When Do We Need a Purity Test for Opposition to Lockdowns?
When and how should we purity test our leaders—both official and unofficial—in light of all the devastation we’ve witnessed during the response to COVID-19?
With the mainstream quickly coming to the realization that the lockdowns of 2020 were a cataclysmic failure, despite the broad popular support they supposedly had when they were implemented, the question inevitably arises: How important is it for any given individual—and for political leaders especially—to have opposed these policies at the earliest possible date? When is a proverbial “purity test” appropriate?
For an ordinary individual, this question is simply a moral one, and can be answered almost entirely based on what they subjectively believed at the time. But for those who may retain or be given positions of leadership, the standard must be higher. By virtue of their station, their personal judgment and moral courage have a considerable impact on the wellbeing of the public. Thus, the judgment and courage, or lack thereof, that they demonstrated during COVID is of considerable significance, irrespective of what they may have subjectively believed at the time.
The question of “purity testing” with regard to lockdowns can therefore be broken down into when a given person subjectively realized the policy was a catastrophe, what they then did about it, and why. Each scenario carries implications as to the morality, courage, and judgment they demonstrated during the crisis, the latter of which are of considerable relevance in evaluating who should retain or be given leadership roles.
1. Those who realized lockdowns were a catastrophe and immediately acted to stop them.
In the first category are those who immediately recognized lockdowns were a policy catastrophe, despite the policies’ broad popular support, and did whatever was in their power to put a stop to them, even at risk of considerable personal expense. These individuals showed great moral courage and sound judgment, and we’re all better off for it.
Naturally, as a consensus forms that lockdowns were a catastrophe, more and more individuals are portraying themselves as having been in this category from the start. Some of this revisionism may be malicious, but much of it is simply psychological. Revisionism is a question of degrees; even those of us who did a great deal to oppose these policies from the start may embellish our heroism a bit when telling the story to our grandkids. In truth, the majority of people were conflicted about lockdowns, even as they tacitly supported them, and their retroactive portrayal of themselves as having been early lockdown opponents, while exaggerated, may simply be selective memory at work.
For example, historians have often observed that although only 2% of French citizens were officially part of the Resistance during the Second World War, most French citizens claimed to have supported the Resistance after the War ended. Some of this revisionism may have been motivated by the avoidance of embarrassment or the desire for social benefits, but much of it was simply psychological. Most French people may have privately wanted the Resistance to succeed, and may have even taken some little steps to help out, even if their day-to-day actions, on balance, benefitted the Nazi war machine. Emotional factors might reasonably have led them to better remember these little acts of courage than their day-to-day grind of cowardice. So it is with lockdowns.
2. Those who initially fell for lockdowns, but acted to stop them as soon as they realized they’d been fooled.
In the second category are those who initially fell for lockdowns, but realized their error soon enough and did everything they could to oppose them once they did. This category includes many of the most prominent anti-lockdown activists, and the anti-lockdown cause has benefited tremendously from their contributions.
From a purely moral perspective, assuming they’re being honest, there’s nothing separating these individuals from those in the first category. After all, an unprecedented campaign of terror was unleashed by governments to drum up support for lockdowns and convince the public that they were “the science.” If an individual subjectively believed that following lockdowns was right at the time, then did everything in their power to stop them as soon as they realized their error, then they’ve done no moral wrong.
As many have observed, however, the fact that lockdowns would be a catastrophe now looks overwhelmingly obvious in hindsight. If more leaders had been in the first category during the crisis, then the catastrophe would have been averted entirely. Thus, if one were to evaluate two otherwise equal candidates for a position of leadership, a candidate in the first category would be the superior choice, as they demonstrated better judgment during an unprecedented psychological blitz.
That said, there are very few leaders on offer who are in the first category. For the most part, the public thus appears to be gravitating toward the crop of candidates in the second category. Ron DeSantis is the paradigm of a candidate in the second category. DeSantis appears to have legitimately fallen for the lockdown operation in the first couple months, then realized his error and become a champion of the anti-lockdown cause. DeSantis’s judgment might not be as good as a hypothetical candidate in the first category, but—assuming he’s being honest—there is nothing to fault him for in terms of moral courage.
3. Those who knew lockdowns were wrong, or eventually realized they were, but still supported them anyway.
In the third category are those who knew lockdowns were wrong, or eventually realized they were, but supported them anyway, either out of cowardice or puerile self-interest. This category appears to include most of the political, financial, academic, and media elites who’ve been in place throughout COVID. Because these actions are morally indefensible, it’s safe to call them “evil.”
The reality, however, is a question of degrees—and in truth, there’s a tiny bit of this third category in all of us. Nary a person exists who can say they did everything in their power to end lockdowns, or that they didn’t comply with some dictat simply because they weren’t up for a fight that day. Like the Vichy regime in France, the COVID regime was enabled by small day-to-day acts of cowardice.
But none of these little foibles can compare with the evils of the policy elites who breathlessly defended these policies or abetted the broad scientific coverup that enabled them, either out of careerism or social expedience. Those who fall roundly into this third category demonstrated unbelievably poor judgment about the harm these policies were doing to our way of life and a degree of moral cowardice that no one saw coming before 2020. Ideally these people should never again be anywhere near any position of power, and there’s some question whether they can ever be relied on in a time of crisis even on a personal level.
Still, in the vast majority of cases, these individuals didn’t break any laws. As the anti-lockdown consensus solidifies, room must be made to bring even these blighted souls back into the fold. What do we make of their belated apologies, should they be forthcoming?
From a moral perspective, the weight of an apology lies entirely in its sincerity. Even a person who did evil may ultimately be no less morally righteous than one who was consistently on the side of good, if the former were sincerely haunted with remorse for their actions, and that remorse guided their conduct going forward. This is in stark contrast to those who apologize simply out of social expedience, ready and willing to support totalitarianism all over again the next time around.
4. Those who supported lockdowns for a while, then quietly manipulated the historical record to make it appear as though they were the ones who’d always opposed lockdowns.
In the final category are the liars and outright historical revisionists. These are the lockdown supporters who, content not only with whatever financial and social gains they may have made by supporting lockdowns, have sensed which way the wind was blowing and subtly manipulated the historical record to convince the public that they were actually the ones who always opposed lockdowns, juxtaposing themselves for those in the first category and serving their own self-interest both on the way up and the way down. This behavior can be referred to as “sociopathy.”
The difference between the third category and the fourth category is that it’s simply evil, continued—evil with no act of contrition, now content to do even more evil. Alas, there always have been and always will be sociopaths among humanity, and they’re disproportionately represented in positions of political leadership. The entire purpose of our democratic institutions is to limit their power to the best extent possible. As always, every precaution should be taken to ferret out these creatures and keep them as far away from positions of influence as we can.
Alas, even sociopathy is often a question of degrees, and it’s never too late even for these benighted souls. Assuming they’ve broken no laws, should they eventually admit their misdeeds and feel something close to real remorse for their actions, they too can be let back into the fold. Until then, the rest of us just have to do with sociopaths what decent people have had to do since time in memorial: Work around them.
5. Is anyone beyond redemption?
All these evils, from cowardice to complicity to historical revisionism, are a matter of degrees. What’s more, these lockdowns seemed almost designed to eviscerate our civic norms and institutions so as to bring out the cowardice and evil in ordinary people.
As I’ve argued at length, the magnitude of the harms done by these policies is such that our democracy cannot survive unless we obtain the whole truth as to how they came about. What’s more, the damage the policies would cause was far too well known and too uneven to simply assume that their chief instigators must have had good intentions without a proper inquiry.
Thus, our civilization is faced with much the same once-in-many-decades moral conundrum that the Allies faced at Nuremberg: How to obtain justice when an entire population has been manipulated to bring out their most evil—even their most criminal—tendencies? The answer the Allies came to is that it simply isn’t possible to evaluate the morality of a person’s actions under such extraordinary circumstances.
The number of officials faced with a full inquiry must therefore be kept extremely small; I would propose limiting the inquiry to those officials who may have had actual knowledge that the policies were crafted with malicious intent, but helped instigate them anyway. For the sake of keeping civilization intact, everyone else should be pardoned. I’ll be the first to admit that, even after a legitimate inquiry, no such officials may be found guilty. But the inquiry itself is crucial; without it, we’re not living in a real democracy.
In the meantime, we face the question of how to purity test our leaders—both official and unofficial—in light of all the devastation we’ve witnessed during the response to COVID-19. If you believe, as I do, that the importance of this issue presently eclipses that of any other, then every step should be taken to select for leaders who opposed lockdowns as early and as vocally as possible.
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