Cook on Covid

8 Oct

George Lewis told the Englishman, the Italian and the Jew, you just can’t hold on, boys, to every conceivable point of view.  Bob Dylan

Not long ago I ended an email on a separate matter to Kit Knightly, one of the OffGuardian editors and a CV-19 sceptic, with this aside:

Btw, while my views on CV19 have won me few friends of any stripe – and lost me one or two – I applaud the dignity of your August 27 response to Eric Zeusse.

Which doesn’t mean I see eye to eye with Kit here. (Nor, despite a shrill and evangelical polarity which tends in practice to reduce several coherent stances1 to two, am I diametrically opposed.) But I have found Kit unfailingly courteous in tone, and reasoned in argument. These virtues are not always at the fore when it comes to CV19.

(And for all our differences over this matter, OffGuardian, a vital antidote to corrupt mainstream media, has published much I agree with. Indeed, I’ve cited approvingly some of its CV19 pieces on this site. Which gives me cause for hollow mirth when I’m criticised for failing to come down more firmly on the side of opposing lockdown. I’ve done more – not much, but more – on that front than many of my critics. I just share neither their zeal nor their certainty is all.)

Another person I find unfailingly courteous in tone and reasoned in argument is Jonathan Cook. The main difference being that his position on CV19 is closer to my own. In a post on October 1st, he sets out his fifteen point response to the charge that he (and two others I respect: David Cromwell and David Edwards of Media Lens) are “pretenders”, exposed by not speaking out on “the most massive attack on liberty in human history”.

To that fifteen point response I append three of my own. But first, and in his own write – with only the occasional interjection by me – here’s Jonathan Cook.

Doubt is a treacherous path. We must avoid being diverted towards terminal cynicism

What I think of as the cynical left are once again berating the progressive critical left, myself included, for failing to write what they want written about Covid-19. I take this as a kind of unintended compliment: that they think we can write about their concerns better than they can themselves.

But even if I wished to write someone else’s argument rather than my own, it would still be difficult to know for sure what the cynical left wants from progressive writers: that we pronounce the pandemic fake, or that we declare the danger from it overblown, or that we denounce mask-wearing as an infringement on personal liberty, or that we argue lockdown is a prelude to George Orwell’s 1984. Or maybe all of these.

[I deplore that tweet, but disagree with the characterisation of OffGuardian as “cynical”. An excess of scepticism, if such it is, does not of itself equate to cynicism. For that we’d in this context need a postmodernist disdain for the very idea of objective truth; a disdain OffGuardian has never to my mind displayed. Far from it.)

No matter, the reproval has at least spurred me into setting down the following 15 points that, I suppose, amount to a mission statement to my readers, using Covid-19 as a template. I hope they clarify what I am trying to achieve with my blog and why I see the cynical left not only as misguided and ineffectual but as ultimately a brake on progressive change. They risk contributing to the worst trends in our increasingly polarised and dysfunctional societies.

1. Let me start with a brief comment about Covid-19. I have nothing unique, informed or interesting to say about the virus I haven’t already said in earlier pieces on my blog. I don’t write the same thing over and over – at least not intentionally.

[A week later – in an excellent piece which, without descending into ad hominem, nails George Monbiot and his objective role at the Guardian – Jonathan takes apart a claim in which George defends his silence (and worse) re Julian Assange on superficially similar grounds. Double standards from Jonathan? I think not but judge for yourself. Compare, carefully and with nice discrimination, what he says in the post replicated here with what he says in that one.]

Were I to write at the moment about the pandemic, all I would add are statements that I think are relatively obvious and have already been made in the “mainstream” media:

  • that most western governments have proved deeply incompetent or corrupt in handling the virus;
  • that, even during a pandemic, there must be a balance between public health needs and our need for a tangible sense of community, and daily I entertain doubts about where that balance should properly lie;
  • and that governments in trouble will try to exploit the pandemic as best they can to impose more repressive measures on their publics, exactly as is happening right now where I live, in Israel.

Attacks on our freedoms need to be identified and addressed as they occur. I don’t see a global conspiracy to lock us all into our homes. Those who do see such a conspiracy should be writing pieces to convince me and others that they are right, not whingeing that I have not written the piece for them.

[I’ve had a bit of that myself, Jonathan, so hear bloody hear. But again – see footnote 1 – not all critics of lockdown make the preposterous assumption of a global conspiracy whose schemers take in the Russians, Chinese, Cubans, Iranians, Brits and Americans.]

2. The incompetence and corruption of our governments in handling Covid-19 are not specific to the virus. They are the symptoms of defective political systems that were long ago captured by corporate interests. Western, technocratic governments have no real solutions for the pandemic in exactly the same way that they have no real solutions for the collapse of eco-systems or for making our economic systems, based on endless growth on a finite planet, sustainable. The reason these challenges defeat them is because they have no values apart from ever greater concentration of wealth.

[I have a problem with the notion of “defective political systems long ago captured by corporate interests”. It implies a hitherto virtuous state of affairs, as opposed to systems devised from the start as part instruments of, part cover for, class rule. That said, the shift from demand-side to supply-side economics, championed four decades ago by Thatcher and Reagan, not only marked the move away from ‘caring capitalism’ even in the West. It also greenlighted the unapologetically greed-is-good mindset implied here.]

3. Even were I or others to narrowly focus on Covid-19, there are far more pressing things to talk about than the threat of masks and lockdowns. Such as how we have increased our exposure to new viruses like Covid through rampant colonisation and exploitation of the planet’s final wildernesses, depriving other species of their natural habitats. Such as how economic incentives in food production ensure we are deprived of proper nutrition and encouraged to stuff ourselves with empty calories, provoking an epidemic of obesity and chronic illness, that has weakened our natural defences to disease, especially a new one like Covid-19. I am less worried about lockdowns than I am about western lifestyles that make lockdowns our only way to prevent higher mortality rates.

4. More generally, my journalism strives to attack western power structures where they are most overtly aggressive, most unjust, most exposed and most vulnerable. I expend my very limited resources and energies on trying to persuade readers of the very real and very visible conspiracies – structural conspiracies – perpetrated by our elites to maintain and expand their power.

5. There are very explicit conspiracies that can be grasped with only a little critical thinking, such as the current efforts to lock away Julian Assange for life for exposing US crimes against humanity and the five-year campaign to destroy the Labour party’s former leader, Jeremy Corbyn, before he could reach a position where, it was feared, he would be able to disrupt the neoliberal status quo rapidly driving us towards extinction. That conspiracy embraced senior party officials, leaked documents have shown.

A similar conspiracy by the Democratic leadership in the US to prevent Bernie Sanders becoming the party’s presidential candidate in 2016 was exposed in a leak of the DNC’s emails, though that, of course, has been largely plunged down the memory hole and replaced with a straightforward narrative about “Russian” malfeasance.

6. There is a reason why overt conspiracies – like the ones against Assange and Corbyn – are not instantly evident to a larger proportion of western publics: the coordinated efforts of corporate media, from rightwing to so-called “liberal-left” outlets, to enforce narrative orthodoxy. That can be seen in the media’s blackout on what is happening in the current Assange extradition hearings, and in the media’s earlier, blanket disinformation campaign against Corbyn. I have focused on these cases because they can encourage readers to question whether the corporate media really are truth-seekers, as they claim, or are simply the public relations wing of the power establishment.

7. These political and media conspiracies are the Achilles’ heel of a grand narrative designed to relate the west’s moral superiority and global benevolence. Exposing these conspiracies is the best hope of getting people to raise questions in their own minds – questions that may put them on the path to understanding that our leaders and our political systems are now controlled by billionaire donors not even pursuing their own nation’s interests, let alone the interests of humankind and the planet. Rather, this billionaire class pursue narrow, self-destructive corporate interests, whether it is banks driving people into debt, oil companies fuelling systemic environmental crises, or arms manufacturers lobbying for endless wars against an intangible “terror”.

8. Covid-19 does not appear to be one of those weak points in the western narrative, not least because it is very hard to discern any meaningful western narrative about the virus other than an agreement that it is a dangerous disease for some sections of the population and that its rapid spread could overwhelm most countries’ health services.

[Yes, but the criticisms I’m most attuned to argue that blanket lockdown, far from easing the threat to healthcare at large, can exacerbate it. To his credit, Jonathan does not use this argument – others do – but to cite excess deaths, deaths over and above those of comparable periods in the past, as a severity indicator is to ignore the methodological challenge of distinguishing effects of CV19 from those of lockdown – or even ‘austerity’.]

To challenge and disrupt that narrative, one would need either to persuade the public that the disease is not dangerous at all or that health systems can easily cope with large numbers of people getting sick. Even if I believed that were true, which I don’t, my chances of persuading anyone – outside of the small circle of believers among the cynical left – that I should be listened to over a majority of epidemiologists would be close to zero. And even if I could persuade significant numbers of people, what would it suggest other than that our political leaders were fools to listen to the medical establishment? What kind of political awakening would that amount to?

[I have been irked by armchair experts, some of whom strike me – if I’m being kind – as epistemologically naive. They demand peer reviewed evidence from their opponents (without offering the same for their own claims) as though peer review was a be-all and end-all (it assuredly is not). And despite the truth of a situation moving, in the early days especially, faster than the glacial process of peer review could possibly keep up with.]

9. If there really is a conspiracy about the virus, it does not need writers like me to expose it. This is not the equivalent of a journalist few of us have ever met being locked away out of sight, or a political leader few of us have ever met being uniformly pilloried in the media. It is a virus running wild through the population. If it is a hoax, if there is no danger, if lockdown is entirely unnecessary, the truth of that will eventually become evident to ordinary people without the intervention of pundits like me. People do not want to be locked up. Fear, for themselves or their loved ones, is what makes them compliant. If they reach the conclusion that the restrictions on their liberty are unnecessary, they will react – whatever I or others tell them.

[Here again I object on logical grounds. See why I get stick from all sides, in a world that craves binarity when it just doesn’t apply; dodges it when it does?  Taking points 6 and 9 together, Jonathan makes a vital distinction between on the one hand the conspiracies, amply evidenced2 and with crystal clear motives, to lie about Assange, Assad, Putin and Co; on the other, an alleged conspiracy (but see footnote 1) to overstate the CV19 threat. His overarching point is that few of us will ever meet Putin but we will start to ask one another – in fact already have – how many people we know to have suffered seriously from CV19. That’s OK as far as it goes (provided we factor, into the answers we get, the crucial variable of connectedness with vulnerable groups like the elderly). But if ultra-libertarian critics of lockdown are right, by the time we wake up to CV19 as scam it will be too late. To be clear, I’m not making that argument; simply asserting its logical validity.]

10. While I am being berated yet again for not challenging the supposedly nefarious motives behind lockdown, I and my family are enduring a second one in Nazareth. From here it doesn’t look like Netanyahu is bringing the Israeli health system to the brink of collapse; it looks like the virus is. Most definitely, Netanyahu has been incompetent. And equally certain is that he hopes to shut down growing street protests against his rule by exploiting the public health crisis.

His abuses of the system do not mean that, as Israel grapples with what appears to be the worst per capita infection rate in the world, the renewed lockdown is necessarily the wrong policy. But it does mean the Netanyahu government’s motives are muddled and public dissatisfaction is growing. Other governments are surely watching to see how Netanyahu weathers this storm.

11. Fears about the threat posed by Covid to western health care systems do not look to me like a political or media conspiracy. Fears of that threat appear to be the consensus of the western medical establishment. It is possible that the medical establishment may eventually be proved wrong. But it is hard indeed to believe that they are saying what they are saying only because it is convenient for politicians – or even that what they are saying is what most politicians want to hear. Politicians are only too aware of the public’s mounting frustration at being repeatedly locked up, seeing their jobs disappear and local economies start to collapse. To me, western politicians look deeply uncertain, fearful of a potential popular backlash, not co-conspirators in a grand plot to lock us all up indefinitely.

12. We are on a knife edge, and I am not here referring to Covid-19.

On the one hand, we are in a race – if our societies are to survive – to arrive at a new consensus, a new social contract, recognising that we need urgent and fundamental change. That will first require a greater popular acceptance that our leaders are incapable of overseeing that change because they are trapped in defective political structures. Those structures are irredeemably defective because they were captured long ago by corporate interests driving us towards extinction. We have to increase the depth and extent of popular doubt because, without it, there will not be enough people thinking critically to push for wholesale change.

13. On the other hand, too much doubt – doubt simply for the sake of doubt, or cynical doubt – will not improve our chances of reorganising our societies and giving ourselves a shot at survival. The danger is that justified, educated, targeted scepticism morphs into kneejerk, enervating, fatalistic cynicism. That is the very trend our leaders have been cultivating in us – mostly inadvertently – through their own nihilistic support for a neoliberal status quo that, it becomes clearer by the day, is hurtling us towards a desolate future.

14. Doubt is a treacherous path to navigate. It has a decisive fork along the way: one route could lead to salvation, whereas the other heads with absolute certainty towards ruin. If we become so filled with doubt that we are no longer prepared to believe anything, or we see everything as equally a conspiracy, we will be paralysed into inaction and hopelessness.

15. It is hard to live without hope. Humans need to foster hope, even when it seems clear there is no hope. If we lose a sense that we can create real change through our actions, we end up – as some are doing already – looking to authoritarians and father figures who can reassure us that, though our situation appears bleak, they can make everything better, they have the answers.

The cynical left wants to drag the critical left down a path that propels us towards this doomed future. It is not my path. I will continue to ignore the siren calls urging me away from constructive critical thought towards destructive cynicism.

For what they’re worth here are my own three, interlinked, additions:

16. The question – is CV19 a fake?  – has taken on evangelical tones. There are a few ways in which this is true but what gives me the pip is that few of those whom I know believe CV19 to be fake or overegged are doing anything with that belief. (Clearly, this does not apply to writers like Kit, epidemiologists like Professor Gupta or – whatever else I may or may not think about them – those organising resistance to lockdown.)

This isn’t me saying armchair sceptics should get off their arses and Do Something. My point is they may as well be arguing the superiority of Glasgow Rangers over Glasgow Celtic – no, this isn’t a random choice of analogy – for all the difference it makes. Who cares which side a person chooses to cheer on if no practical consequences follow?

17. I have friends I respect but can no longer engage with in any constructive manner. I’m sure that’s at least as much my fault as theirs but that’s hardly the point. We’re human, so have raging egos. (Some do a passable  job of pretending they don’t, but that’s just a face they keep in a jar by the door.) This ‘debate’ has gone thermonuclear. It’s hard now to get into a constructive dialogue wherein points can be conceded, differing views truly heard, without loss of face. Which, for the reason just given, homo sapiens sapiens is decidedly averse to.

18. A bigger question – more practical, more pressing and in principle capable of uniting sceptics, agnostics and believers alike – is being side-lined by such Manicheaism. How shall we resist ruling class attempts to saddle the rest of us with the bill for lockdown?

* * *

  1. We could design a matrix with two axes. On the x-axis we’d have CV19 is real at one pole, imaginary at the other. (With real but overstated at the midpoint.) On the y-axis we’d have governments are doing well at one pole, dire at the other. Even on so simple a matrix we could plot many positions. And that’s before we add a third and more provocative variable: is CV19 a conspiracy? (Not the same as imaginary.) I find the idea of this as a scam – as opposed to rulers, well versed in carpe diem, using it to accelerate the post 9/11 drift to authoritarianism – ridiculous. Western governments have been all over the place on this. And what kind of conspiracy takes in China, Cuba, Russia and USA as co-schemers? Those who say CV19 is a scam are doing a fine job of drowning out sober voices like Professors Bhakdi, Gupta and Wittkowski – look ’em up – who offer calmly reasoned critiques of lockdown. (That does not of itself make them right, of course, though confirmation bias will have some seizing gleefully on their words while ignoring other experts as government stooges. Nor, to be fair, has it stopped yet others more powerfully placed from marginalising these voices.) It’s not that I am in principle against black and white, binary polarisations per se. Indeed, a footnote to my September reads says “I see only two possible stances over Syria – defend its lawful government from imperialist attack, or side with the imperialists.” (I say the same about Julian.) I’m only against such polarisations when they cross over from simple to simplistic.
  2. Should any reader doubt my claim that the conspiracies to lie about Assad, Assange, Putin etc are “amply evidenced”, I’ll be happy to back it up.

11 Replies to “Cook on Covid

  1. Thanks for this article Philip and I appreciate that you are taking the trouble to view both sides.

    I have already seen the Cook article and didn’t feel impressed. I had originally attempted to write a long point by point argument but I realised that ultimately it all comes down to one very basic matter: JC’s entire position is based on the question begging assumption that the virus really is as deadly as it is claimed to be. From that position we can then launch into matters of e.g. govt incompetence and the automatic presupposition that everyone is in mortal danger and, of course, we can smear our opponents as “the cynical left” etc.

    Now without immediately discussing the virus itself I’d like to point out the following (which I think are surely matters that are beyond dispute):

    The country has come to a standstill which has lasted half a year so far. From the beginning there were noises about how “things were going to change forever” and it is becoming ever clearer that this situation will continue indefinitely. We are seeing every line of industry and employment teeter closer to the verge of collapse. (So, I’m a bit bemused by J Cook’s “far more pressing things to talk about”!)

    All of the above was brought about because of the reporting of COVID. And I know that’s a provocative statement because the (ahem!) “non-cynical left” will talk right away about the virus as if it is exactly as described. I have referred to “the reporting” because that is what I know. That is what I have experienced. The nature of this reporting was like nothing I have seen before – although it did strike me as an intensification of the kind of scaremongering propaganda familiar from previous matters such as the “communist threat” or “the war on terror”. Once again, I acknowledge that that is a provocative statement. You may quite rightly say I am jumping to my own conclusions.

    Nevertheless – I have put forward what I think is a point of view worth considering if only as a possibility. Mr Cook has also said (from his presupposition that the virus is as the media describe) “governments in trouble will try to exploit the pandemic as best they can to impose more repressive measures on their publics”. This is a familiar sentiment from e.g. 9/11 i.e. that a govt “exploits” a situation which just so happens to be ideal for such exploitation. (And there are two of the biggest dots tempting you to join them, but it might be advisable not to do so at present?)

    I fully agree that there is no point in getting all lathered up in an acrimonious dispute that would be counter productive (I keep thinking of Frank Zappa’s adage that “People will only agree with you if they already agree with you. You don’t change peoples’ minds.”) So perhaps all I can do at present is to put forward my own suspicion i.e. that the virus is not at all as described and is being used entirely for restructuring that will ultimately benefit that tiny minority at the top.

    • Hi George. I appreciate the sober tone of your comment, but don’t have the same take that “JC’s entire position is based on the question begging assumption that the virus really is as deadly as it is claimed to be”. It’s not how I read it. Whether or not this is the big one (and I’m inclined to doubt that) it is my understanding that epidemiologists have been saying since at least SARS 2003 that a killer pandemic is a matter of when not if. This seems to me what his point 3 addresses, adding that the thrust of advanced consumer-led capitalism in both global north and south (though for different reasons) leaves us so badly exposed.

      On the acrimony you refer to in your final paragraph, it’s worth checking out Richard Murphy’s blog post today (you might find our old friend Dungroanin there, he’s quite a fan). I don’t share Murphy’s MMT approach but do find him energising and, within narrow limits, could work with him on some aspects. Here I’m concerned with two things. One, some well meaning souls on the libertarian left want us to join Professor Gupta in backing the “Great Barrington Declaration”. Murphy cites wiki in saying that this:

      was signed at the Great Barrington Headquarters of the American Institute for Economic Research … [which] aims to promote individual sovereignty, limited government, and “a society based on property rights and open markets”.

      I’m sure Sunetra Gupta is a good (albeit theoretical) epidemiologist and I’m equally sure she means well. She’s no economist though. As for the wider thrust of Murphy’s post, correctly or not, he advances from his MMT perspective an argument you and I are both familiar with from other quarters: ‘libertarians’ have a nasty habit, however unwittingly and whatever their start point, of winding up in bed with the far right.

      (As it happens I’ve been talking this week to trade unionists at Sheffield Hallam. They are engaged in bitter struggles with an employer mouthing the usual platitudes for public consumption – is there an employer in Britain that doesn’t “value our staff”? – while in practise showing utter contempt for the dangers of frontline staff infection.)

      The second thing, apropos your “acrimonious” observation, is to note how toxic that thread actually is. I don’t advocate good manners purely because I want the world a cuddlier place. I don’t even advocate good manners purely because I’m a Libran! It’s just that the amount of self righteous venom flying around is a real impediment to deepening and widening our understanding in this and a good many other things.

      Last but perhaps most importantly, I’m trying to close off no (reasonable) avenue of inquiry. If you could see your way to putting your thoughts on a suspected ‘restructuring’ into an essay form, I’d be very interested in reading and – with your say so of course – posting them here.

  2. Cook’s basic argument seems to be with the fixation of what might be described as the self labelled ‘identity left’ habit of only being able to engage in single, simplistic binary cause and effect analysis.

    Like the scientific reductionists stuck down the rabbit hole of attempting to find a single “Theory of Everything.”

    The example quote from offguardian he uses in the article provides a classic case in point. Interpreted from the reductionist perspective as a single stand alone example at the bottom of the reductionist funnel it is easier to subject it to critical scrutiny along the lines of providing insufficient evidence of whatever Cook is claiming, straw man argument or misinterpretation?

    However, it is not a stand alone example but one amongst many from offguardian on the subject which are derived from the position outlined by Catte Black here:

    http://steelcityscribblings.uk/wp/2020/04/17/an-open-letter-to-off-guardian/

    which makes it clear that there exists, yet again, only one true “left” position and analysis with the usual subtext that everyone else not subscribing to the one true self defined and self referential position is a phoney (which is where Cook comes in in this article). How many times do we go around this purity loop?

    And the basic flaw in the argument is the insistence that the current problems are and can only be directly as a result of the reaction to the Covid virus. As though without this reaction everything would have been honky dory. The economy would not be collapsing without this reaction. The structural crisis management of bubble after bubble over decades inflated by the voodoo economics of the neo liberalist printing presses creating unsustainable debt for generations to come is, in this position, irrelevant.

    Like the alchemists who claimed to be able to synthesise gold from base lead the holy grail of the current state of the world as far as the identity left are concerned seems to be down to this one single factor – equivalent to the much sought Theory of Everything of the scientific reductionists.

    Cynical? No. I don’t buy that for a minute because it’s actually worse than that. Cynicism implies a degree of nous and gumption rather than the simplistic naïvety of whats argued here.

    If anyone’s looking for genuine cynicism it can be found in the observation which has been doing the rounds for some time that, on the basis of the conflicting and contradictory policies and advice of Western politicians/governments/elites/establishments, the most effective defence against this (or any other pandemic) is to install a till.

    Installing a till which enables the spending of what has been for some time non existent created out of thin air money apparently keeps everyone safe. You can go meet your family (along with a crowd of strangers) and friends in a pub – where money can be spent – but not in your own home. You can congregate in a single activity involving a lot more than six people as long as it’s spending money – shopping in a supermarket, which in the current situation is like entering a Zombieland theme park. But woe betide you if you engage in a single activity involving fewer people if you aren’t spending money and being a good little consumer drone.

    Ask those in London who were protesting the Assange kangaroo court. Or the women in Leeds the other week. Effectively arrested for not engaged in acceptable economic activity.

    Which is why Phil is spot on in being sceptical about the links between the “Great Barrington Declaration” and elite neo liberal economic and power interests represented by organisations such as the AIER.

    Cooks subtext here is that focusing on the Covid-19 issue as the single Theory of Everything cause of current effects is letting the authoritarians off the hook. In this regard his focus on context and the structural systemic features offers a more comprehensive and real analysis of the system dynamics than the simplistic and naive fixation of the identity left – who have nothing of real value to offer here.

    The Purity Spiral which the identity left are engaging in in this regard is not just a dead end it’s also a Trojan Horse. Doing the heavy lifting for the authoritarians and neo-liberal right who, for those paying attention, have been signalling their intent to use the space created by the current crisis to reset Western society even more to their requirements whilst everyone is is being told to look over there (Covid-19) and ignore the kind of structural fault lines of the system which Cook and similar writers are being targeted for continuing to write about.

    Which, I suppose, fits neatly into the neo liberal capitalist approach – with sections of the self styled self referential left acting as sub contractors to do the heavy lifting of undermining such positions in favour of the simplistic. And if they aren’t getting paid for this they are even more gullible than I imagined.

    As it is the authoritarians are sneaking in the first steps to outlawing certain ideas such as opposition to capitalism. Preparing the ground for legal protection from any crimes of the institutions of State either abroad or domestically. Herding the naive into simplistic single cause and effect analysis and the dead end of post modernist identity cultural politics. Salami slicing the majority into ever shrinking and competing identity groups. Anything to divert attention away from the realities of class politics and the kind of structural systemic fault lines which are evident.

    It seems far easier to grab the comfort blanket of simple single cause and effect than deal with the kind of analysis which Cook, amongst others, attempt to highlight and focus upon.

    • Yes, it’s the binary polarisation that has from the start dismayed me and continues to do so. It does no favours to me, nor to those with differing views: exposure to which, in a calm and non point-scoring arena, might benefit us all. I’ve used words like ‘evangelical’ and ‘manichean’ but one less loaded is, as you suggest, ‘reductive’.

      By the same token though, and speaking as an established pal with no small respect for you, I’d ask that you too refrain from finger pointing. Sometimes it can’t be avoided – e.g. the piece on George Monbiot – but more often it can and should be dropped.

      More light – less heat!

    • A few observations:
      I have no idea who the “self labelled ‘identity left’” are. I never heard of them. There is here a general tactic of (ironically) reductionist pigeonholing swathes of people under a superciliously assumed derogatory label which (through effusive straw man metaphors involving alchemy) just amounts to shouting “You”re all so stupid!”

      This is connected to an implied demand that we all submit to some kind of entrance exam to establish credibility before being allowed to speak.

      No-one is claiming that everything would be OK without COVID. The implication that some of us are “obsessing over” COVID recalls similar complaints after 9/11. The sentiment, “Why fixate on 9/11” was used as an excuse not to mention it at all. This is even more dubious in relation to COVID since the virus issue affects everyone all the time and is indeed being constantly shoved down everyone’s throat. Suspicion about the way the virus is being used is not inconsistent with a wider view of neoliberalism etc.

      So “intelligent cynicism” relates to inconsistencies in the restrictions – which only goes to show that the virus is being used to implement policies deemed favourable to the elites. Well yes precisely. But that also follows on from “dumb cynicism” too!

      After which I see we get the customary division between structural analysis and the “superficial” conspiracy stuff. Michael Parenti already blew the whistle on this false duality.

  3. This piece in Counterpunch refutes the “plandemic” nonsense.
    https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/10/09/fake-covid-19-pandemic-refuting-the-conspiracy-theory-gone-global/
    I have been trying to write something myself- it all seems so very simple. The pandemic is genuine. The response of the capitalists is predictable- they use the opportunity to increase their wealth and power.
    As to the “left”, I find it hard to credit it but much of what passes as the “left” is anti-socialist and sees the state, as Thatcher did, as liable to lead us to serfdom. It is that ‘serfdom’ that the Covid conspiracy fanatics are worried about- the serfdom that comes, they believe, from interfering in the evolution of capitalist society.
    To them nature is ruthless and inexorable- the weak are killed off, the best genes survive. They don’t believe in class analysis, theirs is a world of good versus evil, light struggling against darkness, the ‘deep state” against the people. It is a manichean vision and they see themselves as the enlightened priests of the cult of light, struggling to save the soul of the people from satan and darkness.
    Socialists view the pandemic as an inevitable consequence of the evils of capitalism, from factory farming and the degradation of wilderness to the commercialisation of care and the constant pruning of public health systems. Above all it reminds us that reforms must lead to revolution because so long as the capitalist poison remains active within society it has the capability of corrupting everything. Brecht’s ‘bitch in heat’ argument. RH Tawney’s “You cannot tame a tiger claw by claw” dictum.
    It is because the lessons of the pandemic are so obvious and so dangerous to class society that the denial/ conspiracy theories have been pushed with such fervour, and adopted by the extreme libertarian right, the creatures of the Koch Brothers and followers of the Austrian Economists., and those centred on Babson College in Great Barrington Massachussets- epicentre of the movement described here, in the tabula rasa investigation.
    : https://bakerstreetherald.com/
    If I do find the time/energy to write something I’ll ‘share it’ with you.
    Thanks for all that you do in this blog.

    • Yes, it all sounds very grand and well thought out. Right on cue. All conforming to fate:

      “…it all seems so very simple. The pandemic is genuine.”

      “it all seems”. What a story these three little words tell. And of course the “response of the capitalists is predictable” i,e, that “they use the opportunity to increase their wealth and power”. And yet “the lessons of the pandemic are so obvious and so dangerous to class society”? A curious tension, surely? So, who precisely does the pandemic help and who does it hinder?

      But – no matter: the skeptics MUST be lumped in with “the extreme libertarian right, the creatures of the Koch Brothers”. Because from the beginning the underlying directive for all true Leftists was to take the deadly virus story at face value. This was further emphasised by the curious logic that the virus MUST be deadly because “something like this was bound to happen” and those who doubted were “backing capitalism”.

      These were clear psychological pressures that rendered the entire debate “impure” i.e. dominated by manufactured emotional connections.

      And the final twist: the Leftist triumphalism that the overlords were getting their long delayed comeuppance whilst ignoring the inconvenient matter of the capitalist owned media trumpeting this very triumphalism – indeed ignoring the fact that it was precisely this capitalist owned media that was supplying the entire heady morality tale.

  4. The three who’ve commented on this post all have my respect. Two, Dave and bevin, have a view sharply divergent from that of the third, George. To complicate matters, that third person has shown in numerous comments that he is not a libertarian the way many of the loudest voices in this “thermonuclear” debate are. Indeed, he can be more scathing than I am about libertarianism in this and other arenas. Nevertheless, his take on CV19 is informed – correct me if I’m wrong, George – by the view that socialist, indeed marxist, critiques are not ipso facto incompatible with suspicions of conspiracy, nor with fears of authoritarian rule.

    (In my own evolution on 9/11 I came to see that whatever the truth of that day – and it certainly does not reside in official accounts like the NIST Report – I’d unconsciously made the logical error of concluding that because marxism does not rely on assumptions of conspiracy, looking rather to systemic drivers, conspiracy could – “ergo” – not have taken place. I’ve seen the same non sequitur informing, at least in part and again unconsciously, other marxist objectors to the idea of 911 being not what it seemed.)

    Because I respect George I’d welcome a fleshing out of his views on the actual threat posed by CV19. (And if this is not the Big One predicted since 2003 by most epidemiologists – see the third of my three April reads – on the claimed inevitability of some other 1918 scale pandemic.) Ditto his views on this one being framed and leveraged by identifiable groups so as to lift capitalism out of its self generated crises through a wholesale restructuring of the global order.

    Dave and bevin have already written CV19 posts – here and here – for this site. bevin has said he may write another.

    All are welcome. May I suggest, for reasons I’ve given – including but not confined to my Libran aversion to needless disharmony – that writers take care with their words, and not lose sight of the facts that a fellow human being is on the other end of the line and, no less important, said human being is in broad agreement over most of the things that really matter. We all know ours to be a corrupt world, and that the criminals who run it are taking us to the brink of annihilation. As such we are brothers and sisters in struggle.

  5. Thank you for your considerate reception of my comments, Philip. I will lay out my own views. (I was going to go into a big spiel about how my suspicions were aroused but that soon turned into a monster so I shall omit it. It involves a sensitivity to media machinations and psychological manipulation involving illegitimate arguments. I may unleash it later.)

    In the following, I may not have addressed your specific requests. But I hope it will become clear why this is so i.e. I regard concern about the actual threat of COVID to be based on a misguided assumption. And as for “identifiable groups”, I admit my ignorance as to the specifics but although my opponents will no doubt eagerly seize on this, I actually don’t think it’s a major concern since I refer to a general approach whereby the ruling class are working to maintain their control. And as far as lifting “capitalism out of its self-generated crises through a wholesale restructuring of the global order” goes, I refer to my remarks below re: David Harvey and short-term solutions.

    Because I have read a large amount of Marxist material and am aware of the basic point of view presented therein (and fully respect it), I fully understand, as many on e.g. the Off-Guardian forums do not, that the situation we were in before the pandemic/lockdown was unsustainable and was indeed based on a neo-colonialism where collapse was, and still is, imminent. One recent OG article by a Gregory Sinaisky put it this way:

    “This situation cannot continue indefinitely, and very soon we can expect an abrupt fall in the standard of living in the US, the UK and most European countries, accompanied by tremendous social upheavals. The US plutocracy has no economic or military means to stop this collapse.”

    Indeed, the above statement is the basis of my view of the pandemic. To put it crudely: the mother-of-all crashes is coming. The ruling class has been attempting to stave it off and has finally come to realise that they can no longer do so. Thus, they have initiated a programme of “damage control”. The two most important questions were 1) getting the public to accept the collapse in as docile a manner as possible and 2) initiating the formation of a police state which will eventually be needed to maintain control.

    They solved these matters by, first of all pre-empting the crash under the guise of a pandemic. This does not mean that the virus is a fraud, nor that it is not a deadly killer. I suspect it is a moderate flu variant which can be blown up into an apocalyptic plague by several manoeuvres. (At this point I went into a lot of detail which ended up as another monster spiel which wasn’t relevant especially since I have come to realise that, after a point, arguing about the minutiae leads down profitless avenues cf. the melting point of steel re: 9/11)

    The second problem (police state) was solved also by the pandemic scenario. Now we have a public which not only accept the proto police state of the lockdown but are actually demanding that it be enforced with ever greater restrictions. An enviable feat. Also, consider the masks and the distancing. Here we have the divide-and-rule manoeuvre applied in the most literal sense imaginable.

    So – to what end? Well I recall David Harvey’s oft repeated remark that capitalism always tackles problems in a short-term ad-hoc way that doesn’t lead to any real lasting solution but just moves the trouble around – like tramping down an air bubble under a carpet. I don’t believe there is a vast over-arching conspiracy that aims to implement “fascism” (if such a conspiracy existed, they would surely already have total control). No, they are exercising damage control which will inevitably result in vast amounts of businesses collapsing – but I think the ones who have the most power are happy to make these “necessary sacrifices”.

    And if anyone is to say that I have misunderstood capitalism and that “it can’t work this way”, all I can say is: desperate times/desperate measures. I think the ruling class have acknowledged the inevitability of open class warfare and they are working hard to ensure that they themselves have the best advantage when it finally arrives. And if they have a public that is indefinitely scared, masked and in hiding then they have a clear lead.

    • Thanks George. With Harvey I differ on important points – which doesn’t make me right, and in any case doesn’t make him wrong in the way you quote him. I’ve sent the Sinaisky piece – getting on for 6,000 words – to my kindle for reading this weekend if I get the chance.

  6. It would seem useful at this point to consider the context of Cooks piece – which is not about the, to use a contextually loaded term, alleged pandemic per se but to deal with the criticism arising from a line of argument put forward which originates from what Cook refers to, as the ‘cynical left.’

    A term which, in an era previous to the current one in which the Zeitgeist is that the primary crime of ‘causing offence’ is actively and imaginatively sought out, would be easily identifiable as a descriptive term alone.

    In this regard Cook is not singling out OffGuardian in using this term. Merely using it as an example of a particular line taken which is not limited to one specific source. Other contributors arguing from a similar space to that of Cook use different but related terms such as ‘Libertarian Left’; ‘psuedo left’ or, Cook again (quoted here: http://steelcityscribblings.uk/wp/2020/10/11/whats-the-point-of-george-monbiot/ ) the ‘identity politics’ “left.”

    In each case the meaning of these terms within the context and arguments used seems self evident. Cook’s beef is with an argument espoused and position taken by individuals and groups who claim to be, by virtue of a label they attach to themselves, of “The Left” – whatever that happens to mean?

    Which in Cooks context is indistinguishable from what one has traditionally encountered on the political ‘right’ – whatever the individual pinning whatever label onto themselves as an identity wants it to mean. Or, to use the term attributed to Karl Rove, those who create their own reality.

    Cooks specific concern, in this piece and the one quoted on this site about Monbiet, is clearly in regard to what he sees as a shallow analysis in which the term “Left” itself is used as a mere label of individualised identity.

    One which has jettisoned a systemic based class politics in favour of a simplistic and contextless reductionist approach which has more in common with the extreme atomised individualism of an ultra-hierarchical segmented political market place favoured by whatever term or self attached label fits. “RightWing”; “Extreme Centre”; “Libertarian”; “neo-liberal”; “neo-conservative”; “neo-feudal”; take your pick?

    The sub text here in Cooks quoted pieces is also of relevance. He is dealing with an attack based critique in which those on the “Left” who continue to take a systemic class based position – what Cook labels, in another descriptive term, as ‘the progressive critical left’ in this quoted piece – are taken to task as a group on the basis of what, when all the bullshit is stripped away, not going along with the self defined purist position and arguments of those making that critique.

    A critique which, as previously highlighted, can be succinctly encapsulated in Catte Black’s piece from a post earlier this year on this blog site. A piece which has no problem in pinning a label on anyone who disagrees as the “Chicken Little” Left.

    Consequently, in this context, Cook and those who adopt a similar position are the ones responding and defending a particular position based on a systemic class based position from a reductionist based argument which has no problem or qualms about sticking derogatory labels on others, rather than using descriptive terms such as “Critical and Progressive Left”; “Cynical Left”; “Libertarian Left”; “Identity Left”; or “self identifying Left. “

    From the perspective of consistency it would seem reasonable to anticipate the same argument applied to the descriptive terms Cook, or others occupying a similar space to him, use rather than focusing on just one descriptive term such as “identity left” or “self identifying left” when raising objections to such terms.

    It would seem equally reasonable in this respect to anticipate the application of a degree of differentiation between clear descriptive terms and what might be best described as non descriptive terms. However, as previously observed, this is not the contemporary Zeitgeist.

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