The World Health Organization released a new report on its investigation into the origin of COVID-19, but the report answers few questions and provides little new information. The report, which will quickly become a pandemic footnote, essentially acknowledges that no one knows how the pandemic started.
The WHO investigators visited numerous locations around Wuhan, including the seafood market where many of the earliest cases originated and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, as part of the inquiry. In the end, however, there was no smoking gun.
The report (read it in full here) identifies four separate theories for the origin of the pandemic, which are ranked in order of probability:
The virus jumped to humans from an animal like a bat through an intermediate animal host
The virus came to humans directly from bats or a similar animal
The virus was transmitted through frozen or chilled food
An accidental release from a laboratory
The report questions the significance of the early cases at the Wuhan seafood market because the virus appeared at other markets at about the same time. Testing showed the presence of the virus on surfaces at the market although not on the food itself, but the dense crowds and unsanitary conditions could have helped the virus spread.
Likewise, the report found no evidence that the virus escaped from a lab, either as a manmade pathogen or a natural one being studied. Genomic testing indicates that the virus is naturally occurring and no evidence was found that any Coronavirus closely related to COVID-19 was being studied before the outbreak.
These conclusions come despite former CDC Director Robert Redfield’s recent statement to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta that he believes that COVID-19 was a naturally occurring virus that escaped from a lab where it was being studied. Redfield provided no evidence to substantiate his opinion, however, even though many seem to take his speculation as fact.
Contrary to claims that COVID-19 was circulating long before it was acknowledged by the Chinese government, the WHO report did not find evidence that the virus had infected humans before late 2019. The earliest known cases date to October or November of that year.
The report also noted that the Coronavirus that infected humans was genetically different from the one that is known to infect bats. Scientists believe that the two variants are one or two genetic steps apart, which suggests that there was an intermediate evolutionary step in a different animal between the virus that infects bats and the one that infects humans.
The bottom line is that we really don’t know much more about the origins of COVID-19 than we did a year ago. We have to face the reality that we may never know exactly how the pandemic started. This is hard for modern ears to hear and leaves room for conspiracy theories, but the truth is that there are many things that we just don’t know about the world. For the foreseeable future, the origin of COVID-19 is one of them.
I’m going to have to pick on Steve a little bit. This morning, Steve covered the forced apology by Dav Pilkey, author of the “Captain Underpants” series of books. I haven’t read the Ook and Gluk series so my comments are general, rather than specific to this case. Although my kids were fans of Captain Underpants, they’ve gotten big enough to grow out of the genre. I’ll bet it’s a hoot, however.
I’m not a fan of cancel culture and I don’t deny it exists, but I do think that its effect is overstated. Much of the problem is that what is being done by individuals and private companies is ascribed to government.
For example, I saw a great many memes over the past few weeks claiming, “Biden cancels Dr. Seuss.” Well, no. Dr. Seuss wasn’t canceled and to the extent that anything happened, Biden had nothing to do with it.
As I’ve pointed out before, Seuss and Pilkey have the right to put what they want in their books. On the other hand, readers have the right to protest them and booksellers have the right not to sell their books. That’s not government censorship on any level. It’s freedom of speech and free enterprise.
A third problem is that the left has figured out that if it cancels examples of “casual racism” then the right will line up to defend the object of the cancellation. This makes conservatives look racist to minorities by the extension. It’s the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to making people on the right say and do embarrassing things.
Where we are at a nation is a place where racial stereotypes are highly disfavored. A lot of off-color humor that used to not raise eyebrows will get you in trouble now. That’s both a good and bad thing because some old humor was bad. Unfortunately, some good-natured fun also gets caught up in the midst of the controversy.
My guess is that a lot of minorities who were the brunt of racial stereotypes and humor have been offended for a long time and had no choice but to suck it up. This doesn’t mean that some don’t laugh along and enjoy the joke as well. Attitudes among minorities are not any more monolithic than they are among whites.
I’m generally a polite person. I don’t like to offend people, so I think it’s a good idea to use racial humor carefully. Not everyone can skewer political correctness as well “Blazing Saddles” or the “Office” and most shouldn’t try. Too many today believe that being politically incorrect is just a matter of being an offensive jerk.
I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for humor that pokes fun at racial and cultural differences in 2021. Your First Amendment right covers the right to say or publish material that others find offensive. However, it doesn’t protect your from criticism or boycotts by the offended. The First Amendment works both ways.
And if you’re one of the woke scolds who is perpetually offended, be aware that attempts to destroy all raunchy and irreverent humor can backfire. Punishing good-natured fun can easily lead to resentment and more blatantly racist attitudes.
Both sides should do more to see the perspective of the other. Yes, some humor is offensive and hurtful, even if unintentionally so. Yes, nitpicking micro aggressions is annoying and tiresome and can be offensive in its own right.
In the end, there is a difference between mean-spirited racist jokes and innocent fun. We should be able to laugh at ourselves and our differences. Doing so can even be a way of celebrating diversity.