My May reads

23 May
this post also features on off-guardian

As I had last month, I’d wanted in my three reads this month to start addressing the alarming bellicosity of Washington in respect of several nations, but most frighteningly China. For those with some inkling of the material factors placing the West and Eurasia on a collision course, such beating of war dreams – aided as ever by the ‘liberal’ Guardian – is to be expected, but its predictability makes the warmongering no less worrying.

All the same, I’m again placing China on the back burner. My choices for May are integrally connected, for all their surface disparity, by the question: where do we go from here?

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A People’s HQ for Covid-191 (3,181 words)

The financial resources government has made available for a pause in economic life show the viability of non-capitalist economic planning. But as in 2008, such largesse will come at huge cost to ordinary people unless the labour movement can show leadership and substantially influence, if not control, the narrative. Via bankruptcy, de facto insolvency and debt, key sectors of the economy can be held to ransom by government for regressive state intervention and social engineering.

Whatever our views on lockdown, in principle or in the spatchcock manner of its UK and US implementation,2 it is going to end. But on whose terms? Will the interests of big business be the sole guide to any return to work?

Of course they will – unless challenged with greater unity and consistency than so far seen from organised labour … from small businesses wrecked by a lockdown whose attendant promises of protection look like so much hot air even as big capital demands bailouts in that socialism-for-the rich fashion we saw in the wake of 2008 … from a disenfranchised precariat for whom compensation has been slow, bureaucratic, unfair and inconsistent … from worried parents and … well, feel free to make your own additions to this roll call of the dispossessed-through-disempowerment in our hollow, revolving door charade of democracy.

That challenge must focus too on the safety of workers. An early salvo in Britain has been the response of the teachers’ union, NEU. Since teachers hold huge potential power, less through their overt role as educators than their half hidden one as child minders for the UK economy, rightwing media have been predictably swift to damn them.

This question – who calls the shots? – informs the first of my three reads this month.

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Dissident circles are often nerdy hobby groups (715 words)

The mind can turn anything into a toy for the ego, and this is never more clear than in online discussion forums. Even forums dedicated to disentangling from ego are dominated by Buddhism nerds or Advaita nerds ego-sparring … This is equally true of anti-establishment forums of all sorts, debating whose sub-sub-subfaction of leftism is better or whose coronavirus theory is right …

Shortest and simplest of my May reads is this piece by Caitlin Johnstone. I’ve chosen it for two reasons. One, she pairs speaking truth to power, at which she excels, with calls to embrace our spiritual nature. (I hate the s-word but it’ll have to do.) That aspect is buried, as Marx incisively lays bare, by our alienation under the commodity fetishisms of capitalism. Caitlin’s ongoing attempts at synthesis – we might go so far as to say ‘healing’ – chimes with me, graduate from both a Trotskyist and, a decade on, ‘spiritual’ cult. Each had much to offer, and much to deplore.

Two, implicit in my first read is a call to suspend sectarianism in uniting to challenge big capital over its presumed right to dictate the terms of ending lockdown. My third read, addressing the demands of working toward the end of capitalism, carries the same implication.

I’m not speaking of burying division in ‘rainbow alliances’: candy floss coalitions guaranteed to blow apart at the first test. Debate is necessary, and must be robust. But how to conduct it?

A tragi-comedy of the human condition is our pairing  of marvellously sophisticated reasoning power with the emotional maturity of an adolescent chimpanzee. Teachers of ‘enlightenment’ call for subjugation, even annihilation, of the ego3 but I’ve seen no evidence that such a thing is possible. Living gurus have feet of clay – corrupted by sex, money and/or addiction to power – while those conveniently dead are scrubbed spotless to serve agendas they are in no position – “when did I ever say I was a fucking saint?” – to challenge.

With the monster in us all, courtesy and respect in those necessary debates are of the essence. We might even aspire to a modicum of self awareness! Next time we slam down an ‘opponent’ – her aims not so far from ours when we really get down to it – for having The Wrong Take on this issue or that, we might pause to ask, what are we trying to do here? Change a rotten world? Be The One Who Knows? Take dark pleasure in the ignorance and stupidity of The Other?

For most of us the honest answer is and always will be that our motives, even on a good day, are mixed. What we’re speaking of here is doing what we can to stay in touch with our best instinct, and at least try to rein in those others. The bad news is we’ll never slay the monster. The good news is we don’t have to. We just have to give it a little less food is all.

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Revolution in the Twenty-First Century: A Reconsideration of Marxism (5,481 words)

Here’s the Big Read, a piece by Chris Wright in Dissident Voice (reproduced in CounterPunch). It addresses a dilemma I’ve wrestled with for a decade. If you’ll excuse my certainty on this small point, it is a truth universally acknowledged, by all unbiased persons looking seriously into the question, that capitalism long ago ceased to work for most people. Its accelerating inequalities – not just obscene but systemically destabilising – are matched by an intrinsic tendency to war in a nuclear age, and to reckless trashing of the planet.

To borrow from Lenin, what is to be done?

I know the ‘parliamentary road to socialism’ to be an oxymoron. I know too that the vanguard party model of revolutionary change is outdated. In the face of a modern capitalist state – its monopoly on violence and coercion honed in the world’s hell holes from Aden to the Gaza; its surveillance technologies beyond the wildest dreams of twentieth century totalitarianism – the idea of ending bourgeois rule with armed bodies of workers’ militias is a childish pipe dream.

It is also, a point Wright explores in some depth, at root unmarxist. One of Marx’s profoundest insights is that the seeds of revolutionary change are sown when new means of production are held back by the social relations of the old. But they come to fruition only when new relations of production are in place. The classic cases being the French Revolution and American Civil War. Both succeeded because, over decades and centuries, the social and property relations vital to capitalism’s ultimate triumph over the inefficiencies of feudalism and slavery had been built.

By contrast, the idea of revolutionising the social relations of wealth production by first seizing state power and then using it to build socialised property relations is idealist. In fact, though it be near blasphemy to say so, the great man himself had his thoroughly unmarxist moments!

Still more idealist is the proposition that bottom-up resistance movements, thrown into being by the relentless logic of capital itself, can seriously challenge the status quo. Imaginative at the level of tactics – witness the chutzpah of Occupy and Gilets Jaunes – but lacking in strategy and blind to the lessons of history, they are doomed to fail.

So what to do? Turn our back on all three? And on other tendencies thus far unmentioned: the cooperatives, trade unions, people’s banks and other mechanisms capitalism itself ushers into being? Far from it, argues Wright. All have strengths as well as limitations. The challenge as he sees it is that of renouncing both sectarianism (see Caitlin) and impatience. On the latter, it may be argued that humanity hasn’t the luxury of allowing the dialectics of real revolution to play out over the century or so Wright envisages. That is true. But the revolution all thinking people crave will not come about simply because it has to. It will come about if and when – and only if and when – the circumstances, material and objective, of its emergence are in place.

Which is to say that it may never happen. This outcome, given capitalism’s existential threat, is a distinct possibility. But how could that be any excuse for our refusing to try?

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  1. The link for this first read is one step removed. It goes to a post on my site which hosts a second link to the full text, also accessible from this piece in the Canary.
  2. As a friend pointed out recently, “Even the [deeply flawed] Imperial College model, alleged to be the sole criteria on which decision making was based, factored in only 50% of the populace adhering to any kind of strict lockdown.”
  3. ‘Ego’ is here used in the sense of arrogant self importance, not the very necessary self organising principle understood in some branches of psychoanalysis.

19 Replies to “My May reads

  1. As you noted above, this article has appeared on Off-G. And the reaction it has garnered in the comments has been depressingly predictable. It’s odd how the moment you mention Marx or indeed become critical of capitalism on Off-G, all the rot comes out in the BTL section.

    This rot consists of a point of view which I have tried to comprehend and which I might call the Banker Conspiracy. It has the following tenets:

    • That Extreme Right and Extreme Left meet i.e. that fascism is “really just the same as” communism.
    • That both fascism and communism are funded by “the bankers”. This theory seems to lean strongly on one Antony C Sutton. (Apparently the Russian revolution was one big front for Wall Street.)
    • That this banker funded fascism/communism is bound up with “the government” or “the state” which is always bad.
    • That there is some kind of “pure capitalism” floating in the aether which would work wonderfully if only we gave it a chance i.e. freed it from that nightmare hydra entity of banker/fascism/communism/state/government.
    • And that Marx was a stooge who was employed (or simply used by) the aforementioned hydra.

    I would advise you not to trouble yourself with those comments but I reckon you already know all this.

    • There is a similarity between those calling the virus crisis fraudulent or planned and the reactions to the Black Death and similar plagues.
      One reaction was that God was punishing us for our sins. Another that the Jews, Catholics or other outsiders had introduced the disease in order to undermine society-our liberties and way of life.
      As to the intolerance of marxism at OG, it must be slightly unnerving for the crew which, courageously, set the site up to see it rapidly veering off towards the extreme right, taking some innocent souls with it no doubt, too. If they want my advice it would be for them to run a few columns celebrating the achievements of the Red Army, but perhaps they aren’t certain that there were any.

      • Re: The Off-G commenters veering off towards the extreme right, I would characterise most of them as just being economically illiterate. (But perhaps it boils down to the same thing?)

        One of the tenets of the “Banker Conspiracy” view is that it seemed to imply some “pure capitalism” floating in the aether. But the fact is that these commenters hardly even mention capitalism (thus conforming to Brecht’s dictum that “capitalism is a gentleman who doesn’t want to hear his name mentioned”). Instead, they posit some kind of heaven in which free floating individuals can do whatever they want, and it will all work out OK for everyone. Basically, the old Adam Smith notion. But then, that is what capitalist ideology has always come down to.

        • Economic illiteracy sums it up, I’d say. Or political-economic illiteracy. Two months ago I had a convo with my small-c conservative brother. I like him a lot and don’t argue on politics. There’s no point (in fact avoiding futile arguments is a corollary of what I was saying in respect of Caitlin’s piece). But I did hear him out on how “capitalism isn’t the problem per se – it’s rampant capitalism that is”.

          Wish I had a fiver for every time I’ve heard that, in one form or another. And while my dear bro would certainly baulk at the meme that “the (Jewish?) bankers have hijacked capitalism”, the common ground is a failure to see that modern, financialised imperialism is not some aberration but the playing out of the logic at the heart of capital.

          I do wish more people would get this!

    • One other aspect of those who hold the banker conspiracy is the impoverished notion they have of the ultimate threat. For them this is “The New World Order” by which they mean a global state that would deprive us of our “freedoms” by which they mean the usual affluent markers of capitalist consumerism. I can think of far worst scenarios – e.g. the very real enslavement of grinding poverty, or all life on Earth being reduced to radioactive ash. But our spoiled worriers would probably prefer that last one to having to give up the accoutrements of the latest fashion.

  2. “Whatever our views on lockdown, in principle or in the spatchcock manner of its UK and US implementation, it is going to end. But on whose terms? Will the interests of big business be the sole guide to any return to work?”

    Well here’s one indication of the world after lockdown:

    https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2020/05/23/loca-m23.html

    “A letter to Prime Minister Boris Johnson by Sir Richard Leese, published in the Manchester Evening News, noted the losses incurred due to the pandemic followed “Ten years of austerity” that had “already seen the council’s budget cut by £380 million and reduced staff numbers by 40 percent. … There are no easy cuts left to make.””

    “There are no easy cuts left to make.” – translated: “It is with heavy heart that we regret to announce that we must cut back on services which we have always despised and which we have been delighted to have finally found an excuse to cut”

    • I’ll check this piece out. I visit WSWS three or four times a week but haven’t read this one.

      • My comment above was the first to appear on Off-G after your article and I was appalled at the reaction. Some were saying, “Yes – this lockdown may give us the opportunity to cut our taxes”! I don’t think I’ll bother going back to that thread!

        • … this lockdown may give us the opportunity to cut our taxes …

          It’s so heartening to see folk reaching up for the biggest possible perspective!

  3. I have just been reading the tweets of Eva Bartlett in response to Tim Anderson’s attacks on those who question the Covid narratives (i.e. the proportionality of the response, the balance of lockdown deaths vs. covid deaths, the likely toll of the economic consequences etc. -NOT the reality or falsity of the virus itself). Anderson seems to be closed to debate and relying on bully tactics to silence opponents.
    One reply noted that Anderson, and many on the Marxist Left in general seem unwilling or unable to engage with these specific arguments (above)- perhaps because it does not fit into their particular understanding of how capitalism funtions. Why would capitalist governments destroy their own economies without a perceived gain? For many on the Left, any questioning of the Covid narrative as an ‘extremely dangerous virus’ is indicative of a ‘bankers conspiracy theory’ being surreptitiously inserted into the conversation. I note this in this thread too. Perhaps why so many are critical of the Left in OffG’s thread is due to the conversation there being so focused on challenging the narrative of the lockdown’s necessity, and the Left are perceived to be less than supportive in that battle of facts and figures ? (i.e. not necessarily all a support for the right).
    It is not just those who see financial power as a ‘Jewish conspiracy’ who view industrial capitalism as a ‘playing out of the logic of finance’ rather than the other way round (as asserted by Philip here). Indeed much of the volumous writing of monetary reform circles is based upon this idea that capitalism is shaped by the money system rather than being a product of it. Call it illiteracy if you want, but there are some very literate illiterates out there (Gesell for one). One thing of note to my memory is that the main institutions of capitalism were formulated before the advent of industrial capitalism and are regarded by many to be pre-requisites : the central bank, the stock market, government bonds and the trading thereof, the limited liability company…all were created in the century before capitalism got going.
    Does this idea deserve consideration apart from the ethnicity or religion of the characters involved?
    Does the challenging of the covid narratives deserve consideration separately from the supposed monolithic ‘bankers conspiracy theory’ ?

    • Anderson seems to be closed to debate and relying on bully tactics to silence opponents …

      I’ve only just learned of Tim Anderson’s piece, and have yet to read it. But I will.

      For many on the Left, any questioning of the Covid narrative as an ‘extremely dangerous virus’ is indicative of a ‘bankers conspiracy theory’ being surreptitiously inserted into the conversation.

      For the record, and my overly casual aside notwithstanding, I do know that Jewish or other conspiracism does not motivate all challenge to lockdown and/or CV-19 severity. Indeed, under my post, Science for the righteous , I took one commenter to task for wrongly inferring that I take all sceptics for conspiracists.

      My bad. I shouldn’t make in-jokes in one to ones on a public forum. If you look back through my past three months of posts you’ll see several that support the sensible wing – led by some excellent Off-Guardian pieces – of CV-19 and/or lockdown scepticism. In this polarised debate, nuance on both sides is easily lost site of.

      Is this the pandemic epidemiologists have said for two decades is a matter of when rather than if? Too early to call. And whatever we think of lockdown in principle, its UK and US implementation has seen the worst of both worlds – epidemiological and economic.

      Perhaps why so many are critical of the Left in OffG’s thread is due to the conversation there being so focused on challenging the narrative of the lockdown’s necessity, and the Left are perceived to be less than supportive in that battle of facts and figures ? (i.e. not necessarily all a support for the right).

      Fair point, but this is a two way street. Many Libertarians (not all) seem unconcerned at how exposed neoliberalism is by pandemic, regardless of whether this is The Big One. Tensions between socialists and left libertarians – in easier times less a sharp divide than a different bending of the stick – have hardened as a consequence of CV-19. Because of this widening chasm of underlying worldviews, more certainty than the science warrants is voiced by both sides of the “how bad is CV-19?” divide.

      (In a very recent email, apropos the Fitzgerald essay attacking lockdown from what he calls a Left perspective – though his definition of Left would accomodate Blair and the Clintons – I wrote: “My instincts are that Covid-19 isn’t as bad as feared. But that’s all they are: instincts. And even if they prove correct, it doesn’t tell us much. Putting one bullet into the chamber of a revolver .. spinning it .. pointing gun to head and squeezing trigger does not prove, should we survive, Russian Roulette to be a safe game! Excuse the extravagant analogy. I’m dismayed not just by the vitriol flying around, but also by the quality of thinking from folk I know can do better. We can gamble either way. But we still can’t (validly!) rule out this being the first of the pandemics experts tell us are inevitable on our planet of slums. Even if it isn’t, the ensuing complacency, amidst all the other socio-economic-political factors at work in a rotten world, will not bode well.”)

      much of the volumous writing of monetary reform circles is based upon this idea that capitalism is shaped by the money system rather than being a product of it

      Yes, and I take it seriously. I haven’t read the early twentieth century anarchist, Gesell but even within the broadly Marxist tradition there are those – Ellen Wood and David Harvey spring to mind – who one way or another challenge the playing out of the law of value. I think them wrong. I think they confuse the valorising and recycling of surplus values in today’s dizzyingly complex financial markets with the demise of surplus value extraction from labour sellers now overwhelmingly in the global south. But they are serious players.

      More recently, I note with guarded approval the MMT school. At best (I’m most aware of Bill Mitchell and Richard Murphy) it does a great job of countering that most vulgar of analogies, the household budget model of national and international finance. Since this risibly simplistic and hugely misleading model has been absorbed by most of us, and is highly effective in bourgeois propaganda, I can set aside my MMT doubts and applaud what its best exponents do. In fact I bought one of Mitchell’s books. Now all I need do is find time to read it!

      But there’s another reason I approve of good MMT writers. Back in March my post, Labour Party: your silence is deafening, listed demands Richard Murphy had put out in lieu of any effective challenge from Labour to the UK Government’s ludicrous behaviour. (Ludicrous whatever our position, corkscrew conspiracism aside, on CV-19 and lockdown in principle.) Again, I reserve judgment on MMT but his demands struck me as just what is needed in these extraordinary times – a bridge between thinking that’s too complex and/or outside the Overton Window for mainstream acceptance, and crisp calls for action that can resonate with people because they address concrete concerns. In this respect Murphy’s demands – and as best I can see, he is no marxist – are in spirit akin to Lenin’s ‘bread, land and peace’ or even Trotsky’s transitional program.

      One last thing. In January I reviewed for Off-Guardian and on this site the non marxist Tim Hayward’s excellent book, Global Justice and Finance. Two footnotes are relevant.

      In footnote 5, on the question in an imperialised age of advanced capitalism vis-a-vis financialisation, I wrote:

      A striking feature of Hayward’s forensic analysis is its uncovering of the many and diverse ways in which the relationship is dialectical, most obviously in the way financialisation is both driven by, and driver of, capital’s laws of motion. This chicken-and-egg aspect of financialisation finds its clearest articulation in a chapter three discussion of the merits and defects of both supply-side (monetarist) and demand-side (Keynesian) understandings.

      Bewilderingly complex feedback loops within a system do not, however, obscure the truth that the system in question is premised on a tiny few having monopoly ownership of ‘dead labour’ in the form of the wherewithal of modern wealth production (factory, plant, liquidity etc) while the many have no means of survival except to sell their labour.

      In the global north, many labour sellers no longer have surplus value extracted. The ‘non value producing’ services they offer – as soldiers, nurses, cops, social workers, teachers etc – are overheads incurred by the safeguarding and redistribution of profits. But neither non value producing workers, nor the grotesquely distorting feedback loops of financialisation, negate the fact that without surplus value extracted somewhere, they could not exist. Either we’d have socialism or some different, post capitalist form of class rule.

      In footnote 6, I say:

      … Hayward might have done well to follow Marx in distinguishing two very different roles of money. One is as facilitator of commodity exchange – C-M-C – with money the intermediary in the trading of qualitatively determined use-values in ratios set by the quantities of labour embedded in them. The other is as driver of a business cycle – M-C-M+ – in which money-as-capital is indifferent to the specific use-values exchanged.

      … and in footnote 7 that:

      … it is a vulgar understanding of the law of value which sees the source of profit as surplus labour snatched by an individual capitalist from those s/he employs. Rather, a globalised working class at large is exploited by globalised capital at large. This, incidentally, is why a profitable, workerless and fully automated factory would in no way disprove the law of value.

      You conclude with two questions:

      Does this idea deserve consideration apart from the ethnicity or religion of the characters involved?

      Yes. Again I apologise for an off-the-cuff overgeneralisation never intended as serious.

      Does the challenging of the covid narratives deserve consideration separately from the supposed monolithic ‘bankers conspiracy theory’?

      Yes, and I have tried to do this. In one to one correspondence with folk I respect, both pro and anti lockdown, I have encountered resistance to alternative views, combined with cherry picking from a fast evolving and conflictual body of knowledge, and use of unhelpful language (hence my inclusion of Caitlin’s post in this month’s three reads).

      Thank you for a stimulating and courteously framed comment.

    • It was me that brought up the “banker conspiracy” notion. I didn’t mean to imply that ALL, or even the majority, of Off-G commenters necessarily go along with this. But some certainly do. Furthermore, I’ve seen this banker conspiracy voiced in so many other places. I first became aware if it through a Taylor Caldwell essay called “The Middle Classes Must Not Fail”. The most intelligent statement of this view comes through the writings of one Guido Giacomo Preparata in a remarkable book called “Conjuring Hitler”.

      I have been intrigued by this particular conspiracy theory and another tenet I could add to it (in some variations at least) is a tendency towards occultism. (This may lead to fascist notions which is ironic given Hitler’s alleged interest in the occult.)

      One Off-G commenter emphasized another tendency when he referred to Marx as a “Zionist horror” – a label that puzzled me until I realised that the thinking probably went like this: Marx was Jewish, all Jews are Zionists, all Zionists are bankers, all bankers are “in on the deal” etc. Thus, there is also a tendency towards anti-Semitism.

      But I emphasise again that the above observations do not apply to all Off-G commenters and certainly not to the actual web owners.

      More disturbing I think is the anti-Marxism. I don’t expect everyone to agree with Marx, but the vitriol poured on him is often more extreme than the vitriol poured on the increasingly appalling conditions we are facing and on their cause. This is all the more remarkable considering that the world’s most visible state to call itself communist i.e. Russia, no longer does so. And yet after all these decades of neoliberalism with the retreat of the public sector, it is communism, socialism and Marxism that are still excoriated. Some are saying that, no matter how bad the capitalist system gets, socialism would be worse. Some are even saying that the problems we face are caused BY socialism.

      But here is the biggest issue. My father, who was a strong socialist, noted with amusement that many people are very articulate and passionate about what they hate. But if you ask them what they want, they stare at you as if you were crazy. It apparently never occurred to them to declare a solution. So many of the Off-G commenters rant away splendidly but have no answer. And when Marx gets mentioned, they then go into rant overkill AGAINST Marx. I think this is a long-learned habit instilled by the capitalist system itself – the old notion that capitalism is the worst system with the exception of the rest. Thus Off-G serves as a kind of Orwellian 2 minute hate, the only difference being that whereas Orwell’s version set up a phoney enemy to hate, OUR version invites us to hate our actual system itself – just as long as we don’t do anything about it. And then go away and forget about it.

      • It was me that brought up the “banker conspiracy” notion …

        And t’was I wot threw in the ‘Jewish?’ component! (It’s a separate issue but what you in a past comment called “overarching conspiracy theories” – as distinct from more specific and often accurate conspiracy theories over such as OPCW behaviour on Douma – do often tend to antisemitism.)

        So many of the Off-G commenters rant away splendidly but have no answer.

        To be fair, that’s a hefty slice of BTL behaviour at large: the green ink brigade on steroids. The arena opened up by online publications is a boon to armchair sneerers, misanthropes and assorted clever dicks – as well as some whose informed and praxis oriented views merit being heard above the line.

  4. Thanks for the reply Philip. Much to think about there.
    Is this the pandemic epidemiologists have said for at least two decades is a question of when rather than if? Too early to call in my view.
    I could (quite seriously) be in one of R.A.Wilson’s ‘reality tunnels’ (how would we know?), but to my reading, it most definitely is not too early to call. I think that ‘the big one’ would have been quite obviously the big one back in March- or even before as we now know that the nCov2 has been circulating for much longer than previously thought. Once the Italian stats were released I was persuaded that ours was an over reaction (for whatever reason : hysteria, political ineptitude, grand re-set of economy and monetary paradigm….). That, I know, is delving into the whys and wherefores, but just to include to say that my perspective has been to watch over the past two months as those who called it right (statisticians, epidemiologists) back in mid March have been derided, attacked, silenced, censored and repeatedly proved right in their evaluation of this virus.
    Sadly, so many on the Left have joined in with this attack on those who critically examined the narrative. Whilst Johnstone arguably hasn’t joined in, she certainly hasn’t spent much time that I have seen challenging those attacks (something which she so often does -even when those on the receiving end are of very different political stripe). As said by many back in March, even if those who were doubtful about the severity of covid were completely wrong, they should have a voice and a place to legitimately question the pronouncements of governments, government scientists, the corporate front groups which dominate health response and the media circus which whips the public mind. Maybe this is where the libertarian vs Marxist Left turf war has historically been played out : how or when to defend free speech (?)
    I will try to find time to look at Hayward’s book.
    Thanks again for the reply.

    • even if those who were doubtful about the severity of covid were completely wrong, they should have a voice and a place to legitimately question the pronouncements of governments, government scientists, the corporate front groups which dominate health response and the media circus which whips the public mind.

      Agreed. And I’ve been doing my bit.

      Maybe this is where the libertarian vs Marxist Left turf war has historically been played out : how or when to defend free speech (?)

      Yes, and not just free speech. When my agnosticism on CV-19 severity was challenged by one libertarian, a lively set of exchanges ensued. My comment that there is no absolute right to refuse vaccines was – I say perversely – taken as endorsement of the ‘right’ of Monsanto, Bill Gates etc to extract super profits from forcible vaccination programs.

      In fact I was seeking to explore the notion of any such thing as an absolute individual right, divorced from (a) specific concrete context and (b) the reality of our dual nature as social yet individuated beings. But this exchange was one of a few, with reps of both camps, in which I sensed an interlocutor I usually hold in high regard – else I wouldn’t even bother – more interested, on this matter, in I’m-Right-You’re-Wrong point scoring than in real dialogue.

  5. What would be helpful is a bit more attention to detail. More clarity on the definition of terms in claims made; and consistency in applying criteria, rather than in some instances picking and choosing to suit.

    On the former this example will suffice:

    “those who called it right (statisticians, epidemiologists) back in mid March have been derided, attacked, silenced, censored and repeatedly proved right in their evaluation of this virus.”

    With no detail or definition of terms the only reasonable interpretation is at face value. Which, if representing an accurate interpretation, provides yet a further example of the issue which this blog’s host bemoans.

    Firstly, because it’s not as though the science and modelling of disease spread, epidemics and pandemics has just been discovered and is in its infancy. Unless the starting point is that all previous experience, modelling and science in this area is to be ignored, what we do know is that with such phenomena occurring in waves five or six months into the spread of a new virus is far too early to making such definitive statements and conclusions at this early stage.

    Claiming to pick the winner of the Grand National when the field is only part way around the first circuit of Aintree (1967 notwithstanding) would seem to be premature and somewhat hasty (rash even?).

    Particularly when (secondly) the official data is so unrealible. Regardless of Country the number of cases found is dependent upon the number of tests carried out which itself is dependent on the number of testing kits available. Given the publicly available data on the pathetic Pandemic Planning in both the UK and US (and this is the general case rather than simply limited to this virus – see for example similar conclusions in respect of the 2016 Ebola outbreak in W. Africa); the lack of testing kits (the US – which is coincidentally a term of UK army slang for useless/unservicable – spent weeks using its own kits, rather than those of the WHO, which turned out not to work); and the gerrymandering of limiting official data to hospitals only one would have reasonably anticipated the artificially reduced UK Stats to be comparitively low.

    Yet even these low figures are currently in the top five internationally – with some who have dug themselves into a hole still feverishly digging deeper trying to claim that even the limited testing results are over egging the pudding. Together with a similar argument over the virus being vastly overestimated/wrongly recorded as cause of death on the most spurious grounds the nothing to see here justification seems almost desperate. Particularly when considering the unknown and unrecorded impacts which are conveniently ignored.

    The official mortality rates, which tend to be the only figure apart from under recorded and missed cases (I know of at least half a dozen people who have had the symptoms who do not appear on any data because they have not been tested or been through a hospital), are only half of a metric of closed cases which include officially recovered in hospital and released.

    A statistic which every State on the planet bar two publishes daily. The two exceptions being the UK and Holland. Both of which stopped publishing the recovered figure in mid April because the survival rate was so poor. Yet even here international comparisons are unreliable. In some cases it hardly seems credible that the recorded case numbers are so low given the population size and underdeveloped infrastructure in many areas outside the big cities (India for example). Whilst some of the recovered numbers seem inflated (Brazil). Others are too neat, with Germany consistently reporting a daily recovered figure exactly to the nearest hundred.

    How meaningful and definite conclusions can be touted this early in the pandemic cycle on the back of such poor and unrealible official statistics (there are some days when the UK aggregate total from the previous day does not match the days daily total when added together) is deeply suspicious and reeks of confirmation bias.

    Then we have to consider the wider question of what is touted as a “lockdown.” Not to mention the definition. I’ve previously covered this ground and won’t repeat the points except to point out that any claims to portray the, at best, half hearted and badly supported measures as the opposite of the actual policy demonstrate similar confirmation biases.

    In that regard the Byline Times offers some interesting contextual background facts to what is actually taking place in terms of approach rather than the publicly stated approach made by people who have a proven and recorded track record of never having had a relationship with accuracy and truth in their entire lives:

    https://bylinetimes.com/2020/05/20/dominic-cummings-billion-dollar-brainchild/

    https://bylinetimes.com/2020/05/14/whitehall-analytica-the-ai-superstate-part-2-is-covid-19-fast-tracking-a-eugenics-inspired-genomics-programme-in-the-nhs/

    It seems a sign of desperation to take these people at face value in being serious about a practical and effective non political science based “lockdown” policy. But, any port in in a storm as they say.

    The empty hospitals and absence of staff in the much touted Nightingale hospitals on one side and the number of “economically inactive” former workers shovelled off to die in care homes offers a blatant clue. That of the NHS being “saved” from overstretch and collapse possiblyy hiding the sub -text of a working health system and assets for the US private health vultures being protected in a post Brexit trade deal with the USA.

    In regards consistency in applying criteria it seems reasonable to anticipate an application of the same standard of scrutiny to all aspects rather any kind of pick and mix. Such as, for example, seeking to scrutinize every detail of, albeit, limited data on the virus (which at least exists) whilst offering conclusions about potential mortality rates from an undefined generically applied term (“lockdown”) with no data on the basis of assuming what is intended to be deduced as though it were self-evident without the need to bother with the same standards and criteria of scrutiny applied to other arguments at the same time.

    Unfortunately, it seems the trenches which have been constructed are now too deep. A scenario which no doubt suits the carpetbaggers.

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