two versions of covid skepticism

From a long, intricate, subtle, and necessary essay by Ari Schulman:

The skeptical type I have targeted here is not the one who believes merely that prolonged school closures were a travesty (which is true), that natural immunity should have counted as equivalent to vaccination (true), that an egalitarian view of the virus meant that too little was done to protect people in nursing homes (true), that with different choices, restrictions could have ended far sooner than they did (true again).

No, he was the one who gave himself over wholly to Unmasking the Machine. Starting from entirely reasonable frustrations, the skeptical project took its followers to dark places. The unmasker insisted a million of his countrymen would not die and then when they did felt no reckoning. He at one moment cast himself as Churchill waiting to lead us out of our cowering fear of the Blitz (Death is a part of life) and in the next said that actually the Luftwaffe is a hoax (Those death certificates are fake anyway). He feels no reckoning because he has been taken in by a force as totalizing as the Technium’s; he is so given over to it that he too no longer accepts his own agency.

This skeptic is no aberration. An entire intellectual ecosystem is fueled by his takes. He owns, if not the whole movement of the Right, then certainly its vanguard.

Yet still, still one can hear the reply: Corrupt powers lied and demanded ritual pieties and put their boot on our necks and tore the country apart, and you want a reckoning from us?

An understandable reply — but the answer is, Yeah, we’d like a reckoning from you skeptics, because in a well-functioning society people don’t demand accountability and responsibility only from their political opponents. 

At the heart of Ari’s essay is a simple yet essential distinction between two phenomena: (a) skepticism about the competence and integrity of our technocratic public health regime and (b) skepticism about the seriousness of the coronavirus. Those who were right about the former all too often allowed themselves to be drawn into the latter. And very few of those who were most dismissive of the dangers posed by Covid have admitted their error — they’re too busy taking a “victory lap” because they think — with, as Ari shows, a good deal of justification — that they were right about the self-serving turf-protecting rigidity of the regime. 

(And if you don’t think National Review can be trusted with regard to the profound shortcomings of that regime, then by all means read Katherine Eban’s many illuminating and distressing reports in Vanity Fair.) 

As I look back on my own scattered writings on this topic, I think I often made the opposite error: because I rightly took seriously the dangers of the coronavirus, I was often too trusting of the regime.