It should come as no surprise to Americans that mantras like “follow the science” have been asserted in the wake of 2019’s Covid outbreak. The statement is an attempt to establish the superiority of one’s own views. It posits one opinion as objective and well-reasoned. Conflicting viewpoints can then be labeled as pseudo-science or conspiracy theory.
I discussed the foundations of this flawed assumption in The Structure of Political Positions, page 110, where the nature of partisanship was explored. The conclusion: Partisan viewpoints aren’t the one-dimensional left-right outlooks that everyone assumes them to be. Instead, partisanship is two-dimensional. Some of our disagreements weigh more toward subjective questions. Others involve objective assessments.
Since science orients toward logic, its conflicts orient vertically on the political circle ……
I took this point further in my book by observing a pattern: “If a person claims to be ‘non-partisan’ in one direction, then they will be highly partisan in the other.”
The description fits the “follow the science” proponents with precision. Their narrative presents science as a non-partisan standard, with the implication that no rational person could come to a conclusion that differs from theirs. But it’s more accurate to describe their approach as a specific form of partisanship. Their “scientific conclusions” still require robust debate. Sometimes such conclusions become stronger under scrutiny. Other times, they weaken.
Unfortunately, within the Covid narrative, one set of partisans is attempting to shut down debate, in an effort to anoint their conclusions as “truth.” The latest iteration of this trend can be seen in initiatives and policies that mandate the use of mRNA vaccines. Establishment scientists like Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, and other representatives of entrenched top-down bureaucracies have spearheaded such attempts.
But a “diametrically opposed” viewpoint also claims to follow the science. PhDs and MDs like Bret Weinstein, Robert Malone, and Chris Martenson, point out a series of blind spots and flaws in the establishment’s reasoning.
The dispute between these two camps can either be described as featuring differing interpretations of a set of facts or as the application of differing sets of facts. But the conflict also runs deeper: the two sides support opposed assessments of science’s meaning and role in society. The non-establishment figures address science as a process which leads to conclusions that must be tested. They never present science as “settled.” In contrast, the establishment players increasingly present science as an unassailable standard to be established by credentialed experts.
In truth, most advances throughout the history of science have been accompanied by inter- and/or intra-disciplinary partisan divisions. One recent example is the debate over whether a comet collided with the polar ice cap approximately 12,800 years ago, resulting in unprecedented environmental changes. Scientific discourse has displayed strident conflict on this question in recent years, just as science has engaged in similar discourse in past centuries regarding other objective questions like the motions of the planets. Scientists line up on either side of these partisan divides with predictable regularity.
But today’s Covid-related divisions differ in nature, and in scale, from the typical scientific conflict because vaccine mandates are also features of political power. They aren’t just professional disputes about reasonable conclusions surrounding objective facts. They are also political disputes about who, if anyone, should be granted the power to make decisions about other people’s lives. Some people believe that specific “experts” are qualified to mandate control over others. Others believe that most individuals should maintain wide latitude over their own decisions.
To be understood properly, these issues must be distilled to their essence. “Follow the science” has been presented as an objective proposition …… which it is. But it’s more accurately described as a partisan assertion of centralized power, which now increasingly ventures into authoritarian territory.
The debate over Covid mandates, allegedly in the name of science, follows the paradigm I’ve discussed many times in this blog. The twenty-first century’s primary conflict is not horizontal: left versus right has become a secondary concern. When two opponents argue that “the science” exonerates their views while dismissing their adversaries’, they are engaging in vertical political conflict ……
In this context, the debate about science is subsumed by a larger conflict. That larger conflict is framed by a Fundamental Question: What should the structure of power be within our society? In other words, who should have control? Should heterodox thinkers like Weinstein, Martenson, and Malone be allowed to air their analysis on the public square? Or will the heads of centralized bureaucracies, like Fauci and Walensky, be the only voices we hear …… and the generators of mandates we all must follow?
It falls to our era to determine the outcome of this larger power struggle. It is an objective question that is nevertheless quite partisan.