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Department of Health's Statement on Vitamin D

Typical 'Great British' Arrogance

Belfast Plebeian

21 May 2020

Just recently published on the NHS advice pages with approval from the Department of Health concerning the Coronavirus:

“Consider taking 10 micrograms of Vitamin D a day to make your bones and muscles healthy. This is because you may not be getting enough vitamin D from sunlight if you’re indoors most of the day. There have been some news reports about vitamin D reducing the risk of coronavirus. However, there is no evidence that this is the case. Do not buy more vitamin D than you need.”
The Department of Health's statements have become a regular feature of the British Government response to the coronavirus pandemic, the making of assertions and the dispensing of advice while paying no regard to what others, meaning non-British scientists and experts, have been saying and doing.  There is reams of evidence collected over a long period of time demonstrating how taking daily amounts of Vitamin D lowers the risk of contracting respiratory chest infections and coronavirus of course begins as a respiratory infection before it travels into the lungs.  On top of this there is mounting evidence that correlates vitamin D deficiency with poorer medical outcomes for those who have contracted the virus and are hospitalised.  I am not going to labour the point by quoting all of the evidence, I will mention just one observational study published in the 'Aging Clinical and Experimental Research Journal'  last week:
‘Italy and Spain have both experienced high covid-19 mortality rates, and the new study shows that both countries have lower average vitamin D levels than most northern European countries. This is partly because people in southern Europe, particularly the elderly, avoid strong sun, while skin pigmentation also reduces natural vitamin D synthesis. The highest average levels of vitamin D are found in the northern European countries, especially in Scandinavian nations.’
That northern people have higher levels of Vitamin D in their blood compared to southern Europeans may come as a surprise to some, surely they get way more sun in the South?  They do get way more sun, however skin pigmentation matters and makes the difference, white skin synthesises Vitamin D from the sun more efficiently than does brown or black skin, this is just a fact of biology brought on by selective evolution.  In fact experiments have proven that white skin can be up to 14 times more efficient than the darkest skin in synthesising vitamin D from the sun.  In lay terms, a person of darker skin has to spend a much longer time out in the sun to get the same amount of healthy vitamin D than a lighter skinned person.

A  research study carried out by a team of scientists based at North Western in the US have hypothesized that the level of vitamin D may help explain why some people die from Covid-19 and others survive, for high levels of vitamin D slow down what is known as the cytokine storm getting out of control and killing patients i.e. the immune system overreacting to the virus and killing the patient: ‘ cytokine storm can severely damage lungs and lead to acute respiratory distress syndrome and death in patients. This is what seems to kill the majority of covid-19 patients, not the destruction of the lungs by the virus itself….vitamin D modulates the immune system to stop it becoming dangerously overactive’ Dr Vadim Backman.

The above statement about vitamin D is not refuting anything recently discovered, it is merely saying that our British scientists have not confirmed what others say they have discovered about vitamin D, if you look closely at the statement, it is not saying something is true or something is false i.e. stating a scientific proposition, it is just making a public statement or declaration to the point that we in Britain have not conducted the necessary experiments, therefore there is no worthwhile evidence that it does any good. This is what you might call a British par for the case with the current pandemic, just delete a few words and insert masks instead;

‘There have been some news reports about the wearing of  face masks, reducing the risk of coronavirus. However, there is no evidence that this is the case.’
Or how about checks at airports; ‘there have been some news reports saying taking temperature checks at airports for coronavirus may reduce the spread, there is no evidence that this is the case’
The important point here is that the phrase 'no evidence' just means here in Britain we have not bothered to collect and assess the evidence. If others in other countries have collected the evidence this will not to be taken on trust by our exceptional scientists. So the South Koreans can collect as much evidence about face mask wearing as they like to formulate their own public health policy but the evidence carries no weight with us here in Britain.

The famous British arrogance stems from two now flagging traditions, the meritocratic one, Great Britain was the setting of some great scientific breakthroughs, Newton, Faraday, Darwin, Maxwell, Turing, Crick and Watson, Hawking, Cambridge University Science.  There is another reason for the high handed arrogance, it has nothing to do with intellectual merit and everything to do with class and class status.  A stratum of the British ruling class is an arrogant establishment believing itself born to rule.  This stratum is never allowed to forget that their near ancestors had established and maintained an imperial system that required administrators of a certain character, they were educated in the idealised classical character virtues and magnanimity is of course the summit of these classical virtues for those who are born to political office.  We learn about these character virtues from none other than Aristotle himself who asks; 'What kind of character virtue is magnanimity?'

‘However, if we seek the most elaborate and least ambiguous to this truly vital question, we shall turn to Aristotle’s Ethics. There we read among other things that there is a virtue of the first order called magnanimity - the habit of claiming high honours for oneself with the understanding that one is worthy of them. We also read that the sense of shame is not a virtue; sense of shame is only becoming for the young who, due to their immaturity, cannot help making mistakes, but not for mature and well-bred men who simply always do the right and proper thing,’  L. Strauss History of Political Philosophy  (p296.)

A careless reading of the character virtue of magnanimity as defined by Aristotle may easily conflate it with ruling as such rather than with ‘ruling well’ as Aristotle intended it.  Aristotle belonged to a very class conscious segment of ancient society, ancient city states were supported by work slavery and Aristotle’s various lectures later published as books and manuals called ‘the ethics and the politics’ reflects some of this class consciousness, but I think he at least tried to rise above his own class prejudice when he thought about matters in a 'scientific' way.  This personal integrity did not necessarily apply to the rest of the class conscious ruling classes of the Greek city states and ultimately Aristotle’s noble magnanimity was indistinguishable from class arrogance, love of power and indifference to the suffering of those born into the lower classes and certainly of the fate of the working slaves.

The current PM of Great Britain is of course a classics student, his degree is in classics and he likes to quote the works he was taught.  Classics as taught in British schools and Universities is the preserve of a small and privileged minority which, unsurprisingly, happens to be drawn mostly from the ranks of the upper stratum of British society.  A classical education has always been closely associated with the Clarendon schools and the elite universities where would-be colonial governors learned how to quote Latin and Greek authors.  As education goes, classics is ill suited to managing a modern technological society, nevertheless it is well suited to preserving and even cultivating a mentality ready for a haughty type of political governance that has a flair for shows of public arrogance packaged for media display.  An American student baffled by Aristotle’s definition of magnanimity once asked his teacher Leo Strauss for a living example of what Aristotle could have meant by a magnanimous leader, the story goes that Strauss replied that Winston Churchill would be a good example of it, and of course Boris Johnson is a Churchill imitator or as someone else put it, 'Churchill’s inferior tribute act'.  As I say magnanimity is easily conflated with blind arrogance, and as is often the case  dialectically, one thing easily turns into an opposite, pusillanimity.

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