On It Not Actually Mattering

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If you think back over the last three years, we’ve had a series of epic socio-cultural smackdowns over COVID: Lockdowns, masks, vaccines, schools. Each of these have tended to array broadly similar groups against each other, though with some key variations. But whatever you made of those fights, the public debate had really immense and immediate real world consequences. That is what is so odd and mystifying about the intensity of Lab Leak Discourse. It doesn’t actually matter. Or rather there are basically no real-world implications to either side being “right” or “winning.” I was talking to someone today who said how incredibly important it was. But after thinking about it for a bit, I thought, why? Now it’s much better for people to think up is up rather than up is down. And there are probably important secondary effects of getting this wrong, whichever way is “wrong.” But in any direct sense it’s not clear it has any real impact on anything.

I am not one of these people who say it doesn’t matter so why are we even talking about it. COVID is one of the biggest catastrophes of modern global history. It’s worth finding out every last detail of how it happened. So perhaps I’m overstating the matter a touch in my first paragraph. It matters in the way a lot of things matter, but without forcing any dramatic change in how we’re doing anything. That’s the key. The intensity has no connection to anyone doing anything really differently the day after the question is (if it ever is) definitively resolved, except maybe one side high-fiving and doing some booyahs.

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