In mid-19th century, the Xhosa Prophet Nongqawuse predicted that her tribesman will defeat the British in battle if they slaughter all their cattle. Many tribesmen were rightfully skeptical of the idea, but who could disagree with a highly qualified expert that had a model of the future? The tribesmen listened and subsequently caused a famine in the Cape Colony. The local economy collapsed, leaving the Xhosas humiliated and conquered by the British
Even though Nostradamus’s predictions resurface every year or two and in 2011 a pastor in America conned a few people into the rapture, the public at large is sceptical of prophesies, but are we sceptical enough of ability to predict the future?
Today’s Nonquakuses and Nostradamuses are computer modellers with highly sophisticated mathematical simulations that claim to predict the future. They are the economists with the next recession, the climatologists with water vapour feedback loop and the epidemiologists with successive waves of Covid19. Their claim is always that if we do not follow the modern day 10 commandments i.e., lower our carbon footprint, flatten the curve, invest into bitcoin or tech stocks, then we will be doomed to a life of death. As if we are all not by any means going to die someday.
Man is adaptable to climate, we can handle big shocks to our finances and historically we overcame deadly disease, but our nature of believing prophecies never seems to change. The old kings had seers in their courtyard and now businessmen and CEOs employ experts with scenario planning that can model the response of the system to not just one, but four outcomes. The what -ifs with business school MBAs are planning our future all around us, but how accurate are their predictions? Are they ever measured against reality and do they learn from their mistakes of being wrong with their visions of endless doom and gloom?
What happened to Neil Fergusson’s half a million deaths in the UK? What happened to the eminent death of a second wave that is supposed to be more contagious than the current form of Covid19? Wasn’t lockdown supposed to safe us, yet the world’s control group Sweden did not suffer as much crueller fate? All these prophesies in hindsight seem foolish because they were not grounded in real world data.
But how do we even know that the data can be trusted? As PCR tests are known to cause a high rate of false positive and negatives, especially when they are administrated as a large population that are mostly asymptomatic. Wasn’t a vaccine supposed to eliminate Covid19, yet now it might not protect against the South African variant? Masks were supposed to be unsafe, then safe and then later shown to provide no protection at all? What about Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine, drugs once lauded as having no evidence behind them, yet cost effective and administrated in many countries around the world? These treatments did not pass randomised control trials. An absurd standard and wrong paradigm for a new virus, except of course if you listened to the Tobacco industry?
Covid-19 has been a spectacle of mass fear, panic, and profiteering that interlinked mathematical prediction, politics, science, and the media that went as follows. The epidemiologists publish their computer models, but they are quickly fact checked by the scientists who point out nothing alarming to a numerate and informed audience. The media ignores the corrections and responds by making doomsaying claims that then force the hands of the political class “to take action”.
Crony capitalists love this negative fear feedback story as they are incentivized to sell products that range from expensive remdesevir, to masks, to vaccines. Bureaucrats are given the opportunity to promote policies that have got absolutely nothing to do with Covid19 at all. All in the name to help the public that saw their living standards decrease with risks that could plunge us into a totalitarian and neo-feudal future.
In his 19th century book “Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds”, Charles Mackay wrote that “Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.” Not much changed since Mackay wrote his book and not much will change. Covid19 will only go away if we snap out of our mass popular coronavirus delusion and get on to live our lives and see through the profiteering as the racketing that it is.