Archive for the ‘Open Society’ Category

A Closed Society (China) is More Open To PANDEMICS (Coronavirus)

February 2, 2020

LACK of INFORMATION & DEBATE in NON OPEN SOCIETY FOSTERED DISASTROUS PANDEMIC

The Wuhan coronavirus spreading from China is now a pandemic that circles the globe. The prospect is daunting. A pandemic will have global consequences, despite the extraordinary travel restrictions and quarantines now imposed by many countries.

Science does not yet know how lethal the new coronavirus is. However, I can compute: we have less than 15,000 official cases and more than 300 dead so it seems the death rate is at least 3% (on the face of it that would be 5%). That means if one billion people get infected, 30 million will die. 

To these preliminary considerations, several caveats: first, out of the 15,000 infected, much more than 300 will die: the virus is known to kill patients who were improving for days in hospital beds. Second, and on a more positive note, information is exchanged between doctors, and methods to mitigate the effects of viral pneumonia are no doubt found. Even more important, the governments in the leadership of the world, the so-called “West”, governments are highly organized and have huge means: the USA has installed its first quarantine in 50 years, and uses large military bases to isolate potentially infected people.     

The Wuhan coronavirus is spreading more like influenza, which is highly transmissible, than like its slow-moving very lethal coronavirus cousins, SARS and MERS. [1]

How did we get there? It’s not just about markets mixing humans, live bats and live snakes, all infecting each other in a weird bat-snake-human ecology.

It’s also about China being huge, way too closed, and thus, too stupid for its own size. 

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China is not an Open Society. The concept of Open Society was originated by Aspasia, a philosopher married to Athenian general and politician Pericles, who famously declared, quoting his famous funeral oration as reported by Thucydides:

“Our political system does not compete with with institutions which are elsewhere in force. We do not copy our neighbors, but try to be an example. Our administration favors the many instead of the few: this is why it is called a democracy. The laws afford equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, but we do not ignore the claims of excellence. When a citizen distinguishes himself, then he will be called to serve the state, in preference to others, not as a matter of privilege, but as a reward of merit; and poverty is no bar.

… The freedom we enjoy extends also to ordinary life; we are not suspicious of one another, and we do not nag our neighbor if he chooses to go his own way. … But this freedom does not make us lawless. We are taught to respect the magistrates and the laws, and never to forget that we must protect the injured. And we are also taught to observe those unwritten laws whose sanction lies only in the universal feeling of what is right….

Our city is thrown open to the world… We are free to live exactly as we please, and yet, we are always ready to face any danger…. We consider a man who takes no interest in the state not as harmless, but as useless; and although only a few may originate a policy, we are all able to judge it. We do not look upon discussion as a stumbling block in the way of political action, but as an indispensable preliminary to acting wisely.”

Debate is crucial to advancing understanding. Debating with oneself is indispensable, but debating with others enables debating with others enables one to go where none thought of, and thus to advance understanding. 

Beautiful words, yet, disastrously, Pericles didn’t act accordingly to them! Just the opposite. 

Chinese Dictatorship Politicians with advanced specialized N95 masks (which stop the virus particles which are 10^7 meter across, so 5 billionth of a meter bigger than the meshes in these N95)… Whereas the doctors welcoming them have pitiful masks which can’t do that. Best masks out there stop at 300 billionths of a meter, 3 times too big to stop the 2019 Coronavirus, Some chinese doctors had to make masks out of garbage bags, due to penury.

Instead in a dictatorship, few decide; the brain power is if not minute, drastically reduced. Actually it’s the multi-debating aspect of Western Europe which enabled most of the advancement of civilization in the last millennium. China, which used to be very advanced scientifically and technologically missed the debating aspect, motivated by mighty intellectual passions. Lack of fierce debate, independently of social hierarchy, is the main missing link of Confucius philosophy, which views the respect of one’s “station” in life, the most important feature of society. Hence Confucius is most compatible with Xi’s regime.

Let alone that Xi got his job in part from his parents’ station in life… 

Whereas intellectual debate and its descendants, in particular scientific, medical and technological advancement, are the exact opposite: they respect only truth, and, more generally, the search thereof. To equal the West, China will have to accept to see truths, and love thereof, be hurled around. 

Tribalists come to me and they whine; if you are not blue, you have got to be red. Their simplicity is hurt, their minds are reeling, they are looking for something to color their bland lives. Well, children, I am campaigning for the truth. Not for a particular potentate to satisfy his or her greed for power.

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PANDEMICS FROM TYRANNICAL STUPIDITY:

On a great historical scale, one is struck by the fact the Roman State was wrecked by pandemics in the Second Century, The Third, and the Sixth. The first pandemic, during Marcus Aurelius’ reign, weakened the empire considerably. It’s not clear what happened. Clearly the army was struck as Marcus died. The lack of information is, by itself, an indictment: an Open Society would have debated and found ways to fight the epidemic. Instead, the tyrannical empire behaved as if the disastrous pandemics were no more than bad air not worth commenting upon. (By comparison, we know of the authorities in London abating pollution from coal burning already in the Fourteenth Century.)

We have more information from democracies than from the wretched Roman dictatorship. At the onset of the Thirty Years Peloponnesian war, a (highly) predictable pandemic (typhus?) hit Athens. All the population of the Attica peninsula was within the walls, thus very crowded, while armored Spartans roamed outside, destroying the land. Pericles ordered the Athenian fleet to sail to go attack the other side of the Peloponnese. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic exploded in the hyper crowded ships. The expedition became a disaster.

Pericles was recalled and tried for this, under the accusation that everybody knew crowding would make the epidemic terrible. Thus Athens was an open society, but not so open as to be able to avoid such an obvious blunder (much of the population died)… Pericles admitted he “had anticipated everything, but not not this”. Maybe if there had been more of a debate, when planning for war with Sparta, the pandemic could have been anticipated. 

Interestingly, when the dictator Napoleon attacked Russia, a similar situation developed. Apparently the Grande Armee suffered from typhus. In a democracy, the situation would have been revealed, and debated. The obvious solution was to take measures to stop the epidemic, and put off the assault against the Czar to another year. Instead, the dictator kept everything secret, and the idealistic young soldiers from Poland, Germany and other countries, in close quarters, infected each other. So efficient was the dictator that the scandal was kept secret for two centuries (archeology revealed the contaminated corpses recently). Napoleon thus undermined the spreading of revolution to Russia, and enabled the likes of old enslaving aristocrats such as Tolstoy to gloat.

If Rome had been a democratic state in the Second Century, perhaps it would have been able to mitigate considerably the pandemics which weakened it so much. 

During the terrible plague of 1348 CE, not one European aristocrat seems to have died: the nobles knew what was coming and took efficient counter-measures. However around half of the population, often ignorantly crowded praying in churches, died. So obscurantism doesn’t help.

***

SPACESHIP EARTH NEEDS TO BE OPEN TO DEBATE:

In the case of the present Coronavirus, some authorities loudly proclaimed the virus could not be transmitted from human to human, when doctors already knew with certainty that was a lie. So no timely measures were taken in Wuhan, a city of eleven million. 

We are all sharing a small planet, our common spaceship. No country owns the spaceship. No country can endanger the spaceship. Obscurantism and closed societies, anywhere, endanger us all. It was telling that Russia, Mongolia, Vietnam and even North Korea closed their borders to China: when they got informed, they acted as Open Societies should have. More generally, increasing more cooperation, by making the world more of an Open Society will enable to decrease suspicion, hence military spending, and thus augment spending on science, and in particular biology, medicine.

They said “Climate Change”. We said: WORLD CATASTROPHE. They scoffed. Now they are going to sneeze. They will sneeze because the world’s ecology has been all open, and kicked around to new possibilities, while the old biosphere dies. The intellectual climate needs to change and warm up. The time for imagination and passion has come.

The Open Society is not just a choice anymore, it’s a duty. A world duty. Not just a world moral duty, a world survival duty. China can’t ship out, so it will have to change. And not just China. As in China, throughout the West politicians and potentates have confiscated decision power. Debate needs to grab it back.

Wars used to be made about territory. It’s time to have one about fostering the proper open attitude.

Patrice Ayme

***

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[1] Together SARS and MERS caused less than 11,000 official cases. Their lethality rates were 10% (SARS) and 33% (MERS). The 1918 “Spanish flu” killed only about 2.5 percent of its victims — but because it infected so many people and medical care was much cruder then, and disorganized by World War One, 20 to 50 million died. The evidence is that it started in crowded US military camps.

The highly transmissible H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic of 2009 killed about 285,000, fewer than seasonal flu normally does, and had a relatively low fatality rate, estimated at .02 percent. It is hoped by authorities that 2019 Coronavirus has a death rate of less than 2% (when more mild cases surface). The argument was made by Chinese authorities that Wuhan is more disorganized than the rest of China. Thus a death rate of 4% in Wuhan, 2% in the rest of China.

***

P/S: February 6, 2020. The Chinese doctor who tried to warn other medics about the coronavirus has been reported dead after contracting the infection in Wuhan. According to local state media, Dr Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist, died from the virus on Thursday.

#Breaking: Chinese doctor Li Wenliang, one of the eight whistleblowers who tried to warn other medics of the #coronavirus outbreak but were reprimanded by local police, dies of coronavirus on Thursday in Wuhan, the Global Times has learned. Li sent a message to fellow medics in a group chat on 30 December, and days later was summoned to the Public Security Bureau to sign a letter in which he was accused of making “false comments”.


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