The academic community – not the ones advising Johnson, but most of the rest of it – seems to be strongly in favour of more drastic measures than the government is currently enacting. Here’s a typical article that’s going around academic Twitter.
I still have some academic links, and know of one senior academic (a behavioural scientist) who is advising the government, and that person was pretty strongly in favour of shutdowns yesterday, but has come out of the COBRA meeting today much less gung-ho, talking more in terms of the strategy that was being talked about last week in behavioural science circles, that people won’t be able to take a shutdown seriously at this point, so if that is used it will have to be in a few weeks time when things are more serious.
I’m not going to really comment on the government’s strategy myself, as I know what a difficult decision it is. I’m not convinced they’ve made the right decision, but I’m not convinced it’s the wrong one either. I do think, though, that travel bans need to be put in place from badly affected countries like China and Italy (in fact, this should have happened well before now). But the likes of Public Health England haven’t got a clue, because for the last decade they’ve spent most of their time and money on agitating against sugar in chocolate. In fact, it turns out that the Department of Health’s most recent strategy for dealing with an epidemic comes from 2011.
The government seems to have made its mind up that its not going to do much, but there is going to be massive pressure on them from academia, social media and Piers Morgan to do more, so I wouldn’t be surprised if eventually there is a partial shutdown.
What really gets me, though, is that you have all these leftist academics clamouring for decisive governmental action, and complete shutdowns of as much as possible, including their own academic conferences (which are being shut down all over the place), but on the other hand the very same people are aghast that Bad Orange Man has banned travel from mainland Europe. They want a Britain where everyone is locked inside their concrete bunkers for weeks and not allowed out except for the very basics, yet people can still waltz over to NYC for a few days sight-seeing or to see their grandparents. The insane lack of consistency of their position never troubles them. Nor does it ever cross their minds that if Obama had done the exact same thing they’d be praising him for his decisiveness.
Coronavirus really illustrates a fundamental difference between conservatives and the modern left. Modern leftists, for all their railing against fascism and oppression, are very authoritarian, and would gladly set up a police state to enforce the behaviour they approve of (while also dismantling the traditional parts of the justice system). They’re also in favour of open, or at least, weak, borders, and regard refugees and migrants and even foreign tourists (other than rich American ones) as victims of global injustice, and so deserving of special treatment. They constantly put the interests of these people above those of the citizens of their own country.
Conservatives, on the other hand (at least, the ones I have in mind), have very different views. They favour strong borders, and expect to see the citizens of a country put first. Consequently the approach conservatives would prefer is to have strong border controls at all times to keep out foreign problems like epidemics from the other side of the world, just as Russia and Poland have done (and as a result those countries have hardly any cases of coronavirus, whereas Italy, which has tens of thousands of illegal Chinese migrants in the north, is being swamped by it). That removes, or largely removes, the need to have authoritarian government actions to stop the virus, and allows the actual citizens of the country to continue on living their lives as normal, without damaging the economy.
That doesn’t mean that all of those conservatives are opposed to tough action against the populace if it’s required. James Delingpole, for example, is a prime example of the sort of conservative I have in mind, and he’s now in favour of shutdowns. But I’m sure he’d agree that it would have been better to have had strong border controls in the first place, so that this would not be necessary.
The progressives, however, regard the idea that we would keep out, say, people from China, with horror. That’s racist, and unjust, and so on. They’d rather let anyone in who wants to come in (as long as they’re in a protected category: no Texas oil barons) and then fire up the police state to deal with any problems caused by the open border. Because they’re pretty keen on the police state to start with. In fact, that gives them two of the things they’re most keen on: a swamping of the native population, and coercive control over everyone, which they won’t want to give up. Let everyone in, but turn the joint into 1984.
I know which side I’m on. And the strong border issue is becoming weaponised. COVID-19 may eventually go away, but the border issue is not.
Update: I know a lot of my readers don’t bother with Twitter, and that is especially wise at the moment. As you can imagine it is currently a cacophony of noise. Even the saner conservative side of it is badly split between the ‘No big deal, proceed as normal’ side and the ‘We’re all going to die, weld everyone into their buildings’ side.
Update 2: Thanks also for all the good comments that have been coming in lately.