• Jacqueline Leighton

To all the silent good people....

The theme for this post is again freedom. Freedom to think; freedom to speak; and freedom to act. Especially now as we are watching our personal freedoms slowly erode in the name of public health without the balance of data supporting this seemingly odd and dangerous position. We are talking about the bizarre turn of events we have been observing as the world continues to do battle with COVID-19. Luckily, for us, Alberta's Public Health team is acting based on the data and not based on fear. I fully support this direction because it balances the data with the need to treat COVID-19 in an endemic manner. But, some in Alberta, have attacked this direction largely because they fail to understand the data. And, yes, even health professionals can have misconceptions about probabilities and metrics. The fearful focus on the wrong metrics. They focus on cases and not the proper metrics of hospitalizations and deaths. The whole point of the vaccination program was to decouple cases from hospitalizations and deaths. What this means is that people can contract the virus but not get sick or have a very mild sickness. Zero Covid cases was never the goal for vaccinations. All that a vaccine does is power-up your immune system to fight off the virus should you contract it.

For the past 17 months, we have been fed a steady diet of fear by the mainstream media. A little fear is very healthy and can keep us safe. It allowed us to do what was needed to protect each other. But fear, unchecked, can become pathological even in the face of data. The fearful have critiqued the province for opening up too quickly but what the fearful fail to understand is that the data warrant opening up. This is a good thing for all people but especially for the most vulnerable - children. Opening up is the correct move to restore individual freedoms. But some are now vilifying individual freedom, saying it is selfish and unscientific. The fearful claim is that we should continue with extraordinary measures such as masking and some form of lockdowns to protect the collective. But this is irrational given the data.

Let me clear, in societies that value individual human rights, we obviously need to balance individual rights against collective rights. Reasonable people, at least most reasonable people I know, would agree with this. However, what we are observing now at time of writing, in many parts of the world, including many parts of Canada (again, thankfully not Alberta), the US (albeit not Florida or Texas), Australia, New Zealand and many parts of Europe (but not Sweden) is the slow decline and erosion of individual freedom in the absence of data and in the name of a goal that can only be labelled zero tolerance for COVID-19. It is now no longer sufficient to have low hospitalization rates and deaths. In many parts of the world, the goal is not have any COVID-19 cases, which means absolutely no transmission or zero tolerance. This position is clearly untenable on its face. This has never been a public health goal for any other disease that I can think of except perhaps small pox. However, the death rate of small pox once the virus was contracted was 30%; consider that against the estimated 1% of dying from COVID-19. Consider also all the other infectious diseases we do have - colds, flu, and STIs. We do not expect to eradicate these to zero cases. And yes people still do die from the flu. Many governments have launched successful vaccination campaigns to be able to remove the extraordinary measures (e.g., lockdowns, masking) imposed on populations. But the fearful continue to want lockdowns. The mainstream media does not focus on the many people who are thankful to have their freedoms restored. I have written four times to the Edmonton Journal and they have only published only one letter. But I continue to speak up because the silent good people need to speak. Speak for science, data, individual human rights, freedom, and children.

You can imagine my delight, then, when I came across one of the most pertinent essays of my lifetime. This essay articulates the psychologically compelling message of speaking up. The essay is by Julius Ruechel and he writes about "why it is so important that the silent good people speak out." The essay is entitled "The Emperor Has No Clothes: Finding the Courage to Break the Spell." I have also featured it in my human development video of the month - Roadmap to Freedom: An Interview with Julius Ruechel, by Kate Wand. I strongly encourage you to read this essay and watch the video. Just because you are lucky enough to live in Alberta, Canada do not think that we are immune from authoritarian pathways. Just consider what is happening in Ontario. It is frightening. It can happen here.

I want to highlight one important theme in the essay by Ruechel; namely, that lockdowns and other extraordinary and restrictive government-imposed measures in the absence of data will not be resolved with more data. This is critical because highly educated and bright people continually point to the data but the data are effectively ignored when power and fear are running the show. Ruechel writes:

"Publishing more data won't fix this. The regime doesn't care about data. And frightened members of the crowd will never look at it. In this game, more data is the equivalent of silence. More data is the nod of consent. The only way to confront this is for the silent good doctors, medical professionals, and academic professionals to publicly stand up and speak out, on principle, to break the illusion of consensus that has been cultivated by our public health authorities and media."

The spell of conformity is hard to break. Silence is safe. But I believe, as Ruechel indicates, that good doctors, medical professionals, academics, parents, teachers, and many others should begin to trust their common sense, trust that inner voice that says something is not quite right in the narrative that is being advanced but keeps you silent. Speak up and say why.

There are many psychological experiments to show the power of the social group in maintaining conformity even when this conformity and obedience is harmful to others. No human rights atrocities can happen without the silent compliance of the good people. Ruechel highlights the Asch Conformity Experiments but there are other related experiments such as the Milgram Experiment on Obedience and the Stanford Prison Experiment. These latter experiments show us what good people can become and do to others if they continue to obey and conform, in the absence of their principles and data, even when they know that what is happening is morally wrong. We have a collective responsibility to speak up.

Picture Credit: https://medium.com/@mattimore/parable-the-emperor-has-no-clothes-ace63fef6eb8