Hubris. Connivance. Blasphemy. Batty immodesty. A gross overestimation of mankind’s technical competence.
Words and phrases like these come to mind after reading the Vanity Fair exposé on what increasingly appears to be the real provenance of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that initiates the respiratory disease known as COVID-19. For well over a year, we’ve been told one narratio on the origin of a pandemic-inducing pathogen. The story was straightforward: a peckish Chinese man or woman decided to luxuriate by dining on a rare civet that may have been bitten by a bat, the original host animal of the virus. One unlucky diner provided the bridge for humans to catch the chiropteran dyspnea.
There was one eyebrow-lifting fact about the unfortunate meal explanation: that the mediating mammal was purchased from Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market in the megatropolis of Wuhan, which just so happens to host the Wuhan Institute of Virology, one of three virology institutes studying bat-to-human virus transmission in the world.
That’s not just a coincidence; it would make William of Ockham a fervent disciple of ontological turbidity.
The odds were always long that a deadly, world-spanning virus serendipitously actualized in a wet market mere miles from a lab doing the type of research that may produce an infectious SARS virus. Yet we were told to disbelieve our lying frontal lobes. The Chinese are filthy consumers of endangered fauna—any other suggestion is xenophobic paranoia! Dr. Fauci, our celebrity-seeking physician of fabulosity, initially dismissed the lab-spill theory, claiming that “everything about the stepwise evolution over time strongly indicates that [this virus] evolved in nature and then jumped species.” Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton in particular was villainized for his careful suggestion that a lab seepage was not out of the question.
Now the script is slowly, if inexorably, being flipped. Fauci has walked back his virulent (pun intended) opposition to the idea that COVID was manufactured. A tranche of his emails have been FOIA’ed, revealing that some epidemiologists warned Fauci at the pandemic’s outset that the virus may have been man-made. Nothing is conclusive, of course. But the unrelenting narrative bludgeoning that tried to beat the notion of an engineered virus out of the public’s head has slowed to gentle tapping.
Why the plot twist a year after the fact? Twelve months of forced hibernation seem like the ideal time for careful consideration of a once-in-a-century plague. Everyone spent the last calendar cycle staring crescent-eyed into their smartphones. Couldn’t we be trusted with exploring the possibility that the viral bolt on our front doors may not have come into being à la abiogenesis?
A firm, paternal “NO!” was the answer. Just as we couldn’t be trusted with buying a modest amount of masks when the pandemic began, we American schnooks couldn’t be let in on the real cause of the virus that was ravaging our social lives. The consequences could’ve been dire! Just imagine the level of Sinophobia: a glut of General Tso sauce; piles of unbought chopsticks; tens of thousands of papier-mâché dragons sitting in intermodal containers at Port Newark.
The salability of Chinese kitsch must not be impugned!
Jokes aside, the actual reason for lidding the lab-leak hypothesis was simpler than preserving Sino-American economic relations. Robert Redfield, the former Centers for Disease Control director, was on the dative end of death threats from other scientists after floating a non-natural COVID inception. And it wasn’t because he threatened the moo shoo pork supply chain. Redfield was slandered and harassed not in service to scientific objectivity, but out of self-preservation.
For years, the U.S. government has indirectly funded coronavirus research out of the WIV. The grants were sent through the non-profit intermediary EcoHealth Alliance. The money didn’t come with a chit specifying that it be spent on playing immunogod with bat germs. But EcoHealth subventions were known to support so-called “gain-of-function” research, which purposefully bolsters the deadliness of pathogens.
You don’t need to be a cinéaste to see the throughline of this horror film: U.S. taxpayers unknowingly foot the bill for risky virology research, the resulting experimentation escapes into the wider world, a fatal disease diffuses across the globe, grandma dies and dad’s lungs are permanently scarred. The donnée is a Hayekian twofer: fatal conceit followed by unintended consequences.
Is it any wonder the U.S. government, including its own main medical spokespeople with occupational ties to this arrangement, wanted to play dumb on the beginnings of COVID? According to Vanity Fair, Thomas DiNanno, a former acting assistant secretary in the State Department, warned staff that looking into the real source of the virus would “open a can of worms.” What worms were those exactly? Plenty of circumstantial evidence that backed the accidental leakage proposition, apparently.
With their career reputations on the line, virologists like Fauci circled the wagons to protect gain-of-function study, effectively pulling off a coup in muting any scrutiny over the issue. Doing so cost precious time for a thorough investigation, including valuable biological traces that are now lost. But it was done out of pietas to the liberal god of scientism. Lab-leak theorists like Redfield were pilloried as a pharmakos to the deity of material mastery.
Of course, there were red flags along the way. A 2015 paper, partially funded by the U.S. National Institute of Health by way of EcoHealth, from two virologists detailed humans could be infected with a SARS virion souped-up with protein from a Chinese rufous horseshoe bat. The Frankenstinian authors warn their peers that “scientific review panels may deem similar studies…too risky to pursue.” Seems reasonable, right? Such “imperial immodesty,” as Christopher Lasch called it, could result in… say… a deadly global pandemic.
No, no, certainly not that! Were that to be true, Fauci and co., as well as the virology discipline, may be regarded as responsible for millions of lost lives. Then the taxpayer-money spigot may be turned off. And who would be left to splice the human genome with the DNA of fish from Lake Karachay? Surely we can’t stop scientific progress over one little cough-causing contagion!
Even if it’s proven beyond any doubt that COVID-19 resulted from mishandling an artificially engineered virus, the virologists who pursue gain-of-function research won’t be deterred. They’re following the same sinister promise offered up to Eve in the Garden: ye shall be as gods.
The difference is that the Mother of All the Living didn’t have rich Uncle Sam as her enabler—just a credulous guy in a fig-leaf apron. Just think the trouble humanity would be in if a prelapsarian Fauci was doling out grants to dissect the heartwood of the Tree of Knowledge.
Adam and Eve at least felt shame for tempting the natural order. Scientism’s faithful will feel no such thing should COVID be of their doing. We remain the victims of their temptation.