Deep Dive: Technocracy and the Pandemic

I recently participated in a webinar that dove into the deep philosophical currents undergirding our problematic responses to Covid

For those of you interested in doing a deep dive into the philosophical roots of our cultural and policy responses to the Covid pandemic, this webinar that I recently participated in may be of interest. Other guests included Dr. Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford, well-known as one of the three co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, which argued for a “focused protection” approach instead of widespread lockdowns in 2020. Former California Governor Jerry Brown also participated, as did Prof Adam Webb of Johns Hopkins University. The conversation was moderated by Paul Grenier, President of the Simone Weil Center for Political Philosophy, where I serve on the Advisory Board and which sponsored the event.

After the obligatory introductions and academic bios, the presentation begins at minute 9 with a fifteen minute lecture by Fr. Stefano Zamagni. His profound and penetrating remarks are characteristic of an academic philosopher, but not, I trust, inaccessible to motivated non-academic audiences. The commentary and discussion from the other panelists begins around minute 27.

To delve deeper into the themes in his lecture, I recommend Fr. Zamagni’s article, “Reflections on the Epidemic as an Anthropological Challenge.” Here are some excerpts:

Since a tree is recognized by its fruits, to understand the meaning of the reaction to the epidemic, and therefore to understand the nature of the technocratic mentality that guides society, it is necessary to look first of all at the restrictive measures that have been taken. Their consequences go far beyond the economic and social crisis they have incurred.  Measures having to do with the reopening (or reclosing) of churches, schools and businesses cannot be fully understood if we restrict ourselves only to arguments of a purely sociological or psychological nature.  What emerges from the ruins of the traditional conception of society, a concept centered on the person and the family, is the totalitarianism of bourgeois society and of its liberal and progressive culture. Which leads us to a third question which needs to be taken into consideration: which phenomena introduced or highlighted by the current restrictive measures are destined to change the life of the individual, and therefore the life of society as a whole, and will go on influencing it even after these restrictive measures themselves are removed?

This evolutionary-progressive mentality has now established itself as all-encompassing. Indeed, it is only with great difficulty that this mentality can even be named, much less questioned. Scientism and technocracy constitute the water in which we swim, so much so that the possibility of framing human existence in any other way hardly comes to mind. Proof of this can be found in the fact that it is hardly imaginable to devise other ways than  lockdowns and mass vaccinations to deal with the circumstance of an epidemic. It is a lack of imagination, which has its root in a reduction of reason whose horizon is limited to the scientifically demonstrable. But what we are witnessing is also a distortion of morality. Now the latter simply ends up justifying the status quo in the name of progress as the absolute value.

That the lockdown marked the victory of science and not its defeat appears likewise from the circumstance that, faced with the drama of suffering and death, society's only responses came in the form of the systematic hospitalization of infected people and various scientific research programs. Every effort was aimed at ensuring that hospitals and testing laboratories could fight against the virus. The initial declaration of impotence, therefore, must be interpreted as a simple mask for scientific hubris, according to which science is the only bulwark in the face of disease and death, within a culture where the latter are conceived, in the spirit of pragmatism, as ‘problems’ to be ‘solved.’

All other instances that make up the existence of man were considered irrelevant for the purpose of eliminating the virus. What if this virus, like so many others, could not be eliminated, but only defeated by learning to live with it? These questions have no place and indeed do not even arise…

Since it is only through medical science that diseases can be addressed, politics, therefore, is only doing its duty when it recognizes the primacy of science and puts into practice what science says. The salvation of people, therefore, can only come in the form of hospitals and vaccines. This, in summary, is the message which scientists, politicians and opinion leaders of all kinds have communicated, and the means by which they have convinced entire populations to passively obey whatever was ordered to them by the technocrats in power: to obey first the lockdown and then the mandatory vaccination campaign now.

Also worth reading on these themes is Paul Grenier’s recent essay published in The National Interest, “Technology and Truth: Reflections on Russia, America, and Live Not By Lies.