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There is great chaos under heaven

The current situation is only ‘excellent’ for the coronavirus.

“There is great chaos under heaven”, Mao Zedong reputedly said, “[hence] the situation is excellent!”. The context was the disorder within Chinese society in the early 1960s, favourable to Mao’s revolutionary movement. Today’s chaos, instead, encourages political and social unrest: the situation is only ‘excellent’ for the coronavirus. Never before, not even eight months ago, had such chaos been seen. All against all. A maelstrom of so-called expert pseudo-scientists, politicos, administrators and journalists talking over each other and contradicting themselves from one day to the next. In an infamous ministerial meeting, one participant requested a curfew starting at 6:00 PM, another at 8, yet another at 11, until they settled somewhere between these, at 10. Based on which data? Did they just free-hand it? A chilling thought.
We have stated several times that the statistics, which torment us daily are only part of the truth; many other parameters are missing, such as age, comorbidities etc, but first and foremost, the origin or source of the contagion. Are these data available? Without such evidence, how can we choose a course of action? Why close restaurants and bars at 6 and not 7? Why leave bakeries open while shuttering the shops that sell their wares? Why close beauty spas but not hair salons? Why close theatres and cinemas? Is this all done by feel too? Our restaurants have been hit with particularly stringent regulations: distance between diners, sanitisation, masks, table quotas – all for naught. They close at 6: that’s when the virus wakes up to attack! And in all this bedlam, there are always those imbeciles who advocate confining the so-called elderly at home for their own good, because they are the ones most likely to die. Well spotted, Sherlock! Some ridiculous provisions verge on the insulting, such as the decree to ‘relieve’ ‘restaurateurs’, or the modification of colour-coded zones to red, orange and yellow, replacing the previous green, misleadingly indicative of peace and well-being, with yellow.
The colour-coding is performed by an algorithm, they say, and is therefore scientific. We should clarify that algorithms constitute a pseudo-scientific trap which serves to justify merely political or personal decisions. This is because by definition, an algorithm solves problems based on instructions. Change the parameters, and voilà: new results. Nowadays, to whitewash haphazard choices with a scientific sheen, the ‘algorithm’ is invoked, instantly silencing those who don’t know what it means or how it works. We’re aware that the situation is dire worldwide, but we would make sacrifices more willingly if we were convinced of their usefulness and if decisions were based on real and reliable information. Even the Carabinieri, the Italian gendarmes, after many years abandoned their old motto: “Usi obbedir tacendo, e tacendo morir” (‘Obey in silence, and in silence die’), preferring the less committed, less grim “Nei secoli fedele” (‘Loyal through the ages’).

Paolo Petroni
President of the Accademia

November 2020