by Will Deatherage, Executive Director
If the following article does not ruffle a few feathers or turn a few heads, then it has failed in its purpose. The usual disclaimer applies. My views do not represent those of Clarifying Catholicism or any professional organization that I work with. I invite you to open your hearts and minds to the musings of a concerned citizen. I sincerely wish that in a few years this article will be remembered as a series of ramblings from an over-cautious American. I hope that I will be laughed at and teased for it, because if any of my suspicions turn out to be correct, then we might be about to enter one of the roughest eras our world has been through in a long time. In short, I hope that I am wrong, and even if I am, I hope that this essay provides you with a provocative thought experiment. Remember that the Church calls us to have open minds so that we may “test everything and retain what is good” (1 Thess 5:21). I think that it is particularly useful to recall that we are still the same human race that assented to slavery, the Holocaust, and abortion. What might be considered morally noble today could be detested in two hundred years. Popular opinion, even in the “hard sciences,” has a remarkably awful track record historically. Recall that less than five hundred years ago top scientists claimed that the Earth was the center of the universe and that jungle tribesmen were subhuman. At the very least, I humbly admit that my analysis could be completely wrong, and I ask you to respond with equal humility by suspending your preconceptions about some of these topics.
Part I: COVID was Just the Beginning
Approximately half a year ago, I wrote an article titled “New Normal or New World Order: Revisiting Prudence.” Around that same time, several governors announced fourteen-day societal shutdowns to slow the spread of a virus that we did not understand and could not control. These measures were extended in varying degrees throughout the Summer. The number of unknown factors surrounding this disease may have warranted some precautionary measures, but such policies have since devastated livelihoods, economies, mental health, education, and even lives themselves in several developing countries. Since May, we have learned much more about how the virus spreads, who it impacts the most, and how its effects can be mitigated. After months of research, one would think we would have figured out better ways to handle this crisis, and yet half a year after we were assured fourteen days, Thanksgiving and Christmas are in jeopardy of cancellation, though malls and shopping centers will, of course, remain open for Black Friday.
Before I launch into this analysis, I would like to give five disclaimers:
- COVID-19 is a real virus that threatens the lives of a significant number of people. I am certainly not advocating for no restrictions or government intervention. We, as Christians, cannot neglect or ignore any segment of the population that is suffering, no matter how small of a minority they might be.
- This article will be quite political. I suppose that my interest in politics is only natural given my formal education in both Politics and Theology. This essay will propose a theory that may sound quite concerning. Admittedly, it may even come across as a conspiracy theory. I will do my best to provide sources for my information and would like to remind all readers that truth is often stranger than fiction. At the very least, remaining vigilant against totalitarianism is healthy in any free-thinking society.
- This article will heavily criticize our current form of globalism. I do not believe that globalism is intrinsically evil. I believe that as our world comes closer together, increased alliances and decision making will greatly benefit us. However, I would rather have globalism happen gradually, transparently, and with heavy involvement from the citizens who are impacted by it.
- I do not mean to portray our diplomats, government officials, or agencies as malicious. They all have our best interests in mind and truly desire to make the world a better place. My criticism is of what they consider “best” and “better,” and I am not attacking their characters.
- 1984 might not be the best choice of comparison to our current crisis, since there are better works that capture our situation. I will explain this later.
I shall begin with a brief overview of what we know about COVID-19 today. The first notable figure is the latest Infection Fatality Rate (IFR), which informs us of what percentage of people infected die from a disease. In COVID-19’s case, we get the data below:
This chart is from September 10, 2020, and it is the most accurate estimate so far that we have of the virus’s deadliness. The fatality rates for most age ranges are incredibly small. The single category that raises alarms is 70+ years at an estimated 5.4% death rate, though it spikes to 9.3% at a higher infection rate. Otherwise, we see that the IFR of most age ranges are comparable to that of the seasonal flu (below).
Summary of Data:
Flu vs. COVID by Age Range
Children-Teens (0-17/19) 0.002-0.007% vs. 0.003%
Adults (18/20-49) 0.02% vs. 0.02%
Older Adults (50+) 0.06-0.83% vs. 0.5-5.4%
Evidently, the older adults category is quite alarming. A common prediction that I frequently hear is that if we nothing to stop the spread of COVID, roughly 3 million elderly people will die. This claim assumes, however, that 1) every single elderly person in the country will contract COVID and 2) the death rate will remain static. However, we have a few months of rising cases to test this theory.
Here we can see the exponential surge in cases throughout the Fall and early Winter.
Yet this trend is not reflected in the Provisional Death Counts, nor is it seen in those of at-risk age groups (below).
Despite a steady uptick in cases since Summer, the number of deaths has not followed suit. Notice how the number of deaths actually fell once our country was opened back up and cases rose in late Fall. This indicates that patient care may have improved since Spring and that our ability to identify and treat the disease is better than ever. Yet the phenomenon of declining deaths despite rising cases among vulnerable populations eludes media attention. Instead, we obsess over a solution that I will argue not only does more harm than good but puts Americans and global citizens in a very dangerous situation.
Lock downs do not work. Their initial purpose was to slow the spread of the disease, though we have already observed how deaths do not seem to correlate with rising cases. Furthermore, Governor Cuomo of New York, who implemented some of the strictest lockdown measures, utterly failed to protect the at-risk demographics, as New York has had some of the highest death rates across the country and was notorious for sending back COVID positive residents to nursing homes. If the goal of lockdowns was to protect the elderly, then they clearly did not work in New York. Across the entire country, however, as most states opened up, either less at-risk people contracted the virus, their treatment vastly improved, or both. Regardless, the rise of cases has not correlated with rising deaths since early Summer.
After fourteen days passed in states like New York, the narrative about lockdowns quickly shifted. Perhaps lockdowns could eradicate COVID-19 altogether, thus finally stopping its spread to vulnerable populations. This was clearly a pipe dream, though. These shut downs not only caused incredible economic damage, eroded mental health, ruined education, and even starved thousands to death (it was estimated that more people may die from COVID related starvation in developing countries than COVID itself), but they utterly failed to contain the disease in Europe and America. I conclude that widespread lockdowns do not appear to positively impact morality rates, nor are they capable of containing the disease, itself. What is our solution today? We want to try lockdowns a second time, apparently. This is a textbook example of insanity.
People ask me what I would have done differently if I was a governor or mayor. There are two harsh realities that we learned from the first round of lockdowns: rising cases in the general population do not seem to increase the risk of death among vulnerable minorities and COVID will not be eliminated by said lockdowns. Thus, we are left with two options:
- Keep locking down entire populations and evenly distribute resources to sustain members of said population.
- Lockdown at-risk populations and distribute higher quality resources to them and their providers/caretakers.
Notice how in both situations, vulnerable people are under lockdown. That is a non-negotiable. It may sound discriminatory, but they are by far the most at risk and I will argue that the general population being locked down actually hurts them, too. Consider how the first round of stimulus checks costed approximately $300 billion. Any taxpayer facing financial difficulty was eligible for $1200 from Uncle Sam. The question we should be asking is if we can pursue a model that specifically focuses on providing our vulnerable populations with the best possible treatments, stimulus packages, and assistance. From the 209 million adults in the United States, just a quarter of them are over 65, the predominant age group threatened by COVID. If we could keep the economy open and limit recipients of stimulus packages to citizens over 65 (as well as outliers with life threatening conditions, of course), it would be more than possible to give them double, or even triple, the amount of money and still spend less than the first option of $300 billion. We could even provide special care and resources to them and their families. After all, it is logistically easier to care for a minority if all of our resources are directed at helping them, rather than everyone else, and if those who are not at risk become active parts of the solution rather than idly waiting for their checks to come.
In short, here are our models:
Full Lockdown vs. Lockdown for 65+
Stimulus Cost: $300 billion vs. $225 billion
Stimulus Package: $1200 per person vs. $3600 per person
Now, let us factor in some additional financial factors listed on the CDC website:
I would like to draw attention to a couple of key figures. As far as COVID costs are concerned, we will likely spend $7 trillion on COVID alone. $7 trillion is no small sum, but if we kept our economy and education systems running, we would save $1.6 trillion in mental health costs and keep $7.6 trillion that could cover that deficit. In brief, here are our options:
- Option A (our current plan): Provide every American with unreliable $1200 stimulus packages and shoddy treatments, shut down schools and churches, cause more deaths from hunger than the virus itself likely will, and increase the deficit by $16 trillion over twenty years.
- Option B: Provide elderly and vulnerable populations with $3600 stimulus packages and top-tier treatments, keep children in school, prevent thousands of deaths from hunger in developing nations, and cover the costs of COVID with $0.6 trillion to spare in the long-run.
Not only is the second option far less costly and more logistically feasible, but it averts the mental health, economic, and humanitarian crises we are stuck combatting for perhaps an entire generation. A response to this plan is that it would be “selfish” or “unfair” to only impose lockdowns on vulnerable populations, but I would like to shift the perspective. Based on my findings, it would be far more selfish and unfair to deprive elderly and sickly people of the resources they justly deserve by dividing what they are owed between hundreds of millions of perfectly healthy people. The more we direct our resources, which are generated by a robust economy, to those who need them, the safer we all will be. Remember that in World War II it was not the government who churned out the weapons that aided our victory while citizens sat at home, rather it was the private sector armed with able-bodied young Americans who worked diligently to save the vulnerable. Our economy is so successful because we the people are parts of the solution. We need a GDP to provide us with money, and we need human capital generating research and resources that will protect the minority of Americans whose lives are more at risk than ours.
There is little indication that any of our current restrictions will lift. Dr. Anthony Fauci, our nation’s “Top Infectuous Disease Expert” has already warned that social distancing and mask wearing will remain long after a vaccine is developed. Several more medical experts concur: masks are our generation’s new normal. What about the stimulus checks, though? How many more will be issued? Will it really be so easy for Americans to find work after becoming accustomed to them? Publications like the National Review already speculate that we are being conditioned to accept Universal Basic Income, since many Americans are making more money now than they were at work. Furthermore, several world leaders have expressed disappointment in capitalism’s ability to provide for its citizens in dire circumstances such as a pandemic. As I have demonstrated, though, it can. The only thing stopping capitalism from sustaining us through the pandemic is the government itself. This leads to my core question: Why does it seem like nobody is taking these alternative and innovative approaches into consideration?
Part Two: The Great Reset
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the United States government made remarkable strides in surveillance technology. Between state-of-the-art cameras and communications tracking software, the United States government was ready to launch an all-out surveillance campaign that would ensure the safety of its citizens from wrongdoers. The blueprints were laid out, but Americans would surely never consent to such practices that would infringe on their liberties. That was until two airplanes piloted by Islamic Jihadists exploded into the Twin Towers in New York City. This horrific tragedy sparked a new era of fear, international conflict, and even racism against Muslim Americans. The aftermath of 9/11, a time of great distress, provided the government with the perfect opportunity to introduce these new surveillance measures in the name of “national security.” It also licensed the military to invade several countries that were wealthy in oil reserves. As the fear wore off, though, so did the public’s enthusiasm for such policies and conflicts, yet we still live with them today. Airport security became a living nightmare until citizens adjusted to it and it became a mild headache. A new enemy in the Middle East was once a terrifying reality but has since become as thrilling as a new friend request on Facebook. The once shocking revelation of NSA surveillance eventually became a joke cracked on the phone when you describe how you “bombed that test.” These were the New Normals of the 2000s and 2010s. In the face of any crisis, there are opportunists. Many are idealists who think that their policies will bring a new era of peace and protection to the world. Believe it or not, but the NSA, CIA, FBI, and entire alphabet soup of agencies have our best interests in mind. The trouble arises when their perception of “best” might not actually be what is best for us.
A key theme in George Orwell’s 1984 is how the government of Oceania uses its conflict with East Asia to justify its totalitarian polices. “How long has Oceania been at war with East Asia?” could easily be translatable into “How long has America been at war in the Middle East?” Take a moment to consider how much life changed after 9/11 and how many policies revolve around our interests in Middle Eastern affairs, yet said policies and conflicts seem so normal today. Now consider how quickly life changed due to COVID-19. Our top doctors suggest that we do not return to normalcy even after a vaccine has been fully distributed. I fear that an important question we may ask ourselves in ten or twenty years is “How long has America been at war with the Coronavirus?”
In less than a year, we somehow ended up with a country that is $16 trillion more in debt, relies entirely on the government for its economy, provides Universal Basic Income, prioritizes casinos and marijuana shops over churches, and arrests people for celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas, though it allows violent mobs to tear down historical monuments, burn down government buildings, and torment their conservative adversaries, all while banishing private gatherings within homes and businesses, effectively leaving any semblance of communication at the mercy of tech giants who can control what we say or do online (my apologies for that monstrosity of a sentence). This was accomplished in nine months without any violence. Imagine what could be done in ten years.
But surely our American leaders who pride themselves in individualism would never force us to surrender our liberties, right? This is correct. American democracy is a corporation and we are its stakeholders. So long as we remain happy, our leaders will obey us. Here is the catch, though. I mentioned at the beginning of this reflection that its title is rather misleading. These restrictions certainly seem Orwellian, but they could have easily been reversed in the 2020 elections. Today, at least half of the country remains in favor of these restrictions. Unlike 1984, we have a check on our government’s authority that we choose not to use. However, when bureaucratic and media institutions insist on manipulating the perceptions of our situations, democracy reveals its greatest weakness: panic.
Orwellian models of totalitarianism are outdated. The government does not need to impose a violent police state to secure its authority. All it must do is convince its people to support its initiatives. Enter Brave New World, written by Aldous Huxley, which portrays the safest of all possible worlds. In its society, immediate gratification outweighs the terrifying complexities that choice and liberty necessitate. After all, why go through the trouble of tormenting your population into submission when you could entice them to cling to you. The World State in the novel has no privacy or property. It offers free health care, Universal Basic Income, and Soma, a powerful addictive drug that fuels orgies and pleasurefests that distract its citizens from the horrors of critical thought. The world of Brave New World exchanged democracy for unelected bureaucratic actors who closed museums, suppressed literature and information, and controlled their economy, all in the name of safety. Consider how so many bureaucratic agencies now dictate how we live. Even before 2020, government size had been exponentially increasing since the Great Depression. A politics professor of mine dedicated an entire unit to bureaucracy, advocating for its recognition as a distinct branch of our government.
Think about how COVID has given us a taste of our own Brave New World. Although we do not have Soma, there are plenty of equivalents that distract us from the invisible bureaucratic actors whose names never appeared on any ballot. Pop culture, social media, video games, pornography, and drugs are more than enough to shift our focus away from what really goes on in the dark world of politics. Recall that we spent the grand total of one week shocked and appalled at child sex slavery run by high profile politicians and diplomats before we moved onto the latest Snapchat filter. Consumerism is our god and he is never satisfied. Critical thought is our Satan and we avoid it like we avoid COVID.
So, who exactly constitutes this alleged shadow bureaucracy that enacts sweeping legislation under our noses? While the list of hand-picked officials who regulate increasing aspects of public life grows every year in the United States, I am more concerned with broader global trends that we Americans especially tend to neglect. Just as the European Union has gained so much authority via non-democratic means, there are plenty of wealthy foreign actors who seek to consolidate power into one globalist super-structure.
Enter the World Economic Forum (WEF). This International Non-Government Organization has no legal jurisdiction over any nation, but its members, collaborators, and supporters come from the highest echelons of society. From elected officials such as Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to softpower influencers like Prince Charles of Britain, this increasingly powerful institution draws support from a diverse group of nations to idealize about visions for large-scale global change. Its aspirations? Establish a new world order (hang tight with me, everyone) without property, privacy, or capitalism. If you think I am being hyperbolic, then I suggest visiting their website. They are remarkably transparent about this. As I mentioned before, I wholeheartedly believe that the endeavors of politicians and diplomats to enact large-scale change comes from a desire to do good. The WEF has no secrets because its members believe that they are doing the right thing and it wants people to embrace its vision. Their agenda is largely summarized in a 2016 publication by one of its organization’s members. By 2030, the WEF seeks to eliminate property, privacy, and currency-based transactions. How will this be accomplished? A “Great Reset” has been discussed for a few years, and it has now come to the forefront of their agenda in our post-COVID world.
Source (World Economic Forum)
Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum, writes:
COVID-19 lockdowns may be gradually easing, but anxiety about the world’s social and economic prospects is only intensifying. There is good reason to worry: a sharp economic downturn has already begun, and we could be facing the worst depression since the 1930s. But, while this outcome is likely, it is not unavoidable.
To achieve a better outcome, the world must act jointly and swiftly to revamp all aspects of our societies and economies, from education to social contracts and working conditions. Every country, from the United States to China, must participate, and every industry, from oil and gas to tech, must be transformed. In short, we need a “Great Reset” of capitalism.
Perhaps conveniently, the first two items that the World Economic Forum proposes to fix COVID-19 (rather than my suggested capitalistic approach) involve two pillars of the Great Reset: Free health care and Universal Basic Income. As our debt, and the debt of so many nations, reaches a tipping point, as civic unrest continues to ravage cities across the world, as our financial and economic systems are suppressed by the same parties who have become sympathetic to socialism, as conservatives are silenced in academia and by the media, the stage is being set for a global reset, even if half of our country might oppose it. The Great Reset does not seem to care for democracy. Its architects never asked for our opinions. They meet for conferences in Davos, Switzerland every year and their agendas are driven by a handful of billionaires and global leaders. Why should they care about what half a country thinks if they can accomplish much more in their exclusive club?
Here is a transcript of a speech given by Boris Johnson, United Kingdom Prime Minister, essentially endorsing the Great Reset’s ideas. Below is an excerpt detailing why we should never go back to normal after the virus has been vanquished.
I would like to briefly shift my attention to another source of great concern. China, the very nation that is responsible for this plague, is becoming increasingly dominant in international policy. For some reason, the international community insists on working with this tyrannical nation that enslaves its own people and commits genocide every day. One of the hallmarks of the modern Chinese economy, though, is its social credit system. What is social credit? Consider how lending money works in the United States. Before a bank gives you a loan, it checks your financial history to evaluate your reliability to pay back the debt. Based on its assessment of your credit, it determines whether or not you can be trusted to take out a loan for a house, car, or other expensive item. Chinese social credit functions similarly, except it does not just take financial activity into account. Break a law or rob a store and you might receive a hit against your credit. Unfortunately, the Chinese government is not just interested in punishing citizens who commit immoral acts, unless such acts include religious worship or speaking ill of the Communist Party. This means that if the Chinese government deems you an enemy of the Party, it has a right to prevent you from buying a house, a car, food, or any other good for that matter. It can freeze your assets on a whim, and its high tech surveillance systems make sure that Big Brother is always watching. Couple that with re-education camps and you have a recipe for 1984. Implement it via democratic means and you have a Brave New World. Considering that a significant portion of our nation now advocates for firing people because of their political beliefs, I would not be surprised if pundits soon advocated for a social credit system here. Regardless of a national system, though, the massive size and scope of corporations like Amazon and Facebook guarantees their ability to deny essential goods and services to those who disagree with their values. I can already imagine how a social credit and re-education system could be justified to punish Catholics for allegedly being “sexist,” “homophobic,” and “transphobic.”
The most tragic aspect of these trends is that they could easily be reversed, either by democratic means or simple awareness. These billionaires are only so rich because we give them our money, and our elected officials are only so powerful because we voted for them. This is perhaps the greatest irony about this impending Reset that makes our situation a Brave New World, not a 1984. We could easily stop it. If George Orwell was alive today, he would likely 1) burn copies of his book that predicted totalitarianism’s rise by force, 2) run as far as he could from our impending situation, and 3) scratch the top of his coffin and scream for help.
Part Three: A Catholic Call to Action
What on Earth does any of this have to do with Catholicism? Well, aside from all of the implications that this Great Reset would have on the institutional Church, the rise of hedonism and transhumanism in global ethics is worth mentioning. Many leading ethicists seek to eliminate pain and death altogether, even if such efforts require a sacrifice of liberty. Our fear of death, our existential crisis, has yielded a society that is Hell-bent on building Heaven on Earth. Thus, I would like to offer a few reminders to those who seek to eliminate suffering at the cost of our God-given liberties:
- We are not gods, and we have no control over our lives because we have no right to the gift that God gave us. Our quest to vanquish death by ourselves sets us on a dangerous regression to the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden of Eden. I suggest that we back away.
- Listening to fear invites Satan into our lives. It makes us scramble for control over that which we cannot have. We will all die someday and we must accept this fact. Suffering is not something we must run away from, rather it is something we can embrace. We will all die eventually, and we must direct our focuses at figuring out how we can live better quality lives, not simply longer ones.
- As critical as I am of liberalism, I cherish its emphasis on free speech because when we speak about Truth, we can better discern Truth. Compromising our own rights to express opinions by endorsing pro-censorship politicians and big-tech corporations is the biggest shot in the foot we could ever slug into ourselves.
- Remember that God and science are not only inclusive, but they are tethered together. Our God is the Great Scientist, and when we study the world around us we study His ways. Science done well will always elicit God’s natural design.
- Silencing those who question globalist agendas only makes people more suspicious of their activities. I recognize that the desire to make the world a better and safer place is a noble one. This does not mean that such plans should not be questioned or criticized.
I would like to reiterate that I could be completely off base about my observations; for all I know, the Great Reset might be the best thing that will ever happen to us or it could simply never materialize. I am quite skeptical of its aims, though, and I suppose that my primary reason for writing this article is to raise awareness about this situation, specifically among the laity, so that more people can do their own research and reach their own conclusions. Bishops can only fight temporal authorities so much because of their dependence on them, and I would never advocate for their direct involvement in political matters, since a trip down memory lane reveals disastrous results when Church officials intermingle with secular authorities. If there is any segment of the Catholic population who must fight this battle, if we so chose to fight it, it is the laity. But Catholics should not only be intellectually active but spiritually healthy as well. An abysmal laity that only shows up to Mass twice a year and denies the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist hardly seems equipped to take on billionaires and heads of states. Remember that Joshua only needed a trumpet to overcome his adversaries, but Joshua had more faith than most of us do today.
Before I conclude this reflection, I would like to offer a parallel. It is important to remember that the French Revolution is often romanticized as a heroic uprising of peasant farmers who fought against an oppressive upperclass nobility. This is not quite accurate. If anything, the French Revolution was the culmination of a power struggle between secular and religious authorities. The difference that tipped the scale in favor of the former is that secularists seduced enough peasants into carrying out one of the bloodiest revolts the modern world has seen. Another friendly reminder is that Mussolini’s Brown Shirts began as gangs who tormented political opponents without fear of retribution from political allies or the media which they controlled. Notice how neither revolution involved much democracy but rather hinged on wealthy elitists persuading peasants to abandon their traditional ways of life in favor of some abstract ideal that eventually failed. I pray that the same does not happen to us.
“I cannot wait for 2020 to be over.” This one sentence epitomizes what went wrong this year. Centuries from now, our descendants may study 2020 as the year Americans gave up; the year we exchanged bold and daring liberty for safety and security blankets; the year that we put our fears at the foot of the government rather than at the foot of the cross. In hindsight, 2020 might be the last “golden year” of the American dream. I certainly hope this is not the case. I hope I am hyperbolic. I hope I am wrong. However, I would rather be wrong and arouse vigilance than be right and say nothing. As scripture says, we must stay “alert and ready” (Matt 24:44), for when we face our own reckoning, when we are confronted by the face of God, we best not admit that we refused to protect the world He gave us just because something “sounded like a conspiracy theory.”