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covid policy and the topology of terror
why the propensity to panic at just the wrong time makes humans into superstitious rubes that will do the wrong thing and think that it worked
human fear response in a pandemic is a function of gompertz expression of disease prevalence and this predictably leads to panic right when things start getting better.
people then mistake whatever their panic reflex was for an intervention that saved them.
it becomes ingrained superstition and forms a kind of societal antigenic fixation whereby failed responses are mistaken for solutions.
this is how a society trades science for superstition.
humans are panicky animals.
we think you aren’t, but we are.
but what makes us unique is the weird manner in which we do it. the simple fact is this:
and that is the problem.
humans wait, tell stories, engage in denial and evasion, and let the pressure mount until they finally crack.
and this interacts as perniciously as it does predictably with many kinds of systems, especially biological or mass psychology systems, because of the manner in which those systems express and interface with emotional decision making.
not only do you, just about every time, panic right when it’s at its worst, but you go on to endlessly mistake whatever stupid thing you did when you lost your nerve as the cure for what was going wrong.
now, some of these systems are self correcting.
stock markets are a wonderful example. humans pile in at the top because everything keeps going up and “momentum investing” looks awesome because it’s been working. then the tape rolls over and everyone loses their shirt.
but no one want to admit it rolled over. they start losing, keep losing, make up hero cults like “diamond hands” to keep each other losing, hope it’ll turn around tomorrow, and then, right when it gets really, really bad at the bottom, panic all at once and sell.
that is, in fact, what makes the bottom. any seasoned investor will tell you this. bottoms are not driven by intrinsic value. they are driven by abject, wet pants panic. the market just finds your pain threshold.
“does this hurt?”
“how about now?”
“how about now…?”
and eventually, it causes a rout.
you’ll know it’s the bottom when you feel the tape go disorderly and emotions come unmoored. once you know what it looks like, you can SEE the panic flicker through the numbers and it is not subtle.
it’s all the people who held on and held on and told themselves stories of this all being OK losing it, puking equity everywhere, and desperately seeking anything, even and especially the stupid thing, to feel like they “did something,” to make it past tense, to make the pain stop.
then they swear off day trading and go back to working at barrista boy coffee and breakfast emporium.
but they learn. they learn because this is not a system that gets better if you panic and the lesson is expensive.
but not all systems are like this, especially biological systems
consider: antibiotics are widely prescribed for flu despite pretty much every doctor knowing they don’t work. why do you think that is?
it’s simple once you see the system.
the patient gets sick. the disease will have a course of, say, 5 days. on day 3, they really feel like crap. they reach their breaking or fear point. this just keeps getting worse so they go see the doctor.
this is, of course, stupid. it spreads flu, taxes you, jams up your doc with something they can do nothing about, and is not going to help. but you need to feel like you “did something” and the nature of the system is that you reach this point right when it was at it’s worst anyway.
your doctor could give you tetracycline or a lollipop, it’s going to have about the same effect on your flu. no matter what happens, you’ll be pretty much over it in 2 more days. neither will outperform chicken soup and some more netflix.
you doctor prescribes it because if he doesn’t, you’ll go find one who will because you’re sick and “go home, rest, get plenty of fluids” is not an answer you want. you want a fix. you want a solution, even if it’s snake oil.
but, because of the timing, you’re going to THINK that whatever they gave you worked. you have no control group, no counter-example. your doctor could give you a garlic necklace to wear and 3 days later you’d be swearing it cured you. that’s just how human pattern association works.
monkey see, monkey attribute.
so lets talk about covid policy:
covid policy is these two things crashing into one another.
it’s the mass psychology of the stock market colliding with the epidemiological gompertz pattern of viral spread and attenuation and just as in the other cases, it tends to get worst right before it starts getting better.
they key difference here is that disease has an exogenous pattern that drives human response, not a human emotional pattern that drives outward effects (like a market crash) so you cannot change the curves based on what you do, but you do tend to change what you do based on the input from the curve.
gompertz equations are complex multifactorials and i won’t bore you with them beyond a couple key salients:
they are the model by which epidemics work
they are easy, in early stages, to mistake for undamped exponential functions, but they are not. they rapidly attenuate and self limit at the top. always. this is an intrinsic function of immunity development and vulnerable population depletion.
so you get a curve that looks like this:
the blue curve is a growth function, the red curve is how actual population dynamics (active cases) play out.
the problem, of course, is that this curve goes steepest right before it flattens out sharply. and that’s right when humans panic because they cannot wrap their heads around damped functions. they just see exponential growth.
2 becomes 4. no big deal.
4 becomes 8. yawn.
8 becomes 16. huh.
16 becomes 32. wait, what?
32 becomes 64. oh no!
you get the picture.
what’s interesting is then 64 becomes 110. growth is slowing. but humans don’t see that. they see a rise of 46, more that the last rise of 32. they think it’s getting worse, but it’s already getting better. and THIS is when they panic.
they thought they had covid “diamond hands”.
but they wuss out right when it’s becoming clear that this is already ending.
people see this and they lose their minds. they want solutions.
but they are missing the picture. this is already over and it’s plain as the nose on your face.
see how obvious this is when you zoom in? we’re maybe a week from seasonal peak and growth is already deeply attenuated. this is ending, it’s the thrown ball approaching apogee.
summit county (park city and environs) in UT panicked 2 days ago and imposed a 45 day indoor mask requirement. they saw this and they broke. these are newbie day traders selling the bottom that they lack the experience and emotional condition to identify and weather. they needed to be seen “doing something.” they could not take the stress or see the signs. these are not health experts that have any idea how to read this sort of real time data. none of them are. these are rattled rookies seeking emotional relief and politicians seeking visible activity to look “leadershippy.”
what they missed, of course, is this:
it’s already ending. masks are not going to work. they’re a talisman and a form of public health performance art cosplay. the evidence for this is literally overwhelming and was knowable, has been proven time and time again for covid, and has been known for 100 years.
the WHO knew it in 2019. masks cannot even stop flu, and flu is far less aerosol than covid. a 150nm virion takes weeks to fall to the floor in still air. tell me again how waiting to sit down to unmask makes one iota of difference…
US standing pandemic guidelines expressed it.
they are not source protection.
they do not work in schools.
even the feckless fauci knew it once upon a time.
and no, N95’s are no different.
so why do we keep doing it?
it’s because masks are the low energy panic reflex. lockdowns were too severe to sustain. the damage was too great and not even the fear raddled leaders could maintain them or had the inclination to try again.
but masks are a lesser ask. they are highly visible, performative, require personal action, and provide visible evidence of government governing and public health “doing something.”
but it’s all sugar pills. it will do nothing to stop covid. it is, quite literally, a wubbie in a thunderstorm.
BUT, and this is a massive “but”, because the timing of panic in a gompertz curve is so reliably the point right when things have already started getting better but before this is readily visible to people not looking at it properly, the people who put these policies into play and their societal victims are going to mistake it for efficacy.
they do it time and time again.
and because they have no control group, we wind up here:
and when one set of ineffective policy fails, they just try another. and another. and they just keep trying until gompertz saves them.
then they claim whatever they happened to be doing when the case counts flipped was what ended the pandemic.
park city will wind up thinking masks worked because they happened to do their sun dance at 6am.
but, this spring, when we compare them to the surrounding counties, it’s going to be plain that it did nothing.
there will be zero variance from control groups.
that is how you weed out sun dances from science.
accept no claims of efficacy that lack a control group. (or, if you insist on accepting such, call me. i have a wide range of exciting elixirs available at a special price just for you, my friend…
clearly, LA is going to need to find some other magical claim to make, because it masking and vaccine passports utterly failed there.
perhaps they will mistake closing schools for what saved the day or perhaps that old chestnut of “it would have been worse had we not..”
but none of this is doing anything, never did, and never could.
there is no place in the world that lockdowns, mask ups, or even widespread vaccine mandates have stopped or altered the gompertz curves here.
“virus gonna virus.”
look, i’m sorry, we all wish there was some policy that really worked, some silver bullet to save the day, but we do not always get what we want and at a certain point, we need to live in reality instead of hopeful hallucination.
we simply do not have effective tools to stop a pandemic from an aerosolized respiratory coronavirus.
you can experience this fact as dire threat and cower or choose to experience it as liberating because if there’s nothing you can do, you might as well go back to living.
stay hydrated, exercise, take vitamin C and D and zinc. get enough rest. do all the basic things you always did to stay healthy.
the pandemic is winding down.
by all accounts rooted in actual data and clinical experience (and contrary to attempts at hysterics), the omicron variant is FAR milder than others.
this is what a coronavirus going endemic looks like.
Patients with the Omicron variant of COVID-19 look very different than those infected with previous variants like Delta, says the chair of South Africa’s medical association.
“It’s totally different from the Delta,” Dr. Angelique Coetzee told Global News on Tuesday. She said that these patients aren’t displaying the same loss of taste and smell, need for supplemental oxygen or elevated pulse rate that doctors noted with Delta patients.
“It’s very much like a cold or flu type of symptoms,” she said, adding that patients are reporting headaches and body aches, and a slight sore throat.
“They don’t have a severe cough and they don’t have a running or blocked nose as you would see with an upper respiratory tract infection,” she said.
it no longer penetrates lungs effectively.
it spreads rapidly, but has severity in line with a mild flu or, for many, a middling cold.
“omnicold” is not a reason to shut down the world or limit your lives.
it’s a risk level humans have dealt with every cold and flu season for 200 years.
the only difference is the obsessive testing with oversensitive assays, unprecedented the counting of asymptotic people as cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, and the relentless media and governmental obsession therewith.
we’re performing more covid test in a week in the US that we did flu tests in entire decades, perhaps generations. it’s an out of control system mistaking cause for cure and snake oil for solutions.
it’s sort of stunning watching 2022 fall back on all these failed policies.
an analogy presents itself:
antigenic imprinting, aka hoskins effect, aka OAS is when the human immune system imprints so strongly upon a past pathogen that it keeps responding to new ones in the same fashion and fails to adapt to them.
it becomes a one trick pony, stuck in a rut and unable to mount a strong defense as times change.
this appears to occur on a societal level as well.
we’ve imprinted so heavily onto the knee jerk imposition of seductive pseudoscience every time the covid curve gets steep that we keep imposing the same failed responses of the last 2 years, over and over.
worse, because of the tendency to panic and impose such things when disease spread is already in decline, we keep getting erroneous associative feedback that “it worked.”
we’re literally mistaking the timing of the human panic reflex for the efficacy of non-pharma interventions against respiratory diseases and this reflex looks increasingly ingrained and autonomic.
this cycle must be broken.
this is how a society trades science for superstition and drags itself into a dark age and the genius of the enlightenment for the rattling gewgaws of health shamans.
mistaking that for “public heath” is no way to live.