Three ways of thinking about covid

"If the flag is green, Paddy is in the saddle."

There is no subject that loses as many Gray Mirror subscribers as covid. Almost no one agrees with my covid take—or at least, there is no organized herd which agrees. I can’t post about the subject without at least a few subscriber ragequits. And yet—well, when I really decide I want to be a grifter—well—all them other grifters better watch out.

One of the nice things about this blog is that everyone who gets here gets here of their own volition. They have to decide for themselves that this “refined and troubling” stuff was okay, even cool, to even just think about. They have chosen to think for themselves.

Recently I travelled to DC and NY, totally ignoring the rising power of the deadly “two-step” Delta virus (which drops you not in the street—but before you reach the street), and did 30-minute office hours in both cities, open to subscribers. It was all poorly planned at the last minute and I met only about 40 people.

Honestly, there was not one subscriber with whom I wanted to spend less than 30 minutes, and for almost everyone it was more. I would do office hours in Boston soon, but… I think this quality level is due to our barriers to entry. It’s a cliche, I know… but, let’s think for ourselves, once again, about covid.

There are three ways to think about covid: my way, the normal way, and the right way.

My way

Like most dissidents, I got into covid in January 2020. Unlike most dissidents, I really got into it—I bought (nowhere near enough) deep out-of-the money index puts, on which I got about a 25x net return—even after putting on a few more puts, even rolling them over as the Fed turned the dollar into the Iraqi dinar. (Which nothing in my financial theories disputed their motive, opportunity and propensity to do—I just didn’t believe my own theories. Many such cases.)

It seems to be impossible to invest in anything, even a deadly virus, without becoming for it. I became, in fact, a covid bull. I was pro-covid. What else could purge the rot from the West—could create the regrettable emergency for the surgery our republic needs? My life as a covid bull gave me new appreciation for the power of motivated cognition.

And it seemed to me inexplicable that this catastrophe was being utterly ignored by the public mind throughout January and February—even though it was obviously developing. Or was it developing? It wasn’t always clear… it sometimes seemed to stall… were the Chinese getting a handle on it? Might it only affect Chinese people? Every bull is either a worrywart or a cokehead. I have to return some videotapes… there is really no investment more psycho than putting your chips on a deadly pandemic.

Investment strategy aside, being a covid bull made it easy to overplay the virus, and assume it was as contagious as its lusty grandson, Delta, and as dangerous as its old uncle, SARS-1. The skew in effect by age was especially surprising and hard to accept—for a covid bull. Why weren’t Americans falling over in the street? Hasn’t anyone on this timeline seen The Andromeda Strain?

Of course, now covid is as contagious as Delta—Australia, which has enough covid to trace but not enough to make it futile, has seen infection just from neighbors passing on the sidewalk—and there is no guarantee that it won’t mutate to be as nasty as its old uncle. You don’t want any variant of covid at any age—it seems to have damaging effects on many tissues of the body. And Delta seems much less age-skewed.

But healthy middle-aged people are still unlikely to die—especially if they’ve been vaccinated against December 2019 “Classic” Lineage A covid, as I have. So it is not exactly that Steven Soderbergh movie, not yet. (Amusingly, the technical adviser on Soderbergh’s film was Columbia’s Ian Lipkin—a pillar of gain-of-function research.)

One friend seems to have had her health damaged by the vaccine—she had the MRNA flu for 8 days and has become a “vaccine longhauler.” Then again, my wife’s best friend still has significant cardiopulmonary consequences of long covid. It does seem on balance that, unless you are a real hermit, you are much better off taking the vaccine; there is danger on both paths, but at least an order of magnitude more on the other.

It turned out to be quite easy for a country that lives by printing money to just print more money. Non-financial America has suffered, of course. But how many of those people are left? And how many does our new economy, the money-printing economy, actually need? Besides, most of the old economy can be replaced by Mayan peasants, who are cheaper and more diligent. And shorter—so more of them can fit in a house.

Or a pod! Pod-based, packetized immigrant day labor may be the real techno-future: the labor unit is simply routed, perhaps on underground rails, to the service location—perhaps not even Elon has considered how much cheaper it is to build pod tunnels with a mere 30-inch diameter—said labor unit can slip into a pod in Mazatlán at 9am, and by 11 be in Orange County ready to do your lawn—he’ll be wearing a mask, of course… personnel who do have to enter the home will wear full Tyvek, with active cooling... aristocrats everywhere have always understood “social distancing” from “the help.”

It turned out that, at least with the old “Classic” covid, it was relatively easy for fairly prosperous paper-pushing or code-pushing people to live safely and comfortably, with all physical labor done by people who rarely got a chance to breathe on them. Even groups of such careful aristocrats were relatively safe, and went all of 2020 without catching a case. And then, of course, the vaccines were approved, and it was all over…

The normal way

The normal way to think about covid is the simple way. The simple way is to either simply respect the authorities completely, or to simply react against them completely. Both of these ways of thinking are quite imprudent, I feel. Rather, it is very important to accept all the input you can find, but filter and condition it with great rigor.

One of the important rules of staying reasonable is to not (a) feed noise into your brain, and (b) not feed illusions into your brain. All brains are subject to illusion! Everyone knows that garbage fed into a computer of any intelligence produces only garbage; and every kind of neural network is subject to carefully formed illusions—optical malware. Do not try to make your brain perfect—try to keep it clean.

The ideological conflict over covid is a perfect natural experiment in political science. Until March 2020, cons were covid-phobes and libs were licking doorknobs. Then Trump, ironically a personal germophobe, made a gut call: a pandemic would be bad for stonks. What is bad for stonks is bad for America, not to mention bad for Trump. Ergo: there could be no pandemic.

So the libs became germophobes, and the cons started licking doorknobs. Obviously, as a covid bull, I was afraid of covid when being afraid of covid was racist. In February, my daughter got called out at school for being afraid of covid, which was racist.

What this piece of history tells us is that the function from ideology to policy is contingent or path-dependent—its output depends on noise, on accident, on what Donald J. Trump had for breakfast one morning.

We cannot say that X is a naturally rightist covid policy, whereas Y is naturally leftist. Just as Scottish nationalism is leftist and English nationalism is rightist, either party can take either side of the question. If Donald J. Trump had ordered the breakfast taco instead of the eggs, cons would be covid fascists and libs would be licking doorknobs. The only constant is that the two parties must oppose each other.

If you want to think clearly, you first have to filter contingent noise out of your input stream. Which is hard—when all the streams available have some flavor of noise.

The importance of political noise

It’s not just hard to not think about noise—it’s wrong. Noise matters. People tend to think in contingent ways because reality matters, and they perceive themselves as on a battlefield—which they really are. And battles are always contingent.

I am so old that I remember when gay marriage was controversial. Some lost tape even has me being interviewed on the sidewalk outside the Roxie Theater in SF, in the fall of 1992, after some friends and I had gone to see a documentary on the subject. I must have looked like a young twink—funny, since now I look so much like an old lesbian. As I recall, I was all for it. After all, I had just graduated from Brown.

Later on, gay marriage became debatable. And after that it became undebatable—but while it was debatable, what was the debate about? It was very hard for the opponents of gay marriage to concretely describe or explain the actual harm that gay marriage could do to non-gays. They always resorted to these vacuous generalities. Even as a typical lite-libertarian neocon, I had a tough one buying into the generalities.

Here is a parable which I think explains what was going on with gay marriage.

Imagine a random country in which there is an election about nothing. Not about nothing—about nothing important. Nothing with any objectively significant impact. A referendum about a completely symbolic issue—say, the design of a flag.

The design of a flag is not a kind of policy that can do any concrete good or harm to anyone. But strangely, the advocates of each design state their arguments in terms of exactly such good or harm—enormously exaggerated in scale and importance.

Design A is a golden harp on a green field. The advocates of design A argue that a flag is a symbol of unity and peace, and a good design for a flag is a beautiful one that makes everyone feel, like, totally together and chill.

Design B is just an orange square. The advocates of design B argue that a flag is a marker of position in a battle, and it should be visible from a long distance.

Now, when evaluating these “arguments,” you may not have failed to notice that these flags are the symbols of Catholic and Protestant Ireland. If the location of the election is indeed Ireland, we conclude that the election has a very clear meaning.

The election is measuring the comparative political power of Prods and Micks. If the flag comes out orange, Ian has the whip hand. If it is green, Paddy is in the saddle.

Power is a drinking-game—naturally unstable. People are attracted to power, which naturally grows more powerful. In a nation with a green flag, the orange minority will be downcast and inevitably downtrodden; mixed children will want to grow up green; orange children may even convert to green. Culture follows power. In a nation where power is green, culture will become green.

This principle is not exclusive to democracy. If Paddy wins the election, but then some panel of priests, astrologers, poets or judges decides that “green be ugly, yo” and the one true color is orange, the flag will be orange. And power will be orange. And young people will find orange cool. Culture follows power—not numbers. If power does not follow numbers, it just means your regime is an oligarchy, not a democracy.

Yes: when you voted for or against gay marriage, you were voting for or against gay marriage. That was a small thing, not quite a meaningless thing; slightly more than the color of a flag; much smaller than the thing you were actually voting about.

You were actually deciding whether or not to give a victory to the movement pursuing gay marriage. This victory would naturally make it more powerful. Actually, the voters declined to provide this victory—so the movement had to resort to the courts.

Which was democratic too, because experience shows that the voters always come to agree with the courts. America is a law-abiding nation, and also culture follows power. Now everyone loves their new orange flag, so what’s the difference?

Why oppose gay marriage? Not to keep estate planning, etc, for gay couples as a legal punji stake. (It’s not like the American legal system is not full of punji stakes.) Only because the real “debate” is Lewis Carroll’s: “The question is, who is to be master?”

The religion of orange Protestantism allows any human to marry any other human. The religion of green Catholicism requires opposite-sex pairings. When we change the definition of marriage—a ceremony which uniquely concerns both church and state—we are changing the state religion, as surely as if we changed from green to orange flags.

It is inevitable that a change in state religion must bring glory to the votaries of the new religion, and rain suffering upon the votaries of the old. It is therefore easy to understand why gay marriage is best understood as a huge power move—if one which also provided a fair, sincere and nontrivial benefit to our dear homosexual-Americans.

Filtering your covid input stream

But covid is not a patch to estate law. (I admit, it is much easier dealing with an estate when you have a marriage certificate.) Covid is a matter of life and death—even for full-on “floomer” doorknob-lickers who think it’s just the flu, it is a matter of life.

And yet, everything you know or believe about covid has the same noisy baggage as gay marriage or the Irish flag. When the official covid line does a full Orwellian flip and it turns out that we have always been at war with Eastasia, mask skeptics become mask worshipers and vice versa. Of course there is no trustworthy authority anywhere.

For example, covid mask laws are like the orange flag for Catholics—if you had to jam the orange flag up your nose. The required mask, as an insult to your beliefs, is also a kind of low-level continuous physical assault. And Protestants who wear the mask get to constantly remind themselves, and everyone else, that they are good people; even the discomfort makes them feel good, like Wolsey’s hairshirt.

And in this context—you, the independent thinker, have to think about the subject and ask yourself: do masks actually work? If I’m not forced to wear one, should I? What do we actually know? Where can I find actually good advice on the subject of masks?

For example, the only reason we do have a covid vaccine, which doesn’t seem to work great but still seems better than nothing, is simple: our President, Joseph Robitussin Biden. While our robo-President is too deep into his robo evening to be inventing new pharmaceuticals, like Kim Jong-Un, it doesn’t matter. He can just take credit for them.

For if JR Biden wasn’t the President, DJ Trump would be. And his vaccine would be the Trumpvax. And can you imagine if—the Trumpvax gave some teenager a zit?

The next day we’d learn that Trump’s rushed, inadequately-tested vaccine had caused face leprosy in this unfortunate young girl—for whom old streets would be renamed, as a perma-victim of Fascists Not Trusting The Science. Why do you think Pfizer delayed their vaccine analysis until after the election? Because they were in on the conspiracy—or because they weren’t idiots? It could be both. But it is certainly the latter.

In a neutral context—not that this would be the right policy, I believe—the clear and well-documented incidence of myocarditis, at low but statistically significant rates, would sink any vaccine, and likely any vaccine platform—no one would be willing to take the chance that it wasn’t the mRNA, but the spike, that caused the myocarditis.

In a context where the vaccine was the Trumpvax, the vaccine and the mRNA platform would be goners. Herd immunity would be our only possible solution. Trump, even in a triumphant second term, would not have been strong enough to overrule the FDA.

Now that the vaccine is the Sciencevax, it can do no wrong. It could cause face leprosy, and 99 out of 100 doctors would still recommend it. It doesn’t, and perhaps 100 of 100 doctors do. But can 100 of 100 doctors be wrong? Gosh, I’m afraid they sure can.

How should we think about coronavirus vaccines? About masks? About lockdowns? We cannot even discard the noise. We have to filter the signal from the noise.

It is logically possible to believe in both of the following statements: lockdowns are an effective way to control covid-19; lockdowns make the powers that be more powerful. Since lockdowns, or any other mandatory intervention, do make the powers that be more powerful, it follows that the powers that be will be irrationally drawn to them.

From this, however, it does not follow that these interventions are bad or ineffective. Just as that ogre, Trump, could nonetheless get the Sciencevax developed in record time, blocking aerosols blocks an airborne virus even if it makes the libs feel good. Nature is a bitch—it is logically possible for masks to both work, and be a power trip.

There is no option for the independent mind but to filter the signal from the noise. There is no use in simply inverting the noise. The inverse of noise is not signal—the inverse of noise is noise.

Filtering dissident information

If there was a universal filter for signal, there would be no signal. But one way to filter a stream is to look for threads in the stream that are very good at filtering themselves—in other words, groups of people who, regardless of title and institution and degree, actually think like scientists. Your best information will come from such dissidents.

Of course, the dissident group that has done by far the best is the DRASTIC lab-leak detective team, which may not quite have won but has come quite close. This mixture of scientific and political achievement does not come around every week, especially in our present declining age of science.

It is worth comparing their methods to those of the repurposed-drug community, who support the use of ivermectin, hydroxychloroquine, etc. While I respect the work of these people enough that I myself have taken prophylactic ivermectin/chloroquine, chiefly because of the high safety index, their evidence is a bunch of meta-analyses of dodgy Third World studies.

That they use this kind of evidence and do not vigorously question it—for example, that it took their enemies to do a critical reading of the embarrassing Elgazzar paper—is a serious demerit. It is not embarrassing for a true believer to believe that the Third World is just like us and Benha University is just as valid as Brown University. But for a dissident it is embarrassing.

Of course these doctors truly believe for intuitive reasons that the drug works—and intuitive knowledge can be valid knowledge, even in medicine. Perhaps especially in medicine. This, not respect for Egyptian science, is why I would use these substances myself as possible prophylactics—given their low cost and small probability of harm. There is no significant science at all on these drugs—for or against them—and there possibly never will be, since no one needs to be tarred as a heretic for studying them. The age of the open, rigorous mind is over—you have to just use your best judgment.

Filtering official information

It is important not to be a contrarian. The inverse of noise is still noise. It is also very natural, when your faith cracks and you realize that what you used to call “reputation” was just a sort of informal bureaucratic rank, to be a contrarian.

After all, defying arbitrary rank and authority is an American universal. Then again, it is also a toddler universal.

Here, for instance, is a Twitter thread which chronicles one writer’s disaffection with official information. Fine. But if the authorities telling you the vaccine is safe and good and you should take it is not the voice of God—whose voice is it? It is a human voice—human, and fallible. It is not a voice to be listened to; it is a voice to be heard.

It is absolutely foolish to cut yourself off from the official mind. When you are a child, your father is a god. As a teenager, he becomes a tyrant. As an adult, you realize, he is just another imperfect human being.

The way to treat official information is as the words of an aged father, whom you still greatly respect, but no longer trust as the final word on everything. Western science is increasingly like Soviet science: full of amazing people and capable of generating amazing work, but also full of unrepaired and unrepairable holes, leaks and biases.

Once you learn how to process and filter official content, it is amazingly useful. An official source will never tell you everything; official statements are official actions, and many official actions are structurally impossible. For example, no one (well, no one sane) who has to get paperwork past FDA will ever publicly criticize FDA.

But there are always “honest professor” types out there, and plenty of them. While these people are still bureaucrats and still know the intellectual lines they have to toe, they generally know the score, and they generally hate to lie—even by omission.

To filter official information in a world in which reputation has turned into rank, and rank is only weakly associated with truth or merit, you have to essentially construct your own unofficial reputation system. It’s not as hard as it sounds.

The situation in August 2021

Where are we in this damned war, anyway? For it is a war. And, as often in a war, we keep having these moments where it looks like we’re winning, and then…

The 2020 vaccines have turned out to not be magic, as we thought they were a month ago. They clearly help quite a bit with the virus; they clearly are dangerous, but at low rates; everyone should clearly take a shot, probably the gnarliest available (Moderna). There is an increasing case for taking a booster, which anyone can do because there is no centralized vaccination database, as neutralizing immunity seems to decline on a scale of months.

And the virus seems quite capable of evolving against natural or artificial immunity. So it simply does not seem likely that universal vaccination or even universal infection will get humanity off the covid treadmill. Delta is even testing the containment powers of the Chinese government. And not just from what I hear from the government, but from what I hear from everyone I know who’s had this bug—you don’t want it.

As is common in the early phase of wars, the Western world has gone through this entire crisis with the belief that it can solve covid with much less than its full power. Hitler actually began to demilitarize Nazi Germany after the fall of France. It was only three years later that Goebbels had to call for total war.

I admit that I have always believed in total war against this virus. I am a “covid zero” man: covid delenda est. On New Year’s Day 2020, winning that war might have been cheap and easy. Today it is neither—but winning remains 100% worth it.

The American covid-theatre policy of cloth masks and shutdowns—it is too Orwellian to call a porous, unenforced shutdown a “lockdown”—has very little to recommend it and should probably be discontinued, as should all slow and dull measures in this war. The proper containment measures against a respiratory disease are short and sharp.

These are exactly the kinds of measures that has no American political constituency. Moreover, there is also no constituency for the other measure that will be needed to get to zero covid: rapid vaccine iteration.

Of course the vaccines are porous. This is hardly surprising—when we are vaccinating people against COVID-19, to ward off a COVID-21 epidemic. Somewhere in the sky, there is literally a binary sequence file which is sent to an RNA synthesizer whose printout is poured into little bubbles of fat which you can get stabbed into your arm. This file contains the spike protein sequence of covid from a year and a half ago.

In the worst-case scenario—which is not yet completely confirmed, but which looks more and more likely—getting to zero covid is a race between regulation and mutation. Each side in this war has an OODA loop. Can the American regulatory process keep up with Darwin? Do we dare to just update the file? For want of a horse, Richard III lost his kingdom; for want of a git push, a million Americans suffer and ten thousand die.

I see almost no intellectual or political willingness among Americans of any political or intellectual stripe to adopt a strategy of total war against covid, using rapid vaccine iteration and sharp containment measures. This makes me think the pandemic will go on winning, with occasional moments where it looks like it’s losing.

But we can still ask: what is the right thing to do? Since the pandemic is global, we have to answer the question on a global scale.

A global covid policy

As a monarchist, I have to be a localist. Otherwise the logical telos of my theory would be a single world god-emperor.

It is not that a global monarchy could not be designed, or could not work, but life could get really dystopian if anything in the gears got hinky. As an engineer this always makes one nervous, especially if the product can only be tested in the field.

Of course, any kind of global regime would be a disaster for the human race. Or so I believe, as a localist. And it is obvious that any such regime would not be a monarchy—not, at least, at first.

(In fact, as a localist, I believe there is a strong case not just for restrictions on trade between regions—but even travel, and even communication. People who want to write nasty essays about me might want to focus on that! Didn’t I once incautiously tell some German reporter that “in a way, I admire North Korea?” However witty you may be, never expose policemen, judges or journalists to the power of your delicate ironies.)

Nonetheless, we can ask: what would an actual world-emperor do about covid? There are such things as global threats, generally involving natural or alien forces. All are rare and unique enough that genuinely independent nations, communicating only by packet, could cooperate in solving them without any of the personnel or paraphernalia of our present much-beloved international bureaucracy.

Yet such nations, in their cooperations, would naturally find themselves asking: what would an actual world-emperor do?

Covid in absolute perspective

The answer is actually pretty easy. An actual world-emperor would eradicate covid, as well as influenza and all other serious respiratory diseases—maybe even the common cold—and other notorious pests and parasites and invasive species. In particular, it has long been known that a month-long hard lockdown eradicates all respiratory viruses, perhaps with occasional remnants to be cleaned up by spot treatment.

The inability to reach zero covid, with only small dangers and inconveniences to the population, is simply an indictment of the immense and incompetent Western regime. (Which may have also invented this disease, by funding a useless, dangerous program of scientific stamp-collecting which got farmed out to a Chinese paper mill.)

New Zealand, a thoroughly Western country with a long tradition of good government, mostly-excellent demographics and a natural physical isolation, is at zero covid and seems likely to stay there. Even in NZ, there have been many containment failures and close calls—the whole nation can still freak out because of one infected bogan. NZ has since applied sensible bogan-control regulation, but on an absolute scale, the country’s performance is no better than a C—still a passing grade, though.

What is the right way for a god-emperor with absolute power to eradicate a respiratory virus? Thinking in absolute terms lets us think in very broad and general terms.

Generally, there are two approaches to covid: containment and immunity. One way to see that most governments are terrible is that most governments that are good at one are bad at the other. For example, Chinese containment is historically effective though often clumsy; China’s vaccines are both weak, and weakly distributed.

It turns out that both containment and immunity are necessary. Containment alone produces a fragile security perimeter which is easily punctured. But immunity does not work if the virus is given too much of a chance to evolve against the vaccine.

What is the right way for a god-emperor with absolute power to eradicate a respiratory virus? Thinking in absolute terms lets us think in very broad and general terms.

Containment

Containment is the physical partitioning of humanity across barriers which the virus cannot pass, or its passage is at least impeded.

Partitions can be of any scale. A partition may contain a billion people or one. The bigger a partition, the more impermeable its barriers must be—a slight reduction in transmission is useful for a man and useless for a continent.

The best way to set up partitions is to reinforce existing natural partitions—barriers which it is less common or more difficult for humans to cross. For instance, it was easy to isolate New Zealand, because it is easy to control human travel across oceans.

Large-scale partitions must be absolutely impenetrable. A literal forty-day quarantine is not too long. Real quarantine is not some random hotel with waiters in masks—it is a military facility, with guards in Tyvek moon suits. Even the sewage is irradiated.

There was absolutely no reason to permit travel between hemispheres once a novel respiratory virus had been identified in Wuhan—that is, after January 1. Tracing teams should have been fanning out instantly across North America, looking for anyone who had already brought the virus here in December. They might have been able to catch all such cases before community transmission took off.

It is easy to partition not only the Old and New Worlds, but North and South America. It is also easy (for a global god-emperor) to seal off the former US-Mexico border, fast—all it takes is a lot of barbed wire and some soldiers. A country that cannot seal its borders is not a country at all.

There is simply no way in which routine travel and tourism is more important than partitioning the evolutionary space of the virus. Because someone just needed to fly to India for her cousin’s wedding, the US has a delta wave.

Think about all the flights from India, or somewhere else on the way from India, that brought delta to America. Think about the consequences if these flights had been all been cancelled—both to the people who flew, and the people on the ground. Think of how many more Americans would still be alive—and how many would now feel free? This is the real “ethical altruism.”

Abstractly, partition is always and everywhere the solution to contagion. A true Chinese-style lockdown, with a 24-hour curfew during which everyone on the street needs a specific permit from the authorities, and normal people only leave their houses to collect bags of food and put out bags of trash, partitions a city into its households. If that partition can be held for a few weeks, and if infected people can be relocated, the whole infectious population can be reduced to a few corner cases.

Coarse partitions, like dividing continents, countries, islands, hemispheres, etc, separate the pandemic into multiple epidemics. Epidemics in different partitions may be at different stages and involve different variants. They are local, and they demand local battle plans. Any breach in partition security breaks this local battle plan.

Everywhere that we see attempts at containment from the West, at every scale, they are dull, porous, and useless. If everyone was wearing vented N95s (universal vented masking means everyone’s mask stays tight and all outside air is deemed suspect), a universal-mask policy might have serious containment results.

But the intuitive sense that cloth masks and voluntary lockdowns are the ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine of the mainstream is too strong to ignore. Maybe they help—I don’t know. But they feel not like containment, but like containment theater.

Given an exponential virus, “help” isn’t very important. As far as human impact goes, cutting cases in half is a big deal. As far as stemming the pandemic’s spread goes, it’s a small step. A pandemic curve, as an exponential curve, is never a flat curve—it is always either growing or dying out, usually quite fast.

And of course, Western governments have managed to restrict international travel enough to make it difficult and annoying—but not enough to prevent the passage of variants. It is simply assumed that a new variant discovered in Peru will make its way here—as if our rich human intercourse with Peru was a social lifeline we just could not cut—even at the cost of infecting the US with the Inca variant, “Tupac’s Revenge.”

Even migration without contagion is possible—through a military-grade quarantine. If you are really starting a new life in a new country, forty days isn’t that long. Tourism? Family visits? Special events? Business deals? None of it comes even close to the cost of sharing variants across these obvious natural partitions, the national borders—especially oceanic borders, which are the easiest to seal.

Immunity

In a total war against a virus, the regime asserts its total sovereignty over the bodies of its citizens. Requiring universal vaccination is certainly within the power of the state. However, compulsion is always the worst way for a state to get what it wants.

In a pandemic, every partition must see like a state. It has to know about every one of the human beings wandering round inside its borders. It needs a list of these people; it needs their biometric and even genetic identity; it needs to know their vaccination and infection history; it needs to be able to test, treat, even confine or relocate them at will.

It is not possible to fight a total war with limited rules of engagement. Or did you not want to win? How’s that working out for you, America? Ready for your next retarded wave of soft-“lockdown” theatre, which does nothing but wreck the old economy? Ready to give that bandanna “mask” another wash?

In a total war, it is not that everyone needs a “vaccine passport.” It is that everyone needs a pandemic record. There are tons of valid reasons for a person to not get the vaccine—the most common being that they already had the disease. Antibodies are easy to test for. There are tons of medical conditions which contraindicate annoying your immune system. And there are tons of medical conditions that can happen to you because of the vaccine—the present reporting system is not funny enough to be a joke.

But while it is legitimate for a regime to declare that everyone in the country is drafted as a soldier against the virus, and order that its citizen-soldiers not be walking around on its streets or going in its stores without antibodies to the latest pandemic, or without high-quality fitted masks, it may not even be necessary.

If a regime has any way to win the war without exercising sovereignty over the bodies of its citizens, it has a responsibility to take that way. A mix of containment and vaccination may well be good enough to preclude mandatory vaccination. Or, for instance, exceptions can even be sold, as draft exceptions were sold in the Civil War.

As for the vaccines, the idea of injecting arms with a 20-month-old antigen sequence should be unthinkable. It risks original antigenic sin, in which the outdated antigens crowd out their mutant replacements. It is also absurd not to vaccinate children, who seem to respond to all this covid garbage—both virus and vaccine—the best.

But the most important need is for a rapid cycle of vaccine development and testing, not at “warp” speed but at wartime speed. Sequence updates, delivery platforms, nasal vaccines… these all need to be tested at high speed, perhaps doubling the size of the cohort every week, doing initial testing on a challenge cohort, identifying, tracking and monitoring the whole vaccinated population…

The speed at which the virus mutates is a function of the size of the replication pool. The more containment can compress this pool, the easier it is for vaccination to get ahead of the virus. Eventually, partitions which get down to zero replication can merge and relax their contagion boundaries—but the only natural partitions which should be exchanging living humans without quarantine are zero-covid partitions. Even two equally-infected partitions should not be sharing their variants.

This is tyranny, of course! Indeed it would be tyranny—in the hands of a regime that had no idea how to do it (and indeed could never do it). Similarly, if you hire a hog-butcher to perform your cancer surgery, you are buying not surgery but butchery.

This is exactly why we design policies not for our present cack-handed rulers, but for a perfect and imaginary global god-emperor. Once we know what should be done, we can return to our grimy political reality, and figure out if the hog-butcher can do some good with a few ugly chops of his cleaver—or, of course, not. But understanding that difference, and that distance, is a crucial step toward understanding present history.