Tuesday 24 March 2020

Why Hitchens Is Wrong

This is potentially going to upset some of our most loyal readership, but ... Hitchens is Wrong.

I first met him a long time ago: I was editor of a student newspaper and he came to interview me.  His write-up was flattering, and he didn't choose to report that we carried nudes on page 3.  Student life was more robust in those years: pitched street battles with the NF; open IRA meetings in pubs; it took (if I may say so) balls to be a rightwinger in them days.  Many students are stroppy and angry now, but they are a bunch of wimps.  (If anyone had taken against the statue of Cecil Rhodes back then - and they didn't - it would have been torn down and smashed the same evening.  "Rhodes Must Fall"?  Pah.)   Students I meet nowadays say: it seems to us that you had more fun back then ... and indeed we did.

But I disgress.  Hitchens wrote recently in opposition to a lock-down and associated regulations: 
Is shutting down Britain – with unprecedented curbs on ancient liberties – REALLY the best answer? ... I see very little evidence of a pandemic, and much more of a PanicDemic ... Epidemic disasters have been predicted many times before and have not been anything like as bad as feared ... dissent at this time will bring me abuse and perhaps worse. But I am not saying this for fun, or to be ‘contrarian’ –that stupid word which suggests that you are picking an argument for fun. This is not fun. This is our future, and if I did not lift my voice to speak up for it now, even if I do it quite alone, I should consider that I was not worthy to call myself English or British, or a journalist, and that my parents’ generation had wasted their time saving the freedom and prosperity which they handed on to me after a long and cruel struggle whose privations and griefs we can barely imagine.  
No time to write a lengthy rebuttal, so let's cut to the chase.   We All Know What He Means: and even the Grauniad (this is significant, subject of a later post perhaps) argued strongly for the sunset clause to be set at 6 months, not 48.  True, what's happening now is, in large measure Fear of Fear Itself.  But it's real, for all that, and needs to be addressed as such.  To say that the population - the real 2020 population of individuals who routinely behave as though they expect and deserve to live forever, not the WW2 generation that knew better - could and should take a higher level of "avoidable" early deaths on the chin, is like saying that nobody alive today suffers from "Absolute Poverty" because they all have smart 'phones and housing benefit.  

We all understand that argument, but it's irrelevant.  Oh, and by the way, even the universally Godfearing populations of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries were not at all sanguine about the Plague.

So keep going with your articulate contrarian stuff, Hitchens - you're allowed to, and it's needed.  (Peregrine Worsthorne had an even better line in columnar contrariness - really ingenous, he was.)   But you've overcooked it this time.

And now I must go and bury a close relative.  They tell us it wasn't the virus; but it was certainly pneumonia, and who knows these days?

Have at it in the comments.  Fearlessly.



Anonymous said...

ND: "is like saying that nobody alive today suffers from "Absolute Poverty" because they all have smart 'phones and housing benefit."

Nobody who owns a smart phone or is in receipt of housing benefit suffers from absolute poverty.

For a start, the guy living in a box under the railway arch has less.

iOpener said...

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

-Ben Franklin

david morris said...

Sorry for your loss ND.

Matt said...

The problem is one of expectation - the populace might expect to be bailed out (having kept their over-priced executive slave box on tracker mortgage after 2008) but the bill will eventually come due.

What happens then when the massive borrowing needs paying back? Interest rates to 15% and an attempt to inflate the debt away? We import deflation from the Chinese so I'm not sure how that will work.

Elby the Beserk said...

Agreed. And I think that the govt have decided a 6 monthly sunset clause is better? Not watching closely enough to know if that's true, but have seen it mentioned in more than one place.

Still, if we are to be locked down, our sunny village is as good as it gets! Indeed we more or less moved here as an act of self-isolation!

First lawn mow of the year.

E-K said...

Has anyone calculated the mortality rate because of a depression and compared with epidemiolgist's data ?

For all that they at least tried to do it on a voluntary basis but it didn't work... because of the likes of Hitchens.

Bravado is not the same as stoicism. Don't he dare call 999.

E-K said...

My condolences too of course.

Oli said...

Sorry to hear it ND.

I don't follow your argument though. You make the case for why the policy is wrong and then just say "but it's irrelevant". Doesn't seem irrelevant from here.

It's an act of gross sentimentality to bankrupt the kids just to keep granny alive for a few more years. And that's even without factoring in the loss of liberties etc.

Nick Drew said...

Thanks, Oli & Kev (& david) - and I freely acknowledge that when this debate started several weeks ago, I opined that governments everywhere would choose GDP over Granny. But it turns out there is zero stomach for that call. Anywhere. That's the reality of 2020. Just as, in realistic terms, no politician could say "anyone who can afford a smartphone doesn't get benefits". It would be a sound ethical call but a suicidal political one.

Raedwald said...

Hitchins is the perfect journalist for this selfish, self-centred age. He makes a perfecly selfish argument that human life is worth less than his freedom to go to the pub. It's a specious and hollow argument.

As a lifelong libertarian old enough to have fought in real pitched fights against the NF, of a generation that lived protest against the Vietnam war, the Oz generation, there are many threats to my liberty that concern me in 2020 - but the virus lockdown is not amongst them. Just so long as Boris and his cabinet remain in government, that is. I would not have trusted May, Hammond or the Statist deceivers as far as I could throw the old Nicholas Soames.

Just as plans for life after the Axis tyranny started with the Atlantic Council in 1941 - and at the darkest period of defeats and setbacks, that document shines with moral certainty - so we must plan for the freedom and liberty we will demand after this threat is past. And Whitehall will find that not only is this not a permanent ratcheting-up of powers they never returned in 1945, but a rolling-back of the central State to an unprecedented degree, to a position a century ago.

Beating Covid-19 should also signal the defeat and dismantling of the Central State. Sometimes, as in 1945, it takes a sacrifice to catalyse a step change.

Nick Drew said...

Never give an order you know won't be obeyed. First law of leadership (and parenthood)

Anonymous said...

Condolences Nick.

The reality of the virus is not just the deaths it causes, but the deaths caused by its effects soaking up resource.

It's easy to be blase about someone else granny, but when they've clogged up the beds and its your husband with a heart attack or wife with a stroke, well, then it becomes a different equation when something survivable becomes anything but.

As long as there is a sensible sunset clause, then these times require unusual measures.

And I'm grateful Boris is no Trump, watching that manchild makes me fear for the US.

Adam Smith said...

Seems that Grannies are worth saving but the self-employed aren't.

What with the attack by the HMRC on the Loan Charge and IR35, the final embers of entrepreneurial Britain are being snuffed out.

Timbo614 said...

My condolences Nick

For parenting I always used: Never make a threat that you can't follow through on.

Being well over Granddad age but not yet 70 I'm definitely favouring saving the Grannies!

Timbo614 said...

Oh, I meant to add: Mr Market seems to have set about saving himself today :) I actually managed to make a profit on one share over the last week - profit taken pronto!!

E-K said...

The wife and I have decided on a night in.

The problem I have with the rebuttal is this.

No-one said kill Granny. I would have cancelled HS2 and used the money for assistance to put Granny and ill people in their own lock down.

This would have saved killing the economy. I am dreading the suicides I am going to be involved in.

Further to my earlier point that the coming depression will kill far more people than CV... of ALL ages (and see Granny off in the first cold winter too)

Then there is the fact that we'd be in a weaker position with China and they would insist on trading terms - including a reopening of routes.... which means more Communist Flu.

(The Left have gone into bash Boris/Trump mode and deliberately ignore whose fault this was.)

What if Boris dies ?

Who takes over with the 'temporary' confinement laws ?

And even now... we've accepted all other forms of fatal illness but NO-ONE must die of CV... this is because world leaders are in competition with each other to achieve the lowest CV death rate... I'm wondering which has the lowest cancer death rate, renal failure death rate and all other death rates.

Thud said...

I'm hoping the next 3-4 weeks gives us some measure of control and time to target resources on the most at risk sectors of the population, burning the economy to the ground will cause deaths as others here have mentioned but in numbers that will not be easily counted and so not make headlines.

Anonymous said...

Black death saw the end of feudalism and start of the renaissance. I'm sure there will be a paradigm shift but in what direction is hard to say.

dearieme said...

We are doing all this apparently so that the NHS's ICUs are not overwhelmed. But what proportion of the ICU patients are likely to be saved anyway?

In Wuhan "invasive mechanical ventilation" saved 3% of the patients it was applied to. See table 2 in:

Am I certain that that %age will apply in Britain? Of course not. Everything is plagued with uncertainty: it's a novel virus for heaven's sake.

Everyone is far too confident about what they happen to believe. Stop worshipping mathematical models, keep your critical thinking skills in good order, and if you are that way inclined, pray. But please don't be confident. It's probably not warranted.

Sackerson said...

@Dearieme: thanks for the link, that was a point I wanted to know.

E-K said...

Well if you all want a clue as to the paradigm shift look at the facts.

Our first response is to cower and trash the economy

The second is to start releasing prisoners back in to a lock-down community.

Have you noticed the news black out on some things ? No stabbings any more.

Well the Communist apparatus is all in place now - what sort of putsch do you think is going on in Whitehall ? Pritti Patel is on her way out... and if you think (as Going Postal do) that we'll be out of the EU unhindered by WTO think again. This is the Momentum crowd's moment.

This was not the way to deal with the virus.

It looks like my boy's glittering careers are already over before they started - there won't be money to finish their training (Doctor and Research Chemist) and I know of many people my age who were striving and doing well in their own business who are now ruined for life.

I dread to think of the suicide rate to come among those with the gumption to put this country right but it won't be among the chav class whose bens are protected until last.

Hitchens and Street-Porter (and all the other Boomers I saw necking pints back) saying "We're British. You don't keep us in."

Well now we're ALL in. To come out to God knows what.

We should have kept Granny in (used HS2 to pay for it) kept the young ones out working and the ventilator free for those of them that copped it bad.

I'm busy sharpening my Bowie knives and I wish I'd been a gun collector.

E-K said...

Dearieme - We simply don't have enough data. This is why the "Who's had it ?" test is so crucial and it will reveal just how the insidious nature of this virus makes it so lethal.

Further to my comment at 8.17 perhaps Granny won't be the only one with a significant risk of mortality. Obesity seems to be a factor. Boris has been shown this an is perhaps the reason for the policy given the poor condition of many young people (we did try to tell them.)

I note there is a scare story about a new virus from rats in China. I believe this to be fake news to keep us cowering. There are also reports of young people, otherwise fit, seriously ill; my sons (who are both with me and data savvy) say this was bound to happen in small numbers but they are being publicised to stop the park gatherings.

Thud said...

EK, things that do go boom tend to make me sleep more soundly for some reason.

Anonymous said...

EK - "Have you noticed the news black out on some things ? No stabbings any more."

I've certainly noticed that coverage of what Turkey's doing, both on the Greek border and in Syria, has disappeared. Anyone know what's happening in that neck of the woods?

It may be that lockdown of sorts (and closure of pubs) has diminished the number of situations where stabbings are likely, although I don't know how much notice the vibrant are taking of such things. "Blues parties" used to be a thing, are they still, only with drill music?

I've also noticed a complete blackout on globalisation discussions, lots of criticism in the Guardian of the lack of protective gear for NHS staff but zero mention of the fact that it's all made abroad, and zero mention of the fact that most of our pharmaceuticals are now made in India (google Ranbaxy scandal for info on their quality practices), and that most Indian pharmaceuticals are dependent on Chinese made precursors. It's not just tellies and electronics that we've outsourced.

Stuff like masks, drugs, ventilators are as much a national security issue as radars and mass survellance.

Here's a US view.


Consider this: the three most important antibiotics used to treat anthrax: Ciprofloxacin, Doxycycline, and Penicillin, are either no longer made in the United States, or made in such small quantities that the supply chain is effectively controlled by China.

Nessimmersion said...

FFS it appears despite the medical establishments slow walking that the combination of Hydroxy-chloroquine + Azithromycin clears patients in 6 days.
No ventilators or crashing the economy for a generation required.
Unfortunately that would mean that government by hysteria was wrong, so little chance of the UK doing that until the USA has treated millions successfully.

Anonymous said...

E-K - normal stabbing has been resumed. I just think the closure of pubs and clubs has disrupted business as usual. Must be an impact on the drugs trade too, no getting drugged up for clubbing.

"A woman murdered in an east London street was attacked from behind in a “completely random” stranger attack, police said today. Shadika Mohsin Patel, 40, suffered multiple knife wounds in Altmore Avenue, near the junction with Barking Road, East Ham, at about 12.45am on Thursday. She died in hospital. Detectives released CCTV of a man they want to identify. The “dangerous offender” was black, around 5ft 9in and aged between 20 and 35, but possibly older."

Anonymous said...



YDG said...

It doesn't surprise me that the British response to Covid-19 is flawed - it's
not like we had much opportunity to practice. What does concern me - beyond
the immediate risk of catching it - is whether any lessons will be learned and
acted upon afterwards. Things like ...

China is a problem. There is something about China that makes it a breeding
ground for these diseases. We need much better ways to isolate China quickly
when the (next) need arises.

Security of supply matters. Yet we can already anticipate that a year or two
from now, lazy, greedy business "leaders" alongside apologists for
open-borders globalization will be insisting that "we can't make everything
ourselves" and therefore we will "have to" carry on importing it all.

The NHS isn't fit for this purpose. It has long had two completely different
problems. Firstly, under-funding. Secondly, the gross incompetence of its
administrators. And those two interact. If you give more money to incompetents
they just waste it. If you recruit competent people into an underfunded
organization they get frustrated and leave.

And those are just the first three I thought of.

I sympathise with the government's handling of this - mistakes, mis-steps and
course corrections included. Despite all the pompous, dogmatic posturing in
social media, no one really knows the "right" thing to do. But afterwards,
there is no excuse for failing to prepare for the next one.

Anonymous said...

E-K - another thing that media are reticent about is the effect on the housing market.

Have HMG shut down holiday lets yet?

Nessimmersion said...

Did you read the article?
It's a drug that just about every American in Vietnam took for 10+ years, roitinely taken in malarial belt countries.
It is doctors willing to prescribe for their own family members vs the Oz medical establishment.
Sort of reinforces my original point about slow walking.

Nessimmersion said...

Also from the other side of the pond, adnittedly its not the grauniad :https://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2020/03/stunning-ny-doctor-vladimir-zelenko-finds-100-success-rate-in-350-patients-using-hydroxychloroquine-with-z-paks-video/
The UK govt banned export of Chloroquine on the 19th of Feb, so again why didn't we have the remaining UK factories going gangbusters to make enough?

Don Cox said...

"coverage of what Turkey's doing, both on the Greek border and in Syria, has disappeared. Anyone know what's happening in that neck of the woods?"

A ceasefire in Idlib was agreed between the Turks and the Russians back on March 5th.

Don Cox

Elby the Beserk said...

I was schooled with the Hitchens brothers. Tho' I did not know Peter; he was in another house, and expelled - for breaking into the Cambridge nuclear bunker. Christopher I had some contact with - he, I an another used to go down to the caretaker's flat in the basement, to watch the gee gees on the telly. Caretaker would bet on our behalf. Christopher was v nearly expelled, for nicking books from the school library to sell to fund said gambling. Another feller was. He ended up as Clerk of the Course at Newmarket, so I guess he too benefited from private education.

I do recall Peter "campaigning" as Labour candidate when the school held a mock bye-election when the 66 GE was on. Me? I had a) no interest & b) no idea what any poltical party stood for.

Fair play to both brothers. They held the course they chose. Not always easy.

Elby the Beserk said...

Nessimmersion said...
Also from the other side of the pond, adnittedly its not the grauniad :https://www.thegatewaypundit.com/2020/03/stunning-ny-doctor-vladimir-zelenko-finds-100-success-rate-in-350-patients-using-hydroxychloroquine-with-z-paks-video/
The UK govt banned export of Chloroquine on the 19th of Feb, so again why didn't we have the remaining UK factories going gangbusters to make enough?

3:24 pm

One thing we DO know in all this fog of (dis)information. We do not know all we might think we know.

E-K said...


Like it or not decent, hungry people are going to have to come out of lock down soon.

Trump is right to point out that Communist China is to blame because, currently, the narrative is that only Communism can save us.

E-K said...

I am keeping my nerves in check by looking at the statistics and I wouldn't even bet on an old person dying of this - concerned though I am.

The scare news is relentless. We're being terrified to death.

Anonymous said...

China isn't communist, and it is impossible to know if they are lying or saying something close to the truth.

E-K said...


Dr John Campbell 5% death rate.

I'm coming to think that Hitchens and I are wrong.

We'll see when the true infection rate and death toll is known. I have been obeying the lock down and washing regime btw.

Charlie said...

This is interesting to say the least:


dearieme said...

@charlie - that makes me wonder whether Ferguson's group have discovered a blunder in their modelling. Tricky business, math modelling, if it's done in largish teams. Especially if you try to recycle ancient code, written by God knows whom and badly under-documented.

Do you remember the emails from the poor computer bod in the Climategate farrago?

In my experience a good team was me. Another good team was me and two other blokes of whom I had a high opinion.

Charlie said...

Indeed. We could well be looking at ⅓ the number of deaths that 'flu causes annually. Obviously, that would be good news, but serious questions will need to be answered if it turns out that we royally buggered the economy to save such a small number of people, apparently half of whom wouldn't have seen the year out anyway.

Anonymous said...

Lets destroy the economy over a dodgy old mathematical model that predicts utter doom, whilst the academic behind said code refuses to release which would enable it to be crowd-validated.

Where have we seen this before....