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800 Yale Professors Agree

This lengthy letter signed by over 800 Yale professors, most of them qualified in Public Health, Medicine, and Epidemiology, has just been published:

Read it for yourself.

The Yale letter agrees with many of the points I made in my previous post, which Medium censored twice before (so far) allowing to remain posted. Specifically:

  • Science needs to guide messaging to the public, and no government official should make misleading or unfounded statements, nor pressure others to do so.
  • Policymakers should base decisions on social distancing measures and closures on the best available science.
  • Mandatory quarantine, regional lockdowns, and travel bans have been used to address the risk of COVID-19 in the US and abroad. ​​But they are difficult to implement, can undermine public trust, have large societal costs and, importantly, disproportionately affect the most vulnerable segments in our communities.
  • Voluntary self-isolation measures are more likely to induce cooperation and protect public trust than coercive measures, and are more likely to prevent attempts to avoid contact with the healthcare system.
  • Where mandatory measures are used, steps must be taken to ensure that people are protected from job loss, economic hardship, and undue burden.
  • Individuals must be empowered to understand and act upon their rights.
  • The effectiveness of regional lockdowns and travel bans depends on many variables, and also decreases in the later stages of an outbreak.

 

Also of major import, John Ioannidis, a world-renowned scientist, qualified in the Departments of Medicine, of Epidemiology and Population Health, of Biomedical Data Science, and of Statistics at Stanford University, has published an urgent communique available here . It is offered in open access, pre-publication, because of the time-sensitive nature of its contents.

The paper’s abstract is brief and pithy:

“The evolving coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic1 is certainly cause for concern. Proper communication and optimal decision-making is an ongoing challenge, as data evolve. The challenge is compounded, however, by exaggerated information. This can lead to inappropriate actions. It is important to differentiate promptly the true epidemic from an epidemic of false claims and potentially harmful actions.”

One particular item of his long list of bullet points is relevant to the censorship of my previous article:

  • Of the multiple measures adopted, few have strong evidence, and many may have obvious harms

I’m nobody. Just a biomedical copy editor, science fiction author, and disabled chiropractor. But I can recognize when actions are not justified by the research available. Now, world-class Ivy-League epidemiologists and public-health experts with a bird’s-eye view are forcefully stating the same thing I observed from my mousehole.

Will you listen? Will you make your voice heard as a voice of restraint and reason? Or will you join the mass, lemming-like rush over the precipice?

The Powerful Reasons Covid-19 Lockdowns Could Cause More Deaths Than They Prevent

anthony-tran-YurBxVWdQ-A-unsplash
Photo courtesy Anthony Tran on Unsplash

Why we should be fundamentally more like South Korea and less like China

March 24, 2020: This content was originally published 3/22/20 on Medium. Medium pulled it down because they claimed that it violates their terms of service against “Health claims or advice which, if acted on, are likely to have detrimental health effects on persons or public safety.”  On the contrary, this article is an attempt to point out serious detrimental health effects on persons and public safety resulting from public policies not based on scientific evidence.  Even after editing to make the headline less attention-grabbing and the final paragraph less rabble-rousing, Medium censored it a second time. Read it and judge for yourself.

 

The Trigger

The coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 exploded out of China to circle the globe.

At every level of society and government, responses have been rapid and dramatic. Borders are being slammed closed, businesses shuttered, gatherings, shows, and events canceled, projects put on hold, and schools shut down. Governments make promises to “make people whole,” but we all know there’s no way to make up for the 1.1 trillion in lost business income, or the 20% of people predicted to file for unemployment  (according to the US Secretary of the Treasury as quoted in US News and World Report), especially since the employers being directed to pay lost wages have no customers coming through the doors, and the governments that are promising payouts are facing massive drops in tax receipts as buying and selling and earning come to a screeching slowdown.

 

What the Hell Are We Doing?

 

Thousands of new viruses every year emerge, move from person to person, and spread around the planet unnoticed. But this one was different. We all know the grim litany of facts by now: it has a case fatality rate somewhere between an estimated .3% (per The Lancet) of all infected  and 3.4% (per early reports cited in The New York Times) for people ill enough to be tested, a much higher rate than most respiratory viruses. It can be transmitted by well-seeming people for an unknown amount of time, with the average infected person infecting two to three others, per The Scientist (or maybe more, per a biophysicist publishing out of Los Alamos National Laboratory ). It’s believed that 80% of people with COVID-19 have mild or asymptomatic disease, 14% have severe disease, and 6% are critically ill (link to The Lancet ).

 

Scientists such as Neil Ferguson, an infectious-disease epidemiologist at Imperial College London, acknowledged as early as January that it’s impossible to contain the virus from spreading everywhere; everything being done is with the stated goal of “flattening the curve” (website link) so that more of the minority who get extremely sick from the virus will be able to get Intensive Care when they need it.

 

So, now, the luckiest few people are working from home. These are those fortunate enough to have skills and occupations that are easily transferred into an online work environment. They’re overrepresented among journalists, editors, and content moderators, so curated media platforms are full of eerily identical “Ten Things That You Need to do When You’re Working From Home” articles like those in the link.

 

The rest—the vast majority— are not working, according to scientists at the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at the Imperial College of London. Everyone’s trying to homeschool children (despite expert opinion that school closings will be ineffective, as published in The Lancet), using an internet that, due to unprecedented use, periodically slows to a crawl. We’re talking here about waitresses, paralegals, receptionists, retail clerks, salespeople, ushers, janitors, gig musicians, sex workers, taxi drivers, mechanics…the list goes on. All those unglamorous people working in occupations you don’t like to think about.

At the same time, they’re trying not to think about what they’ll do when next month’s rent is due. Their landlords, forbidden to file evictions, are trying not to think about what they’ll do when next month’s mortgage and next year’s property tax come due. But they know it won’t be pretty, since they haven’t collected rent from laid-off workers. All these people know that Texaco and Delta will get billion-dollar bailouts, but they’ll be lucky to get one paycheck’s worth of assistance, weeks or months too late to do any good in the crisis.

 

So many people have poignant stories about the personal, heart-wrenching effects of these measures. Here are some that I’ve learned about first-hand:

  • The high school senior whose senior trips, senior proms, and graduation walks are canceled.
  • The hairdresser who’s finally saved enough money to open her own one-chair hair salon, only to have customers too afraid to come in the door. She’s watching her life savings go up in smoke.
  • The mother whose daughter who lives in a foreign country is pregnant, with her first grandchild, and who learns that borders are shut to unnecessary travel and flights are canceled. (Full disclosure: I’m talking about me.)
  • The retiree who was planning to become a “snowbird”, spending summers in the north and winters in a milder climate, whose Spring flight home was canceled and who has to face blistering Summer heat, far from family and friends.
  • The adult child whose mother is dying, far away, and cannot go to be by her side, and would not be allowed as a visitor in the hospital anyway.
  • The young man who was just diagnosed with cancer, in a city where he moved for a new job, and now faces chemo and radiation with no friends or family to support him—in a hospital gripped by grim panic and smelling of fear.
  • The foreign visitors, French and Hong-Kongese, exploring a small town in India, abruptly told they must leave the country, but refused boarding on trains, lodging in hotels, and seating in restaurants. Finally, taken in by a saintly good Samaritan, the four of them huddle in one room.

 

There are hundreds of millions of individual stories. But all those stories and circumstances don’t tell the story of the damage of a thousand cuts being inflicted on everyone, everywhere, by social distancing. Fewer “hellos” and “thank yous”. Fewer smiles. No lunches in the breakroom, no shirts versus skins games, no coffee with the girls. All the little bumps of oxytocin and dopamine that we take for granted as we go about our day: missing in action. Those social interactions are not trivial. They lower our blood pressure, reduce our cortisol levels, and strengthen our health in numerous ways.

This isn’t airy-fairy, lacy-spacy speculation. If you have even the slightest doubt that the effect of this stress is real and measurable and will be intense, have a careful read of this paper published at the US National Center For Biotechnology Information, as a special direct-access article, by the US Department of Health and Human Services:

Ten Surprising Facts About Stressful Life Events And Disease Risk.

TL;DR: the effect of stress on your risk of dying is real, quantifiable…and major. Bigger than smoking. Bigger than obesity.

 

Strokes and Heart Attacks

 

Strokes and heart attacks, grouped as cardiovascular disease, are the one of world’s biggest killers. To give you an idea of how lethal cardiovascular disease is: In 2018, the most recent complete year, CDC reports that there were 3,830,366 cardiovascular deaths in the USA alone. Check out this map at the CDC. And around the entire world, 14,996,617 deaths are due to cardiovascular conditions according to World Atlas.

Put that together with the research showing that job and financial stress increase the risk of an apparently healthy adult having a heart attack or stroke by 1.16 to 1.6 times that of an unstressed individual. (Nature Reviews: Cardiology; paywall)

Apply the midpoint, of 1.38 times, to everyone in the entire world, since everyplace on the entire planet is locking down due to COVID-19, do some simple arithmetic, and you come out with 5,698,714 excess deaths from cardiovascular disease alone, as a result of the lockdowns.

But it’s probably going to be even more than that. Remember? Because ICUs are going to be maxed out even if the lockdowns work as intended? (Also remember, WE DON’T KNOW if they will work as intended. None of this has been tried before, because there’s never been an identical situation). So a lot of non-fatal heart attacks are going to become fatal heart attacks—when the patient can’t get Intensive Care.

 

Cancer

 

Cancer is not just one disease, it’s many, and so research on stress and cancer doesn’t focus on the blanket diagnosis of “cancer.” Like other studies, studies on stress and cancer focus on one individual type of cancer at a time. That research is pretty undeniable though. Peer-reviewed, indexed oncology journal articles are linked below. It’s found, among other things, that:

 

9.6 million people, per year around, the world die from cancer, per Cancer Research UK. Multiply that by a conservative (based on the above) 33% increase, and you come out with 3,168,000 excess cancer deaths as a result of the major stressful life event of being un- or under-employed, financially strapped, isolated, and deprived of the things that give your day-to-day life meaning.

 

HIV

 

Each stressful event increases the risk of death from HIV in infected people by about 50%. (JAMA; Paywall) HIV is estimated by the World Health Organization to kill 770,000 people yearly. So, there’s an additional 385,000 deaths, a cherry on top of the gruesome sundae our well-meaning governments are preparing for us.

 

Deaths Among the Elderly

 

 

This isn’t really a separate category of death, so it’s not added into the total, because many of the deaths from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and HIV will be deaths of elderly people. But much of the fear around COVID-19 focuses on those over 65, who do have a much greater risk of being hospitalized and of dying if they become ill with the virus.

In over-65s, major stressors like serious financial problems and natural disasters increase mortality by a quarter to 2/3. This study described in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that one of the strongest effects came from having a seriously ill family member, and the effect increased with multiple stressors. In other words, just when elderly people are likely to experience a wife, husband, lover, or best friend becoming seriously ill with COVID-19, they are being subjected to social isolation, financial uncertainty, and the loss of contact with those their networks of support. Figuring this out takes a even more back-of-the-envelope calculation than the others: Consider the World Health Organization’s findings that 63% of the 54,500,000 deaths every year are those of people over 65. That comes to 34,335,000 deaths a year. An increase of roughly half would mean 17,165,500 people dying worldwide due to the stress of COVID-19 lockdowns.

 

Miscarriages

There’s very little evidence or information about the outcome of pregnancies among women who are ill with the virus.

But there is data, published in the journal Early Human Development, from populations who’ve been subject to catastrophes and natural disasters, showing consistently that miscarriages increase, resulting in more male fetuses being lost, causing an decrease in the ratio of males to females in the birth cohort.

 

Exercise and Mortality

 

Another factor that will cause added deaths that result from Covid-19 lockdowns is the fact that gymnasiums are being compelled to close by many municipalities, states, and national governments. At the same time, people are being advised to stay at least 6 feet away from other people, which means in many of the world’s more crowded cities, which kind of by definition contain a majority of the population of the countries they’re in, people will need to simply stay inside at all times in order to comply. It’s well-established that the risk of mortality is reduced by a wide variety of physical sports and exercise activities. According to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, that reduction varies according to the sport or activity, but it appears to average to about 25%. That’s all-cause mortality, meaning that if you do activities like swimming, racquet sports, cycling, and aerobics, you are much less likely to die in the next year than if you don’t do those activities. Some of that mortality is accounted for in the cardiovascular deaths listed above, but not all of it.

So, how many additional people will die due to withdrawal from exercise and sport? We don’t know, because that depends on how many people are exercising currently, and how much of that exercise is dependent on gyms, courts, and other forbidden settings.

But: there also are probably many people who are getting life-saving exercise from jobs at businesses which are now closed. This effect of employment-associated exercise would naturally be greater for poorer people and for more people in poorer countries.

 

 

So, How Many Will Die of Coronavirus?

 

To determine if the cure (lockdowns) is worse than the disease (the pandemic), you have to know the damage done by both.

As of this writing on March 24, 2020, worldwide, COVID-19 has reportedly killed 16,591 people, according to the Coronavirus Dashboard website. If everyone, everywhere, all of the world’s 7.8 billion people, became ill enough with coronavirus to visit a doctor and be tested, at a mortality rate of 1.4%, 109,200,000 would die.

 

That won’t happen. Again, according to The Lancet, most people who are ill with suspected coronavirus are not ill enough to be tested, by governments’ designation of eligibility. Washington State, site of one of the US’s earliest outbreaks, found that of those people with respiratory symptoms who do get tested, 93% of those tests are negative. And Washington directs health care providers to test only symptomatic individuals, and recommends against testing younger people with mild illness. (Both links to the Washington Department of Health official website). Nobody knows for sure how many people are exposed to the virus, have no symptoms (or maybe they think their hay fever is acting up for a few days), and go on with life. But with colds, that number can be more than half of those exposed. The Lancet article linked/cited above estimates that, in the very worst-case scenario, 60% of those exposed will get sick. China’s Wuhan outbreak is now declining, according to a WHO epidemiologist quoted in the Times of India. And yes, China’s totalitarian state did lock down drastically, but South Korea’s is declining too per the CDC, and they were far less stringent (as described in a South Korean English-language news site, EN24) in the restrictions they imposed; they focused on near-universal testing and tracing of infected people’s contacts. (It’s worth noting here that the USA’s failure to test widely for the virus was due to the CDC’s strict constraints on which tests were permissible to use, and its refusal to authorize private labs, as described in an Associated Press article, to use their own, validated tests). Korea predicts a .3% decline in GDP growth due to this pandemic, to a 2% growth rate,  as reflected on Statista, as opposed to other countries which are predicting a major recession, as reported in Forbes.

Most people who are ill with suspected coronavirus are not ill enough to be tested, according to government restrictions, in other countries. Again, consulting Washington’s Department of Health website, Washington State, site of one of the US’s earliest outbreaks, found that of those people with respiratory symptoms who do get tested, 93% of those tests are negative. And Washington directs health care providers to test only symptomatic individuals, and recommends against testing younger people with mild illness. Nobody knows for sure how many people are exposed to the virus, have no symptoms (or maybe they think their hay fever is acting up for a few days), and go on with life. But with colds, that number can be more than half of those exposed. The Lancet article linked/cited above estimates that, in the very worst-case scenario, 60% of those exposed will get sick.

 

Yes, it is Really That stressful

 

But is the COVID-19 lockdown a significantly stressful life event? US’s Department of Health and Human Services  lists the following four ways of designating an occurrence as a major or stressful life event:

  1. The amount of adaptation or change it requires of the individual. Stressful events are cumulative, with each additional event adding to the overall burden of change.
  2. Imminence of harm, intensity, duration, and the extent to which an event is objectively uncontrollable are all factors that contribute to the potential magnitude of consensual threat
  3. Psychological distress and strain when resources are inadequate and the individual has little control over the situation.
  4. Stressful events include interruptions of major goals, (Link to download textbook from Google Scholar) including goals to maintain one’s physical integrity and one’s psychological well-being

 

The lockdowns may even increase the number of people who become ill with COVID-19. While no large-scale studies have been done, Sheldon Cohen and others have performed studies that compared stressed people with non-stressed people when given a dose of cold viruses. (Link to text on Google Books) After a month of stress, 49% of people developed a cold, as compared to 36% of people who weren’t stressed. Un- or underemployment lasting at least 1 month was the strongest predictor of developing illness among those exposed to a cold virus

 

Remember, it is expected that this coronavirus will eventually be everywhere. By flattening the curve, we’re supposedly reducing the number of very ill people who die because they don’t get intensive care. But what if these governmental lockdown measures are really creating a greater number of Covid-19 deaths, due to people being immunologically weakened by chronic stress of income loss, separation from friends and family, and constant fear of death of themselves and loved ones resulting from the endless drumbeat of COVID-19 news and incessant reminders in the form of disrupted routines, empty streets, and absence of friends and loved ones?

 

Just the absence of friends and loved ones may increase risk of mortality. People who are isolated from other people are more likely to die and more likely to get sick than  people with an abundant daily network of social interactions. All the listicles and infographics about how to avoid feeling lonely during coronavirus cannot change that fact.

 

Non-Fatal Effects on Public Health

 

As reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, people who’ve experienced a stressful life event have a 20-25% chance risk of developing depression.  Other conditions that may be worsened are asthma, autoimmune diseases, and wound healing. Social isolation is in itself a stressor. More suicides, serious asthma attacks, and wound-infections will inevitably ensue. But how many?

And using social media is not the answer. Social media is not a substitute for face-to-face socializing. In fact, as described by journalists at NPR, social media makes people feel more lonely.

 

The World’s Poor

This article doesn’t even begin to address the fact that almost all of the countries affected by the pandemic so far have been among the wealthiest (whose residents can afford to fly internationally). Throughout most of the planet, people depend on jobs or micro-trade to support themselves and their families. They have no sick leave, no unemployment coverage (their governments are too poor), and no hope of ever getting Intensive Care if they do get sick. And almost all their income goes to food and shelter. If these lower-income nations mimic the actions of the globe’s wealthy nations, strangling their economies, the suffering will be measured, not just in heart attacks, cancers, and suicides (though all those will happen too), but also in starvation.

 

 

We Have Time to Turn This Around

 

Yes, wash your hands.

By all means, wipe down every surface people touch.

If you’re at risk, stay home.

Fist bump instead of hugging.

If you’re sick with any fever or respiratory illness, you have an obligation to quarantine! That’s what “quarantine” means by the way. It’s a word that’s being widely misused in this pandemic. It actually means: the sick person and their family stay home and separate from the surrounding community.

But recognize that the disaster being wrought by your Federal, State, and local governments is based on the politics of fear. There’s no proof that any of these measures will do any good.

And I just gave you plenty of evidence that they will do a lot of harm.

You don’t have to passively cower in your home and submit to senseless limitations.

You can let your voice be heard.

 

Address your voice to the policymakers and enforcers who are participating in this dreadful mistake: beg them to stop. Demand that they ease up on the restrictions.

Tell them: you’re wreaking havoc on your fellow human beings with no ultimate benefit to anyone.

 

Originally published 3/22/20; Updated 3/24/20

 

Hermana Iguana

No! Is not an option. The options are yes, or yes. That’s why the sun is so bright and my eyes are so dim. Oh, I know they say it’s because I have a lizard brain. “Lizard brain” is even a word they use as a synonym for primitive and irrational.

But we females know better because the twining and untwining of DNA within us is a spiral ladder for electrons moving in spin sequences down phosphate spines.

Come with me to the manxinil  tree and learn what generations before me learned: I will fan you with the leaves and your eyes will burn and swell shut and render you blind while I nibble the tiny apples in the sun. Once you are weeping from the injury I will let you taste the apple and you will die.

Something is spinning within me and also within you, phosphatidal tidal phosphates that can bring the sea inside the sandy sun and remain entangled while leaping like dolphins, baby iguanas, scaled striped squirrels scampering from rock to rock.

Censorship: What’s a Non-Geek to Do?

By now, unless  you belong to the minority who are completely disconnected from social media, you’re aware that that there’s been a gradually accelerating program of centralization, control, and censorship operating on the biggest platforms over the past few years. If your views are other than mainstream, it’s been apparent since well before the last election. If you are a straight-edge exemplar of normality who roots politically for Team Red or Team Blue, the 2016 election might have been your wake-up call. If you’re intelligent and curious but apolitical, this week’s purge of Twitter and Facebook accounts might have been the first you heard of it.

What younger people may not know, and older people may forget, is that the dominant players in today’s information game are babies themselves. They can easily go the way of MySpace and AOL (both of which still exist, by the way).

The virtue of the internet is its decentralized, networked nature. As John Gilmore said, networks interpret censorship as damage and work around it. You have the ability to accelerate this process. Here’s what I’ve been doing:

  1. Opening accounts on alternate social media sites like Minds, MeWe, and WhatsApp.
  2. Subscribing to alternative-media sites and blogs by e-mail.
  3. Writing and reading content on curated platforms like Quora, Medium, and LinkedIn.
  4. Actively editing my commercial-site/phone newsfeeds to include lesser-known journalists (being sure to keep a tendril extended outside my filter bubble!).
  5. Putting a limited amount of my modest financial resources into cryptocurrencies and actively seeking ways to spend and earn them.
  6. Using Incognito mode or Tor browsing and VPNs when needed. While most people are not in a position to take this step, it helps that I’ve expatriated to another country so my traffic doesn’t automatically go through a US-based server.

Have some faith in the truth. It will prevail.

 

Taming What Infests Us

Invaded, a pouch, a crease, a sulcus

Tiny entities that do not matter do

Matter now that they have bred

Though you never took them in…

 

Nothing to do now but love them

A boy in a tenement’s pets

Six legs, racing roaches in jars

Pigeons, rats, mitochondria.

 

Here, parrots flock and strip

Fruit from the trees and sing

In cages on the porch. Know

What’s yours is never and always theirs.

Courage and Cowardice

I’ve come across two recent think pieces online urging the assaulted and harassed to reclaim the word “victim.” The idea is supposedly this: that by refusing to accept the label of victim, one implies that there is something wrong with being a victim. I furrowed my brow, then realized with a blinding flash what’s missing in the discussions of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and toxic masculinity. What’s missing is the topic of courage, and its opposite, cowardice. That’s a topic we need to bring out in the open. It’s also a topic that may help us communicate with all the well-intentioned men who seem bewildered about what the rules are for approaching women today.

My favorite definition of courage comes from a fairy tale I read as a little girl, about a child who is terrified to fight a dragon, but fights it anyway. The moral of the story imprinted itself on my heart and mind at the tender age of seven: Courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway. 

Let’s get this out of the way right now: being a victim is morally neutral. It does not confer any moral superiority or moral high ground; it likewise does not brand with moral inferiority. Victimization happens. The world is a brutal and vicious place pocked with shallow mass graves.

Victimization happens to courageous people and to cowards.

Fear, the automatic response of the sympathetic nervous system to threats, is a state of fight, flight, or freeze. We are told that women are unusually apt to freeze.

Boys are taught at a young age that freezing when challenged is an act of cowardice, and cowardice is to be avoided. I happen to believe that is correct.

Whether you’re about to give birth, or being attacked with a lethal weapon, the courageous response is the active response. Dealing with the energy of your fear, transforming it to calm strength or righteous anger, is a learned skill.

One of the most disempowering traits of sexism is its implication that courage is a masculine trait, cowardice a feminine one. The only acceptable archetype for a woman who rages and fights back is that of a mother bear fighting for her cubs. But not herself, never herself. The feminine does not own itself, does it?

But we do. We own our bodies and the space we occupy. And with that sacred ownership comes a sacred responsibility: to defend and protect ourselves with all the courage we can muster.

And why do we have that sacred responsibility? Because the courageous are less likely to be victims.

We owe ourselves the courage to say, “I was just talking; let me finish.” We owe ourselves the courage to say, “Please don’t touch me again.” We owe ourselves the courage to say, “Get the fuck away from me, weirdo!” We owe ourselves the courage to slap, punch, elbow, kick, bite, stab, and shoot if necessary to defend ourselves.

And sometimes, for a woman or for a man, that courage doesn’t come. The boy slumps and shuffles away from the bully; the woman allows herself to be pawed rather than make a scene. Sometimes it’s because we are picking our battles. Sometimes it’s because we are too exhausted to face yet another confrontation. Regardless, it amounts to the same thing.

That’s cowardice.

I have tasted that cowardice; I’ve bled and wept (literally) because I was a coward. I have also faced attacks with courage and been a victim anyway. And from those experiences, I have learned that we sometimes find our courage later on. Sometimes years later, we find the courage to speak, seeking retribution and redress, and warning those who come behind us. Sometimes that courage redeems our cowardice. Sometimes it brings on new assaults to test our courage further.

Let me ask you this, oh feminist sister, who wants the men she meets to stand up to other men about their bad behavior: why should they have the courage to stand up for us, if we don’t have the courage to stand up for ourselves?

Let me ask you this, oh well-intentioned straight man, who feels terrified to sexually approach a woman for fear of being accused: why would you involve yourself with a woman if you’re not sure if she’s a coward?

But let’s take this out of the arena of the eternal war between the sexes for a moment: let’s paraphrase the Irishman Edmund Burke and point out that all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing. Let’s then hop forward to the 20th century, and soldiers who were only following orders, and the pastor who said nothing when they came for the homosexuals because he was not a homosexual. Now let’s move up to the 21st century and all those millions who watched a Nobel Peace Prize winner drop tens of thousands of bombs on innocent civilians with surreal serenity, and let a man languish alone in a small room in London without a peep.

The courage to speak up is not domain-specific. If you are too much of a coward to speak up, you are already a victim.

Armenian women ready to fight Ottomans

Photo: historical photo of Armenians preparing to fight the Ottomans.

Is the Face of Fascism Your Own Face?

If gun control isn’t the answer, then what is?

Once again, a mass shooter has demonstrated to the world the meaning of the word “evil.” Whether it’s some racist kid with a funny haircut, an introverted former IRS agent with a gambling problem, a BLM activist angry about police brutality,  or a Norwegian right-wing anti-feminist, the carnage is brutal and horrifying. Predictably, people who don’t think very much about guns before such an attack immediately demand that “we” (whoever “we” is) “do something” to prevent it from happening ever again. That call is immediately amplified by those who would enforce greater restrictions on gun ownership. I have to warn you: I don’t have the answer to preventing mass shootings, or massacres, or Islamist terrorist attacks, or for that matter, drone bombings,  forced marches, ethnic cleansing, genocide, or the carnage of starvation and disease under totalitarian governments. The title question of this essay was one I answered on Quora over a year ago that’s continued to get upvotes and comments and shares, so I wanted to share the information in it with a broader readership:

If gun control isn’t the answer, what is?
The answer to what? The question doesn’t say, so let’s see what possible questions one might have in mind and try to answer them:

  • If gun control isn’t the answer to the rising rate of homicide in the US, what is?

A valid question, IF the homicide rate were rising in the US. It is not. It is declining.

Even as the number of guns is increasing

But maybe that wasn’t the question you meant to ask. Let’s try:

  • If gun control isn’t the answer to the horribly high rate of homicide in the US compared to other countries, what is?

That would be an excellent question. Except the US is nowhere near the top in terms of number of homicides per 100,000 people

Hmm. Perhaps that wasn’t the question you meant to ask. How about:

  • If gun control is not the answer to the epidemic of violence against women in the US, what is?

Ok, let’s try this:

  • If gun control is not the answer to the rising rate of violent deaths among blacks in the US, what is

I know. Let’s look at:

  • If gun control is not the answer to the rising rate of GUN homicides, what is?

Even if you believe it is tremendously better to be knifed, stabbed, bludgeoned, or strangled to death rather than shot, it looks like this one doesn’t apply either.

  • If gun control is not the answer to the rising rate of accidental GUN deaths in the US, what is?

Okay, okay. Let’s try a question that might actually not contain a false assumption:

  • If gun control is not the answer to the US’s high rate of GUN death compared to other countries, what is?

The US is 26th in the world in gun deaths. But, aha! It is the highest by far in number of gun deaths amongst the 12 top nations in the Human Development Index. This is true. So, if you have a strong preference for a different means of dying, gun control is your answer! It seems rather obvious that in a country with more guns, gun deaths are more common. I’d also hazard a wild guess that swimming pool drownings are  more common in Australia than in Canada, and murder by pushing someone off a mountain is probably more common in Switzerland than in the Netherlands.

Perhaps, though, you’re the type of person who is easily affected by emotional media coverage of mass shootings, especially at schools, which are a tiny fraction of a percentage of homicides, even of children. Thus:

  • If gun control is not the answer to mass shootings, what is?
  • First, let’s disabuse you of the notion that mass shootings are a phenomenon predominantly confined to the USA:

    All but one of the 20 worst non-governmental mass public shootings, 45 of the worst 50, occurred outside the United States, the majority of them in Africa.

Global mass shootings CPRC

…And Europe’s rate is 25% higher than that of the US despite much stricter gun laws:

US vs Europe Mass shootings

And it appears that  the majority of locations where mass shootings take place in the US are places where guns are prohibited.

  • However, it does appear that a sizable number of the US mass shooters were diagnosed as mentally ill in advance of the incident

Of course, there were literally millions of people diagnosed with mental illness who did NOT commit mass public shootings, or any shootings, for that matter.

Psychiatrists admit that they can barely do better than random chance at predicting which of their patients will become violent, according to The British Journal of Psychiatry. On the other hand, mentally ill people living in the community are 11 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the average person. The actual degree of effectiveness of guns as self-defensive deterrents to violent crime for a given individual is still not well-established, but one must wonder if disarming all or most mentally ill people might not cause more violent crimes than it prevents.

And, finally, here is a really good question, which I think a person with a penchant for supporting gun control really ought to ask but rarely do. It is the only question about gun use and gun control which actually proceeds from concern about a problem which is getting worse:

  • If gun control is not the answer to American’s rising rate of suicide, what is?

Unlike every other means of violent death, suicide in the US is actually increasing

Looking at the chart above, it appears possible that suicides can be reduced by around 30% by requiring a background check for private handgun sales. This is easily explained by the fact that a gun is the most effective way of committing suicide, so more attempts are likely to be successful when guns are readily available. The preference for guns among male suicide attempters explains part of men’s greater rate of successful suicides. Furthermore, most people who are dissuaded from committing suicide once do not go on to commit suicide later.

On the other hand, the evidence from Canada, where registration of all guns was required beginning in 1993, shows that the rate of gun suicide decreased by almost the exact same number that the rate of hangings (the second-most-effective means of suicide) increased

The author of that paper concludes, “There were 3,605 suicides in 2000 before the registry started and 3,741 in 2005. Clearly, this analysis suggests that the money wasted on registering guns would have been better spent on suicide prevention efforts.”

So, my question is this: it’s been pretty clearly established that gun control does not decrease violent crime; it does not even decrease mass shootings. It probably doesn’t even decrease suicides. The one thing it does is do is decrease the rate of gun crime, which we’ve seen just represents the substitution of other weapons for guns. So when are the people shrieking about “doing something” going to recognize the reality of the situation and start focusing on what might actually represent some sort of solution to these horrific and dramatic events which affect a tiny percentage of the population but have such a disproportionate affect on the national psyche and mythos? I would really like to know.