Conservatism in the pandemic

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By ÉRICO ANDRADE*

Skepticism, far from being an act of prudence, may simply be the most absurd way of asserting belief in the implausible by considering all beliefs as equally doubtful.

Wittgenstein in his writings on certainty underlined how counterproductive it is to put some of our convictions in doubt. There is certainly no practical gain in doubting, for example, the spherical shape of the Earth. In this sense, generalized skepticism such as that proposed by Descartes in the figure of an evil genius (a creature capable of always leading us into error even about things that we take as the most certain) has always been a rhetorical device, at best. It makes no sense to question all our beliefs, not just because doubting everything implies the certainty that we doubt (I think therefore I am, says the famous phrase), but above all because we don't need to doubt everything.

Indeed, one of the strategies of Brazilian conservatives is the indiscriminate use of doubt. In a recent article “Towards Ruin” JR. Guzzo resorts to the following hypothesis regarding social isolation: what if the whole world is wrong? He imports this question from an American political commentator Dennis Prager. The American conservative is quoted in the text referencing a classic argumentative tactic and for which we even have an expression in Latin: ad hominem. That's when you prefer to attack your opponent instead of discussing your ideas. Dennis Prager asserts that the isolation policy is “cheating, cowardice, and immaturity that dominate planet Earth today, because the elites are cheaters, cowards, and immature”. By resorting to this quotation at the beginning of his text, JR Guzzo already sets the tone that his readership loves: there is a hidden, hidden end, with which a good conservator cannot condone. Which justifies calling into question what appears to be apparently indisputable. But, the question is why put in doubt?

The reason offered is fallacious. He uses a general distrust of politics, which seems not to apply, of course, to conservative militants like Dennis Prager himself, but to “globalists” in general. With that he authorizes himself to ask why people are trusting politicians and governments that should always be a reason for doubt. At no point is it mentioned that most countries are being advised by scientific committees and that the Nordeste consortium, right here in Brazil, has been led by renowned scientists from around the world. So it's not purely and simply a political issue; as your text suggests. After all, different political spectrums around the world have at some point adopted isolation policies, based on available scientific evidence.

Then comes, as expected, the idea that the medicine for the pandemic may be killing the patient. To this end, he cites the speech of the executive director of the FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, according to him a globalist) David Beasley who stated, in mid-April, that there is a risk of more people dying from the economic impact than of COVID-19 itself. The number of people affected by hunger could be greater than the number of people killed by COVID-19. There is a serious omission here. FAO is not questioning social isolation, but warning of the need for public policies for food distribution during the pandemic. Incidentally, it is thanks to confinement that the death toll has not grown on a sharp exponential scale, as so many studies show. That is, the death toll would be several times higher than the current number (which he uses to compare with an estimate of economic damage) if confinement policies had not been adopted in much of the world.

In any case, several studies show that the economic impact of the pandemic is equivalent or even greater when isolation is not adopted! With the dramatic addition that more people die without confinement as in the case of Sweden, which adopted a lighter isolation that resulted in more deaths compared to Nordic countries and economic crisis according to its own central bank.

Isolation is not indefinite. Europe is already starting to emerge, in a planned way, from confinement after the peak of the pandemic. That is, confinement is an emergency measure only.

To continue captivating his readership, JR Guzzo, of course, resorts to a false dilemma present in a question. He questions whether less favored people would have less rights than victims of COVID-19. When he refers to Brazil, the question could not be more fallacious. Well, it is the less favored people who are victims of COVID-19. Thus, unlike what he suggests in his text, this is not the dilemma of elite life versus poverty, as it is poverty that will be most affected by COVID-19 and it is the first to feel the lack of beds in hospitals. I could not fail to point out that it puts the majority of civil servants, people who live on income and rich people on the same level. If it is true that part of the public service is privileged (not necessarily the majority and for reasons other than those who live on income or are rich), it is completely false that there is no need to work because public servants are working remotely when they are not offering their own lives to care for people with COVID-19.

To crown his text he asks: what if everyone is wrong? The answer JR Guzzo offers is that it won't be the first time. History does not tire of showing this, according to him. Here, I need to go back to the beginning of my text. For what scientific reasons would we suspend most of the scientific community, institutions, and the obvious fact that the flattening of the curve at the peak of contagion reduces the need for hospitalizations?

The reasons JR Guzzo gives are not scientific, but conspiratorial and point out that the only solution is to discredit all the evidence provided by most of the scientific community in order to side with the conservatives. However, we know with Wittgenstein that skepticism, far from being an act of prudence, can simply be the most absurd way of affirming belief in the implausible by considering all beliefs as equally doubtful. What the history of philosophy shows is that the strategy of generalized doubt always hides certainty. The certainty that JR Guzzo's text hides is that narciso thinks ugly what is not his mirror.

*Erico Andrade Professor of Philosophy at the Federal University of Pernambuco (UFPE)

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