Osterism and Its Discontents: the Plea for Covid Amnesty
The late Frank Devine once famously opined, in relation to the sins of colonialism, the “invasion” of Australia, the “sorry” issue of the Howard era and the Indigenous question overall, that the Aborigines should just forgive us. Indeed, they should. They and we would be better off for it. But no, progressives, not least those who think they are advancing the cause of Aborigines, are not normally known to be a forgiving lot.
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Forgiveness has raised its head this week, in the context of post-Covid debates about reparations for the victims of Covid policy, police brutality, the loss of employment for the unvaccinated, and the gaslighting of a population generally. It is one part of the “move on” movement, the urge of the Covid class for us all to forgive and forget.
Until now, most people on earth had never heard of Emily Oster, an American academic economist. Now, just about everyone has. Certainly, Covid dissidents have. And in what must be a world record, she already has an “ism” appended to her surname.
As Jessica Hockett of The Brownstone Institute writes:
Dr. Emily Oster, the Brown University economist who spent a good part of the pandemic response denying that her own data indicted the uselessness of masking kids in schools, published an article in The Atlantic today, calling for “a pandemic amnesty.” Short version: Let’s chalk up the devastation caused by fear-driven policies to benign ignorance and good intentions.
(The Atlantic is one of the house journals of the Covid class. It likes to spit venom at the hoi polloi. It attacked Alex Berenson, one of the few journalists in the USA actually to understand and explain the Covid scam).
Michael Senger also weighed in at The Daily Sceptic.
I’ll admit, I nearly spat out my coffee when I saw Brown Professor Emily Oster’s new headline in the Atlantic on Monday morning: “Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty: We need to forgive one another for what we did and said when we were in the dark about Covid.”
It’s the headline we’ve been waiting to see – and, in the revisionist, gaslighting style that’s become the journalistic norm on the response to Covid – it’s about the closest thing to an outright admission of guilt that we’ve seen since Covid began.
Here is part of what Oster, the so-called lockdown “moderate”, said:
Obviously some people intended to mislead and made wildly irresponsible claims. Remember when the public-health community had to spend a lot of time and resources urging Americans not to inject themselves with bleach? That was bad. Misinformation was, and remains, a huge problem. But most errors were made by people who were working in earnest for the good of society.
Given the amount of uncertainty, almost every position was taken on every topic. And on every topic, someone was eventually proved right, and someone else was proved wrong. In some instances, the right people were right for the wrong reasons. In other instances, they had a prescient understanding of the available information.
The people who got it right, for whatever reason, may want to gloat. Those who got it wrong, for whatever reason, may feel defensive and retrench into a position that doesn’t accord with the facts. All of this gloating and defensiveness continues to gobble up a lot of social energy and to drive the culture wars, especially on the internet. These discussions are heated, unpleasant and, ultimately, unproductive. In the face of so much uncertainty, getting something right had a hefty element of luck. And, similarly, getting something wrong wasn’t a moral failing. Treating pandemic choices as a scorecard on which some people racked up more points than others is preventing us from moving forward.
Then there was this:
Let’s acknowledge that we made complicated choices in the face of deep uncertainty, and then try to work together to build back and move forward (emphasis added).
Oster isn’t asking for a general amnesty, however. Only forgiveness for the innocently mistaken (them). For those spreading misinformation (us), there is to be very little forgiveness. She said:
We can leave out the willful purveyors of actual misinformation.
Yet while members of the Covid class were supposedly merely “ignorant” and “well intentioned”, the Covid State did all this, as Jeffrey Tucker points out:
They really did cancel two years of public worship services, segregate the large cities, abolish in-person education, foist masks on all the kids, destroy millions of businesses, censor all media so that we could barely discover facts, forget everything that humanity only recently knew about immunity, end concerts, impose limits on house parties, scrap weddings and funerals, lock the elderly into their homes so that kids couldn’t visit, end dentistry, impose travel restrictions across state borders, and….
… We are all left with a kind of PTSD. I don’t know what the right cure for that condition is but surely coming to terms with the grim reality of what happened is essential. My worry all along is that the concerted efforts to pretend like none of this occurred, or that it was no big deal, or that it was necessary and needs to happen again, and that governments and experts did their best given the paucity of information, and so on, would actually succeed.
We are asked by Oster to put all of this down to innocence and ignorance. Quite the impressive to-do list. Quite a lot to forgive, then.
I have written elsewhere about the seven schools of thought of Covid denialism. These are the “alibis” of those who crucified the rest of us for over two years. Oster fit neatly into two of these – the “move on” brigade, and the twenty-twenty hindsight brigade. You know, if only we knew then what we know now.
Peter Shergold – he of the recent Covid policy review funded by the Paul Ramsay Foundation – has referred to the “fog” of early Covid information. This is very Osterian. It is also ludicrously inaccurate. There was no fog. There was half a century of settled science which was crystal clear on the inefficacy of masks and of lockdowns. And it emerged very, very quickly that there was no Covid emergency, certainly for most of the population. And definitely not for children, locked out of school for months and, in some cases, years. The narrative of ‘fog” just doesn’t work. As an attempt at plausible deniability, it doesn’t stack up.
But back to Oster herself.
What a lot of tendentious, self-serving, misleading rubbish she spouts. Not just second-rate thinking, but dangerous thinking to boot. Perhaps even a strategic play against the emerging angered class of Covid victims who want revenge, or at least an apology. Oster’s pitch is simply more narrative fodder for the ruling classes. (Kit Knightly at Off Guardian calls it “narrative reinforcement”, and quite calculated). It will let them off the hook, and, as Jessica Hockett notes, Osterism will only encourage future lockdowns and mandates when the next plandemic inevitably arrives at our shores. If they are not punished now, they won’t learn that, in a (supposed) democracy, we rule them, they do not rule us.
The pushback against Oster has been swift, unrelenting, deserved, pointed and more than a little nasty in places. Enjoyable to read, though. This shows the breadth and the degree of anger out there about Covid policies. The great Eugyppius thinks she suffers from “head girl” syndrome as a member of a new “midwit” tyranny. (A midwit is one who knows just enough to be dangerous).
Mary Harrington (at UnHerd) situates Oster in what NS Lyons has termed the “virtual class”, which generally had a very good Covid.
Michael Senger has explained the problems with Osterism:
There’s a lot wrong here. First, no, you don’t get to advocate policies that do extraordinary harm to others, against their wishes, then say, “We didn’t know any better at the time!” Ignorance doesn’t work as an excuse when the policies involved abrogating your fellow citizens’ rights under an indefinite state of emergency, while censoring and cancelling those who weren’t as ignorant. The inevitable result would be a society in which ignorance and obedience to the opinion of the mob would be the only safe position.
Second, “amnesty”, being an act of forgiveness for past offences, first requires an apology or act of repentance on the part of those who committed the offence. Not only has no such act of repentance been forthcoming, but in most cases, establishment voices like Oster’s have yet to stop advocating these same policies, much less admit they were wrong. With no accompanying act of contrition, these calls for “amnesty” in light of rapidly-shifting public opinion have a real ring of fascist leaders calling for “amnesty” after losing the War.
Third, there’s some question as to whether Oster herself really did know better at the time. Like many other mainstream Covid voices, Oster had long been closely attuned to Covid data showing that these mandates did not work, yet she often seemed reluctant to share that data insofar as it contradicted the mainstream orthodoxy that mandates were necessary. In that sense, the policy prescriptions of Oster and those like her may have had less to do with ignorance than with cowardice, tribalism and “following orders”, which can’t be considered acting “in good faith”.
And that leads to the ultimate problem, from a legal perspective, with Oster’s call for “amnesty” for the advocacy of totalitarian policies during Covid: the implicit assumption that all those who advocated lockdowns, mandates, censorship and an indefinite state of emergency, all the way up the chain of command, did so in good faith. If those who advocated these policies are simply presumed to have done so out of well-meaning ignorance, then any inquiry into the many outstanding questions as to the origin of these policies – and the underlying motivations of highest-level officials who promulgated them – is foreclosed.
So, Oster’s intervention, published, of course, in an organ that has consistently been a rabid supporter of the Covid State, might well be seen, not as a gauche example of foot-in-mouth, but rather as a carefully planned pre-emptive strike against those calling for revenge. As Senger himself suggests.
One eloquent rejoinder to Oster and The Atlantic comes from Matt Wong at Discernable. He echoes Senger’s point that “amnesty” in its strict legal sense cannot occur without the commission of a crime and a finding of guilt (or a confession). The innocent do not need amnesty. Instead, what we have here is a “puerile demand for no consequences”. Before the time of healing must come “an almighty reckoning”. Wong’s monologue is a mini-masterpiece.
The flavour of the pushback against Oster is captured in this headline:
US: ‘You Murderous Hypocrites’ — Outrage ensues after The Atlantic suggests ‘Amnesty’ for pandemic authoritarians.
Indeed. Then there is Matthew Peterson of the Claremont Institute:
Hey—sorry you lost your job b/c of the vax that doesn’t work and your grandmother died alone and you couldn’t have a funeral and your brother’s business was needlessly destroyed and your kids have weird heart problems—but let’s just admit we were all wrong and call a truce, eh?
It’s too bad we shut the entire economy down & took on tyrannical powers that have never been used before in this country—looking back, you should have been able to go to church and use public parks while we let people riot in the streets—but it was a confusing time for everyone.
Hey I'm sorry we scared the hell out of you & lied for years & persecuted & censored anyone who disagreed but there was an election going on & we really wanted to beat Donald Trump so it was important to radically politicize the science even if it destroyed your children's lives.
OK, yes we said unvaccinated people should die & not get healthcare while never questioning Big Pharma once but we are compassionate people which is why even though we shut down the entire economy we also bankrupted the nation & caused inflation. You're welcome! Let's be friends (emphasis in the original).
Again, indeed. Eugyppius has weighed in as follows:
Emily Oster may have said a few reasonable things in the depths of her pandemic moderation, but she can take her proposal for pandemic amnesty and shove it all the way up her ass. I’m never going to forget what these villains did to me and my friends. It is just hard to put into words how infuriating it is, to read this breezy triviliasation of the absolute hell we’ve been through, penned by some comfortable and clueless Ivy League mommyconomist who is ready to mouth support for basically any pandemic policy that doesn’t directly affect her or her family and then plead that the horrible behaviour and policies supported by her entire social milieu are just down to ignorance about the virus. We knew everything we needed to know about SARS-2 already in February 2020. The pandemicists and their supporters crossed many bright red lines in their eradicationist zeal and ruined untold millions of lives. That doesn’t all just go away now.
Emily has certainly got a few people worked up. Finally, there is Tyler Durden at ZeroHedge:
The problem was not people's ignorance of the facts, it was the organized antagonism and censorship against anyone presenting data that was contradictory to the mandate agenda. This is setting aside proclamations like those from the LA Times, which argued that mocking the deaths of "anti-vaxxers" might be necessary and justified. After two years of this type of arrogant nonsense it's hard to imagine people will be willing to pretend as if all is well.
The active effort to shut down any opposing data is the root crime, though, and no, it can never be forgotten or forgiven.
People are livid...
Yes, Tyler, we are livid, and they were decidedly NOT ignorant. And if they were not ignorant, that means that, ergo, they lied. Over and over. So, Oster and her ilk want to forgive … lies. So long as she realises what she is doing. Is she complicit, as has been suggested, or merely dumb? Neither conclusion is reassuring, for, paraphrasing Gerard Henderson, a professor she is.
Yes, we are livid. Just as the Aborigines – or, at least, the spokespersons of the Aboriginal Industry – are in no mood for simple forgiveness, despite Frank Devine’s entreaties, nor are the victims of the Covid State. Oster’s preposterous, evidence-free assertion of well-meaning, “we made mistakes” policy doesn’t wash. And the damage done to individuals and societies has been too great. And the pain is still too fresh. No, the victims of the Covid class are much more in the mood for Nuremberg Two. Forgiveness and forgetting are still a ways off, Emily.
Kit Knightly sums up the mood:
Let’s suppose this was a genuine apology on behalf of the people who half-destroyed the world in the quest for more money and more power and now want us to forgive and forget.
Well, then they can go to hell.
Rowan Dean of The Spectator Australia asks, “anyone for amnesty?”
No, I didn’t think so.
4 November 2022
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