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Trolley Problem Fetishism
Understanding the Great Barrington Fantasy
In the videogame Super Robot Wars 30 (2021), from a decades long franchise which features crossovers from countless "Mecha" anime series from Japan, one of the central antagonists posits a ridiculous moral question to the player, which the character Lelouch from Code Geass correctly identifies as the Trolley Problem: A hypothetical exercise in which a person is forced to consider killing one person to save five. In truth, it's a trick question with a false paradigm. Any attempt to seriously model the Trolley Problem in real life would result in discovering real, tangible solutions and alternative approaches - science doesn't deal with simple hypotheticals, and scientists have a wide arsenal of tools to better understand the world we're still presently trapped on.
As we briefly talked about in a previous article (titled The Burden of Command, found here) the art of game design dates back to the very beginning of human civilization - Chess and Go (also known as Baduk) both have thousands of years of history and revisions to how these games are played, and both are about simulating hypothetical soldiers fighting on a battlefield, with players taking the role of commanding generals. Wargaming has gone hand-in-hand with war to the very roots of human civilization, as players challenge themselves or each other to think up creative solutions to brutal conflicts - and goes on to this day. With modern computers, we can simulate all sorts of conflicts, from the conquests of the ancient Roman Empire, to the American Civil War, to even hypothetical World War 3 scenarios (bonus Alec Baldwin narration, his only videogame appearance).
Few people will ever actually sit in the hotseat as a military commander and struggle with hard choices about where to deploy soldiers, when to call in artillery strikes, and managing logistics chains. However, many people enjoy playing at this power fantasy - often referred to as historical wargamers. Of course, it would be foolish to presume real-world expertise no matter how many countless hours you spend playing at war from behind a mouse & keyboard, but there is knowledge & perspective to be gained via play - it’s an essential form of learning.
Much like how sex workers sell erotic fantasies and game developers sell power fantasies, the Great Barrington Declaration and their sycophants are selling an alternative history fantasy to the public - if Martin & Smilin' Jay had simply been in command and allowed to deploy their ideals nationwide at the very beginning of the pandemic, we could have ended it quickly by mass infecting the "low-risk" population, and walling off the "high-risk population" under the guise of "focused protection." Deaths would have been minimal, "Long COVID" disability is statistically irrelevant and in fact they're all lazy liars, and "normalcy" would have arrived in time for Thanksgiving 2020.
The GBD's followers have turned the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic into its own Trolley Problem - treating infection as inevitable, infection prevention as ineffective & irrelevant, and making an elaborate hypothetical construction that leaves no room for engaging with other scientific fields like engineering to gin up creative solutions to the many problems caused by such a nasty, highly transmissive airborne virus which has killed and crippled so many millions already. Instead of engaging with the many complications of real-world problems, the GBD says this: let's mass infect the population as quickly as possible, and everyone who survives will magically be protected by "natural immunity." The countless deaths are simply "inevitable," and nothing should be done to prevent them. A gravely oversimplified and childish approach from posh academics who have never treated real-world patients.
In chess, the act of sacrificing a pawn as part of a larger strategy isn't interrupted by that pawn turning around and begging you for their life. Thousands of years later, wargames like Flashpoint Campaigns: Southern Storm (2023), which models a hypothetical NATO-USSR conflict in 1985 Germany, incorporates countless mechanics including morale, routing, and your units acting with a sense of self-preservation, much like real-world people in every conflict throughout all of history. Any serious commander has to account for this reality that people generally don't want to die! Some even surrender and submit to capture by enemy forces! Unfortunately, pro-viral influencers of the Great Barrington Declaration and their sycophants wish to treat the public as well-disciplined soldiers that will march off the edge of a cliff, if ordered. In September 18, 2022 after over a million deaths had been recorded, UCSF's Vinay Prasad writes the following, emphasis mine:
"The emergency or pandemic phase is over. COVID will be around for tens of thousands of years. Time to stop using EUA at FDA and time to actively advise people to throw away their n95s and get back to living. Getting COVID is inevitable."
Of course, this is how somebody who treats the pandemic as a simple-minded thought exercise from the comfort of their podcast studio would think, in simple-minded and frankly ridiculous terms. Engineering solutions from around the globe have been proven to save lives and prevent SARS-CoV-2 infections, much like trolleys are engineered with countless safety measures deployed to prevent hypothetical "Trolley Problems" from becoming a reality. Unsurprisingly, Prasad screeches and squeals that these measures are ineffective, because "randomized control trials" from the world of clinical medicine have not been used to examine the effectiveness of engineering solutions, which have their own highly effective methods of evaluation.
In truth, the reason PPE such as respirators and Corsi-Rosenthal boxes draw so much ire from pro-viral influencers like Prasad is because they are real-world proof that their entire view on the pandemic, rooted in elaborate fiction, is entirely childish and unserious. Total submissiveness and surrender to a deadly & disabling virus, which has reinfected some people several times already with deeply negative effects on their health, is a fundamentally childish and unserious approach to all of the real-world problems that emerge during a pandemic.
Wargaming is an essential part of military training - from computer simulations, to tabletop engagements, to even live-action roleplaying, in which one side plays "OPFOR," dressing up as the enemy faction, using their equipment and tactics, and forcing "BLUFOR" commanders to creatively strategize solutions for potential problems that may emerge in a real-world conflict. Long throughout history, armed forces that have been vastly outnumbered and outgunned managed to steal a victory through creatively designing solutions to seemingly impossible challenges.
The legacy of the United Kingdom fighting through the hardships of the Second World War are a great example of this - and men like Vinay Prasad would have suggested that since defeat at the hands of the Third Reich was inevitable, an immediate surrender to Hitler now in 1941 was preferable to a prolonged, seemingly unwinnable conflict, as Britain suffered from ruthless bombing campaigns. At one point, British commanders even rallied civilian boats to cross the English channel and rescue fleeing soldiers from capture at the hands of the tyrannical Wehrmacht, which is featured prominently in the 2017 Christopher Nolan film Dunkirk.
The "correct" answer to the Trolley Problem is to accept that it's a fundamentally ridiculous and unserious hypothetical, and to chuck the entire scenario out the window. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, the "Kobayashi Maru" training scenario is designed to be unwinnable and teach Starfleet recruits that they may be forced to accept death in service to the Federation. Of course, the legendary James T. Kirk simply hacks the computer and reprograms the simulator to grant himself an easy victory - which is to teach the audience that seemingly impossible problems require outside-the-box solutions. So much of what we enjoy today, especially when considering life expectancy, is the result of scientific innovation that resulted from creative thinking and unorthodox approaches to difficult real-world challenges.
In 1947, the United States Government releases a film titled "Don't Be a Sucker," about the rise of fascism in Nazi Germany. After World War 1 and the 1918 pandemic, the German nation was in tatters. This birthed a cesspool which allowed Hitler & his Nazi party to take power, by selling the public an elaborate fantasy about a "master race," and how all of the nation's problems would simply go away by doing outlandish, horrific things, such as state sanctioned executions of the disabled, the Jews, and other minority groups. All of Germany became deeply committed to performing this elaborate fantasy, and soon enough forcing it upon the other nations of Europe as well.
Even as the tide of the war turned, and Germany's armies were being driven all the way back to Berlin, the elaborate charade didn't end in some German cities and towns until foreign soldiers were literally dragging citizens out of their homes and forcing them to witness the atrocities committed in their name at concentration camps across Europe. The 2019 Taika Waititi film JoJo Rabbit does a commendable job at portraying these final moments of the Great Fascist Charade.
What should alarm the public, is that these same alternative history fantasy peddlers are very much jockeying for the chance to be in the hotseat come the next pandemic - GBD's Jay Bhattacharya is already affiliated with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' 2024 Presidential campaign. We already know that none of their ideas hold water and are immediately debunked by real-world facts and evidence - countless Americans have wound up disabled by Long COVID upon SARS-CoV-2 reinfections, including frontline nurses and doctors.
Thus, the entire fantasy of herd immunity via rapid mass infection simply does not hold water. The inability to accept their hypothetical ideals as little more than elaborate fictions that cannot sustain themselves in the real world, proves the entire pro-viral influencer crowd to be intellectually bunk, unable to think critically and process new information that challenges their pre-conceived conclusions. Growing evermore detached from reality, the pro-viral influencers would use the monopoly of violence possessed by the state to brutally enforce everyone's participation in their elaborate power fantasies.
The Trolley Problem is simpleminded thinking, a false moral paradigm. In the real world, disasters like global pandemics are quite complicated, and human beings are imperfect, flawed creatures. What the Great Barrington Declaration has done, is try to wrap up the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic nicely as its own rhetorical Trolley Problem in a sweet little bow, so the public doesn't think critically about the crisis still unfolding around them, - as a feint by the GBD's rightoid billionaire funders to devalue human life, and force the public to adopt their ideals about "disposable" people to be abused and exploited by the state and private capital. Given the powers of the state to carry out the Great Barrington Declaration, these cranks would be establishing the pillars that build a tyrannical fascist state - one that inevitably collapses in blood and tears, just like every other that has come before. It is the moral imperative of every citizen to resist this construction before it is too late, even if only out of self-preservation.
We find ourselves dabbling in an arrogant madness that has brought down empires, and left scars upon the world which may never truly heal.