The Human Side of Covid: A Conversation with Gabrielle Bauer on Her New Book ‘Blindsight
The world changed almost overnight in March 2020. A wave of fear swept across the globe, and with it a wave of unprecedented lockdowns and mandates. Three years later, many are still trying to figure out what happened, and why.
One of the people determined to learn from this pivotal moment in history is Toronto-based author Gabrielle Bauer. Bauer has spent the past three years collecting stories from people around the world, stories that tell the larger story of the pandemic. Rather than focusing on the science or politics, Bauer has chosen to focus on the human side of Covid, in particular the immense harms that were caused by the lockdowns.
In her new book, Blindsight is 2020, Bauer shares some of the stories and perspectives she has encountered in her journey. She highlights scientists, philosophers, artists, and novelists who questioned the mainstream narrative about Covid, sometimes at great cost to their careers and reputations.
I recently sat down with Bauer to talk about the book, which she introduced to FEE readers in a recent article. What follows is a transcript of our conversation, lightly edited for clarity and brevity.
Patrick: Your new book Blindsight is 2020 was recently published by the Brownstone Institute. What do you hope readers will take away from it?
Gabrielle: The book is really about, not so much the science or the politics, but the sociology, the ethics of the pandemic response. Why people behaved the way they did in the pandemic, why there was this surge of public fear, and the sociological and ethical/philosophical forces underlying the response. I wanted to do something a little bit different. A lot of pandemic books focus on the science, or they get into the political machinations that happened behind the scenes. Mine has a somewhat different focus.
What inspired you to write this book?
It was kind of an organic process. There wasn’t one point where I decided to do it. My reaction against the pandemic policies was so intense and so visceral—it happened right away—and that led me to need to find my own tribe so to speak, because all the people around me were behaving in a way that made me feel like an alien. And I thought, “Am I taking crazy pills or what? The whole world has gone crazy with this.” So little by little I found my tribe. I found this wonderful group on Reddit called Lockdown Skepticism that has now grown to over 55,000 people. I then became a moderator in that group—I sometimes joke that I’m the oldest moderator on Reddit.
And then I found people in Toronto from that group as well and started a Toronto group of lockdown skeptics. We called ourselves QLIT, Questioning Lockdowns in Toronto. That grew to over 100 people and we attended protests together, we had a WhatsApp chat that never slept, and all this led to connections with dissident thought leaders all over the world, some of them scientists, some of them novelists or from other disciplines, and at some point it just occurred to me that it would be really nice to gather their perspectives in one book. Then the opportunity came along to write the book for the Brownstone institute. I had contributed some articles to them by then, and so that’s how it all came together.
You feature a lot of thinkers in the book as you mentioned, from scientists to philosophers to business executives. Are there any particular stories they told or points they made that stand out to you?
So many, it’s hard to know where to start. There’s one chapter that’s devoted to children that I call Children First. It features Jennifer Sey and Lucy McBride and a few other people as well, and just the stories they tell about how the children were really abused. Some were forced to kneel outside in cold weather. There was one young man who ended up dying of meningitis because the hospital didn’t want to take him because he had been exposed to Covid. Really horrible stuff. There was such a focus on this one threat. People had their blinkers on and didn’t see the big picture.
You talk about Jennifer Sey in your article for FEE. You say, “her principles cost her a CEO position and $1 million.” Can you go into more depth on that story?
She was just about to be promoted to CEO of Levi Strauss, or part of it, one division, but she was active in the movement to get children back to school, and to give them back some sense of normalcy in their lives. I guess the public and her employer didn’t like that, and they basically told her if you want to have this position you have to stop doing that. They offered to buy her out for $1 million if she stopped being active in this way and she refused. And so she lost $1 million but she kept her integrity. I joke in the book that I don’t know if I’d have the integrity to give up $1 million.
Good for her for standing on principle there. Also in that article, you wrote that “attempting to eliminate all risk from Covid is a fool’s errand and carries too high a cost.” What are some of the costs of the heavy-handed approach, and why aren’t people taking them more seriously?
There’s so many costs. We’ve talked about the costs to children. Obviously there are the economic costs, what we’re seeing now in terms of inflation and people not being able to make ends meet is arguably very easy to tie to all the money that was just poured into Covid. But the costs that concern me most are perhaps more intangible. Just the costs in terms of what kind of a society we’re living in. This idea that the world needs to turn into an infection control zone, and that the government just has to be bearing down on us in this way forever. That’s not the kind of society I want to live in. A society that only pays attention to physical health, bodily health, what I call metabolic health and metabolic survival, and discards all the other dimensions of life: culture, spiritual communion for those who are so inclined, human connection.
The way that was summarily discarded, I think that’s what really troubled a lot of us. Suddenly it was “all these things don’t matter. It’s just metabolic life that matters.” And it’s also metabolic life here in the affluent west. There were a lot of people in developing countries who suffered greatly from these policies and were driven to starvation and couldn’t feed their families and so forth. So it was a very western-centric or privileged approach. “Let’s make things safer for us over here.”
Right. FEE has covered a lot of those really tragic stories.
What do you think it was that led people to ignore those costs? Was it fear? Was it just that the costs were invisible to a lot of people?
I think fear was a big one. I devote Chapter 2 in my book to the fear factor, and how the government, instead of trying to calm the people—you know that’s generally the role of governments in pandemics is to keep the populace calm—they just stirred up the fear, kept it going. And I think that led to what I explore in Chapter 3, which is what Belgian psychologist and professor Mattias Desmet calls mass formation, which is a fancy term for mob psychology. And I think at the height of the Covid craziness there was just mob psychology that took hold that I think was activated by the fear. And once activated it develops a life of its own.
I don’t know if you saw, at the height of the vaccine craziness, the Toronto Star had the whole front page devoted to these slurs that people wrote about others who chose not to get vaccinated. “I hope they die,” “I hope they have a slow death and their children come to harm,” really horrible stuff.
You talk about how freedom has been disparaged a lot over the course of the pandemic. I was interested in a particular part of that. Do you think public sentiment about freedom has changed in recent decades, or has public sentiment stayed constant and the pandemic just brought out people’s true colors? If this happened 30 years ago would people have defended freedom any more vigorously?
That’s a very good question and a difficult one to answer. My sense—I’m not an expert on all the politics—my sense is that freedom has gradually become less valued in our society. There’s always a balance between freedom and safety. They’re always in some kind of an equipoise. You can’t really maximize both at the same time. And I do believe that the balance was already shifting. We all hear about the helicopter parents and so forth, and those of us who are older talk about how when we were young we were left to roam in the streets until dark and the parents told us “don’t come home until dinner time,” and now the parents hover over the children.
In general I think also with the advances in healthcare technology people expect a much greater level of safety….