King Canute Knew Better

Every English schoolboy learns the story of King Canute who set his throne by the sea shore and commanded the incoming tide to halt.  The tide rose and King Canute reportedly declaimed “let all men know how empty and worthless is the power of kings, for there is none worthy of the name, but he whom heaven, earth, and sea obey by eternal laws”, before hanging his crown on a crucifix and never wearing it again.  The moral of the story is that Canute wished to demonstrate to his courtiers the natural limits of a King’s authority.

If only our rulers today had one iota of Canute’s wisdom and humility.

At this point, it is readily apparent to any honest appraiser of facts that the overwhelming majority of people dying of Covid-19 are dying of old age.  Of course government statistics don’t show that.  According to government nobody dies of old age.  People die of heart disease, or cancer, or pneumonia, or any one of a long list of causes.  But in actual fact people grow old, and when they do their organs fail and their immune systems grow weaker until they can no longer fight off diseases which their bodies once dealt with effortlessly.  And then eventually they die.  Of something.  And right now that list of “somethings” includes Covid-19.

And for the entirety of human history we have gracefully accepted the reality of old age and death.  Until now that is.  When it seems that our rulers have decided to set their thrones upon the sands of time and command death to lay down his scythe.  Only this time, unlike Canute in his wisdom, their intent is not to demonstrate the limits of their authority.  Instead they truly believe that the grim reaper will yield to their commands, and like some evil wight from a dark myth they will callously sacrifice legions of the living in their vain attempts to subjugate death.

No doubt this once-in-an-era combination of hubris, folly and evil will itself one day be an object lesson, of a different sort, for future generations of schoolboys.  I hope they learn more from it than my generation apparently learned from the story of King Canute.

UPDATE  I have discussed the premise of this piece to a few people and it turns out I need to explain myself in slightly more detail.

The hypothesis I am putting forward is as follows:

(1)  As people age their general health declines over time until they reach the point where they are unable to successfully fight off diseases.  Once they have reached that point they become “susceptible to death”.  We call this old age, and it is also accompanied by declining mental and physical capabilities.

(2)  As a consequence of (1), at any one time there is a percentage of the population who are “susceptible to death”.  These people are very likely to die from almost anything they catch at this point, whether it is seasonal influenza, measles, covid-19, or even a common cold.

(3)  If you have a mild influenza winter (as the 2018-2019 winter was), then fewer of these people were exposed to influenza and consequently more of them survive.  This means that you have a larger than usual population of people susceptible to death.

(4)  If you combine this larger susceptible population with a mild, but highly contagious disease like covid-19 the following year then the result is that a large number of people who are “susceptible to death” beacome infected with covid-19 and die.  But they are not really dying from covid-19.  They are dying because they have reached the point where almost anything would kill them and it’s just that covid-19 happened along.  This is why the demographic profile of people dying from covid-19 matches the demographic profile of general morbidity.

(5)  There is a lot of noise in the media about the difference in mortality rates between various countries.  There are many explanations proffered: the wearing of masks, the rigor of lockdown regulations and the degree to which they are enforced, different strains of the virus, early detection and isolation protocols etc.  My hypothesis would suggest that the single factor most likely to explain the apparent difference in fatality rates is the degree to which the elderly and vulnerable are successfully protected by, for example

(a)  the avoidance of returning recovering covid-19 patients from hospitals to nursing homes while they may remain infectious

(b)  the acquisition of herd immunity by the younger, invulnerable population which (like boron rods in a nuclear reactor) would prevent covid-19 circulating widely amongst the population in general and thus drastically lower the chance of being exposed for those who are susceptible to death in the first place.


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