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Reckoning before Amnesty
And apology before forgiveness
On October 31, 2022, The Atlantic Monthly published an essay by Emily Oster titled “Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty.” To many people, myself included, the piece felt like both an affront and an abdication of responsibility. I put my initial response on twitter, in a short four-tweet thread, as follows. The first quote is from Oster’s article.
The 112th livestream of DarkHorse that Amy Johnson linked to was broadcast on January 21, 2022. Bret and I called it “The Scramble to Protect the Elites.” With some help, I have transcribed part of it here, the part that feels most relevant to Oster’s request that an amnesty be granted over Covid policies. I was liberal in my transcription, removing “um” and “you know” and “the point is” more often than not, but if you choose to listen along (timestamps provided), you will hear that this rendering is very close to the live conversation that we had in January of 2022.
You will also find, in this conversation, that Bret and I do not always agree. We did not, for instance, find ourselves in exactly the same place with regard to how to feel about what we predicted then, over nine months ago: a request, by those who wrought this chaos, to just move on. A request for amnesty, if you will. How should we contend with a request for amnesty, or forgiveness, in the absence of an awakening, or an apology? As this conversation lays bare, we need a reckoning before amnesty, and apology before forgiveness.
From DarkHorse Livestream #112: The Scramble to Protect the Elites
Heather (16:47): The people who are yelling anti-vax, just like the people who were yelling racist four and five and six years ago, are in fact ideologues. They may have dressed up like scientists and like humanists and like thinkers and like intellectuals, but that doesn't make it so. What they are is ideologues, and they've got a conclusion, and they're going to stick to it, no matter what else happens.
Because they are ideologues, and [because] that is the basis by which they make decisions, they assume that everyone else that they encounter is as well.
They're like “yeah, yeah I know, you claim you're a scientist but so am I, right? ha-ha-ha. I also have a conclusion and we have just come to different conclusions so we're going to argue about it.” But you know what? We're not all ideologues.
And what is happening right now is, the narrative is crumbling. You begin to see some of the ideologues backpedaling, and some of the backpedaling is going to convince some of the people. And some of the people who would have been very happy to see us and the others like us who have been vocal and out there from the beginning, disappeared into the abyss, and in fact tried to help that happen—some of them are going to be the ones who are positioned to win in the new world order.
Bret (18:10): Well, that's the next thing I want to talk about, is the scramble that is about to unfold, which I think, frankly, most of the people who have been paying attention to the better, more predictive, dissident narrative about public health and COVID are having the sense of: Omicron swept in and it took the pandemic out of the public health tyrants’ hands. It effectively handed us something that couldn't be controlled, and wasn't killing very many people, and that has brought us to a place that feels like it could be the end of the pandemic.
Now, I will say some people who are well positioned to think about these things have warned about what might emerge next. I don't yet know what to think about that but let's just say assuming that we do not have a next variant that kicks this into some other phase that we haven't yet thought about, this does look like well probably the end of something, because so many people are getting this, vaccinated and not vaccinated, that at some level to the extent that natural immunity is a decisive factor, we're going to reach herd immunity quickly because it's racing through the population.
So, with that said, the point is all right mandates are coming down because people can see that mandates don't really make any sense. What are you mandating? You're mandating a vaccine that doesn't prevent people from contracting the disease, doesn't prevent them from transmitting it, doesn't reduce viral load. On what basis are you doing that? And they will say, well because it reduces hospitalizations. Well even if that's true for young healthy people, that is no reason to mandate. Are you protecting me from me by locking me in my house and firing me from my job? That doesn't seem like it's very likely to actually be coherent.
Heather (20:04): Also, I’m kind of not feeling protected here.
Bret (20:06): Right. So the point is the absurdity of the mandates. What has happened is that Omicron has revealed what we have been saying all along, which is that something else is driving this. They swear it's being driven by a desire to protect civilization, but at the point that makes no sense, they still want to do it.
Are you protecting me from me by locking me in my house and firing me from my job?
Heather (20:27): They still want to do it. I think this is a good place to show this:
I saw this on twitter today: "Nobody said you wouldn't get COVID if you're vaccinated", we keep on being told. It’s constant gaslighting by these people. And so this woman on twitter has put together just a few places where of course they said that you wouldn't get COVID if you're vaccinated.
Here we have from Joe Biden on July 21st of last year (2021) on CNN: "you're not going to get COVID if you have these vaccinations"
from Wolensky, the director of the CDC on March 29th on MSNBC of last year: "vaccinated people do not carry the virus, don't get sick",
Fauci, the NIAID director on May 17th of last year, on MSNBC: "when people are vaccinated they can feel safe they will not be infected.” And Fauci again, of the vaccines on May 17th, again last year: "they're really, really good against variants".
All of these things are untrue. Some of these things were lies. I’m not going to claim that Biden was lying, I’ll bet he just didn't know. But, my god. They keep on changing what it is they're claiming that they already said to us, and if we can't even keep track of that, then of course they're going to continue to win, and of course they're going to erect the new people who they can claim, “Okay yeah, well we got this wrong” and they’ll have a couple of fall guys, and they’ll make sure a couple of people have their heads sort of metaphorically cut off and they’ll prop up some new people in the positions that already existed, with the systems that already existed, with all the same incentives that already existed—
Bret (22:07): You’ve got to slow down through that because people are not going to understand what's about to happen.
Heather: Go for it.
Bret: Here's the problem: you've got public health elites and whatever it is that they represent. They have screwed up at an unprecedented level. They've effectively crashed many of the functional systems of planet Earth. They've caused untold misery, and frankly untold disease.
I would suggest people take a look at John Campbell's video from this week talking about how many people actually died of COVID. It's quite eye-opening. But he also talks about what people did die of, things like delays in cancer diagnoses. The point is this is an unprecedented catastrophe.
The natural outgrowth of an unprecedented catastrophe is a kind of collective soul searching in which we figure out who screwed up, how it happened, what system should have been in place so it doesn't happen again, and we move forward in that way.
But were that to happen, these incredibly powerful and in many cases now incredibly wealthy elites who earned so much through this colossal error—those people have everything to lose if we actually figure out what happened, and install the systems that would prevent it from ever happening again. So they're now in search of anything that can save them from facing the people who were right.
What that means is that there's a race that is going to be kicking off—we’re already seeing the first signs of it—and the race is for people who weren't right all along, who are now going to challenge the public health authority, right they're going to point out just how disastrous—
Heather (23:57): That's so brave.
Bret (23:58): It's very brave. They’re going to say these public health officials failed us BUT…and then they're going to attack those of us who had this stuff right. The elites have an incentive now to embrace this new middle ground that is neither fish nor fowl.
It is not on board with the public health narrative. It challenges it in very strong terms. But it also challenges the dissidents, who will be accused of all sorts of defects. The elites have an interest in finding that voice, the struggle to phrase it just so is now on, and so people will be falling all over themselves.
Some of them will know what they're doing—they’re jockeying for position in the new world order. Some of them will not know what they're doing—they will just detect that suddenly they're seeing articles on a particular theme in all sorts of places and they will think “I could write that article,” and they will write it.
So you'll have this whole new group of people in the middle, and their purpose—their purpose—is to prevent meaningful change.
Heather (25:00): No no no, that is their utility. That is not why they exist. They are taking advantage of an empty niche, and they will be adopted by the mainstream and the elite in order to serve the purpose of the elite.
Bret (25:15): Right, well let's just say the purpose of the niche is that, is to protect the elite from a reckoning in light of what they have done to planet Earth.
Heather (25:23): Yeah, this is reckoning insurance.
The natural outgrowth of an unprecedented catastrophe is a kind of collective soul searching in which we figure out who screwed up, how it happened, what system should have been in place so it doesn't happen again, and we move forward in that way.
Bret (25:24): It's reckoning insurance. But here's the other thing—there’s another dimension to this. There are a huge number of people in the audience who aren't going to write that article. They're not going to write any article. But they're in a bad position, because to the extent that for a year, you've been brow beating people for being on the wrong side of history, and then it turns out they were on the right side of history—
Heather (25:46): Closer to two.
Bret (25:47): Let’s just say, there are people who go back two years. But the point is if you're somebody who's been on the wrong side of this and you were sure you were on the right side, and you've been chastising people publicly, you've been shunning your friends and all, then the point is now you're in a very awkward position, which actually mirrors the position of the elites who want to stay in power.
You’ve got a bunch of people who will hunt for the best phrasing of this narrative so that they can be pulled up into the positions of power that will decide what will be done and what will be done is symbolic shit and nothing more.
You've got an audience in search of an excuse, which is to say “yes, the public health authorities did fail us, but those other people weren't right.”
And you've got the elites, and their point is “look, do anything so long as it doesn't take us out of our positions of power.”
That confluence of those three is going to result in a scramble that you're not going to see coming. It's going to result in the promise of reform, and there will be no reform. If you don't know what I’m talking about, I would suggest you go watch the excellent film The Big Short.
It's a beautiful and heartbreaking film and pay very close attention to the end. This is coming. We could get in the road. We could prevent this. But we have to be very careful, because the temptation to embrace these people who have been outside of the fray and are now going to rush in, and they're going to shout at the right people, and they're going to shout at the wrong people, and they're going to seem like they're somehow more moderate. But it's nonsense. It's strategic. The people that you should be talking to are people who took a risk and said what needed to be said even when it was almost impossible to do so.
Heather (27:34): And generated predictions based on an actual understanding of the situation, by deriving meaning from what we could see from first principles as much as possible.
I think, frankly, that much of what I’m wrestling with at the moment is a sadness that verges into rage. I’ve just got this deep disappointment with a lot of people whom I thought were honorable and brave and insightful and full of wisdom.
This has gone on long enough. So many people have been unwilling or incapable—and it is often hard to determine which it is—to actually investigate the evidence in front of them, and generate a claim or an opinion that runs in any way counter to the mainstream. Until like, yesterday, right, or until the last couple of weeks, maybe the last month.
It was just about a year ago when we saw the lab leak crumble in exactly this way. This is just about a year out from the lab leak narrative crumbling this way, and suddenly there were a lot of people going “yeah but I was saying so, I was saying so!” Now, that’s just this dull roar. Some people—Fauci and Baric and all and Daszak—are still denying it. But you can say that now without risking getting kicked off YouTube, for instance. But still you can’t talk about all the rest of the things—we’re still at risk, we’re still demonetized.
The people whom I thought of as honorable and brave and insightful and full of wisdom, who have said nothing that counters the mainstream narrative, until like yesterday or not even yet, are going to somehow contort themselves into positions that make them appear to have been carefully thinking it through all along. What has been revealed is that the white-coated scientism thing has confused most people, people who actually don't understand what science. Most people who actually have never thought of themselves as scientists, or done science, or engaged with people really truthfully and honestly with the people who are doing science, really have no idea. They really feel like they have no ability to assess the claims, and so we have a whole lot of people who have been claiming to assess the claims who are actually doing no such thing.
So now the narrative is crumbling, and they're going to jump up on top of that smoldering pile and say, "Aha, yes! Here I am, here I am!" And I wonder, what even are you standing on? They're still going to be unable to assess the claims that they're either now saying “yes they’re true” or “no they aren't”, because they've revealed throughout this that—again—they’re either unwilling or incapable of doing so.
So many people have been unwilling or incapable—and it is often hard to determine which it is—to actually investigate the evidence in front of them, and generate a claim or an opinion that runs in any way counter to the mainstream.
Bret (30:38): Well, we're going to have to do a better job of sorting, because there are going to be various different categories of people.
Heather: We need a hat.
Bret: I would say that there are certain heuristics. It is now going to become profitable to find that middle ground position. So anybody who adopts it now, it’s not clear why they're adopting it. If you get slightly ahead of the narrative now, but it ends up being a huge win, then the point is okay, well what is that? I think that was you promoting yourself. I don't think that was you actually figuring it out.
Heather (31:17): On the other hand, the scales will fall from people's eyes more and more rapidly.
Bret (31:20): Right, right. And so, it's a very different realm, but I adopted a policy for people who came to me—this happened somewhat regularly—people who came to me after the Evergreen thing and apologized.
They said, “you know what? I gotta tell you, I did not know what was going on. I called it backwards, and I’m so embarrassed.”
And I would say, “You know what? You don't owe me an apology, and here's why: When you figured it out, you did the right thing. Anybody who does the right thing upon discovering what it actually is: we're square.” I think we need to adopt this policy generally.
Heather (32:02): But the right thing includes not pretending that you always felt this way, or that you were really on this side and you’re like “I’m gonna dig up something that I said or wrote or tweeted once six months ago in a sea of things.” No. That's not the right thing. That's cheating, and you know it. You know it.
Bret (32:22 - 34:03): Right. So, you've got: A. Being honest about the fact that you've changed your position is fundamental. Doing the right thing—and the right thing does not mean just wagging your finger at the people who screwed this up so badly, it means not wagging your finger at the people who got it right.
Heather (34:04): Yes, that's also part of the right thing
Bret (34:05): That is 100% fundamental.
Transcript skips forward several minutes.
Bret (40:26): I have watched these people crash a planet I have become very fond of. And, I have watched utter indifference to the suffering of human beings, a willingness to keep useful medicines away from people who desperately need them, even though that resulted in people's deaths, and that means there are families grieving who didn't need to. The keeping useful medicines away is particularly galling—
Heather (40:56): The destruction of children.
Bret (40:59): The destruction of children, the indifference, the feigned inability to understand the developmental impact of shielding the face with a mask that is not especially effective to protect them from a disease that isn't especially dangerous—
Heather (41:15): I know you're on a roll here, but can I just show this? This was in Nextdoor yesterday or today for our region of Portland: “School parents!! Today the Oregon Health Authority held a public comment hearing on making mask mandates permanent. There were over 335 people on the call and 125+ people spoke and it lasted for over six hours. Not one person spoke for the rule. OHA heard the plea, now it's time for your school boards to hear it. Start emailing your schools to demand that they make masking a choice for parents and stop dehumanizing our children.”
To which one of the responses was: "Keith, wearing a mask dehumanizes a child about as much as them wearing socks or eating a burrito.”
Bret (42:11): I get his point with respect to the socks but a burrito?
Heather (42:15): it's not even f***ing funny, man.
Bret: I’m sorry.
Heather: No, I’m sorry, but it's not funny. These people are doing so much damage to children. We spend a lot of time talking about childhood in our book, in A Hunter-Gatherers Guide to the 21st Century, and we've done it a lot on the show too. But how you could be an adult on this planet and actually really believe that covering a child's face for most of their waking hours in school—which is, given how bad school is now, mostly about social interactions and not about learning anyway—that that could not be having an effect, that cannot be dehumanizing children, how…either this guy is a troll and does not believe this, which I hope, but given the back and forth that then ensues I don't think so. People actually believe this. People actually believe that children having been masked in some places for a year and a half, an academic year and a half, is fine. It's fine.
Bret (43:27): Right. It's incredibly not fine. The question is: okay, it's happened. A huge amount of damage has been done to a generation of children. It won't be undone. There may be things that we can do to reduce the damage but it won't be undone. It's a permanent fact of the way this was approached. On a future podcast I’d like to talk about what actually happened, and why. I think we can infer a great deal about what the pandemic actually was. Of course it was a pandemic there is a pathogen. But it was something else too—
Heather (44:04): There is a pathogen. That doesn't mean there was a pandemic.
Bret (44:09): Well, I don't know.
Heather (44:10): I’m not saying there wasn't a pandemic. But “there is a pathogen therefore there was a pandemic” is not a logical necessity.
Bret (44:19): What I have said is that we had a wave of tyranny riding on COVID, that it used COVID to do other things. The other things are something that we need to become rapidly aware of, because the fact is, this is the kind of excuse that can spring out of nowhere. It can spring out of a lab in some place that you don't know anything about, and suddenly you're dealing with a global phenomenon whether you like it or not.
Heather (44:42): Far less likely to spring out of a cave.
Bret (44:45): Right. They pulled that one over on us. They claimed, and many people believed, that actually this sort of thing was ready to happen any day of the week.
As I argued in my UnHerd piece earlier in the year, actually that's not right. It's much harder for something to leap out of a cave than you think. And this bull**** that people like Daszak like to say about, “oh, the expansion of the human population is putting humans in contact with wildlife more and more…”—that sounds really logical; it's just bull****.
It's bull**** for simple, easy to understand, ecological reasons. No, this wasn't threatening to happen any day of the week. They brought forth the Golem, and then required us to bend to their will in order to address it.
Heather (45:35): And also? He's not an idiot, and he has training as a zoologist, so he knows d*** well it's not true.
These people are doing so much damage to children.
Bret (45:42): Right….But I want to go back to the question about vengeance. Okay so we have a built-in—
Heather (45:52): Because you're a better person than I am in this regard. You can tell that I am having a hard time.
Bret (45:57): Yep, but not a better person. That's not what's going on.
Heather (46:01): You are. The language I was using with you earlier, is that you are better able to find…this is weird language for us but, you're better able to find your Christian self. You're better able to find your forgiveness at the moment.
Bret (46:15): Okay, but let's take the “Christian self” way of describing it: I would argue that the Christian thing, the thing you're referring to, is actually a kind of Enlightenment. It is not inherently Christian. But the place that it is inscribed for the European-derived West is in those particular narratives.
You go from little, tiny bands of closely related people who are aligned by genes, and you start benefiting from collaborating with people who are less and less related to you, and it's actually so much better, that you need new stories to explain why you're doing it, and why you're ignoring relatedness. So you're sort of moving in this direction, and it's compensating for two things—
Heather (47:06): Keeping less and less close track of whether or not you're closely related and…whether or not you raised his barn last week, or was that someone else's barn—
Bret (47:16): Right. It becomes indirect. The point is: I’m going to participate in this thing that raises barns when they need to be raised, and I’m not going to hold back.
Anyway: if we can put a final piece on your claim of better-ness. I do believe that in this particular regard only, I’m actually benefiting from a kind of enlightenment that has to do with just staring at that game theory over and over again, and then it actually changes how you feel.
Once you realize that panic is no good, you can learn not to do it. This is that same thing. What I will argue is that vengeance—the urge to see those people suffer—you will immediately have less of a taste for it when you realize where you heard it last.
Heather (48:06): But the urge to see people suffer is different from not feeling forgiving. And it’s different from something that I have explicitly called for here before, which is a reckoning, in which all of those people actually face themselves in the mirror.
[looks directly into the camera:] Look at yourself, and be honest. And frankly, at the point that you proclaimed to all of the rest of us that you were always this, that, or the other—it will be clear if you have actually been honest with yourself or not. All too often there has been no reckoning.
Bret (48:45): Right, but here's the question. I agree with you the ideal thing is for people to go be honest with themselves, because then what comes out of it is not a defensive reaction in which they forget what they believe, it's an upgrade. If they say “Ah, where did I go wrong? I don't want to do that again. So what was I really sure of, and how did I end up sure of it? And where was my first indication that I had it wrong? Where's the first signpost I missed?”
Heather (49:13): Because if they don't do that, and we do come out of this now, and the narrative collapses, and this northern hemisphere summer actually feels like the summer of 2019, what happens in three years when the next whatever it is happens? These people will not have learned. And it will be worse, and faster.
the urge to see people suffer is different from not feeling forgiving. And it’s different from a reckoning, in which all of those people actually face themselves in the mirror.
Look at yourself, and be honest.
Bret (49:31): Not only “these people will not have learned”—the people that we actually know and interact with—but the elites who did this cynically, those people will still be in a position…
Let’s take a parallel example. The financial collapse of 2008 was about a housing bubble. But there's a game, which I have called the bubble game, which just requires you to declare some place for a bubble, so that you can get people in bubble frenzy. You can profit on the way up, and leave them with the thing when it blows up.
Dealing with the housing bubble by focusing on housing is a mistake. You need to focus on the culture of profiting through bubbles. That's the thing to focus on.
So in this case, we had a particular pandemic, and what we need is a general recognition that this was a massive exercise in rent seeking. We have just all been dragged along, kicking and screaming, in a massive exercise of rent seeking that actually transferred a huge amount of well-being.
Recognizing what that was, and not leaving those people in a position to do it again, is fundamental.
But here's what we need to figure out. How should you feel about the prime movers? I’m not in a forgiving mood, and I don't think that the ultimate prime movers were actually engaged in a noble activity that turned out to be in error. There are too many indications that that's not what happened. That said, personally, I don't feel any need for vengeance. What I feel a need for is a complete airing of what happened, and that such people, for example, Fauci, needs to never, ever again be in a position of power over anything important. How do we get there?
Heather (51:33): What are the chances that there's going to be a complete airing?
Heather: That's not going to happen. That should happen.
Bret (51:43): People need to understand what the scramble that's coming is about. The point is the scramble. Whether or not we have anything like a complete airing is going to depend on whether or not the people in the middle, who are going to scold both sides, are allowed to get away with that move. That cynical move is going to make it impossible to get to the bottom of what happened. It's going to ensure that we have an outcome like the end of The Big Short reveals from the housing crisis.
Dealing with the housing bubble by focusing on housing is a mistake. You need to focus on the culture of profiting through bubbles.
All I’m arguing is that we need to kind of up our game and we need to recognize—
Heather (52:13): Who “we”—all of us?
Bret (52:14): Those of us who are feeling like “okay, the narrative is finally collapsing and people are beginning to wake up in large numbers to things that we've been trying to tell them for a very long time.”
Heather (52:25): So up our game how, and to what end?
Bret (52:26): Whatever the mechanism is, we need people to understand that it is in their own interest to figure out what happened, and figure out what role they played in it, and get to the right side of it as quickly as possible. The rationalizing is what's going to do us in the next time. If we rationalize this time, it's going to cause it to happen again.
Heather (52:53): But that does require a reckoning, right? That does require looking at yourself and saying, “yeah actually, three months ago I was in a different place.”
Bret (53:00): Yeah but, in order to get people to do that, they need to know that there's a hug on the other side of it. That if you do that frightening exercise, that you can come back.
There are bad people, and the reason that we punish bad people is so that others will not do what they did, or that they won't do it again.
Truth and reconciliation is a process invented to take this situation and say “Look, if we play the game out, if we go after you and try to punish you for what you did, then you will resist, and you will probably win, and we'll never even find out what it was. We need to know what it was in order to prevent it from happening [again].
We will trade you something like amnesty for honesty. That's a good trade, believe it or not. We need to figure out what that looks like here, in order that we can get to the bottom of this, because the bottom of this is pretty, pretty ugly. We need to know what happened.
Heather (54:10): Well, I think you're talking about two different levels. I think the level at which I am most tormented at the moment is the people who are actually driving policy in any way, but the people who were helping facilitate the public messaging, through media and social media presence. Those people are capable of being very squidgy about what it is that they're claiming now, and then, and before, and in the future, a sort of weaseling out of things. It’s seeing into the very near future, seeing the weaseling, and the requests for hugs…
Well, I’m not f****ing hugging you [until you] stop being a weasel. You need to stop being a weasel first.
I’m not hugging you until you stop being a weasel.
 We had a discussion of vengeance between ~34 – 40 minutes in the original livestream.