LAB LEAK (2): The grammatical anomaly
If we can understand the outrage of Western institutions against the lab-leak hypothesis, we'll have the key to a better model of our political and geopolitical systems.
The artificial ‘outrage’ vented at defenders of the lab leak hypothesis by Western bureaucrats, mainstream journalists, and mainstream academics for the entire first year and a half of the COVID pandemic is anomalous.
And the most interesting anomaly here is political. Because this outrage protected the Chinese communist government.
Why were Western meaning makers protecting the Chinese politburo?
Do you want a quick shortcut to a coherent model of the modern Western political system, and even of important aspects of the world geopolitical system? You got it: this is it. It is all contained in the mainstream and official reaction to the lab-leak hypothesis.
I review the main issues:
What is the lab-leak hypothesis? In its most famous incarnation, this hypothesis claims that SARS2—the virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic—escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV), China, where it was engineered.
Strong evidence always supported the lab leak hypothesis. I earlier summarized the dramatic evidence that defenders of the lab-leak hypothesis have invoked. Most of this evidence was available from the very beginning of the COVID crisis.
Yet the evidence didn’t matter. Despite the evidence, almost every source of institutional authority in the West—Big Media, the social networks, establishment academia, and the governments—all sallied forth as if their very jobs hinged on seeing the lab-leak hypothesis denounced and ridiculed.
Then came Nicholas Wade. Mainstream and official institutions kept this up until May 2021, when Nicholas Wade published his analysis in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and made clear that the lab-leak hypothesis was far superior to the natural-origins hypothesis.1 After this (as I examine elsewhere) making fun of the lab-leak hypothesis became embarrassing.
So here is the question: Why the strong and emotional opposition expressed—initially, and for so long—by Western institutional authorities to the lab-leak hypothesis? That’s the riddle we must solve. For this visceral opposition—this outrage—represents what I call a grammatical anomaly.
Mind you, disagreement with a hypothesis can be entirely grammatical. But an obviously plausible hypothesis—which the lab leak always was—must be carefully considered and investigated before being rejected; instead, Western meaning makers (for a long time) viciously attacked anyone who put this hypothesis forward, hysterically calling them ‘racists’ and ‘conspiracy theorists.’
That’s the grammatical anomaly.
But it’s not just the grammar of science that was violated here; this also violated the grammar of politics. And as anomalies go, this is big.
Now, big violations of political grammar may cost a boss his grip on power; only for very good reasons would the bosses risk that. So why was getting rid of the lab-leak hypothesis so terribly important to them? The answer promises to teach us much about our Western power elites and their international power relationships.
Political grammar, and the lab-leak hypothesis
Whereas a linguistic grammar regulates how words must be ordered and combined to ensure the production of meaningful sentences, an ideological grammar regulates:
which claims—expressed by complete linguistic phrases—are allowed and which forbidden; and
how allowed claims can (or cannot) be combined to guarantee an ideologically ‘correct’ meaning output.
For example, the grammar of modern Western political discourse forbids racist claims—they are politically incorrect. Whoever makes such claims—especially in contexts that are public and/or institutionally official and/or normative—is violating the political grammar. And they will be punished.
This is because the desired meaning output that governs Western political grammar is the following: ‘We are all free and equal.’ Any kind of racism will make it impossible to express this meaning in action. So racism is incorrect.
Another aspect of Western political grammar—among the university-educated—is a taboo imposed on Machiavellian hypotheses. Such ‘conspiracy theories’ are considered automatically stupid and false, and anyone insisting too much on them is regarded as at least odd and perhaps dangerously paranoid. The university-educated are normatively expected to shun conspiracy theorists—to push them outside the circle of their ‘polite society.’
This is because the desired meaning output that governs the grammar of ‘polite society’ is: ‘We are not freaks.’ Conspiracy theory makes it impossible to express this meaning because conspiracy theorists have been defined as paranoid freaks.
Now, because Western political grammar has these rules, to call someone a ‘racist’ or a ‘conspiracy theorist’ has the power to cow them into silence, even when the accusation is undeserved, because the epithets ‘racist’ and ‘conspiracy theorist’ are adult versions of the ‘cooties,’ with identical social consequences, and people are horrified to think they might be so tagged.3
So if you want people to shut up about something, you scream at them that what they’re saying is a racist conspiracy theory.
For that reason, precisely, it seemed to many that the behavior of powerful Western meaning makers seemed carefully designed to intimidate and silence anyone who dared consider the lab-leak hypothesis. For according to these meaning makers—and they did scream (and for a long time)—claiming that SARS2 had leaked out of the Wuhan lab was a racist conspiracy theory against the Chinese (or even against Asians).
But that was at least reckless. No?
For how can it be racism to try and figure out, reasoning from the evidence, who sickened the Chinese? Isn’t that a pro-Chinese move?
And why is it racism to suggest that SARS2 originated in the Wuhan lab? Given all the strange coincidences pointing to the Wuhan lab (reviewed earlier), to pin COVID on a Kenyan lab—yes, that might have been racist. But the Wuhan lab, so close to the first reported cases of COVID, just happens to contain the obvious suspect: Zhengli-Li Shi, the famous ‘batwoman,’ so busy doing ‘gain of function’ on bat SARS coronaviruses almost identical to SARS2. And sure, like every obvious suspect, Zhengli-Li Shi has a nationality, an ethnicity, an age, a weight, a sexual orientation, a political ideology, and even a gender, but none of that—quite obviously—was ever at issue.
The accusation of racism was beyond bizarre.
Moreover, recall that the dominant version of the lab-leak hypothesis has always been negligence, not intentional release. The outrage at ‘conspiracy theory’ thus seemed designed to stop us from taking the next step: from attributing bad intentions to the Chinese government—indeed, to keep us from doing conspiracy theory.
But that’s the grammatical anomaly. Right there! Because the Western grammar regulating the taboo on conspiracy theories does not really ban all conspiracy theories. To the contrary, the ban obeys conditional rules as follows:
you express outrage at conspiracy theories if and when those accused are the bosses running the ostensibly democratic institutions of the United States (or other Western governments);
you do not express outrage at conspiracy theories if and when those accused are enemy totalitarians.
To see this better, consider an important historical case.
From 1947 and into the late 1950s an entirely official conspiracy theory, publicly defended from the highest summit of the United States government, claimed that the Soviet Union was infiltrating all of US society and public institutions. Even those occupying cabinet-level posts, according to this most official brouhaha, were not above suspicion. A great witch hunt—again, entirely official—was loosed against ordinary Americans to find those presumed Soviet agents that, according to the propaganda, were hiding behind every cupboard. This was called McCarthyism.
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China has replaced the Soviet Union as the new great enemy totalitarian. There is plenty discussion everywhere about overt and clandestine nefarious activities of the Chinese government and of a possible future war between the US and China. Yet, on COVID, China curiously did not get the Soviet treatment.
To the contrary, on COVID, Western authorities have acted as if it were the most natural thing for the democratic institutions of the free West to express violent moral outrage that anyone would hint (or even—horrors!—accuse) that Chinese communists might be so much as negligent. And forget about suggesting they might be criminal. What are you, insane? According to this cartoonishly extreme theatricality, only a racist would suspect the brutal Chinese Politburo of malfeasance.
It’s a grammatical anomaly. It must be explained. If not, we forfeit any real interest in explaining the system. As a first step, I’ll consider the behavior of the journalists.
‘The origin of COVID: Did people or nature open Pandora’s box at Wuhan?’; The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; 5 May 2021; by Nicholas Wade.