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Jordan Peterson and the Covid whistleblower 

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JORDAN Peterson’s interview with Professor Jay Bhattacharya is one of the more insightful conversations to come out of the post-pandemic period. It’s fascinating to see Peterson coming to terms with the sheer scale of the lockdown during which time he was ill. We could have used his voice then and I have no doubt that he would have been fantastic. 

Fortunately for the whole world, we did have Jay. It’s not just his credentials or his position at Stanford University. It’s his erudition that gave him the reach to make sense of our times. In this interview, Jay explains the unfolding of events in ways I personally found compelling. 

Summing up his message, the response upended a century of public-health practice based on computer modelling that was not informed by any medical knowledge or public health experience. That modelling came to be fused with a military-style response which waged a war on a pathogen with no exit strategy. Powerful industrial interests saw their chance to realise every hidden agenda.

That was further complicated by severe political division. Even though the lockdowns began under the Trump administration, opposing them mysteriously came to be seen as ‘right-wing’ even though the pandemic policies violated every civil liberty, massively harmed the poor, divided the classes, and trampled essential freedoms, which one might suppose were concerns of the left, once upon a time.

Jay Bhattacharya knew from the beginning that these policies were a disaster; his method of dissent was to stick with the genuine science. He worked with colleagues very early in the pandemic on a study from California that proved that this war on the ‘invisible enemy’ was futile. Covid was everywhere and only a mortal threat to a narrow group in the population who needed to have their guard up while the rest of society moved on. That study was released in April 2020, and the implications were devastating to the war planners and the lockdown pushers. 

The conclusion of the study seems rather commonplace now: ‘The estimated population prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies in Santa Clara County implies that the infection may be much more widespread than indicated by the number of confirmed cases.’ But at the time, when dissent was rare if not non-existent in scientific literature, and when the planning elite had declared its number one goal was to track, trace and isolate, and thereby minimise infections through compulsion while we wait for a vaccine, this conclusion was anathema. 

That’s when the attacks began. It was as if Bhattacharya had to be shut down. The popular press began to go after him savagely, smearing both the study and his motivations (this later became outright censorship). He began to realise the intensity of the campaign against dissent and the push for full unity in favour of the policy response. It was not like normal times when scientists could disagree. This was something different, something fully militarised, when a ‘whole-of-government’ and ‘whole-of-society’ consensus was being demanded by every institution. No heresies against orthodoxy were allowed. 

At this point, the interview breaks and Peterson begins to ask probing questions of the sort he likes concerning the spiritual struggle all of us face in life, a subject that clearly consumes him. Peterson believes that all seeming political struggles are ultimately personal ones. Do we back off and acquiesce to conventional wisdom or do we continue to walk toward the light as shown by our conscience? 

He asks Bhattacharya if he faced this moment, and the professor admits that he did indeed. He realised that continuing in this direction – researching to discover facts and telling the truth as he saw it – would massively disrupt his career, his life and everything he had worked for. Everything would be different, away from comfort and into an uncertain and isolated frontier. 

He faced that choice and made the decision to go ahead, undeterred. It cost him dearly. He could not sleep. He lost a tremendous amount of weight. He faced social and professional ostracism. He was dragged through the mud daily in the press and scapegoated for every policy failure. He was accused of conspiring with the purveyors of dark money and every other form of professional corruption. But still he forged ahead, eventually gathering with other scientists to make what is now a famous statement of public health that has stood the test of time. 

It’s fascinating to consider how few in academia and professional life made this choice. The reasons why are also intriguing. Many in these high-end professions, particularly in academia, have far less job flexibility than we think. We might suppose that a tenured Ivy League professor could and would say anything he wants. 

The opposite is true. These people are not like the barber or auto mechanic who can leave one job and easily start another a few blocks away or in a different town. They are, in many ways, trapped in their own circle of influence. They know this and dare not depart from industry norms, which too often are formed by funding. Yale University, for example, gets more revenue from government than from tuition. That’s typical among such institutions. Now we know that media and tech are also on the payroll. 

These conflicts of interest combined with careerism have played themselves out in brutal ways over the last few years. The professionals who left their jobs to work in the Trump administration, for example, found that they had no jobs waiting for them when that presidency came to an end. They were discarded. I personally know of many cases where people on advanced career tracks lost all by agreeing to perform what they believed to be public service. 

The lockdowns era made this much worse. All over the country, scientists, media figures, writers, think-tank officials, professors, editors and influencers of all sorts were pressured to go along. Not just that: they were threatened. It wasn’t just the opinions that mattered either: there were all sorts of compliance tests. There was the ‘social distancing’ test and the masking test. If you didn’t practice them, you were marked as an enemy.

The vaccine mandate, appallingly, became another wedge issue. When the New York Times claimed in the summer of 2021 to have evidence that the unvaccinated were more likely to be Trump supporters, that did it. The Biden administration and many university administrators felt that they had the ultimate weapon to achieve the purge of which they had long dreamed. 

Diversity of opinion in many sectors of society – media, academia, corporate life, the military – is dramatically reduced after this epoch. It doesn’t matter that courts later came along to say it was all bad law. The damage had been done. 

Still, we have to be curious about those who did not go along. What drove them to depart from their fellows? This is why Gabrielle Bauer’s book Blindsight is 2020 is so valuable. It highlights the voices of many who dared to think for themselves. And here is the truth: among this dissident set, very few aren’t doing something completely different today from what they were doing in 2019. They have changed jobs, changed professions, changed towns and states, and even seen families and friendship networks shattered. 

They all paid a huge price. I’m not sure I know any exceptions to the rule. Going against the grain and daring to stand up for truth in a time of totalitarianism is exceedingly dangerous. (Brownstone’s Fellows program is designed to give many of these purged people a bridge to a new life.) 

Moral teaching in the great religions has not typically required heroism. What it does require is not doing evil. Those really are different things. Staying quiet might not be evil; it’s only the absence of being heroic. Yet it is also true that heroism in our times is necessary for the preservation of civilisation when it is so brutally under attack. If everyone chooses the safe path, and craft their decisions around the principle of risk aversion, the bad guys win. The history of despotism and death by government reveal where this ends up. 

The best case for heroism over careerism and cowardice is to look back over these three years and observe just how much difference a few can make when they are willing to stand up for truth, even when there is a big price to be paid for doing so. Such people can change everything. This is because ideas are more powerful than armies and all the propaganda that a machinery of power can muster. One statement, one study, one sentence, one small effort to puncture the wall of lies can bring down the whole system. 

More than people are willing to admit, civil society as we knew it collapsed over these three years. A massive purge has taken place within all the commanding heights. This will affect career choices, political alliances, philosophical commitments, and the structure of society for decades to come. 

The rebuilding and reconstruction that must take place is going to rely – perhaps as it always has – on a small minority who see both the problem and the solution. Brownstone is doing its best and the most possible given our resources and the time in which we’ve had to operate. But much more needs to be done. The rebuilding requires a spiritual-level commitment to intelligence, wisdom, bravery and truth. 

This article appeared in Brownstone Institute on February 25, 2023, and is republished by kind permission. 

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Jeffrey Tucker
Jeffrey Tucker
Jeffrey A Tucker is an economist and founder of the Brownstone Institute.

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