A Little Pandemic Era Thought Experiment

Disclaimer for this blog: I am not making any declarative statements about what the State of Washington or the US Government should have done or should be doing.

One of my goals in writing this blog is to promote looking at pandemic issues from a different perspective.

So here’s today’s “thought experiment”:

In looking at government restrictions, let’s for a moment put aside all descriptions of their stated purpose and instead describe the restrictions like someone who’d never heard the rhetoric behind them.

In other words, you could say: let’s think backwards from the End achieved rather than forwards from the Goal.

So what have the various government interventions, edicts and restrictions achieved so far? A laundry list of observations might include:

  1. high levels of unemployment
  2. local businesses closing for good
  3. (in Washington state) all students out of regular school
  4. cancellation of holidays and extended family togetherness
  5. elimination of local cultural events
  6. widening cultural divides along a media and social media – driven dichotomy, with lots of shaming and name calling
  7. elimination of the public square of gatherings, meetings and events where people can talk face to face, uncensored by our modern media platforms that now are taking down anything they (who?) judge to be false information
  8. record profits for big businesses like Amazon (while local businesses fail)
  9. mental health issues, depression and academic deficits for a much larger percentage of our children and teens
  10. reduction in the ability of charities to collect and distribute goods and services to needy families, precisely when that need is increasing
  11. postponement of many needed surgical procedures for people with chronic health issues

Have I left anything out? Tell me in the comments.

So how would our hypothetical bystander, not yet aware of the reality or the rhetoric of the pandemic, evaluate the purpose of government restrictions, if all they had to go on was my laundry list?

How would you evaluate it?

Part two of our thought experiment: let’s roughly evaluate whether the *STATED* goals of the restrictions have been achieved:

  1. reduction in number of total positive cases? Absolutely not (yet). The number of cases is way, way higher than the spring, when the various edicts and programs were first enacted.
  2. reduction in strain on our medical system? This one is strange to evaluate. If you look at our local County dashboard, we have almost always met (NOT failed at) our goal in this regard…and we’ve met it every day since 5/13/20. Nonetheless we are constantly told that we are in danger of overwhelming our system. So I don’t know what this adds up to. But I think –at best– it makes the stated Goal of reducing strain on our medical network a meaningless metric for the purpose of stacking up our two lists against each other.

This blog post is a thought experiment. It was meant to promote the idea of turning all this on its head and — even for just for a minute — entertain different notions about what we are doing and why. So I ask you: what do you think about my laundry list? Do you think it’s meaningful at this point in time to argue backwards from the Result, rather than continue to harp on the Goal?

I’ll leave you with a final Part Three to this thought experiment. I think any honest look at my laundry list would have to engender a strong sentiment of “how horrible, these restrictions need to stop!” So if one is also very committed to the original stated Goals of those restrictions, how does one resolve the cognitive dissonance, the obvious failure, the mismatch? Explanations are all around, but the one I hear constantly — far more than any other — is “the restrictions fail because individuals aren’t universally complying”.

But for a moment, let’s entertain all the logically possible explanations for restriction failure. Again, please comment below if you think of one I miss:

(standard explanation): there are people meeting with friends and not wearing masks (etc) who are sabotaging the government’s rules. If all these people just got in line, the restrictions would work.


There is no way to control the spread of a virus. Either because there are too many variables or too many means of transmission, or some other factor(s). But we were doomed from the start because you can’t reduce a virus to zero through restricting economy, movement and behavior.


The virus is still spreading because the restrictions are biased and hypocritical, and therefore incomplete and rigged to fail. e.g. A local clothing store has to close but the clothing department of a big box store that also sells “essentials” is open. *THIS* inconsistency in “compliance” (allowed and even promoted by the idea of Essential vs. Non-Essential businesses, which strangely seems to disproportionately favor National Chain over Local Business) is driving the infection rate and invalidating the effectiveness of the restrictions. (I personally find this explanation more compelling that the “individual noncomplier” explanation that people on social media seem to so dearly love). {Conspiratorial sidenote: if you evaluated this aspect of the restrictions from their End result, you could logically conclude that the restrictions are actually *engineered* to fail, while giving the appearance of being engineered to succeed}


(the desperation principle): the restrictions are failing because The Virus is just so very very tenacious that it is eluding even our very effective measures, so we need to do increasingly more of the same, for as long as this stubborn bugger takes.

Each one of these explanations has a very, very different fix. And that is just another example of why I think turning our assumptions on their heads (or putting them aside) can be very valuable.

The fix for explanation one? Shame the heck out of everyone and continue the restrictions until everyone gets on board. (Would that ever work? …but that’s a whole other blog post…)

The fix for explanation two? Abandon the restrictions wholesale now, and get back to life. At least we stop fooling ourselves and we stop causing the 11 very serious problems in my laundry list.

The fix for three? Demand that the government lock everything down in an equivalent fashion, get rid of these nonsense exemptions, get rid of Essential vs. Non Essential categorization, and call everything Non Essential until the virus is gone, no matter how much that hurts.

The fix for four? Endless restrictions and increasing restrictions, until we beat this, no matter if that takes a year, a decade, or a lifetime.

I think I know which of those worlds I prefer.

What do think of these thought experiments? Let me know *your* thoughts!

One Comments

  • Meg Sloan December 15, 2020 Reply

    I enjoyed your thought experiment. And I would like to add the results of the severe shut down in Australia and New Zealand’s that resulted in a lifting of restrictions and allowed businesses to get back to work. In fact, there was an article recently positing the idea that due to New Zealand’s success, their movie industry is booming and could bring them into becoming a powerhouse in the movie industry while the US has to continue to wallow in its restrictions.

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