Friday, May 20, 2022

Understanding the Covid Pandemic as a Historic Turning point

One of Winston Churchill’s favorite aphorisms was that “history is written by the victors.” With victory comes the opportunity for the victors to use their version of history to reshape and redefine the dominant attitudes and values of their culture to conform with their own perspective.

Paul Kingsnorth, a British writer on ecology and the effects of globalization, sees history as “a never-ending series of battles over stories, with the winners determining who shapes society, at least for a while. The ongoing ‘culture war’ in many Western nations is a classic example of this narrative struggle at work.”

Citing the cultural and political turmoil created by the Covid pandemic, Kingsnorth says, “What is going on in the post-post-modern West [today] is that we are at the end of a story, and we are fighting violently over whether we can restore it – or if not, which story, or stories, will takes its place.”

Citing historian Christopher Dawson, Kingsnorth describes the “Western European culture, which has been so dominant for the last few centuries and is now fading in power and influence, as a Christian society overlaid on a barbarian [foundation]. . .

“At first, West European culture was defined by Christendom… “For a thousand years, medieval Christendom survived as a world entire in itself. Then, from the Reformation onwards, through the Enlightenment, empire and the rise of science, the Christian story was first challenged and then gradually superseded by another: the story of Progress. . .

THE FAILURE OF THE PROGRESS STORY

Kingsnorth argues that the failure of the story of Progress to deal with the challenges of the Covid epidemic has highlighted the need to develop another story which more accurately describes and explains the new omicron-driven Covid reality that we now face.

“Progress tells us we should have faith in certain things – accumulated scientific knowledge; accredited and ‘educated’ experts; journalists who investigate the facts of a story and then explain them to us; the human ability to establish truth. . .

“[It offered humanity] a vision of an Earthly paradise, towards which human effort guided by calculative reason could take us. Following this guidance, each generation will live a better life than the life of those that went before it. . .

“[The story of] Progress [was first exposed as a myth] in the second half of the twentieth century. After Auschwitz, after Hiroshima, who could believe it? Those of us who [over the age of 50] can still remember what the year 2000 was supposed to look like when we were children, with its jetpacks and flying cars and moon colonies and electricity too cheap to meter.”

But those optimistic promises were never realized. Instead, the myth of Progress has been replaced by liberals with the gloomy picture of a global future doomed by the inevitable trends of climate change disaster and ecological extinction.

“The grand story [of Progress] we grew up with is now impossible even for many former true believers to cleave to,” Kingnorth writes on his blog.

Kingsnorth describes the covid virus as “apocalyptic, in the sense that it was revealing things previously hidden [such as the dangers of trying to apply a popularized version of “science” to real world problems, such as the covid virus, which keep changing in unexpected ways] . . .

“Now the myth of Progress is dying, and our culture is desperately searching for a way to repair it or generate a new narrative we can believe in to take its place.”

HOW ‘FLATNESS’ BROKE EVERYTHING

In an essay titled “Everything Is Broken – And How to Fix It,” Alana Newhouse, the founder and editor-in-chief of Tablet magazine, notes, “for [the first] seven decades [of the 20th century], the country’s intellectual and cultural life was produced and protected by a set of institutions—universities, newspapers, magazines, record companies, professional associations, cultural venues, publishing houses, Hollywood studios, think tanks, etc. Collectively, these institutions reflected a diversity of experiences and then stamped them all as “American”—conjuring coherence out of the chaos of a big and unwieldy country. . . But, beginning in the 1970s, the economic ground underneath this landscape began to come apart.

Newhouse cites historian Michael Lind, who wrote that for the past 50 years, “The strategy of American business, encouraged by neoliberal Democrats and libertarian conservative Republicans alike, has been to lower labor costs in the United States, not by substituting labor-saving technology for workers, but by schemes of labor arbitrage: Offshoring jobs when possible to poorly paid workers in other countries and substituting unskilled immigrants willing to work for low wages in some sectors, like meatpacking and construction and farm labor. American business has also driven down wages by smashing unions in the private sector.”

That set the stage for the tech revolution, which, Newhouse writes, further transformed “the ’70s economy by demanding more efficiency and more speed and more boundarylessness, and demanding it everywhere. They introduced not only a host of inhuman wage-suppressing tactics, like replacing full-time employees with benefits with gig workers with lower wages and no benefits, but also a whole new aesthetic that has come to dominate every aspect of our lives—a set of principles that collectively might be thought of as ‘flatness.’

“Flatness is the reason the three jobs with the most projected growth in your country all earn less than $27,000 a year, and it is also the reason that all the secondary institutions that once gave structure and meaning to hundreds of millions of American lives—jobs and unions but also local newspapers, churches, Rotary Clubs, main streets—have been decimated. And flatness is the mechanism by which, over the past decade and with increasing velocity over the last three years, a single ideologically driven cohort captured the entire interlocking infrastructure of American cultural and intellectual life. It is how the Long March [the tyranny of an unelected elite over American society] went from a punchline to reality, as one institution after another fell and then entire sectors, like journalism, succumbed to control by narrow bands of sneering elitists who arrogated to themselves the license to judge and control the lives of their perceived inferiors.

“Flatness broke everything.”

WE ARE LIVING IN AN AGE OF MEDIOCRITY

Newhouse says that she and her husband were first made aware of the mediocrity and conformity due to the growth of “flatness”, by the difficulty they encountered in trying to find a medical “expert” who could accurately diagnose and treat the birth defect which was impacting their newly born son. After three years of fruitless searching, the couple finally stumbled on the answer themselves by reading a book about brain science and neuroplasticity written a decade earlier by Canadian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Dr. Norman Doidge.

“It changed our lives,” Newhouse recalls in her essay, “by allowing us to properly understand our son’s injury (and to understand why we couldn’t manage to get a straight answer about it from any of the ‘experts’ we had seen). “

About a year later, Newhouse and her husband, David Samuels, who is also a widely published journalist, met Dr. Doidge in person, and took that opportunity to ask him why, “it took my husband and me—both children of doctors, both people with reporting and researching backgrounds, among the lucky who have health insurance, and with access through family and friends to what is billed as the best medical care in the country—years to figure this out, and that in the end we only did so basically by accident?”

After pausing for a moment, Dr. Doidge answered, “I don’t know how else to tell you this but bluntly. There are still many good individuals involved in medicine, but the American medical system is profoundly broken.

“When you look at the rate of medical error—it’s now the third leading cause of death in the U.S.—the overmedication, creation of addiction, the quick-fix mentality, not funding the poor, quotas to admit from [Emergency Rooms], needless operations, the monetization of illness vs. health, the monetization of side effects, a peer review system run by journals paid for by Big Pharma, the destruction of the health of doctors and nurses themselves by administrators, who demand that they rush through 10-minute patient visits, when so often an hour or more is required, and which means that in order to be ‘successful,’ doctors must overlook complexity rather than search for it … Alana, the unique thing here isn’t that you fell down so many rabbit holes. What’s unique is that you found your way out at all.”

Turning the same question around, Dr. Doidge then asked Newhouse and her husband, “How come so much of the journalism I read seems like garbage?”

Newhouse recalls it as . “David and I looked at each other, simultaneously realizing that. . . if the medical industry was comprehensively broken, as [Dr. Doidge] said, and the media was irrevocably broken, as we knew it was … Was everything in America broken? Was education broken? Housing? Farming? Cities? Was religion broken?”

THE TRIUMPH OF “FAKE NEWS”

Essayist Walter Kirn offers a more detailed explanation for the precipitous decline of contemporary standards of journalism. It is grounded in his experience more than 20 years ago working for Time Magazine, which he describes as “a publication which still exists in name but whose original, defining mission – grounding the American mind in a moderate, shared reality – is dead. . .

“At Time, in the 90s, before the internet made its approach seem sluggish and slashed its readership, it was still possible to regard our product as unifying and, in its way, definitive. Sometimes I covered tangible events such as drug epidemics and forest fires, but much of the time I stitched together interviews conducted by local stringers and reporters into feature stories on such topics as ‘The New Science of Happiness’ and ‘Children of Divorce.’ It was an article of faith at Time that the findings of social scientists, simplified for popular consumption, ranked with hard news as a source of public enlightenment.

“Until business began to suffer, requiring cut-backs, the magazine kept an in-house research library, the better for checking even the smallest facts. The burden of accuracy lay heavy on Time. Its mighty name required nothing less.

“Things are different now,” Kirn observes sadly.

“Every morning, there it is, waiting for me on my [smart]phone. The [garbage]. It resembles, in its use of phrases such as ‘knowledgeable sources’ and ‘experts differ,’ what I used to think of as the news, but it isn’t the news and it hasn’t been for ages. It consists of its decomposed remains in a news-shaped coffin.

“It does impart information, strictly speaking, but not always information about our world. Or not good information, because it’s so often wrong, particularly on matters of great import and invariably to the advantage of the same interests, which suggests it should be presumed wrong as a rule.

“The information it imparts, if one bothers to sift through it, is information about itself; about the purposes, beliefs, and loyalties of those who produce it: the informing class. . .

“What has changed is that the press used to maintain certain boundaries in the relationship [with the informing class]. . . It didn’t hire ex-CIA directors, top FBI men, NSA brass, or other past and future sources to sit beside its anchors at spot-lit news-desks. . . But it gave in.

“I’m stipulating these points, I’m not debating them,” Kirn states. “If you find them too extreme, go read more [garbage]. Immerse yourself in news of Russian plots to counterfeit presidential children’s laptops, viruses spawned in Wuhan market stalls, vast secret legions of domestic terrorists. . . experiencing ‘temporary’ inflation, and patriotic tech conglomerates purging the commons of untruths. Comfort yourself with the thoughts that the same fortunes engaged in. . . the provision of computing services to the [American] defense and intelligence establishments, have allied to protect your family’s health, advance the causes of equity and justice, and safeguard our democratic institutions. Dismiss as cynical the notion that you, the reader, are not their client but their product. Your data for their ‘garbage,’ that’s the deal. And Build Back Better. That’s the sermon.”

Kirn suggests that the only alternative for those seeking the truth “is to retreat to the anti-‘garbage’ universe of alternative media sources. These are the podcasts, videos, Twitter threads, newsletters, and Facebook pages that regularly vanish from circulation for violating “community standards” and other [arbitrary] codes of conduct, oft-times after failing “fact-checks” by the friendly people at ‘Good Thoughtkeeping.’ Some of these rebel outfits are engrossing, some dull and churchy, many quite bizarre, and some, despite small staffs and tiny budgets, remarkably good and getting better. Some are Substack pages owned by writers who severed ties with established publications, drawing charges of being Russian agents, crypto-anarchists, or free-speech ‘absolutists’. . . This wilderness of ‘contrarianism’ – a designation easily earned these days; you merely have to mention Orwell or reside in Florida — requires a measure of vigilance and effort from those who seek the truth there.”

SURVIVING THE TRAUMA OF “THE TURN”

In a recent essay, Israeli-born, American-educated Liel Leibovitz, who writes regularly for the Tablet, vividly described his own transition, which he calls “The Turn,” away from the knee-jerk liberalism of his college years in New York City, into the independent, free-thinking journalist that he is today, causing him to be reviled and ostracized by the cancel culture.

During his years as a member of the mainstream liberal culture, Leibovitz recalls, “it wasn’t just an ideology — I embraced my people, and my people embraced me. They gave me everything I had always imagined I wanted: a Ph.D. from an Ivy League university; a professorship at NYU, complete with a roomy office overlooking Washington Square Park; book deals; columns in smart little publications; invitations to the sort of soirees where you could find yourself seated next to Salman Rushdie or Susan Sontag or any number of the men and women you grew up reading and admiring. The list goes on. Life was good. I was grateful.

“And then came The Turn. If you’ve lived through it yourself, you know that The Turn doesn’t happen overnight, that it isn’t easily distilled into one dramatic breakdown moment, that it happens hazily and over time—first a twitch, then a few more, stretching into a gnawing discomfort and then, eventually, a sense of panic.

“You may be among the increasing numbers of people going through The Turn right now. Having lived through the turmoil of the last half decade—through the years of MAGA and antifa and rampant identity politics and, most dramatically, the global turmoil caused by Covid-19—more and more of us feel absolutely and irreparably politically homeless. Instinctively, we looked to the Democratic Party, the only home we and our parents and their parents before them had ever known or seriously considered. But what we saw there—and in the newspapers we used to read, and in the schools whose admission letters once made us so proud—was terrifying. However we tried to explain what was happening on “the left,” it was hard to convince ourselves that it was right, or that it was something we still truly believed in. That is what The Turn is about.

“You might be living through The Turn if you ever found yourself feeling like free speech should stay free even if it offended some group or individual but now can’t admit it at dinner with friends because you are afraid of being thought a bigot. You are living through The Turn if you have questions about public health policies—including the effects of lockdowns and school closures on the poor and most vulnerable in our society—but can’t ask them out loud because you know you’ll be labeled an anti-vaxxer. You are living through The Turn if you think that burning down towns and looting stores isn’t the best way to promote social justice, but feel you can’t say so because you know you’ll be called a white supremacist. . .

“If you’ve felt yourself unable to speak your mind, if you have a queasy feeling that your friends might disown you if you shared your most intimately held concerns, if you are feeling a bit breathless and a bit hopeless and entirely unsure what on earth is going on, I am sorry to inform you that The Turn is upon you.”

“RIGHT” AND “LEFT” DON’T MEAN THE SAME ANY MORE

Leibovitz recalls, “I still remember how confusing and painful it felt to know that my beliefs. . . that, until very recently, were so obvious and banal and widely held on the left that they were hardly considered beliefs at all—now labeled me an outcast. . . It’s the kind of primal rejection that is devastating precisely because it forces you to rethink everything, not only your convictions about the world but also your idea of yourself, your values, and your priorities. We all want to be embraced. We all want the men and women we consider most swell to approve of us and confirm that we, too, are good and great. We all want the love and the laurels; The Turn takes both away.

“But, having been there before, I have one important thing to tell you: If the left is going to make it ‘right wing’ to simply be decent, then it’s OK to be right.

“Why? Because. . . “right” and “left” are now empty categories.”

He also notes the breathtaking hypocrisy of today’s leftist narrative: “You don’t get to be “against the rich” if the richest people in the country fund your party in order to preserve their government-sponsored monopolies. You are not “a supporter of free speech” if you oppose free speech for people who disagree with you. You are not “for the people” if you pit most of them against each other based on the color of their skin or force them out of their jobs because of personal choices related to their bodies. You are not “serious about economic inequality” when you happily order from Amazon without caring much for the devastating impact your purchases have on the small businesses that increasingly are either subjugated by [Amazon] or crushed by it altogether. You are not “for science” if you refuse to consider hypotheses that don’t conform to your political convictions and then try to ban critical thought and inquiry from the internet. You are not an “anti-racist” if you label—and sort!—people by race. You are not “against conformism” when you scare people out of voicing dissenting opinions.

“When ‘the left’ becomes the party of wealthy elites and state security agencies who preach racial division, state censorship, contempt for ordinary citizens and for the U.S. Constitution, and telling people what to do and think at every turn, then that’s the side you are on. . . It doesn’t matter what good people ‘on the left’ believed and did 60 or 70 years ago. Those people are dead now, mostly. They don’t define ‘the left’ any more than Abraham Lincoln defines the modern-day Republican Party.

“So welcome to the right side, friend,” Leibovitz concludes, “and join us in laughing at all the idiotic name-calling that is applied, with increasing hysteria, to try and stop more and more normal Americans from joining our ranks.”

These days, Leibovitz is in distinguished company on the cancel culture blacklist. It includes a growing number formerly respected liberal commentators and investigative reporters, such as Bari Weiss, Glenn Greenwald, Andrew Sullivan and Matt Taibbi, who are finding a new journalistic life on their own Substack pages and other lesser-known independent internet platforms.

But in the rest of Western culture, democracy and human rights are in full retreat.

For example, the Austrian government has ordered the internment in their own homes of a third of its national population, labeling them a “danger to public health” because they are unvaccinated. News photos show armed, masked, black-clad Austrian police stopping people in the streets to demand that they produce digital documents proving that they have been vaccinated, while others are arrested for leaving their own house more than the permitted once a day.

After the latest extension of the stay-at-home order for unvaccinated people, the Austrian newspaper Heute wrote, “it is now becoming more and more apparent that unvaccinated people will be locked down until vaccination is compulsory.”

Some Austrian politicians are calling for all those who refuse to be vaccinated to be shunned and scapegoated as “enemies of the people” until they acquiesce. Kingsnorth cites Austrian media interviews, as evidence that many ordinary people in the street have accepted the government narrative that, “the ‘unvaxxed’ had it coming. Some of them say that they should all be jailed, these enemies of the people. At best, the ‘anti-vaxxers’ are paranoid and misinformed. At worst they are malicious and should be punished.”

Across the border in Germany, politicians are seriously discussing the forced vaccination of every citizen. In late November, two days before the existence of the omicron variant was reported to the World Health Organization, Germany’s then-health minister, Jens Spahn, predicted at a press conference that by the end of this winter, all Germans will be “vaccinated, cured or dead.”

AUSTRALIA’S COVID ABOUT FACE

Last year, Australia was following a strict zero tolerance policy for covid infections which had the government forcibly ‘transferring’ arriving travelers from foreign countries, or anyone who had come into contact with a covid-infected person, into state-run camps, where they were to be held until the state decides that they were safe enough to be released.

However, on December 14, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison changed course, in light of the growing evidence that the highly infectious omicron variant leads to less serious illness than the previous version. The prime minister announced that many of Australia’s strict “zero-covid” regulations then in force would be relaxed, declaring that it was time for his government to “step back and let Australians step forward.”

“Why do I stress this? Morrison asked. “Because I believe some on the left of politics will draw precisely the wrong lesson from the pandemic, where it is viewed as the pretext for a more expansive government role and reach into society – across economic, social and cultural domains. This would be a profound misjudgment … The reach of government in this pandemic is not some new norm; it has a use-by date.

“While necessary, it is not normal for government to tell Australians where we can and can’t go, who we can and can’t invite into our homes, to stay home, to close our businesses. It’s not normal to keep track of where we’ve been, not be allowed to visit friends or relatives, go out to dinner or the pub. None of these restrictions belong in the lives of Australians.”

He also said that is not his government’s role to be a “meddling, busybody overseer” in the lives of its citizens. However, despite Prime Minister Morrison’s shift, there is still a considerable amount of covid policy inertia in Australia, as evidenced by the controversy over the government’s refusal to permit world champion tennis player, Novak Djokovic, to enter the country in order to defend his title, because he has refused to be vaccinated.

Morrison’s abrupt about face on the necessity for Australia’s draconian anti-covid regulations is just the kind of rational reaction that one would expect if the lockdowns had been initially motivated by “the Science” alone, as their liberal advocates have insisted.

But Morrison’s courageous admission that many of Australia’s covid restrictions are no longer necessary is the exception rather than the rule. More typically, the steady expansion of covid-inspired restrictions has met relatively little organized public resistance due to the sense of global crisis generated by the media and government officials. That sense of crisis has been renewed by the emergence of the omicron variant, despite growing evidence that omicron infections are milder than those caused by previous variants and will produce a much lower percentage of hospitalizations and deaths.

THE TRUTH ABOUT “BREAKTHROUGH” INFECTIONS

But we now know that the original Biden administration strategy, which relied on the belief that universal vaccination would finally bring an end to the covid pandemic, has failed, as evidenced by the fact that hundreds of thousands of Americans  are now contracting “breakthrough” infections due to the omicron variant, despite the fact that they had received  vaccinations and a booster shot.

Breakthrough infections are not unique to the omicron variant, nor are they a new phenomenon. No vaccine has ever been 100% effective at preventing the targeted infection. The primary goal of every vaccine is to reduce the rate of infection as much as possible and to reduce the severity of the “breakthrough” infections that the vaccine will not be able to prevent. Even before the arrival of the infection omicron, scientists knew that a certain number of covid breakthrough infections had always been inevitable. The problem is that in order to sell his vaccine mandates to the American public, President Biden falsely promised them that it would put an end to the spread of covid infections.

Biden’s inevitable failure to keep that promise helps to explain why  the partisan political controversy over the morality, legality and necessity for covid vaccination mandates has become so bitter.

It has also become clear that the controversy is not, fundamentally, about the vaccines themselves. Instead, Kingsnorth believes the heart of the dispute is the political-cultural conflict over “what vaccination symbolizes in this moment. What it means to be ‘vaxxed’ or ‘unvaxxed’, safe or dangerous, clean or dirty, sensible or irresponsible, compliant or independent: these are questions about what it means to be a good member of society. . .

Kingsnorth does not deny that “Covid-19 is a nasty illness which should be taken seriously, especially by those who are especially vulnerable to it. But it is nowhere near dangerous enough – if anything could be – to justify the creation of a global police state.”

But he argues that the fact that these vaccines do not prevent transmission of the virus, “which has long been known but is barely ever mentioned – blows apart the case for vaccine passports, segregation, lockdowns of the ‘unvaxxed’ and all such similar measures. Even if you believe (or pretend to) that this virus is dangerous enough to justify the radical new forms of authoritarianism which have emerged around it. . . those forms will fail anyway if both vaccinated and unvaccinated people can spread it; which we know they can.”

Kingsnorth questions whether the benefits of vaccine mandates justify, “the deliberate creation by the state and the press of a climate of fear and suspicion” aimed at those citizens who refuse to surrender control of their own bodies by submitting to state-mandated inoculations with vaccines which are still so new that their potential long term-risks are not yet fully understood. The debate becomes even more politically explosive when evaluating proposals being considered in cities and states across the country for the mandatory vaccination of all schoolchildren, even over the objections of their parents.

MANY COVID RESTRICTIONS ARE NO LONGER JUSTIFIED

The counter-argument is that the actual health threat presented by the covid virus today has been drastically reduced by the many effective new treatments that will soon become widely available. From a public health point of view, these new options means that the covid threat no longer justifies the drastic and undemocratic tactics that have been applied against it. These include internment, state-ordered vaccinations mandates, the segregation of whole sections of society, mass firings, and the systematic media censorship and condemnation of all vaccination dissenters. Moreover, these draconian measures were put in place by government fiat with little or no public debate over striking the proper balance between constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties and public health.

Kingsnorth and other observers, including Newhouse, see a more sinister and fundamental force at work. It is the use of the covid threat to justify exerting an unprecedented level of control over our lives by power-hungry state leaders, with the support of an alliance of an establishment consisting of a small circle of well-connected wealthy, corporate, media and cultural elites.

They believe it goes back to the failure of the Progress Story as the basis of our accepted cultural narrative, and the struggle over how best to repair it or replace it.

The pressure to impose vaccine mandates is the logical response for those who see the covid pandemic as a modern example of the classic deadly Plague Story come to life. But a more realistic model for covid as we know it to be today would be the “Flu Story,” which would treat Covid-19 as a “potentially nasty flu-like illness, but one which could be overcome by pursuing ‘herd immunity’, reasonable health measures and individual good sense.”

Kingsnorth also notes that, “once the Plague Story became the official interpretation of the corona event, people expected the elements of the story to be fulfilled. Quarantines needed to happen. People breaking the rules needed to be denounced. The experts needed to come to the rescue. All these things became necessary because they are implied by the structure of the [Plague] story.”

But Newhouse reminds us that before the Plague Story was widely established as the official narrative, a discussion of other alternatives was still possible. “[During] the early days, the pandemic, in many places, brought many people together around a shared threat. Whatever our perspectives, we shared the lockdowns, the uncertainty, the desire to see it end. We argued about what it was and what to do; back then, arguments were still possible, and could go uncensored. But the arrival of vaccine passports, mandates and segregation ripped society apart rather than bringing it together, dividing clean from unclean, responsible from irresponsible, foolish from wise, and creating a new class of acceptable scapegoats. . .

DEMOCRACY VS. TECHNOLOGY AND THE MACHINE

Kingsnorth sees the galloping dominance and control of technology over more and more aspects of our lives as another key ingredient of the response to the covid virus which, combined with a merger of state and corporate power, “are driving us into [a science-fiction future] with barely a murmur. It is the story of technocracy: the story of the Machine.

“In 2021, this story has intertwined itself with the story of the virus and piggybacked upon it. . . As we fight bitterly over the wedge issues of the age – vaccine safety, new variants, ivermectin, mandates – this meta-story continues to play itself out. . . Its authors [are] promising a software update that will reboot the Progress story for the Smart world [they envision in our futures] . . .

“For decades now, nation states and their political leaders have been progressively disempowered by globalization, and power has been concentrated in the hands of those who create and control the world’s technological infrastructure. [Internet billionaires] Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Sergey Brin, and the like have been molding our reality for decades. . .

“We are living through a time in which the conflict between technocracy and democracy has spilled out into the open: the battle is being fought daily now on street and screen. . .

“The covid pandemic has proven to be the perfect controlled experiment for the rollout of the next stage of the Machine’s evolution. . . It is not an accident, and it is not temporary. In the EU, Smartphone-enabled vaccine passes have been on the cards since at least 2018. The entire pandemic scenario was wargamed less than a year before it happened. The technology was ready, and the tightening of the ratchet long anticipated. All that was needed was a trigger event. . .

“The people who are in control – or at least, who aspire to be – are out in plain sight, and have been for years, and most of us either don’t notice or don’t care. We are too busy playing with the [technological] toys they make for us.

“What we are seeing is the Machine doing what it always does. . . It is taking advantage of events to cement its dominance. It is colonizing our societies and our bodies and our minds. It is replacing nature with technology, and culture with commerce. It is making us parts in its operational matrix, and it is using our fear to justify its tightening grip. When we are afraid, we welcome control, we welcome authoritarianism, we welcome strong leaders who will save Us by excluding Them. We willingly give up our freedom for safety, and end up with neither. . .

“Covid has provided the perfect testing ground and launchpad for a next generation of digital surveillance-and-control technologies which have been on the drawing board for years. The confusion, anger and division swirling around us all right now is a result of our confused inability to navigate the techno-coup we are living through, or even to quite understand what is happening.

THE SECULAR VALUES
OF THE MACHINE

Newhouse agrees with Kingsnorth’s Machine Story and provides a more detailed historical background. She writes, “the reigning aesthetic of the 20th century was modernism, which articulated in one word the values of the industrial revolution. . . [It put] an emphasis on the future over the past, and the valorization of machine production and engineering as the highest forms of human creativity. This new aesthetic soon began to transform all parts of cultural and material existence. . .

“Starting in the second decade of the 1900s, certain Communists began seeing in modernism a potential advertisement for the values of a mass society of industrial workers laboring under the direction of a small group of engineers. In other words, this aesthetic—which whole swaths of the Western world were already in the process of quickly adopting—could also be the perfect delivery mechanism for their political ideology.

“One hundred years later, we find ourselves in the middle of a similar cultural and political struggle.

“Today’s revolution has been defined by a set of very specific values: boundarylessness; speed; universal accessibility; an allergy to hierarchy, so much so that the weighting or preferring of some voices or products over others is seen as illegitimate; seeing one’s own words and face reflected back as part of a larger current; a commitment to gratification at the push of a button; equality of access to commodified experiences as the right of every human being on Earth; the idea that all choices can and should be made instantaneously, and that the choices made by the majority in a given moment, on a given [social media] platform represent a larger democratic choice, which is therefore both true and good—until the next moment, on the next platform.

“You could, seemingly overnight, transform people’s views about anything—even everything.

TRANSFERS OF WEALTH AND POWER

“The internet tycoons used the ideology of flatness to [suck] up the value from local businesses, national retailers, the whole newspaper industry, etc.—and no one seemed to care. This heist—by which a small group of people, using the wiring of flatness, could transfer to themselves enormous assets without any political, legal or social pushback—enabled progressive activists and their oligarchic funders to pull off a heist of their own, using the same wiring. They seized on the fact that the entire world was already adapting to a life of practical flatness in order to push their ideology of political flatness—what they call social justice, but which has historically meant the transfer of enormous amounts of power and wealth to a select few.

“Because this cohort insists on sameness and purity, they have turned the once-independent parts of the American cultural complex into a mutually validating pipeline for conformists with approved viewpoints. . .

“So, instead of reflecting the diversity of a large country, these institutions have now been repurposed as instruments to instill and enforce the narrow and rigid agenda of one cohort of people, forbidding exploration or deviation—a regime that has ironically left [stranded and isolated] many, if not most, of the country’s best thinkers and creators. Anyone actually concerned with solving deep-rooted social and economic problems, or G-d forbid with creating something unique or beautiful—a process that is inevitably messy and often involves exploring heresies and making mistakes—will hit a wall. If they are young and remotely ambitious they will simply snuff out that part of themselves early on [in self-defense], strangling the voice that they know will get them in trouble before they’ve ever had the chance to really hear it sing.”

SEEKING THE BEST BOTH WORLDS

Newhouse insists that she is “not looking to rewind the clock back to a time before we all had email and cellphones. What I want is to be inspired by the [freedom of expression which characterized post-World War American culture]. . .  a blend of forms and techniques with an emphasis not on the facelessness of mass production, but on individual creativity and excellence. . .

“Our aim should be to take the central, unavoidable and potentially beneficent parts of the Flatness aesthetic (including speed, accessibility; portability) while discarding the poisonous parts (frictionlessness; surveilled conformism; the allergy to excellence). We should. . . hunt for complexity and delight in unpredictability.

But that process is likely to become more difficult ever, because the failures of the remedies suggested by the Plague Story to the covid pandemic has led to what Newhouse calls, “a crisis of trust and legitimacy, [which] means that not only do we not trust these things [anymore], but we can’t even agree on what many of them mean. . .

OPPOSING PERSPECTIVES ON REALITY

“The establishment position [supported by governments, the mainstream media and the liberal elite] is that lockdowns are needed to contain the virus, masks work and need to be mandated, vaccines are safe, people should take the vaccine to protect themselves and others, and vaccine passports will help open things up quicker and encourage those who are hesitant to get vaccinated. . .

“In contrast, the opposing view. . . held by a ragtag of political dissidents of all stripes, from right wingers to anarchists. . . cluster[s] for different reasons around an alternative story:

“Lockdowns are not needed, masks do not work, the safety and efficacy of the vaccines are being oversold, vaccine passports will not only fail but further segregate society, and in the near future we can expect. . . scapegoating of the unvaccinated. In other words, we are positioned on the precipice of a slippery slope that leads towards increasingly draconian biopolitical control measures, the grip of which is unlikely to release even once the pandemic is over. . .

“Both of these positions seem reasonable from their own perspective, but they are increasingly impossible to reconcile – and after two years of this, we are all just exhausted,” Newhouse concludes.

This makes the key decisions now being made in response to the omicron stage of the covid pandemic a potential turning point for the future of democracy in our increasingly global society.

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