled, and everything he ate cooked hard and passed through the wall of fire.

    And now what the international establishment are saying is that everyone who is NOT ill must be injected with something and must reinjected, and then get a “booster” and so on, and that we will be dependent on new injections for new things (for people who are NOT ill) and so on.

    Medicine used to teach – treat the sick and leave the healthy alone. It no longer does.

    The vaccines may turn out O.K. – or they may not.

    I am little disturbed that I still get twinges in my left arm (still that is nothing compared to my lower back – and what happened on the 19th of July had nothing to do with the vaccine) – and I had my second shot two months ago. But I am more concerned that the vaccines are said to be “leaky” i.e. that they do not stop people catching and transmitting the virus, that MAY (PERHAPS) mean that new variants of Covid 19 will evolve – not “in the unvaccinated” as the establishment keep saying, but in the vaccinated.

    Early Treatment of those people who got sick with Covid 19 would have the logical response to the pandemic – but Early Treatment was systematically SMEARED.

    Why was there the smear campaign?


  • Nathan

    I think there’s a rhyme of history at play here. ~110 years ago, people thought things were getting awesomely better with science and society — even to the point of thinking they were living in a new millennium.

    Then two things in short order convinced people otherwise: the Titanic (science/technology failed), and World War 1.0 (leaders/nations failed). (And then a decade later, Great Depression) Things weren’t getting better for a lot of folks. Trust in science fell way down. Trust in most leaders fell off, but a while after that, a few psychopaths to claim their nation’s trust — to everyone’s detriment.

    Where’s that leave us looking at the future? The media is trying its best to impose a preferred narrative on us. But, trust in media seems to be in steep decline. “Social” media censorship is trying to prevent errant ideas from spreading or pointing out the transparent Emperor’s clothes.

    I’d prefer to not have a WWII ‘rhyme’.

  • Wintergreen

    One hypothesis I have for Paul’s “why?” is that the science crowd (and of course by “science” I really mean authoritarian technocrats) know that COVID likely emerged from the Wuhan lab, which to anyone paying attention will be a damning blow to the credibility of those technocratic institutions and the triumphalism surrounding “science”. Perhaps they believe that this blow can be offset by “science” also being the solution to the pandemic through a combination of draconian technocrat-managed lockdowns and vaccines. But if it turns out that the answer to the pandemic is early treatment with long-known drugs, the ledger for science looks pretty bleak indeed.

  • Flubber

    Why were the early treatments smeared?

    Because of they were effective, the vaccines wouldn’t have got Emergency authorisation

    No vaccine, no social credit system, ahem I mean vaccine passport

  • Paul Marks

    Wintergreen and Flubber.

    Thank you for answering my question.

    I think you are both probably correct – which, if one thinks about it, is truly horrific.

    Hundreds of thousands of people have been allowed to die – who could have been saved.

    This is the worst scandal in the Western World in my life time – and I am horribly convinced that no one will be punished for it.