Each year, 17.8 million people die of cardiovascular disease, 9.6 million of cancer, 6.5 million of respiratory diseases other than Covid-19, 2.5 million of dementia and 2.4 million of digestive disease. So Covid-19 is not even among the top 5 causes of death.

Therefore, it is stunning that the world reacted to the virus as it did. ‘Corona’ is the Spanish word for ‘crown’, the traditional symbol for leaders, so ‘coronavirus’ is a name that is weirdly fitting for a crisis that has been caused not only by the virus, but even more by the bungling incompetence of our ‘leaders’, who desperately rushed to any and every Keystone Cops tactic without first establishing a solid strategy. This, as terrified populations were swept along by a craven groupthink and submission to authority.

In this article I will discuss how we got into this situation; what this means in the present; and how we may eventually escape.

In the response to this emergency, there has been an authoritarian ‘Daddy knows best’ impulse, driven by our panic-stricken instincts. Nonetheless, the reality is that 99% of the population was never in any serious danger from the virus, although our quality of life and our civil liberties have been completely trampled as our political ‘leaders’ transformed themselves into tinpot dictators.

How was this even possible? Clearly, we did not get ourselves into this situation consciously, and because of this, our reaction to Covid-19 has been anything but rational.

In his book Thinking Fast and Slow, Nobel prize-winner Daniel Kahneman observes that approximately 95% of the mind is unconscious ‘System 1’; and only 5% is conscious ‘System 2’:

System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. System 2 allocates attention in the effortful mental activities that demand it. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration.

When we think of ourselves, we identify with System 2, the conscious, reasoning self that has beliefs, makes choices, and decides what to think about and what to do. Although System 2 believes itself to be where the action is, System 1 effortlessly originates impressions and feelings that are the main sources of the beliefs and deliberate choices of System 2.

In the unlikely event of this book being made into a film, System 2 would be a supporting character who believes herself to be the hero. The defining feature of System 2, in this story, is that its operations are effortful, and one of its main characteristics is laziness, a reluctance to invest more effort than is strictly necessary. As a consequence, the thoughts and actions that System 2 believes it has chosen are often guided by the figure at the center of the story, System 1. – Kahneman, TFS

In times of emergency when a rapid response is required, unconscious system 1 reacts automatically, and we are guided more by blind instinct than by a rational interpretation of the situation in conscious system 2. Consequently, as we attempt to flee from one disaster – for example, an unavoidable public health crisis triggered by a virus – we may accidentally land in a catastrophe that is even worse: a public health crisis, combined with mental health, economic and social crisis that could have been avoided. And that is what has happened: government-imposed lockdowns have made what was always going to be a bad situation infinitely worse. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

covid art 514Blog

In his recent book, Fareed Zakaria offers 10 Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World. While it may be premature to draw lessons, to escape this situation will require navigating the unconscious. George Lakoff and Gerald Zaltman build on Kahneman’s work by describing 10 ‘deep metaphors’ we live by, cognitive primitives through which we schematize unconsciously almost all aspects of our existence: balance, connection, container, control, journey, purity, resource, transformation, white/ light (= good), and verticality (higher = better). 

In this crisis, the principal deep metaphors have been those of container and control. We have to physically contain the virus which has presented itself. To physically contain it, we have to mentally contain it through re-presentation. This re-presentation will allow us to control it – or so went the panic-stricken unconscious script. 

Billions of people will remember 2020 as the year their world fell apart, or more precisely, was torn apart by government-imposed lockdowns. Never, in all of human history, have so many people been affected so suddenly and negatively, in all aspects of their lives: physical and mental health, emotional well-being, family life, work, finances, education, social values, and the list goes on. We are still in a state of collective shock, and it will be years before we can evaluate fully the impact of this dramatic rupture in our civilization. Nonetheless, certain observations can already be made.

The virus itself, and the public health crisis, were unavoidable – the world was simply unequipped to deal with the situation. Some suggest that this was the fault of the WHO and that if it had been better prepared, better financed, better everything – then it could have controlled this. Yet, due to the unique nature of the virus, there was nothing the WHO could have done, other than delay the inevitable. The R number (rate of reproduction) of the virus was simply too high, as was the variation in severity and detectability of symptoms, with young people often asymptomatic.

About 95 percent of Covid-19 deaths have been over the age of 60, and two-thirds are in their 80s or older. In other words, most people who die of the virus would have died of cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia or respiratory illnesses other than Covid-19 within the following year. Personally, I would prefer to live to Canada’s average life expectancy of 82 rather than 81, but I also do not expect the entire economy to grind to a halt, and for hundreds of millions of people around the world to be thrown into extreme poverty, to increase my own chances of that extra year.

In 10 Lessons for a Post-Pandemic World, Zakaria writes:

It may well turn out that the coronavirus will cause the greatest economic, political and social damage to humankind since World War II…

In many developing countries, large segments of the population make just enough each day to feed themselves and their families. Given that these governments don’t have the money to pay people to stay home or subsidize shuttered businesses, the wisest course, in retrospect, was probably not to impose lockdowns. India, for example, partly as a result of the lockdown, is on track to see its economy shrink by 5 percent in 2020, rivalling the worst performance in its history. And yet, as of July 2020, the number of people confirmed to have died from Covid-19 in the country was about 28,000, fewer than the 60,000 children who die of malnutrition there each month…

The mortality rate for young children has dropped 59% since 1990. With Covid-19, much of this progress could be reversed. The pandemic might erase many of the gains made by developing countries over the last quarter century and return us to a world of great and widening global inequality…

Covid-19 and the ensuing national lockdowns caused economic indicators to slump more dramatically than at any time on record. In April 2020, compared to a year earlier, global air traffic fell by 94%, new car registrations in the European Union were down 76%, and the United States had 20 million fewer jobs. Alongside these economic shocks came the imposition of border controls and travel restrictions, even between countries famous for their openness to one another…

The impact is being shaped by the reality that the world is deeply interconnected, that most countries were unprepared for the pandemic, and that in its wake, many of them – including the world’s richest nations – shut down their societies and their economies in a manner unprecedented in human history…

What began as a healthcare problem in China soon became a global pandemic. The medical crisis prompted a simultaneous lockdown of all business across the globe, resulting in a Great Paralysis, the cessation of economics itself. By some measures, the economic damage from this pandemic already rivals that of the Great Depression. The political consequences will play out over the coming years. The social and psychological consequences – fear, isolation, purposelessness – might endure even longer… – Zakaria, 10LPPW

Deep Metaphor of Resource: ‘Essential’ workers

Other than container and control, another deep metaphor at play in this crisis is that of resource. Anything or anyone external which our instincts recognize as potentially making us safer, stronger, happier or more free is schematized unconsciously as a resource. However, in the current crisis, some members of society have been defined as ‘essential’, and others as ‘non-essential’ resources. 

‘Non-essential’ workers have had their businesses closed and their jobs abolished by government decree. But how do we decide what is an ‘essential’ versus a ‘non-essential’ occupation? Man does not live by bread alone, nor only by standing 6 feet apart in long lines at grocery stores and pharmacies. This is not life, but rather mere survival, life at the lowest degree of intensity.

Much as I admire grocery workers and pharmacists, I admire artists, athletes, entertainers and chefs just as much, because they are what make the difference between brute survival and quality of life, and are every bit as ‘essential’ as other occupations. The resources which were labeled ‘non-essential’ by the government are those which connect people in real life: restaurants, bars, live event venues, airlines, hotels, etc.

For the families of the hundreds of millions of people who lost their jobs due to the government-imposed lockdowns, those were essential occupations.

These now jobless taxpayers supported the healthcare systems we are ostensibly trying to protect by ‘flattening the curve.’ How are they going to support it now? ‘Flattening the curve’ is flatlining our economies and our countries.

Epidemiologists believe it is inevitable that one-half of the world’s population will contract Covid-19 within one or two years, regardless of what we do. Since we were unable to stop the spread when there were 609 confirmed cases in the world in January 2020, we’re certainly not going to stop it now that there are more than 71,000,000 confirmed cases and counting as of early December. Although flattening the curve is intended to spread out in time the pressure on healthcare systems, ultimately it simply prolongs the agony and suffering of everyone.

Witnessing the media’s pathological obsession with the one to two million people who have died, rather than with the 7.8 billion people who continue to live, as well as governments’ ham-handed and incompetent responses, has been like watching the same car accident in slow motion, day after day, after day.

Although in the short run sowing endless fear and anxiety makes populations more docile and submissive, in the longer run, it will dawn on even the most slow-witted among us that we are the ones who will end up paying the bill for this boring and poorly-staged horror show extravaganza.

Governments around the world have wasted literally TRILLIONS of dollars on their unfocused, delirious, incompetent reactions to this virus. What impact will this have on economic opportunities, quality of life, and the future of social programs?

And why would young people ever want to stay in a country that has so stupidly shot itself in the heart in this way? To pay the bill and watch it bleed? When they leave, members of the ‘non-essential’ Sacrificed Generation will not have abandoned their countries – because their countries have already abandoned them.

It is not a question of choosing between saving lives and saving money. If those trillions of dollars had been spent wisely, it could have been a resource which improved the lives of billions of people of all ages. Instead, our ‘leaders’ have burned through a truly flabbergasting amount of taxpayer dollars, like drunk, deranged and out-of-control pyromaniacs.

For those of us who are able to perform our occupations from home, and for those they have deemed ‘essential,’ our ‘leaders’ have oh-so-generously allowed us to continue working, and most important for them, to continue to pay taxes. We can work, but we cannot play – socialize, go to the gym, a bar, a restaurant, a sports or music event, a festival, or travel. Thanks for nothing.

As for the puerile and borderline-literate Covid propaganda governments have been churning out in industrial quantities, it is fair to ask whether it is coming from our governments or the government of China. In any case, it is as dreary and monotonous as the rest of their ovine spectacle, the highlight of which are daily sermons from ‘the authorities’, compared to which China’s puppet Kim Jong Un looks positively inspirational.

According to Freedom House, Canada is tied for the number 3 spot for freedom in the world, including freedom of assembly. We should not have copied the draconian measures taken in authoritarian China, at the bottom of the list in terms of freedom, but rather Sweden, at the very top of the list.

Who do you trust on freedom? Anti-lockdown Elon Musk and Sweden, or China and its dictator Xi Jinping?

Just before its own government collapsed and its country fell apart, there was a widely-circulating joke in the Soviet Union: Izvestia (Russian for ‘news’) was called ‘news’ because there was no truth in it; Pravda (Russian for ‘truth’) was called ‘truth’ because there was no news in it.

During this crisis, the world’s media of record have been playing a similarly disgraceful and lickspittle role, devoid of critical thinking, damaging mental health by doing nothing other than beating the tedious drums of fear.

Is education (mostly serving the young) a less essential resource than healthcare (mostly serving the old)? As Dr. Martin Kulldorff of Harvard points out, although those under age 70 have less than a 1% chance of dying from Covid-19, it is the young, and not those who have already retired, who will end up paying for all this – with their freedom, happiness, quality of life, and mental health now, and with their taxes for the rest of their lives.

And do we really want to lockdown the economy further, when billions of people around the world are already suffering?

When people are locked up in the criminal justice system for months or for years, we rightly recognize it as a big deal, because we are depriving them of a life they could otherwise be living. Locking down billions of people is a profoundly unjust waste of billions of person-years of our freedom – an irreplaceable resource that we will never get back.

Shift of Deep Metaphors: From Nomadic Connection to Sedentary Containment

George Lakoff observes that we schematize unconsciously the body – both our personal body and the social body – as a container, and the kneejerk reaction in this crisis has been to ‘close’ the container, to try to keep the virus out.

On an individual level, this means specifically closing the nose and the mouth with masks, and the hands which touch surfaces with sanitizers and gloves. This leaves us with only the more abstract senses of distance – sight and sound – while the other senses of proximity and intimacy are devalued and impaired. On a societal level, it means separating people with social distancing and lockdowns, separating countries with border closures, and shifting from real life in 3D to online survival in 2D. Trillions of dollars in resources previously devoted to real-life connection have been re-directed to brutally rip apart the social fabric on both micro- and macro- levels, replacing a nomadic schema of connection with a sedentary schema of containment and control.

Our ‘leaders’ cynically encourage us to ‘buy local’, when of course we are not allowed to physically visit local businesses, a large majority of which are not equipped for e-commerce. Those who suggest businesses ‘should have been prepared for this’ are doing nothing more than blaming the victim. Businesses should not have to prepare for their own governments stabbing them in the back by suddenly shutting them down.

From Connected Life in 3D, to Controlled Survival in 2D

The sudden death of brick & mortar was brought about not because people were afraid of the virus, but rather because governments IMPOSED a lockdown. It’s not like people abruptly wanted to completely stop shopping at physical stores.

And in the partial re-opening of physical spaces, governments doubled down on their disastrously irrational and misguided approach, imposing onerous social distancing and masking requirements that further destroyed the financial viability of most brick & mortar businesses – stores, restaurants, bars, gyms, hotels, cinemas, live event venues, offices. Brick & mortar businesses were not killed by the virus, or by the public’s fear – they were killed by governments’ heavy-handed imposition first of lockdown, and then of social distancing laws.

Cui bono? The lockdown benefits the American giant Amazon more than anyone, and it is no accident that Jeff Bezos remains the richest person in the world. Similarly, Walmart, Costco and Home Depot were deemed ‘essential’ and allowed to remain open and gain market share, even as millions of small businesses that governments labelled ‘non-essential’ were devastated.

When the small and medium-sized fish are struggling, the big fish devour them, and when real life loses, online survival wins, meaning it is not only Amazon that dominates, but the entire NASDAQ and Silicon Valley 150, especially the G-MAFIA (Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook, IBM, Apple).

In China the main beneficiaries of lockdown were the BATHByD (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, Huawei, ByteDance), and their seizure and control of resources continues to be realized through surveillance (deep metaphor of white/ light):

State-level surveillance in China is enabled by these companies, which are in turn emboldened through the country’s various institutional and industrial policies. Alibaba’s Zhima Credit service hasn’t publicly disclosed that it is part of the national credit system; however, it is calculating a person’s available credit line based on things like what the person is buying and who his or her friends are on Alipay’s social network. In 2015, Zhima Credit’s technology director publicly said that buying diapers would be considered ‘responsible behaviour,’ while playing video games for too long would be counted as a demerit…

In what will later be viewed as one of the most pervasive and insidious social experiments on humankind, China is using AI in an effort to create an obedient populace. The State Council’s AI 2030 plan explains that AI will ‘significantly elevate the capability and level of social governance’ and will be relied on to play ‘an irreplaceable role in effectively maintaining social stability.’ This is being accomplished through China’s national Social Credit Score system, which according to the State Council’s founding charter will ‘allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.’…

In the city of Rongcheng, an algorithmic social credit scoring system has already proven that AI works. Its 740,000 adult citizens are each assigned 1000 points to start, and depending on behavior, points are added or deducted. Performing a ‘heroic act’ might earn a resident 30 points, while blowing through a traffic light would automatically deduct 5 points. Citizens are labeled and sorted into different brackets ranging from A+++ to D, and their choices and ability to move around freely are dictated by their grade. The C bracket might discover that they must first pay a deposit to rent a public bike, while the A group gets to rent them for free for 90 minutes…

AI-powered directional microphones and smart cameras now dot the highways and streets of Shanghai. Drivers who honk excessively are automatically issued a ticket via Tencent’s WeChat, while their names, photographs, and national identity card numbers are displayed on nearby LED billboards. If a driver pulls over on the side of the road for more than seven minutes, they will trigger another instant traffic ticket. It isn’t just the ticket and the fine – points are deducted in the driver’s social credit score. When enough points are deducted, they will find it hard to book airline tickets or land a new job…’ – Amy Webb, The Big Nine: How the Tech Titans and their Thinking Machines Could Warp Humanity 

As for the US, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden points out that:

The Internet is fundamentally American. It’s not just the Internet’s infrastructure that I’m defining as fundamentally American – it’s the computer software (Microsoft, Google, Oracle) and hardware (HP, Apple, Dell), too. It’s everything from the chips (Intel, Qualcomm), to the routers and modems (Cisco, Juniper), to the Web services and platforms that provide email and social networking and cloud storage (Google, Facebook, and the most structurally important but invisible Amazon, which provides cloud services to the US government along with half the Internet). Though some of these companies might manufacture their devices in, say, China, the companies themselves are American and are subject to American law. The problem is, they’re also subject to classified American policies that pervert law and permit the US government to surveil virtually every man, woman and child who has ever touched a computer or picked up a phone. –  Snowden, Permanent Record

So, the United States and China gained the most from lockdown, or, more precisely, the ruling classes of the United States and China. 

Whereas the American and Chinese tech titans benefited most from the dramatic and sudden shift to 2D online survival (featuring only sight, sound and motion – ‘sisomo’), homo sapiens who are used to experiencing life in 3D with all five senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, touch – were left emotionally starved by this ghostly and disembodied Zoom existence devoid of the warmth of actual physical, social connection.

Those over 65 have largely retired, and many middle-aged professionals can work within this cyber-sedentary model, being able to ‘Zoom’ from home.

However, most young people don’t have home offices, and there is overwhelming evidence that the younger you are, the more you were crushed by lockdown, in terms of mental health, physical health, finances and future prospects.

Contained Lockdown as Salvation

Why do people fight for their servitude, as if it were their salvation? This interrogation central to the work of philosopher Gilles Deleuze has never been more relevant. 

In his book Cultural Evolution, Ronald Inglehart, founder of the World Values Survey, points out that when people are fearful for their lives or for their economic security, they tend to abandon postmaterialist values like freedom, gender equality, racial equality, creativity, and self-actualization at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and embrace materialist values at the bottom of the hierarchy, which include a conformist herd mentality, unquestioning obedience to authority, and ethnic tribalism, as expressed in a focus on ‘white nationalism’ and analogous stupidities. 

Lakoff elaborates on this idea, suggesting that in times of crisis, there is an unconscious search for a ‘Strict Father’ figure, the archetype of control, who will tell everyone what to do. In this case it is shut down the entire economy, and criminalize social connection, in a futile attempt to prevent Covid-19 from straining our hospitals.

Lakoff observes that over the past few decades, as Western societies have climbed Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there has been an evolution from the materialist ‘Strict Father’ model, to a more egalitarian ‘Nurturing Parent’ model, where the father is no longer the boss of his wife and children. This ‘Nurturing Parent’ model is now dominant in Sweden, the most postmaterialist country in the world in terms of values, which refused lockdown not only because of its love of freedom, but also because of lockdown’s profoundly negative impact on women’s equality.

It took women decades to climb Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, to a point where their careers and self-actualization were finally considered important by society, and this hard-won progress was destroyed in the space of months by the government-imposed lockdowns.

The lockdown ‘cure’ is far worse than the disease, because it was never really a cure, but rather a placebo delaying the inevitable. Concretely, lockdown has turned out to be a recipe to expand a physical health crisis threatening 1% of the population, into a physical health AND mental health AND economic AND social crisis that threatens everyone. If we destroy our economies, we will also have destroyed our healthcare systems. And in destroying the population’s mental health with draconian lockdowns, governments added substance abuse epidemics to what was already a viral epidemic.

The lockdowns imposed by governments have dramatically worsened the mental health of young people in particular (documented on the website Collateralglobal.org).

Prescriptions for antidepressant, anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia medications have skyrocketed.

Polls show that one-half of people are lonelier now than ever before, and this has resulted in dramatic increases in tobacco, alcohol and drug consumption. There have also been spikes in spousal abuse, and excess deaths from cardiovascular disease, cancer and suicide, as cyclops-like governments focus their one eye on Covid-19, while their locked down societies collapse around them.

Regardless of what we do, epidemiologists predict that 40 to 70 percent of the world’s population will contract Covid-19. More than 99 percent of those who contract it will recover.

For those who guilt-trip young people who continue to socialize, enjoying a mere fraction of the freedom to which we are all entitled as human beings – no one is responsible for this natural disaster, least of all them. Making them feel like criminals and giving them fines of hundreds, or even thousands of dollars because they fail to remain six feet apart from each other, is as idiotic and oppressive as the rest of this totalitarian fear campaign.

Which is preferable: An authoritarian and futile attempt at isolated containment and survival like China, or social connection and quality of life like Sweden? That is the question.

Freedom House points out that ‘although some limitations are undoubtedly necessary to address a pandemic, there is a real risk that this crisis could trigger a lasting global backslide in fundamental freedoms — and it’s already started.’

Stoicism, Containment and Control

Since containment and control have been the operative deep metaphors in this crisis, it is instructive to look at the philosophy which best expresses these metaphors: Stoicism. It is not a coincidence that Stoic thought is experiencing a resurgence during this crisis, from feature articles in Le Monde, to its three leading thinkers Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD), Epictetus (50  – 135 AD) and Marcus Aurelius (121 – 180 AD) appearing on Amazon bestseller lists.

Seneca expresses an eternally relevant distinction between quality of life and mere survival when he writes:

So make haste to live, my dear Lucilius, and think of each single day as a single life. The person who has equipped themself like this, who has had a whole life each day, is free of care: for those who live in hope each coming instant slips away and greed advances on them with the fear of death, itself most wretched and making all things wretched. Hence that disgraceful prayer of Maecenas in which he does not jib at feebleness and ugliness and finally the sharpened stake, so long as his life is prolonged among these evils:                                                                 

‘Make me feeble in hand,                                                                                             

feeble with limping foot,                                                                                                 

Impose a hunchbacked swelling,                                                                                          

loosen my slippery teeth,                                                                                                 

While there is life I am fine;                                                                                                 

keep it going for me                                                                                                            

Even if I sit impaled on a sharpened stake.’                                                                         

He is wishing for what would be most wretched if it came upon him, and asking for a prolongation of his torment as if it were life. What is the aim of such vile begging for life? He is wishing for the worst of misfortunes and longs for what it is most grievous to suffer to be prolonged and extended. But what kind of living is it to die at length? What matters is how well you live, not how long. Seneca, Selected Letters, Letter 101, §10-15

In this passage, Seneca emphasizes that there is a world of difference between living each day to the fullest, versus the disgrace of clinging to mere survival, life at the lowest degree of intensity. 

A majority of Covid victims are over 80-years-old, and one of the many mendacities of the crisis has been the suggestion that the mere possibility of prolonging the life of someone in their 80s by one year, is somehow more important than allowing a 16-year-old to attend school, see her friends, and live her life to the fullest. It’s not.

The deep metaphors that guide the philosophy of Stoicism,  container and control, are expressed in concepts like ‘withdraw into’; ‘self-content’; ‘boundary’; ‘self-sufficiency’; ‘fortress’; ‘place of retreat’; ‘taking refuge’; ‘impregnable’; ‘rational directing mind’, etc.

For example, Seneca writes:

You should not become like evil men because they are many, or be hostile to the many because they are unlike you. Withdraw into yourself as far as you can, and associate with those who will make you better… You must bury these thoughts deep in your mind, so that you condemn the pleasure that comes from the agreement of a majority… Let your virtues look inwards. – Seneca, Selected Letters, Book  I, Letter 7


Philosophy must be set around us like an impregnable wall, which Fortune may assail with many siege-engines but cannot break through. The mind that has abandoned external desires stands in an unassailable position and protects itself in its own fortress, every missile falls short of it. – Seneca, Selected Letters, Letter 82, §5

For his part, Epictetus writes: 

In life our first job is this, to divide and distinguish things into two categories: externals I cannot control, but the choices I make with regard to them I do control. Where will I find good and bad? In me, in my choices. Don’t ever speak of ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘advantage’ or ‘harm’, and so on, of anything that is not your responsibility… The more we value things outside our control, the less control we have. – Epictetus, Discourses

Marcus Aurelius also expresses the deep metaphors of container and control:

Withdraw into yourself. It is the nature of the rational directing mind to be self-content with acting rightly and the calm it thereby enjoys… The way nature has blended you into the compound whole does not prevent you drawing a boundary around yourself and keeping what is your own in your own control. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


Remember that your directing mind becomes invincible when it withdraws into its own self-sufficiency, not doing anything it does not wish to do, even if its position is unreasonable. How much more, then, when the judgement it forms is reasoned and deliberate? That is why a mind free from passions is a fortress: people have no stronger place of retreat, and someone taking refuge here is then impregnable. Anyone who has not seen this is short of wisdom: anyone who has seen it and does not take refuge is short of fortune. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 8, §48

Nietzsche observes that Stoics derive emotional gratification from this sense of containment and control:

Stoical. – There is a cheerfulness peculiar to the Stoic: he experiences it whenever he feels hemmed in by the formalities he himself has prescribed for his conduct; he then enjoys the sensation of himself as dominator. – Nietzsche, D, Book IV, §251

However, millennia separate us from the Stoics, and their philosophy is based on a lack of understanding not only that 95% of the mind is unconscious, but also that it is fully part of the body.

Lakoff and Johnson explain that:

We conceptualize the mind metaphorically in terms of a container image schema defining a space that is inside the body and separate from it. Via metaphor, the mind is given an inside and an outside. Ideas and concepts are internal, existing somewhere in the inner space of our minds, while what they refer to are things in the external, physical world. This metaphor is so deeply ingrained that it is hard to think about mind in any other way…

What we call ‘mind’ is really embodied. There is no true separation of mind and body. These are not two independent entities that somehow come together and couple. The word mental picks out those bodily capacities and performances that constitute our awareness and determine our creative and conscious responses to the situations we encounter. – Lakoff & Johnson, PF

Despite their anachronistic psychology, Stoic ethics has much to recommend it, including honesty and strength of character, which is able to withstand mindless herd morality, such as that which has been so evident in the current Covid-19 crisis. Nietzsche writes:

Honesty – granted that this is our virtue, from which we cannot get free, we free spirits – well, let us labour at it with all love and malice and not weary of ‘perfecting’ ourselves in our virtue, the only one we have: may its brightness one day overspread this aging culture and its dull, gloomy seriousness like a gilded azure mocking evening glow! And if our honesty should one day none the less grow weary, and sigh, and stretch its limbs, and find us too hard, and like to have things better, easier, gentler, like an agreeable vice: let us remain hard, we last of the Stoics! – Nietzsche, BGE

Nietzsche contrasts Stoicism with the Judeo-Christian morality of pity, and cautions against evaluations based on the unconscious deep metaphor of verticality:

Said to be higher! – You say the morality of pity is a higher morality than that of Stoicism? Prove it! But note that ‘higher’ and ‘lower’ in morality is not to be measured by a moral yardstick : for there is no absolute morality. So, take your yardstick from elsewhere and watch out! – Nietzsche, D, Book IV, §251

He further points out that although Epictetus had once been a slave, his philosophy in many ways made him a master:

Slave and idealist. – The human being after the model of Epictetus would certainly not be to the taste of those who strive after the ideal nowadays. The constant tension of his being, the unwearied glance turned inward, the reserve, caution, uncommunicativeness of his eye if it should even turn to view the outer world; not to speak of his silence or near-silence: all signs of the most resolute bravery – what could this mean to our idealists, who are above all greedy for expansion! In addition to all this, he is not fanatical, he hates the display and vainglory of our idealists: his arrogance, great though it is, has nonetheless no desire to disturb others, it admits a certain mild intimacy and wants to spoil no one’s good humour – it can, indeed, even smile! There is very much of the humanity of antiquity in this ideal! The fairest thing about it is, however, that it lacks all fear of God, that it believes strictly in reason, that it is no penitential preacher. 

Epictetus was a slave: his ideal human being is without class and possibly in every class, but is to be sought above all in the depths of the masses as the silent, self-sufficient person within a universal enslavement who defends himself against the outside world and lives in a constant state of supreme bravery. He differs from the Christian, above all in that the Christian lives in hope, in the promise of ‘inexpressible glories’, in that he accepts gifts and expects and receives the best he knows at the hands of divine love and grace and not at his own hands; while Epictetus does not hope and does not accept the best he knows as a gift – he possesses it, he holds it bravely in his own hand, he defends it against the whole world if the world wants to rob him of it. Christianity was made for a different species of antique slave, for those weak in will and mind, that is to say for the great mass of slaves. – Nietzsche, D, Book V, §546

For his part, Marcus Aurelius anticipates Nietzsche’s observation that although there is good and bad in the world, there is no good and evil as the morality of pity would have it:

Yes, death and life, fame and ignominy, pain and pleasure, wealth and poverty – all these come to good and bad alike, but they are not in themselves either right or wrong; neither then are they inherently good or evil. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 2, §11

Although it has numerous strengths, Stoicism’s failure to recognize that 95% of the mind is unconscious, and that the mind is part of the body, results in a fatal flaw: the disparagement of everything corporeal and emotional:

You should always look on human life as short and cheap. Yesterday sperm; tomorrow a mummy or ashes. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, Book 4, §48

And Seneca suggests that:

I am greater than and born for greater things than to be a captive of my body, which I do not see as anything but a chain set around my liberty: so this body is what I oppose in resistance to Fortune, and do not allow any wound to pass through it to me. Whatever part of me can suffer harm is limited to this, that my free spirit lives in this vulnerable dwelling. That flesh will never force me to suffer fear or adopt a pretence unworthy of a good person; I shall never lie for the sake of this body. When it seems right, I shall break off association with it; and even now, while we are held together, we will not be partners on equal terms; my mind claims all rights for itself. Contempt for one’s body is the surest liberty.- Seneca, Selected Letters, Letter 65

Epictetus shares this contempt for the body:

‘Where are you going to find serenity and independence – in something free, or something enslaved?’


‘And your body – is it free or slave?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘You are aware, I presume, that it is subject to fever, gout, rheum and dysentery, not to mention despots, fires and weapons – anything, in a word, that is physically stronger? So how can the body or any of its parts be considered free – or great, or priceless? In essence it is a corpse, a thing of mud and dust.’ – Epictetus, Discourses, Book III, §40-41

And ultimately for the Stoics, it is this ‘thing of mud and dust’ which enslaves us:

Whoever can be thwarted, or coerced, frustrated or forced into a situation against their will – that person is a slave. The person who renounces externals cannot be hindered, as externals are things that are not within our power either to have or not to have – or to have in the condition we might like. Externals include the body and its members, as well as material goods.Epictetus, Discourses, Book IV, §128-30

Although he admires much about the Stoics, Nietzsche rejects their ‘radical cure’ of containment and control:

What fantasies about the inner ‘misery’ of evil people moral preachers have invented! What lies they have told us about the unhappiness of passionate people! ‘Lies’ is really the proper word here; for they knew very well of the over-rich happiness of this kind of human being, but they kept a deadly silence about it because it refuted their theory according to which all happiness begins only after the annihilation of passion and the silencing of the will. Finally, regarding the prescription of all these physicians of the soul and their praise of a hard, radical cure, it should be permitted to ask: Is our life really painful and burdensome enough to make it advantageous to exchange it for a Stoic way of life and petrifaction? We are not so badly off that we have to be as badly off as Stoics. Nietzsche, GS, Book IV, §326

A More Subtle Control: The Deep Metaphor White/ Light (= Good)

Although the cognitive primitives of container and control have been the most prevalent in this emergency, other deep metaphors, perhaps less obvious, but not less influential, have been in play, notably: white/ light (= good).

When people are asked which colours symbolize good and evil, a large majority spontaneously say that ‘white = good’ and ‘black = evil’. However, few are aware of the physiological, corporeal basis of this evaluation, specifically, its relationship to our sense of vision.

Each of our five senses offers us information about the world, but for homo sapiens, vision offers the most. The information provided by vision is constrained by the presence of light, and black is the complete absence of light. The more light there is, the more things are visible, and the more you can perceive. This is as true today as it was for homo sapiens at the birth of our species 300,000 years ago.

Therefore, the presence of light is unconsciously and spontaneously interpreted as a good thing, which allows for vision and knowledge. This is reflected in numerous expressions such as ‘It became clear to me’; ‘She saw the light’; ‘It dawned on him’, ‘I was left in the dark about the situation’, ‘She couldn’t see where he was heading with this’, ‘Please enlighten me on the issue’, etc.

Zakaria expresses this deep metaphor when he talks about the ‘fog’ of the pandemic, and how with new data the ‘picture’ can change:

Operating in the fog of a pandemic creates a dilemma. In the early stages of the crisis, scientists felt the need to speak more boldly than the evidence at hand warranted. Sometimes this was done to encourage people to take their guidelines seriously. That approach might have short-term benefits, but it has a longterm drawback that is dangerous: If predictions prove to be off the mark or if new data changes the picture, that undermines the authority and integrity of these experts… – Zakaria, 10LPPW

It is not coincidental that the largest demonstrations in US history erupted during lockdown.

Although the brutal murder of George Floyd was the conscious trigger event, the sad reality is that murders of black men at the hands of police are commonplace in the US. What is not common, however, is locking down 100% of the population in order to minimize risk to the 1% who are vulnerable. Being locked down in a comfortable house with a home office in the white, middle-class suburbs is one thing; being locked down in a miserable apartment in a major city is tantamount to imprisonment, to which black men are also routinely subjected. Repressive confinement and police brutality combined in an explosion of rage in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations.

In terms of the ubiquitous unconscious metaphor that white/ light (= good), Ta-Nehisi Coates points out that people who are different hues of light pink, dark pink, ruddy, olive-skinned etc. have been rebranded as ‘white’:

The new people were something else before they were white: Catholic, Corsican, Welsh, Mennonite, Jewish… the process of washing the disparate tribes white, the elevation of the belief in being white, was not achieved through wine tastings and ice cream socials, but rather through the pillaging of life, liberty, labour and land. – Coates, Between the World and Me

This re-definition of lighter-hued minorities as ‘white’, through linguistic sleight of hand transformed what was a collection of minorities into a ‘majority’. 

More importantly, it transformed them into ‘white/ light’, and hence ‘good’. Since we unconsciously interpret ‘white/ light’ as good, and ‘black/ dark’ as bad, consciously asserting that ‘Black Lives Matter’ is swimming against the unconscious tide.

It would be a strategic improvement to state that African-American Lives Matter, as well as to return to the plurality of labels of the past, or simply to label people as ‘Caucasian’ rather than ‘white’. In fact, more equitable would be ‘Caucasian-Americans’ – a phrase we never hear. 

Perhaps when Kamala Harris is president…                                                     

Governments’ panic-stricken and clownish ineptitude in adopting the container metaphor, and imposition of lockdown as a supposed solution for Covid-19 would be laughable if the stakes were not so high. It will go down in history as the worst public policy disaster ever.

Billions of people have lost their jobs and had their lives ruined, not because of the virus, but rather because of the government-imposed lockdowns in reaction to the virus, which have resulted in the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression.

Whatever we did, Covid-19 was going to be a once-in-a-century public health crisis. Governments’ grave and incompetent mismanagement has multiplied the pain with a simultaneous mental health, economic and social crisis.

What could have been done differently?

1) DON’T THINK GOVERNMENT AUTHORITIES (OR ANYONE ELSE) HAVE A MAGICAL SOLUTION. Declare Covid-19 a ‘once-in-a-century’ natural disaster for which the government assumes only limited liability.

2) DON’T SHUT DOWN THE ECONOMY. The economy not only pays for our healthcare systems, but also for our education systems and for everything else. Understanding that within a year or two, one-half of the world’s population will contract Covid-19, rather than shut down our entire economy, grant everyone a month of ‘Covid-19 Leave’ during which governments cover their salary.

3) DON’T OVERWHELM HOSPITALS. For the vast majority of people who contract a mild form of the illness, encourage them to stay at home. Once they develop antibodies and recover, they will be largely immune and can go back to work. For the small minority of the population that are serious or critical cases, rather than overwhelming our hospitals and risking secondary infections, send them to dedicated and separate Covid-19 facilities. This will allow our hospitals to continue to treat the diseases which are many times more deadly than this virus, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer.

4) DON’T CRIMINALIZE SOCIAL CONNECTION. Rather than criminalizing social connection (completely contrary to human nature and to mental health), encourage people to wash their hands frequently, and remind them that minimizing contact with high-risk groups will be helpful.

Strategy is schematized with the deep metaphor of journey. It is all about how you get from point A to point B. The naive assumption is that the only place you can screw this up is on the route you take. However, there are actually three places where you can get it wrong: 1) on the route you take; 2) by not understanding accurately where you are at point A (incomplete situation analysis); 3) by not understanding exactly where point B is (realistic scenarios for precisely what success looks like).

For point A, the situation analysis, our ‘leaders’ said, ‘There is a virus in the social body. We really don’t know how widespread it is, nor how dangerous it is, because we haven’t tested a representative sample.’ For point B, they identified success as ‘slowing down or stopping the spread of this virus, despite the fact that we don’t know how prevalent or serious it is.’ For the route to get from point A to point B, the solution they identified in all their wisdom was ‘Let’s stop the heart of the social body (the economy), which should slow or stop the spread of this infection.’ Without, of course, considering the effects of stopping the heart. 

Schematizing the challenge in this way in terms of containment and control was a short-sighted and catastrophic failure of strategy.

Deep Metaphor of Balance: Lagom

A very different approach was taken by Sweden, a country with one of the best reputations in the world, and according to the World Values Survey the most progressive and postmaterialist country in the world, including the most secular the most environmentalist, and the most gay-friendly. 

The country is also a leader in happiness and in social progress. Sweden is, both literally and metaphorically, the North Star of progressive ethics.

Due to its deeply-embedded culture code of lagom (balance), Sweden was more reasonable and less panicked in its reaction to the crisis. It took into account the immediate public health emergency, but also balanced this with sober consideration of the economic, mental health and societal implications in the short term and in the longer term. It refused to lock down 100 percent of society, when only 1 percent of the population was ever at serious risk.

From the outset, the Swedes recognized that this is a marathon that will last for years, since it can end in only one of three ways: 1) herd immunity; 2) a widely-deployed vaccine; 3) a combination of herd immunity and a widely-deployed vaccine.

This is why Swedish schools, kindergartens, bars, restaurants, ski resorts, sports clubs and hairstylists all remained open, minimizing damage to the overall economy, to mental health, and to the social fabric.

For most initiatives and crises, the world is in the habit of automatically following the example set by one of the two superpowers, either the United States, or authoritarian China. In this case, US leadership was missing in action, so the world – including the WHO – reflexively followed China and its lackey Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, a momentum reinforced by the fact that China is where the virus first appeared. All of us would have been much better off following the example of Sweden, with its lower-profile, but much more enlightened and thoughtful leadership on this, as on so many other issues.

Sweden-haters who suggest that other countries have done a better job in addressing this crisis are judging a marathon by who is ahead at the 100-metre mark. What Sweden hasn’t done, unlike the rest of the world, is waste trillions of dollars with idiotic lockdowns, destroying the economy, morale, and the future of its people.

Why was Herd Immunity Ignored? The Deep Metaphor of Purity

Rather than offering focused protection to the very elderly in geriatric facilities where the most vulnerable individuals are concentrated,  our ‘leaders’ have turned the entire world into a geriatric facility.

Nonetheless, there was another option. The Great Barrington Declaration, signed by more than 10,000 top scientists and doctors states that:

As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists we have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies, and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection. 

Coming from both the left and right, and around the world, we have devoted our careers to protecting people. Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice. 

Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed.

Fortunately, our understanding of the virus is growing. We know that vulnerability to death from COVID-19 is more than a thousand-fold higher in the old and infirm than the young. Indeed, for children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza. 

As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls. We know that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity – i.e.  the point at which the rate of new infections is stable – and that this can be assisted by (but is not dependent upon) a vaccine. Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity. 

The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection. 

Adopting measures to protect the vulnerable should be the central aim of public health responses to COVID-19. By way of example, nursing homes should use staff with acquired immunity and perform frequent PCR testing of other staff and all visitors. Staff rotation should be minimized. Retired people living at home should have groceries and other essentials delivered to their home. When possible, they should meet family members outside rather than inside. A comprehensive and detailed list of measures, including approaches to multi-generational households, can be implemented, and is well within the scope and capability of public health professionals. 

Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold. Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity.

This more focused option – crafted by professors from Harvard, Stanford and Oxford, and supported by 10,000 other physicians – was not given serious consideration for a couple of reasons, including the false equivalency between a year of survival in your 80s, versus a year of life when you are young, as well as an unconscious aversion to the idea of herd immunity.

This fear of allowing people to become infected is based on the unconscious deep metaphor of purity (= good), which is maintained through containment. Like other deep metaphors, the belief that purity is inherently good has roots in our physiology (the need for unpolluted food, water and air; the need to cleanse wounds), but also in our evolutionary history (for example, the fact that it was safe to breed with a member of your own tribe, but unsafe to breed with someone from a different tribe). For the vast majority of our existence as homo sapiens, xenophobia has been the norm, and this is an expression of the deep metaphor of purity.

However, cultural métissage makes us richer in every sense, and an alloy is often stronger and more adaptable than a pure metal. Science teaches that a tiny dose of a virus stimulates the creation of antibodies; what will protect us ultimately is not sedentary containment, unattainable purity, and an illusion of control, but rather connection with an impurity, through infection, or eventually a vaccine. To paraphrase Nietzsche, ‘What does not kill me, makes me stronger.’

If the Stoics had been right, and our bodies enslave us, then whether or not we are locked down doesn’t matter, because whatever happens to our bodies, our minds are free. However, the reality is that we are our bodies, and if they are not free, then neither are our minds, as demonstrated tragically by the destruction of mental health under lockdown.

Despite his predominant deep metaphor of container, Marcus Aurelius acknowledges the reality of continuous change and transformation:

Is someone afraid of change? Well, what can ever come to be without change? Or what is dearer or closer to the nature of the Whole than change? Can you yourself take your bath, if the wood that heats it is not changed? Can you be fed, unless what you eat changes? Can any other of the benefits of life be achieved without change? Do you not see then that for you to be changed is equal, and equally necessary to the nature of the Whole? (…)

The recurrent cycles of the universe are the same, up and down, from eternity to eternity. And either the mind of the Whole has a specific impulse for each individual case – if so, you should welcome the result – or it had a single original impulse, from which all else follows in consequence: and why should you be anxious about that? The Whole is either a god – then all is well; or if purposeless – some sort of random arrangement of atoms or molecules – you should not be without purpose yourself.

In a moment the Earth will cover us all. Then the Earth too will change, and then further successive changes to infinity. One reflecting on these waves of change and transformation, and the speed of their flow, will hold all mortal things in contempt. – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

We are part of nature, and so is Covid-19. Like Marcus Aurelius, Nietzsche recognizes that everything is in continuous transformation, but rather than having ‘contempt’ for it, saying ‘No’ to Life because it is necessarily corporeal, mortal and cannot remain contained, he says ‘Yes’ precisely because everything is not contained, but rather connected:

Did you ever say Yes to one joy? O my friends, then you said Yes to all woe as well. All things are chained and entwined together, all things are in love. If ever you wanted one moment twice, if ever you said: ‘Yes, please, happiness, instant, moment!’ then you wanted everything to return!  You wanted everything anew, everything eternal, everything chained, entwined together, everything in love, O that is how you loved the world.  You everlasting people loved it eternally and for all time, and you said even to woe: ‘Go, but return! For all joy wants eternity! – Nietzsche, Z