Beware the ‘Nurse Ratched’ State

by | Dec 6, 2020

Beware the ‘Nurse Ratched’ State

by | Dec 6, 2020

Nurse Ratched

Advocates of minimal government have often warned against “The Nanny State,” which rears its ugly head whenever bureaucrats try to tell people what they should do and how they should live. There is a sense in which all governments do that, through the very enactment of laws, but Nanny-leaders mete out prescriptions which vastly exceed what can be fairly portrayed as an attempt to protect people from one another. An extreme example of this sort of overreach occurred in the United States during the Prohibition Era, with catastrophic consequences. Not only did outlawing the enjoyment of alcohol not prevent people from drinking, it actually catalyzed a massive expansion of organized crime all over the United States, as career criminals stepped in to provide people with the means needed to imbibe. No one wants to go to prison, which is why murder was on the rise throughout Prohibition, with blood flowing in some cities nearly as freely as whiskey and wine.

Such unintended consequences have arisen wherever recreational drugs have been outlawed, and experiments such as the one in Portugal, where drug-related deaths diminished significantly after decriminalization, may have helped to propel some in the United States to accept the legalization of marijuana. The state of Oregon recently went even further, by legalizing possession of small amounts of hard drugs as well. Just as economics played a major role in putting an end to the thirteen-year Prohibition fiasco, the voters of some states may have been persuaded to permit recreational drug use after having seen the massive tax revenues being collected through pot shop sales in states such as Colorado. Whatever the reasons may have been, the slow dismantling of the legal framework undergirding the “War on Drugs” is certainly a welcome development to anyone who rejects the Nanny State.

The trend toward tolerating alternative lifestyles more generally, however, conflicts starkly with what else has been going on in 2020, coincidentally one century after the ratification of the Volstead act. Policymakers attempting to save people from COVID-19 have pulled out all the stops—going above and beyond, in their view—to protect their constituents by issuing new and ever-changing edicts about how people ought to behave. This might be more tolerable if there were any genuine benevolence on display. Instead, what we are witnessing is an increasingly despicable effort to blame citizens for the failure of policies implemented in response to the arrival of the virus on the scene. When restrictions intended to stop the virus are imposed but cases and deaths then increase rather than diminish, this has been taken to prove to those crafting the new rules that citizens did not in fact do as they were told, and they are, therefore, responsible for the current state of the health crisis.

I have been in Austria, Wales, England and the United States over the course of 2020, and in each of these countries I was surprised to find the very same finger-wagging reproach of citizens by government administrators who wish to blame what is manifestly nobody’s fault on somebody else. All over social media, angry mobs continue to lash out at those who refuse to stay home or “mask up,” and many government leaders now address their constituents as though they were toddlers or, perhaps more aptly, the residents of Nurse Ratched’s ward.

This is a strange conception of government, according to which politicians do not work for the people who pay their salaries but instead are their guardians, who alone can decide what the populace may and may not do. The phenomenon is not unique to the dictators-in-waiting who run states such as California and Michigan. Citizens all over the world are continually being threatened by government officials that if the case numbers do not go down, then lockdowns will be ordered or tightened, and more businesses will be closed, and further restrictions imposed, as though anything anyone does at this point has an effect upon a virus which is nearly everywhere and beyond anyone’s means to control. This punitive paradigm may have been possible to uphold with a straight face until late October, and many on the cacophonous COVID-19 caravan in the U.S. and in the U.K. have ceaselessly carped about their own incompetent government’s response, contrasting it to the approaches of the admirable leaders of countries in the European Union and Oceania, who obviously knew what they were doing!

But then along came the resurgence of cases in Europe, particularly in countries which had been held up for months as shining examples of how a government ought to manage the crisis. Germany had tough lockdowns, mask requirements and probably the best contact-tracing program around. They restricted the entry of people from any country with an unacceptably high “infection rate” (scare quotes are necessary given the widely acknowledged problems with the PCR tests), and anyone at the border who did not present proof of not being COVID-19 positive was either quarantined or turned away (some were also fined). So how does one explain the new wave of “infections” all across Europe? It must be the case that the naughty plebeian Europeans were lying about their contacts, meeting in large gatherings, and brazenly violating social distancing and mask ordinances. None of the case surges throughout the Northern hemisphere has anything whatsoever to do with the fact that more people invariably fall ill with the onset of winter.

In the U.K., Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued in November a nationwide month-long lockdown order in response to a resurgence of cases which villagers tended to blame on the haughty Londoners—who obviously had been flouting the rules by partying and congregating in pubs and then spreading COVID-19 dust everywhere they went—from England to Wales to Ireland to Scotland, and back again! That was, however, not my impression. What I found upon my arrival in London at the end of October (before the new lockdown) were empty streets, shuttered stores, and restaurants and pubs with very few patrons. Realty signs were all around, and the place looked frankly like a ghost town. My train from Norfolk to London was nearly empty, as were all of the trains I took in the U.K. from July to November, when I finally decided to leave in exasperation at the abrupt and arbitrary cancellation and closing of any- and everything I might want to do and see.

Throughout this crisis, not only the governors of Democratic states in the U.S. but also the prime minister of Australia and the health minister of the U.K. have exemplified the Nurse Ratched mode of governance, repeatedly threatening their constituents with ever-sterner measures should the epidemiological situation not improve, under the assumption that case surges decisively demonstrate not that the policy initiatives were worthless but that people were not following the rules. Sadly, many citizens, terrorized by the mainstream media’s nonstop fear-mongering about COVID-19, have accepted this absurd blame game, which has broadened what was already, long before March 2020, the chasm dividing a populace torn in two. Unfortunately, the situation is likely to get much worse as those who blithely agree to do as they are told become increasingly intolerant of those who refuse to do the same. Yes, the small paper cups on trays will be coming your way soon. What will you do? People are already taking sides, and the ironies continue to multiply.

Leftists have often wielded the slogan “My Body My Choice” in protesting any attempts by the government to limit a woman’s right to obtain a safe abortion. It is highly ironic, then, that some among them should now be agitating vociferously for the universal vaccination of people worldwide against COVID-19. The “Listen to the Science” crowd immediately shuts down anyone who dares to suggest that the decision about whether to allow foreign substances to be injected into their own body should remain the prerogative of individuals themselves. They denounce anyone who resists the call to vaccination as “antivax,” even when they are not vulnerable to the disease in question and have no problem whatsoever with time-tested vaccines. Those who express any hesitation whatsoever to roll up their sleeves are ridiculed as “antiscience,” even when they are in fact scientists by profession. When none of those inflammatory insults work, there is always the tried-and-true “selfishness” charge: you are a selfish, heartless human being if you are not willing to vaccinate yourself to protect other people from death.

Let us look soberly at the scientific facts, setting to one side all possible conspiracy mongering about 5G, microchips, the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset,” chemtrails or anything else. First, COVID-19 is highly contagious but nowhere near as deadly as the pandemics of the past, and it specifically targets elderly persons with other health problems. An overall 99.5+% survival rate is not the sort of danger which would ordinarily lead a healthy young person to undertake a risky regimen to protect him- or herself. Why “risky”? At the most fundamental level, because safe and effective vaccines have always required years to produce and test, invariably involving, as they do, unknown side effects. The reason for this can be summed up in a simple, undeniable phrase: human variability.

For any trait, sensitivity, capacity, etc., found in human beings, its distribution can be plotted over a bell curve with a tiny percentage of people occupying the extreme ends of the curve. Those people are the “outliers,” who will be much more (or less) sensitive to a particular environmental factor than is the average person. Perhaps the simplest way of thinking about this human variability and its relevance to the vaccine issue is in terms of food allergies. No one knows that they suffer from a peanut allergy, for example, until their body encounters peanuts. Similarly, a person with Celiac disease will discover this fact only upon consuming gluten. When vaccines are manufactured, they contain components with which a given person’s body may never have come in contact before. Most people will not be harmed by any of the components, as the vaccines have been rigorously tested on other animals even before human trials begin. Once extensive, long-term testing in large groups of human subjects has been completed, then the company producing the vaccine can assert with confidence that the risk to patients is quite low. The risk is never zero, however, just as the risk incurred by doing anything whatsoever is never zero. There will always be some people who are more sensitive than others, and they may end up being harmed by one or another of the components of any vaccine. There is nothing mysterious or conspiratorial about any of this, and in fact it is precisely why vaccine manufacturers insist that, before distributing their product widely, they must be granted indemnity in the event of the unforeseen and unpredictable side effects upon a tiny percentage of those inoculated.

All of this to say: there is always risk involved in taking a vaccine. People decide for themselves, for example, whether or not they should take the seasonal flu vaccine, the reported efficacy of which has ranged from 19% to 48% over the past five years. This implies, according to epidemiologists themselves (not “antivaxers” or conspiracy theorists), that more than half of the people vaccinated have not been helped by the flu shot in the least. Were any of them harmed? It is difficult to say, because people become ill and die all the time, and there are usually far too many variables working simultaneously to be able to single out the cause of post-vaccine harm, particularly when the subjects are already elderly and frail. Those who sing the praises of the annual flu vaccine, including the public relations teams behind the aggressive marketing campaigns launched by governments to encourage their citizens to undergo vaccination, generally seem to believe that the efficacy rate is much higher than it is. From a consideration of the marketing material alone, one would be forgiven for concluding that the flu shot is rationally obligatory and 100% effective and safe. Having once examined the statistics, however, there is some cause for restraint.

Just as no one should be able to force you to drink green tea because they believe that it is good for your health, and no cancer victim can be compelled to undergo chemotherapy against his own will, individuals themselves must decide whether rolling up their sleeve for the annual flu shot is a good idea or not. Those who are young and hardy will most liking survive the flu in any case, and there is a real chance that the vaccine which they take—there are multiple versions every year—will not help to combat one or another of the virus strains which they happen to encounter anyway. It is literally a gamble. There are people who maintain that they never became sicker than after having taken a flu shot, but vaccine advocates quickly sweep in to silence them by insisting that they must have already been exposed to the flu before inoculation. In fact, the only reason for believing such an explanation is manifestly that one wishes to support universal vaccination. It may or may not be true. One thing is undeniable: pharmaceutical firms are profit-driven companies, whose revenues will wax or wane with general public sentiment about the wisdom of their many-splendored cures.

The current situation is quite a bit murkier than the case of the seasonal flu shot, because most of the COVID-19 vaccines being developed employ a novel RNA technology never before licensed for use in human beings. In the vaccines which have stood the test of time (measles, polio, etc.), a tiny amount of pathogen protein is introduced into a patient’s body so that it will preemptively ready itself for an immune response in the event that the virus is later encountered. Usually the virus matter introduced is dead, but sometimes it is live, and this is by design—it depends on the pathogen and is determined through extensive experimentation. A live vaccine induces a minor bout of the disease, which is much less likely to lead to death than is an unprotected body’s encounter with the wild virus. Anecdotally, I can report that after having received an obligatory Yellow Fever vaccine (which is live) before traveling to Ghana, I was quite ill for about five days. The cause and effect was clear: I was suffering a minor bout of Yellow Fever, thanks to which my body developed the antibodies needed to protect me from the disease during my trip to Africa.

Suppose, now, that the new COVID-19 vaccines worked just as the time-tested vaccines. In that case, before agreeing to be inoculated, a reasonable person would require some sort of assurance that the vaccine itself will be less likely to harm the patient than is the wild strain of the virus. Because the survival rate among people exposed to COVID-19 is greater than 99%, it would be prudent for a person to take the vaccine only if their prospects would be improved through vaccination. At this disease risk level, without any such guarantee, one may or may not wish to take an experimental vaccine. People in the vulnerable categories, advanced seniors and those who are exposed regularly to the disease in healthcare contexts, may well feel that it is worth the risk, and they will likely be first in line for the vaccines once they are made available.

It is of utmost importance to bear in mind, however, that the vaccines currently regarded as most promising for controlling the outbreak of COVID-19 do not involve the time-tested approach. Rather than introducing proteins from the offending organism (or a simulacrum), the front-runner vaccines introduce foreign pieces of viral RNA (ribonucleic acid) which will instruct the person’s own body to produce the immune system-galvanizing viral proteins itself. The presence of those pseudo-foreign proteins (coded for by foreign RNA but produced within the human body), will then initiate the needed immune response. In other words, there is an extra step involved. The foreign RNA is introduced, then the person’s body produces the proteins coded for by the snippets of RNA, after which the needed antibodies will be generated by the body in response. This ingenious scheme (if it works!) involves the human body tricking itself into triggering an immune response by producing what are empirically indistinguishable from traces of the offending virus itself. What could go wrong?

Perhaps nothing will go wrong, but the fact (of science!) remains: such vaccines have never been used in human populations before. In attempting to discuss this matter with various people (civil discourse is not always possible with the “Listen to the Science” crowd, ironically), I have been amazed that there should exist persons fully prepared to agree to totalitarian control over their very own bodies while knowing absolutely nothing about the history of vaccine development. They simply do not care that the novel vaccines are novel, nor that those who volunteer to take part in the largest experimental trial of vaccines in human history are essentially offering their bodies up as Petri dishes to pharmaceutical firms. Some vaccine enthusiasts appear not even to know what RNA is and attempt to discredit anyone who disagrees with their gurus in white labcoats (most of whom have financial ties to Big Pharma), despite the fact that plenty of published literature exists on the topic of vaccine harm. Advocates for forced universal vaccination appear to be unfazed by possible conflicts of interest and are not at all bothered by the sudden appearance of Bill Gates (whose company Microsoft violated anti-trust laws) in their social media timelines exhorting everyone everywhere to get on board with the global vaccination regime [sic].

Beyond all of the factors relevant to new vaccines more generally, one can quite reasonably inquire, in this case, whether anyone should trust a company (AstraZeneca) which “accidentally” (through a “manufacturing error”) gave thousands of its vaccine trial participants only half of their first dose, reported a 90% efficacy figure, but subsequently discovered that the true efficacy rate in those fully dosed was only about 62%. In other words, in the AstraZeneca trial in question, the less vaccine the subjects received, the better they fared. None of this is to suggest that anyone should expect laboratory technicians to be perfect, for they are human. But that is part of the gamble one takes in agreeing to participate in such a study, as can be seen throughout the history of vaccine development, which has left many bodies in its wake (mostly animals of other species, but also some human beings).

The reason why the healthy Western subjects of pharmaceutical drug trials have always been generously remunerated—in the third world they are not—is because they are risking their own well-being and even life by agreeing to ingest substances with unknown side effects, which cannot be predicted a priori. Indemnity clauses are always included in the contracts for those who agree to participate in experimental drug trials precisely in order to prevent any victims (or their survivors) from seeking compensation should something go awry. It is of course possible, and one certainly hopes, that the injection of foreign RNA into human bodies may not cause any lasting harm, but the unvarnished truth is that we simply do not know what the long-range and unforeseen consequences will be, because this has never been done before.

In all of the excitement over the splendid reported efficacy rates (90%, 94% and 95+%) of the front-runners in the great COVID-19 vaccine race, I have seen no mention by anyone of the survival outcomes of placebo subject classes. Why might that be? Whenever new drugs and remedies are scientifically tested, this is done with a contrast class of subjects who are given not the treatment being studied, but a placebo substance, which is considered to be inert vis-à-vis the disease to be defeated. This is the only way to demonstrate that the remedy is more helpful than doing nothing at all. In the case of COVID-19, there are a few key factors to bear in mind. First, based on the death charts of the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), and many other institutions as well, it is evident that any placebo remedy which I myself decide to take—water, vegetables, vitamin C, quinine, even air—already has a 99.5% chance of keeping me alive, even if I am exposed to and become infected with COVID-19. I may, therefore, stick with the placebo for the entirely rational reason that its efficacy rate in keeping me alive is likely just as high, if not higher, than that of any possible vaccine.

Big Pharma’s tactic of neglecting to report on the outcomes of placebo studies for its vast array of antidepressants and anxiety remedies was for years ignored. Eventually, a few courageous psychiatrists and psychologists revealed that, for many of the best-selling psych meds prescribed to millions of people all over the world, placebo subjects fared just as well and sometimes even better than those taking the drugs, particularly in long-range studies. In other words, many people prescribed psychotropes for acute cases of depression, anxiety and grief produced by life traumas such as the loss of a loved one would have improved over time, even if they had taken no drug at all. Mention of such results was routinely omitted from reports touting the efficacy of psychotropes for the plainly diaphanous reason that taking no medication does not produce any profit for drug manufacturers.

Similarly, the companies touting the virtues of their new vaccines designed to save humanity from COVID-19 make no mention of placebo class survival outcomes. Nonetheless, many people have been encouraged by the reported results, relieved that at last they will be able get back to living their lives as they please. In reality, the current misery of healthy individuals being victimized not by COVID-19 but by political policies crafted in response to the virus has no logical connection to the invention or success of any vaccine. Rolling up one’s sleeve cannot be made a condition upon ending policies which do not protect but rather harm most of humanity. Instead, the policies should be ended because they never had and never will have the advertised effects.

Remarkably, when anyone dares to express skepticism about the decrees of the new COVID-19 czars, this is taken to illustrate that they need to be protected from themselves and also from harming others. Somehow we have found ourselves in a world governed by Nurse Ratched-esque individuals who repeatedly scold us for the failure of their previous policies to put an end to COVID-19 and appear ready and willing to punish us further for not agreeing to do as they say and, now, to roll up our sleeves. They call it “treatment,” and they have already purchased, using taxpayer funds (what else?), “free” vaccines for all. From the perverse perspective of these government officials, it is our fault that the virus is running rampant, and, therefore, we must line up for our paper cup on the tray. If anyone objects to being made into the subject of an experimental vaccine trial, for any of the many non-conspiratorial reasons outlined above, they are to be denounced as lunatic fringe extremists and de-platformed across social media.

This frightening transformation of citizens into subjects is now so widespread that even some business leaders are promoting the same line, apparently believing themselves to comply with what they have been told over and over again are the dictates of science. The CEO of Qantas airlines recently announced that they will be requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination for anyone attempting to board their flights. Needless to say, I will not be traveling to Australia again anytime soon, because my body is my own, and I do not agree to offer it up as a Petri dish in a large-scale clinical trial by any profit-driven company, and certainly not Big Pharma, whose amorality (at best) and manifest greed has already been firmly established through its many large-scale campaigns to drug everyone for anything—from infants to nonagenarians—with psychotropes. (Did you know that “Prozac” for dogs and cats is now a thing?)

It is precisely because of the unavoidable dangers involved that individuals, who alone will bear any negative consequences arising from their choices, must retain control over what is done to their own bodies. Yes, there are COVID-19 outliers as well: younger persons who suffer worse health outcomes than the vast majority of their peers, and it is possible that any given person will be an outlier in that sense. But there are already mountains of demographic statistics available on the dangers of COVID-19, while none whatsoever exist yet for the new vaccines. Free people must therefore decide for themselves whether the risks of taking an experimental antidote to a disease are outweighed by its alleged benefits. When authoritarian leaders and their associates in the corporate world paint themselves as benevolent, insisting that they are only trying to save the world from the dreaded disease, they are forgetting the most important quality of their constituents and customers: they are free to determine their own destinies and to assume risks which they themselves regard as rational and to reject those which they do not.

The United States Supreme Court recently upheld citizens’ first amendment rights of religion and assembly, even during a global pandemic, and one hopes that as lawsuits continue to wend their way up the judicial chain, the grip of authoritarian policymakers will be further diminished. Human beings should never be held hostage to the demands of those promoting universal vaccination, and least of all when their own danger of succumbing to the disease in question is small. If my own chances of dying from COVID-19 were 50%, rather than less than .5% then it might well be rational for me to gamble, just as many cancer victims, out of desperation, have agreed to submit to experimental treatments. But I am neither sick nor particularly vulnerable to the novel COVID-19 virus, so I’ll take my chances with my own immune system and my preferred placebo remedy of liberty. I may no longer be welcome in Australia, but there’s always Brazil. Or perhaps I’ll go to Mars.

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About Laurie Calhoun

Laurie Calhoun is the author of We Kill Because We Can: From Soldiering to Assassination in the Drone Age, War and Delusion: A Critical Examination, You Can Leave, and Philosophy Unmasked: A Skeptic's Critique.

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