I enjoyed yesterday’s trip down memory lane. Judging on number of visits, comments below the line and private emails sent in response, so did others. Though a scribbler all my life, I only really found my stride fifteen years ago in my early fifties. In film reviews, then in travel writing and not least in my battles with Sheffield Hallam, I discovered that what interests me most as a writer is the striving for an impersonal perspective on personal experience.
Yet here I am, back to the anvil with another post on covid-19. In response to a recent reminder that no one who doesn’t want my e-alerts need receive them, two (of close to 150) recipients asked to be removed. Both were courteous and warm. One said “my politics differ from yours”. (Note to self: write that post on matters of fact erroneously deemed to be matters of opinion.) The other said my corona posts aren’t helping her calm the children. I can’t and wouldn’t want to argue with that.
Many more responses urged me to ‘keep on keeping on’, while unusually high site traffic shows no shortage of people wanting to contextualise and analyse what is unfolding, and prepared to hear – not necessarily endorse, mind – what I and others have to say.
I’ve focused on two aspects: whether the covid-19 threat is overstated and (without assuming a yes or no to that) the exposed inability of capitalism, especially nations furthest down the road of no-such-thing-as-society neoliberalism, to respond effectively to the kind of pandemic many experts have warned is a question of “when rather than if”.
On that first, experts who in rising numbers question the extent of the threat do so at no small risk to reputation. The current climate, marked on all sides – though not by all participants – by inability to hear opposing arguments is unconducive to inquiry. Nor have genuine sceptics been well served by that section of an excitable commentariat which assures us, on the basis of God knows what levels of expertise and reasoning ability, that the whole thing is a “scam”, a “hoax”, a set up by “elite bankers who rule the world” to deprive us of hard won freedoms.
I’m open to that view and, if you’ll allow me to say so, so should you be. Even if our rulers didn’t cook this up, they have form on leveraging panic to their advantage. We should be wary, super wary, of all moves by a class-governed society to encroach on our liberties. And even if they do genuinely believe their own pronouncements on covid-19, the cure, as I noted in this post, may be worse than the disease. Recessions kill, and they do so by the million.
With this in mind I urge you to read the posts OffGuardian has been running on covid-19. All if you have the time. Otherwise I suggest the following:
Perspectives on the Pandemic – interview with Stamford medicine and epidemiology professor, John Ioannidis
12 Experts Questioning the Coronavirus Panic and 10 More Experts … Coronavirus Panic
It seems to me unfortunate that those who question the mainstream assessment of the covid-19 threat, and those who target advanced capitalism’s no-such-thing-as-society inability to mount an effective response to pandemic, aren’t doing much talking to one another. And they’re doing even less listening.
But that needn’t stop you. May I recommend the many posts on the latter aspect of this matter as put out on World Socialist Website (not for the first time I stress that I have no affiliation to the Socialist Equality Party which hosts it), in CounterPunch (for all its growing tendency to run pieces more at home in the New Statesman) and other Left sources.
These for instance:
European Union summit on coronavirus ends in acrimony
Washington Uses the Pandemic to Create a $2 Trillion Slush Fund for Its Cronies
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Thank you for that, Phil. I feel that this unprecedented COVID 19 situation (well, unprecedented for us affluent Westerners anyway) has similarities with 9/11. And I don’t mean to imply that the virus is a “set up” – to use a less inflammatory word. (I am presuming we both have extreme suspicions about 9/11) No, what I am really referring to is the emotional impact of these events i.e. that they both encourage extremely emotional responses. The case with the virus is far more emotive owing to the fact that our everyday existences have been radically altered for an indefinite period. But I agree that it is vital to maintain a unity here.
The point is that while Capitalism is not interested in planning -hardwired into the system is the belief that Providence, or the Invisible Hand, rules – opportunism is one of its leading characteristics.
People, including many above and below the line at OffGuardian, find this confusing. My sense that the 9/11 attacks originated in Saudi Arabia and were indeed aimed at what wahhabis (and they are not alone in this) would view as a satanic empire, has not been shaken by the long list of anomalies in the event, painstakingly chronicled by those who have concluded that it was a ‘set-up’ false flag event. There are all sorts of obvious holes in the ‘official’ story and there are all manner of clues that, whoever carried out the attacks, foreknowledge of them or of some dramatic event very like them seems evident.
As the current Lobster has it “…the trick is going to be separating the plane-bombings, which were as they appeared, and the collapsing buildings, for which we need some special explanation.”
The current reactions of both state(s) and ruling class interests to the, long dreaded, pandemic need to be evaluated similarly. That the British government’s first response – premature ejaculations – took the form of neo-fascistic ideologising should shock nobody, any more than the Capitalists’ obsession with profit as opposed to life (illustrated by the Texas Lt Governor’s remark that he would be happy to die to save the system and so should others). But it is a long leap to the idea that the crisis was artificially constructed. Or is being greatly exaggerated. Didn’t we know that capitalists are amoral exploiters of every opportunity that arises?
And has it not been our experience, in politics, that, far from being all seeing and omnipotent, wise in planning and cunning in execution, a collective champion of multi dimensional chess games, the capitalist class and its agents are riven with disputes, jealousies and feuds, incapable of planning ahead, mere temporary alignments of allies, and ripe for defeat and replacement? All that saves them is exemplified in the unprofitable and dishonest debates among those who should be challenging the system but instead tear each other to pieces. One of the less attractive aspects of internet critics of the state is the widely shared belief that “the sheeple’ are stupid and infinitely malleable – a view which takes opponents of the system full circle into being, whether they know it or not, bulwarks of an ideology whose first principle is that democracy cannot work and therefore hierarchy is necessary.
The observation that experts disagree prompts several observations.
Firstly, that just because one expert or group of experts get something wrong on some matter does not mean they are necessarily wrong about everything – and vice versa.
Whole fields such as economics are testament to this, along with the fact that being wrong on something does not mean your reputation is in tatters. Just look at how predominant the voodoo economics of neo-liberalism are.
Secondly, and more importantly for this debate, is, as bevin observes, disagreement is not limited to experts. Politicians in the same political Party often disagree with each other more than they do with their opponents. Ditto for elites at every level. Failure to recognise that reality because it does not fit a narrative which requires unanimous agreement among competing elites with competing ideologies to all be singing from the same hymn sheet for a particular narrative to work has at least two consequences.
(i) It shuts off debate on vital questions and issues which do not fit the narrative. Asking such questions weakens if not collapses such a narrative. As a consequence questions and issues which would contradict the narrative are ignored and not tackled properly.
(ii) Such an approach can actually be the mirror image of what it is criticising. Constantly putting out a single sided argument/line is just as much hyping a particular narrative as any other – even one being criticised by that narrative.
Finally, the question arises as to why the disagreement exists in the first place?
“Experts” are no different to any other group of people in as much as they can use or misuse (and be used/misused by others) their expertise for biased, sometimes political, ideological and commercial purposes.
This practice has a long pedigree – lobbyist experts were trotted out to prevent and slow down progress over numerous issues from the use of radium in the manufacture of matches (which caused cancer among low paid match workers – usually women); asbestos; tobacco; and for decades oil/carbon energy – which has slowed down Capitalist progress on its own terms, preventing replacement cleaner technologies and industries in favour of freezing a particular lucrative industry in time.
And all the while there are media outlets, not all of them MSM, more than willing to act as useful conduits for such lobbying. Some on the pretext of being “progressive”.
Often by misframing issues using dubious statistical sleights of hand. Like the experts from Manchester University in the 1870’s who were hired by mill owners, facing Union demands to cut the working day from 12 hours to 11, to “prove” that this was impossible because all the profit was made in that last hour.
As I type this I am interrupted in what I was about to write as I am provided with a stark example of this in relation to this matter of Covid-19.
A part of the narrative which argues this is over hyped – not by the media, we know that, but by experts that narrative disagrees with – is this only affects older people with existing underlying health conditions. In addition to the recent study released from the USA
showing that 38% of 508 patients hospitalised with coronavirus were aged between 20 and 54 (children under 19 accounted for less than 1% of the total admissions). Of these 508 patients, 121 were admitted to intensive care; nearly half of this group was under 65; along with more recent warnings from Russia that younger people can die from this I have just been passed news that a young US friend of someone I know passed away yesterday from Covid-19.
Another issue I have with this narrative is the dishonest way in which focuses on per capita comparisons when the real issue is the resource capacity to deal with a spike in hospital admissions, many requiring critical care.
Consequently, it lets the elites being criticised for the theoretical focus of that narrative off the hook on a range of real life practical issues. Not least of which is the way the NHS has been systematically underfunded and run down – as one contributor on Skwawkbox put it the current head of NHS England, “A Labour politician, one of whose best mates at Oxford was Boris Johnson was advisor to Alan Milburn as they privatised large parts of the NHS and introduced PFI under Blair.
Subsequently boss of US giant UnitedHealthCare (the world’s biggest health insurance company with revenues of 242 billion dollars) for 10 years before taking over the NHS in 2014. Knighted in 2020. It’s like putting Herod in charge of a kindergarten.”
But raising such questions requires recognition that resource capacity has been run down to the extent that the health and social care system cannot cope with what is portrayed in the narrative as an over-hyped matter being pushed to curtail certain liberties.* If its over hyped – by the experts and medics on the ground (one of whom in their 50’s was reported to have died of this virus yesterday) it cannot be that big a problem.
As a result questions around the lack of system capacity to deal with this particular issue contradict the notion that the issue is being exaggerated and are by necessity either underplayed or ignored.
* Certain liberties because some liberties are clearly more worthy and important than others.
Last weeks reported drive to ensure the growing number of homeless people on the street are housed raises not just the obvious question of the sudden re-discovery of the Magic Money Tree (not to be confused with Modern Monetary Theory) – which raises a whole lot of other questions which are being ignored – but also serves as a reminder that certain liberties of a growing number of people have been curtailed by elites for some considerable time.
Liberties which don’t seem to be high on the list, or even on the list, of liberties worth considering when pushing out the same kind of fear porn from a different direction on a daily basis. Liberties which could do with the same levels of consideration on the radar.
There are a whole raft of practical questions and issues around non-sexy liberties which need to be at the forefront of discussion, debate and dissemination addressing where we are right now. Starting with an economic and resource allocation system which works for people rather than the other way around.
Like providing effective health care; having sufficient equipment to treat people and protect health workers; carrying out sufficient testing so you have a practical idea of what resources are required etc – which, for the benefit of anyone sitting in a corner playing with an abacus – ain’t happening right now.
Like why it is there are so many cases set to overwhelm or already overwhelming health systems? A question which would focus on the criminal negligence of elites pursuing a eugenics agenda who in the real world see this more of an opportunity to cull the population than anything else.
George, bevin, Dave. You’ve all made important observations I’d ordinarily add my tuppence to. But I’m going out now. I may be some time …
Just kidding. A mild headache and brain fatigue is all – my covid-19th nervous breakdown.
Has no-one told you? No-one is allowed to go OUT!
I walked into a blizzard and succumbed to hypothermia. It was quite painless.
I’ve only recently discovered your blog and feel very pleased that I have. I started on your COVID post as I’m finding it very hard, almost impossible, to hang onto my beliefs and resist the medical and political orthodoxy rammed down or throats or stabbed into our arms. Plenty for me to go at so many thanks.