Philosophy, education and nuggets

Tuesday, 23 February 2021 00:30 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

If we come now to education, here the flight from rationality is most extreme. We have known from the outset, children are not at risk, we have known they do not transmit this disease in any appreciable way to teachers or elders. Yet we have capitulated, shutting down schools, opening and shutting them again, and asserting “distance learning” with no idea of if it works, how it works, or anything really other than the presence of a digital connection – Pic by Shehan Gunasekara


Devotion to rational ends, sane means (anchored in accepted values), and actions actually leading to desired outcomes, are not extravagant expectations from stated policy. Persistent, consistent, antipathy to these, verges on practical madness.

And that may be why seminal philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein, intoned, “If in life we are surrounded by death, so too in the health of the intellect we are surrounded by madness.” Except here, we often opt into the malaise.

The governmental assault on freedoms over a deranged over-reaction to a serious but far from unprecedented virus, reeks of this. In fact, while “cost-benefit” may still not qualify when liberties and bedrock human values are involved, we haven’t even managed to assess the horrific costs (uncontroversial, documented and mounting) versus scant “benefit” (in terms of objective demerits as well as comparing outcomes with those who haven’t adopted an absolutist lockdown playbook). So, even using accounting parlance, debit and credit sheets, the current public policy, being unable to contain the pandemic and with devastating collateral damage (mass poverty and hunger for developing populations as just one reference point), is a bankrupt ideology.

However, this variant of the spiritually dubious philosophical theory called “Utilitarianism” has dominated debate.  Yet the cuckoo prescriptions flounder even there. Because Utilitarianism is at least anchored in “consequentialism” which demands greater happiness for the greatest number in terms of empirical consequences. Clearly, we have flatly failed. And all the extrapolations of how many more would have been dead are rebutted by the examples of numerous US States, jurisdictions like Sweden and Belarus, and entire regions like Africa and much of Asia. However, our capacity for “immunity to evidence” seems boundless.

“Success” or “failure” though are not passports to ethical immunity. Even if governments were well intentioned, thinking (though on what factual basis at the time the decisions were taken, we cannot fathom) they were going to save more than they injured, it wouldn’t fly. What is expedient is not necessarily justified. We have to belong to what we do. Otherwise, purely on brute empiricism, and removing people from harm, appeasing Hitler would certainly have been the policy opted for and disrupting the established order to campaign for civil or other human rights would never fly.

When we do something to get something, that is strategy, or tactics. When we decide what should be done, and what cannot be, that is ethics and character and human values. Sending your aunt a gift to ingratiate yourself into a bigger slice of her will is a lot different from rejoicing in the happiness your gift endows her with. The theologian Martin Buber called these I-Thou relationships rather than I-It relationships (in the latter others are a utility, a means to an end).

When we genuinely revere other human beings and the values our ancestors sacrificed for and paved the way for, we do not feel our mindless terror over a trumped up viral strain entitles us to annul those rights, those liberties, those values, those choices.

Liberty is not an available token you can proffer and withdraw, and the fact that we have, is a horrifying revelation into our collective soul. Wittgenstein suggested that unjustly tormenting a single soul is akin to tormenting the planet. That is the indivisible unit of value, as the Nuremberg trials also stated, the sacredness of the solitary, individual human life. As we detach from that, we lose our ethical moorings, and it is a slippery slope indeed.

Another aspect of this we see globally, is constantly shifting goalposts. You never know when a lockdown is coming, or what “acceptable risk” is, or whether we might finally adopt Rapid Antigen (Lateral Flow) tests over the clearly flawed PCR tests, and stop manically testing the healthy after study after study (recent review in Lancet re Liverpool data reconfirms this too) tells us the “asymptomatic” are only nominally relevant to the spreading of this contagion, or if we can stop hyperventilating over “variants” whose host countries have plummeting C-19 figures, and so on. You see it’s a soup of irrationality and authoritarian whim, no established metrics that can’t suddenly shift. 

Wittgenstein again, “Don’t play with what lies deep in a person.” And we are “playing” with live ammunition, as we take aim at those “unalienable rights” that once the Founders of the American Republic said they were pledging their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honour for. We are now over a viral strain that hasn’t even appreciably nudged the global mortality needle, dismantling lives, ransacking the “fortune” of millions in terms of their livelihood and sheer survival in some cases, and debasing any honour evident in the machinations of the people’s so-called “representatives”.


If we come now to education, here the flight from rationality is most extreme. We have known from the outset, children are not at risk, we have known they do not transmit this disease in any appreciable way to teachers or elders. Yet we have capitulated, shutting down schools, opening and shutting them again, and asserting “distance learning” with no idea of if it works, how it works, or anything really other than the presence of a digital connection.

I have often criticised the panic stoking Covidian swashbuckling of The New York Times. Imagine my delight at finding them taking Biden to task for being “against the science” insofar as school openings go! The paper acknowledges that last year we weren’t sure how akin to influenza, which does thrive in schools, C-19 was. By summer, we knew children are extremely unlikely to get the virus (not only Sweden, but Switzerland, France and other jurisdictions have demonstrated this), extremely unlikely to spread, and extremely unlikely to get seriously ill if they contract it.

In various US states, children have been in classrooms for many months. CDC reports, “In-person learning in schools has not been associated with substantial community transmission.” The Journal Paediatrics published a study this month finding again, overwhelmingly, “within school infections were extremely rare.” What is not rare, is the real loss of learning in schoolchildren of all ages, compounded by anxiety, depression, loneliness, clearly corroborated by data. And in other parts of the world, children who can’t be educated are being forced into early labour or into acutely early wedlock, when they should be in school and developing themselves. Lives are being jettisoned because we can’t or won’t read data and think a minor outlier risk to our sainted carcasses entitles us to devastate life prospects around the globe.

Biden’s plan requiring prevalence numbers that are far too stringent, and demanding extreme distancing is also challenged in the article. The plan says schools can open when there are fewer than 50 cases per 100,000. This is far more restrictive than “science” requires. A substantial study based on Washington State and Michigan data found that “regardless of the underlying spread,” putting more students in classrooms didn’t cause any more spread in the community, and the children were far more likely to contract it “outside school settings”.

And demanding six feet of distance between desks (double the European requirement) would make in-person schooling impossible in many circumstances. Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health wrote, “Three feet should be the default distance for schools.” When schools stay shuttered, and with them restaurants, places of worship, main streets, bowling leagues, the loss is not just sentimental. There is a wasteland of social interaction, deep alienation, and this shows up in all kinds of consequences from less employment, fewer businesses, disintegrating marriages, more drug abuse and deaths of despair.

I had the great pleasure of interacting with Sinead Murphy recently, Researcher at Newcastle University. She recounts a nine-year-old typing pathetically, repetitively in a “distance learning” context, “PLZ I DON’T LIKE THIS.” It is an SOS, going unnoticed, as another child shrivels away, a victim of our self-absorbed obsession with C-19. This was Geography class on Microsoft Teams. This is more than disengagement as Sinead points out, this is heightened distress.

Sinead terrifyingly sketches the phenomena of “derealisation” (time and space are warped, existence is a two-dimensional world inside a tiny room where once he slept and recovered and now can’t really escape) and “depersonalisation” (from bed to desk in the morning there is no “getting ready”, nothing awakens him to himself, and when he is without the ergonomic scaffolding of keyboard and mouse, his own existence feels “clunky”). And as there is no feedback loop in real-time, no interaction, no sensory input, he realises none of this really matters. Learning on slides sped through is not learning at all. For a nine-year-old, things naturally matter, it is part of the native energy of youth. We are dismantling this at our peril, as well as his or hers.

For PE, Simon is to jump in his room following a video, and for Drama he is flashed scenes from the National Theatre, which he likely substitutes for funny videos of his own choosing. What is he actually learning? Disassociation, demoralisation, isolation, detachment from his physical self, passive consumption, lack of any emotional resilience or intelligence in coping and communicating and collaborating. We are destroying perhaps not only their future, but ours, because how will they lead or contribute?

And these children are in homes where life has shrunk to virtually nothing, a misguided “bubble” lest anyone’s immune system get a workout from a disease virtually everyone recovers from. 

So, when I see instead, Lankans at Good Market, I cheer, I celebrate, I give prayers of thanks, and I hope that all the idiot alarmists who can see our negligible death stats, and our need to get children back to education, and businesses fully back to work, can stop being subjugated to a hyped up pathogen. Last evening outside a restaurant, a band, and young folk dancing, affirming life. Hale, hearty and healthy, and a needing only immunological, educational and commercial opportunity to remain that way. I again saluted Serendib! 

Let’s stop the handwringing, people. Overseas, we just had one of the most packed sporting events in history, the Super Bowl, all largely maskless, with parties galore, in Florida, where C-19 numbers have come down even more dramatically (circa 26%) since that happened two Sundays ago! And here all the long weekends in Lanka have led to no intemperate surges, so time to put the voodoo away!


Some ‘morsels’ by way of clinical and other updates:

Vitamin D continues to make COVID news, in that a Spanish prospective study with 930 hospitalised patients found high-dose Vitamin D reduced ICU admissions by 80% and mortality by 60%. This has been known for quite some time through past medical experience, reconfirming again this is a coronavirus, not a visitation from Hades, impervious to all onslaughts except the annulment of life as we know it to propitiate this vengeful spirit.

Next up, yet again, Ivermectin 1, India with ongoingly plummeting C-19 numbers, with an open economy, conducted a large study and found that just two doses of Ivermectin reduced the risk of infection over a month by 83%. This reinforces an earlier Argentinian study which showed a weekly dose reduced the risk of COVID infection in 1,200 healthcare workers by 100%! WHO still studying, and this was panned and ignored, as of course the economic windfall for big Pharma, or blunting the knife edge of mindless panic, could not be entertained as possibilities. 

Where to this day is any discussion or exploration of this in Lanka? A lot cheaper than vaccines, and given the side effects and impact on mortality of those in care homes in some jurisdictions, surely worth being aware of, for those wishing the alternative? This has had further reaffirmation by an Israeli placebo-controlled double blind randomised trial, overseen by Professor Eli Schwartz, showing a remarkable effect on “viral clearance” in mostly younger patients (94 of them).

There are some 2,000 confirmed post-vaccination deaths and more being asserted in Europe and the US (300 to 900 times, depending on the numbers you consult, of the number of incidents compared to flu vaccines). Israel is celebrating the short-term effectiveness of the Pfizer mRNA vaccine, though they had their largest, extended COVID wave alongside it, which did not subside, nor did numbers fall (cases or deaths) nearly as fast as far less vaccinated countries. In fact countries with high vaccination rates have seen much slower declines overall, in some cases, increases in infections and deaths: Israel, Gibraltar, Seychelles, UAE, UK, Bahrain, Serbia, Chile, Malta, Monaco. Three options: coincidence, causation, mass vaccination with millions of high risk people coming into vaccination centres or being visited by mobile vaccination units accelerating infections or deaths before the vaccine becomes effective. Easy way to test this. Put high-risk groups on Ivermectin-based prophylaxis until fully vaccinated, but this is verboten all over the West, because nothing, but nothing, must be allowed to compete with or bring up questions regarding the “haloed” vaccination 


And onto “masking” again! The European CDC has updated its face mask policy guidance. They say there is still “no significant evidence” supporting the effectiveness of medical and non-medical face masks. They advise against respirators due to “breathability” issues and the impracticality of mass fitting these across the populace. ECDC says in crowded settings with community transmission, of if you are vulnerable, using the “precautionary principle” medical (not otherwise) face masks could help along with other measures. “There are still significant uncertainties about the size of this effect.” (Namely, numerous studies that show there isn’t any positive benefit).  

But beyond the medical masks, “Evidence for the effectiveness of non-medical face masks, face shields/visors and respirators in the community is scarce and of very low certainty.” And even re medical face masks, they say further high-quality studies are needed (remarkable that we’ve muzzled a planet without these!). They stress staying home when ill, respiratory etiquette, meticulous hand hygiene, and not touching face, nose, eyes. “Based on the assessment of the available scientific evidence, no recommendation can be made on the preferred use of medical or non-medical face masks in the community.” Well, then…

By the way, WHO conceded to the BBC, they only changed their guidance on face masks due to “political lobbying.” BBC has published this, WHO has never rebutted the report.

Time to refocus on human capital

Crisis begets transformation if we respond to it, learn from it, and leverage it. If we stop wondering about how and when we can “lock down” the island and fully economically self-destruct, perhaps we’ll move beyond the short-term, and find the right “high tech/high touch” balance for our businesses, industries and customers. “Who” will do “What”, “Where” and “How” and can we ensure the “Why” is value, not default settings of either “yesterday” or mindless digitisation today?

If we wish to vitalise virtual presence, we will also need to build “trust” and “transparency” and that will need engagement, and maximising the time that we are literally “present” together, so we can use those relationship assets to anchor our collaboration when we are working more remotely or virtually.

If today we are 20% in the Cloud, we are fast moving to 80%, and instead of a decade, we’ll probably be there in five years or less. But as we do, we must realise that human energy has to be reclaimed from pandemic management to creating future possibility and value once more. Digital transformation is, at core, human led. And so, to the extent that we consider “ESG” (Environment, Social and Governance) as inescapable to world class viable business, the role of Human Capital must be glaringly evident.

And for those who confuse this with once bloated and now emaciated “training” budgets, this is not about “reskilling.” We don’t know the skills we need, but we do need to define the uniquely human, hard to automate capacities, particularly those relating to learning and adapting, particularly in the context of teams that through their synergy may manifest the “value” a customer seeks before the customer knows they need or want it. We have to invest in this human capacity to collaborate, connect, challenge, innovate, prototype and “invent” emerging value. Digital and organisational process re-imagination, just provides the framework to make that more possible.

The soon to be outmoded shareholder framework which has reigned for 50 plus years, has enriched investors, but according to research by Deloitte’s Shift Index, has resulted in declining return on assets, and the highest levels of income inequality since the Great Depression (Pew Research). It is not sustainable, nor will it engage widescale human energy or imagination. 

We are creating fewer high earning taxpayers and seeding fewer consumers to drive our economy. The longer-term consequences of this stagnation, economically and socially will not be pretty, and if you want to talk “pandemic”, that’s a real one!

Scalable efficiency leads to a cul-de-sac, cutting costs and becoming ever more efficient is finally a zero-sum exercise. As we hopefully shed the current COVID distraction and transition to Human Capital, it is the creation of customer value and profits with investor returns as by-products. Return on assets grows again because we focus on real growth and value creation and not “extraction” or the “corporate anaemia” approach. Our most unique assets, our human capital, can create a culture that can sustain ongoing growth in real earnings and value. That will require us to transcend institutional oppressions that keep those we pay to produce value from actually generating it.

From the UN to the World Economic Forum, the top skills needed by 2025 distilled: analytical thinking, creativity, leadership and social influence. That’s not “training”. But it is ongoing education. And it’s a great place to direct the trapped energy of COVID delirium and pour it into developing the human capital assets that must be engines of social development, a greenhouse for organisational capability and pillars of national growth.

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