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The Guardian

If the Wuhan lab leak hypothesis is true, expect a political earthquake

The potential consequences of the origins of the virus are shattering – if they can be proven “ My own complacency on the matter was boosted by the lab leak test published in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists earlier this month. Photograph: Thomas Peter / Reuters There was a time when the Covid pandemic seemed to confirm so many of our assumptions. It brought down the people we thought were bad guys. It sparked those we thought were heroes. He flourished people who could easily switch to working from home, even though it problematized the lives of those Trump voters living in the old economy. Like all plagues, Covid often felt God’s hand on earth, flogging people for their sins against higher education and visibly separating the righteous from the unmasked wicked. “Respect the science,” our garden signs warned. There you go !, Covid came and forced us to do it, elevating our scientists to the highest seats of social authority, from where they banned gathering, trading and everything in between. We have laid the blame so innocently in those days. We scolded at will. We knew who was right and we shook our heads to see those who were wrong playing in their pools and on the beach. It made perfect sense to us that Donald Trump, a politician we despised, couldn’t grasp the situation, that he suggested people inject bleach, and that he was personally responsible for more than that. a very common event. Reality itself punishes leaders like him who refuse to bow to expertise. The high-profile news media even found a way to blame the worst deaths on a system of organized ignorance they called “populism.” In reaction to the fool Trump, liberalism has made a cult following out of the hierarchy of generally recognized achievement, but these days the consensus doesn’t agree as well as it once did. Now the media is filled with disturbing stories suggesting that Covid could have come – not from “populism” at all, but from a lab error in Wuhan, China. You can feel the moral convulsions from the moment the question sets in: what if science itself is somehow guilty of all of this? * I am not an epidemic expert. Like everyone I know, I spent the pandemic doing what I was told. A few months ago, I even tried to convince a Fox News viewer to believe in the laboratory leak theory about the origins of Covid. The reason I did this is because the newspapers I have read and the TV shows I have watched have assured me many times that the Laboratory Leak Theory is not true, that it was a racist conspiracy theory, that only Trumpists believed in, that he got endless guilt ratings from fact checkers, and because (despite all my cynicism) I’m the type to have always trusted mainstream news media. My own complacency on the matter was dynamited by the lab leak test that appeared in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists earlier this month; weeks later, everyone from Dr Fauci to President Biden agrees that the laboratory accident hypothesis may have some merit. We don’t know the real answer yet, and we probably never will, but now is the time to anticipate what such a discovery might ultimately mean. What if this crazy story turns out to be true? The answer is, it’s the kind of thing that could destroy the faith of millions of people. The last global catastrophe, the financial crisis of 2008, shattered people’s trust in the institutions of capitalism, in the myths of free trade and the new economy, and ultimately in the elites that ran the two American political parties. In the years that followed (and for complicated reasons), liberal leaders strove to transform themselves into advocates of professional correctness and established legitimacy in almost every field. In reaction to the fool Trump, liberalism has made a sort of cult out of science, expertise, the academic system, the ‘standards’ of the executive, the ‘intelligence community’, the department. state, NGOs, traditional news media and hierarchy. certified achievements in general. Here we are now in the final days of disastrous Global Crisis # 2. Covid is of course orders of magnitude worse than the mortgage collapse – it has killed millions of people, ruined lives and disrupted much more widely. ‘Mondial economy. If it turns out that scientists, experts and NGOs, etc. are villains rather than heroes in this story, we could very well see the worship values ​​of modern liberalism pundits rise in a fireball of public anger. Consider the details of the story as we have learned them over the past few weeks: • Laboratory leaks occur. They are not the result of conspiracies: “a laboratory accident is an accident”, as Nathan Robinson points out; they happen all the time, in this country and in others, and people are dying of it. • There is evidence that the lab in question, which studies bat coronaviruses, may have conducted research called “gain of function,” a dangerous innovation in which diseases are deliberately made more virulent. Moreover, the right-handers have not imagined a “gain of function”: all the cool virologists do it (in this country and in others) even though the squares have been warning it for years. • There is strong evidence that some of the bat virus research at the Wuhan laboratory was funded in part by the US national medical establishment – that is, the leakage hypothesis in laboratory does not involve China alone. • There seem to have been some amazing conflicts of interest among those charged with getting to the bottom of it, and (as we know from Enron and the real estate bubble) conflicts of interest are always what stumble the well-trained professionals that the Liberals insist we all be attentive, honored and obedient. • The news media, in their zealous control of the permit limits, insisted that Russiagate was still true but that the laboratory leak hypothesis was wrong wrong wrong, and woe to anyone who dared to be in. disagreement. Journalists swallowed the most flattering line for the pundits they cited, then insisted that it was 100% true and absolutely indisputable – that everything else was deranged Trumpist madness, that democracy dies when unbelievers can speak, and so on. • Social media monopolies have actually censored posts about the lab leak hypothesis. Of course they did! Because we’re at war with disinformation, you know, and people need to be brought back to the true and correct faith – as agreed by the experts. * “Let us pray now for science,” sang a columnist for the New York Times at the start of the Covid pandemic. The title of his article stated the fundamental faith of Trump-era liberalism: “Coronavirus is what you get when you ignore science.” Ten months later, at the end of a chilling article on the history of ‘gain-of-office’ research and its possible role in the still-ongoing Covid pandemic, Nicholson Baker wrote the following: “C perhaps the great science meta-experiment of the 21st century. Could a world full of scientists be able to do all kinds of reckless recombinant things with viral diseases for many years and successfully avoid a severe epidemic? The assumption was that, yes, it was doable. The risk was worth taking. There would be no pandemic. Except that there was. If the lab leak hypothesis turns out to be the right explanation for how it started – that ordinary people around the world were forced into a real lab experiment, at enormous cost. – there is a moral earthquake on the way. Because if the assumption is correct, people will soon begin to realize that our mistake was not insufficient reverence for scientists, or inadequate respect for expertise, or not enough censorship on Facebook. It was a failure to think critically about all of the above, to understand that there is no such thing as absolute expertise. Think of all the disasters of recent years: economic neoliberalism, destructive trade policies, the war in Iraq, the housing bubble, banks “too big to fail”, mortgage-backed securities, the Hillary campaign. Clinton of 2016 – all of these disasters brought to you by the complete and assured unanimity of the highly educated people who are supposed to know what they are doing, plus the total complacency of the highly educated people who are supposed to supervise them. Then again, I may be wrong to display all this speculation. Perhaps the laboratory leak hypothesis will be convincingly refuted. I certainly hope this is the case. But even if it comes close to confirmation, we can guess what the next turn of the story will be. It was a “perfect storm”, experts will say. Who would have known? And besides (they will say), the origins of the pandemic no longer matter. Go back to bed. Thomas Frank is an American columnist for the Guardian. He is the most recent author of The People, No: A Brief History of Anti-Populism

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