A methodical difference between Enlightenment and Counterenlightenment is that where Counterenlightenment moralism (as per legal or HR EDI policy) asserts that the good person has never herself entertained prejudices, or has completely overcome them, the Enlightenment approach works through prejudices, assuming along with lifelong human development, that individual people are never free of prejudices, though they certainly can sufficiently overcome individual kinds of prejudice. So as in Jacob’s Chapter 3, “Secular Lives” in The Secular Enlightenment (2019), we read about everyday Enlightened travelers who rove around the world, judging and working to overcome asociological judgments. An individual or social commitment to progress was judged by critical engagement with prejudices, and valuation of not just rationality but reason.
The distinctive Western Enlightenment refusal to see any people above prejudice, and morality in traveling and exposing onesself to new people, places and experiences as working through received or hasty judgments, is reduced and miscast by the Counterenlightenment as prejudice itself.
Counterenlightenment moralism is political, juridical, and performative, involving combatively accusing opponents of prejudices, where prejudices are conceptualized as punishable, exceptional faults and crimes inhering in the essence of the person. Thus, for Counterenlightenment carriers, prejudice becomes effectively norm-status violation within an institutionalized hierarchy or network. This view is sustained by the static liberal belief that people for the most part do not develop, but are meritorious or ruined.
Rival Counterenlightenment-Antienlightenment political factions are relatively compatible. The Counterenlightenment has been since its Boyle-Newton-Royal Society inception in England, a mystifying, constraining, and corroding co-optation of Enlightenment virtues, engineered and aimed, like its Antienlightenment Catholicism-and-expropriation sibling, against egaliberte. Together, Antienlightenment and Counterenlightenment are a double-barreled shotgun pointing at Enlightenment. At the very start we see the long leash Counterenlightenment elites give to Antienlightenment elites, as well as by contrast their deep–and often violent–opposition to democratic Enlightenment development: “While English moderates had cast their lot with the restored monarchy in 1660, by 1685 it was clear that Stuart rule entailed royal Catholicism and the prospect of royal absolutism. By 1687 those suspicions had found plenty of verification in James II’s attempts to install his placement in the counties, the courts and the universities…In the aftermath of the Revolution of 1688-9, liberal Christianity wedded to (mechanism) was offered to an English and eventually to a European audience as a binding social philosophy… born of revolution but intent upon repudiating revolution as an instrument of change” (Jacob 2006: 53). This Counterenlightenment bias can be seen as structural or pragmatic, but it also certainly has an idealistic, moralistic life
Jacob, Margaret C. 2006. The Radical Enlightenment: Panetheists, Freemasons, and Republicans, 2nd edition. Lafayette: Cornerstone Book Publishers.
Jacob, Margaret C. 2019. The Secular Enlightenment. Princeton.
Opposed Enlightenments in England: The Reactionary Moderate v. Radical
English-language scholarship identifies the roots of the Western Enlightenment in two antecedents: The Renaissance and the English Revolution and the millenialist Puritan reformism of the 1640s. The Renaissance bestowed a tradition of naturalism which was unevenly merged in the Enlightenment with an embrace of mechanistic philosophy and science.
Via naturalism, systemic organicist science fertilized the mechanist seeds of what was to become social science. This was the consensual point of the Enlightenment:
Mechanism provided social democratic radicals with a basis for dispensing with the authoritarian, inegalitarian institutions of church and aristocracy. Similarly but distinctively, mechanism provided reactionary English and Continental reformers–the “moderate Enlightenment”– with a basis for checking the powers of church and king while at the same time suppressing radical egaliberte and reducing radical social democratic reform to elite-governed social utility. At the same time, Renaissance naturalism–AKA “paganism” or classical philosophical materialism, particularly through the Epicurean tradition– kept alive a link between mechanistic science (method) and organicist science, crucial to democratic social reform.
[Research agenda (This may be available through Jacobs’ works): Review Bacon, Newton, Boyle and the “moderate Enlightenment” for Counterenlightenment network connections and ideas. Are there connections between what McMahon characterizes as brute Catholic Counterenlightenment jeremiads and the “moderate Enlightenment”? Was the “moderate Enlightenment” simply inspired by the radical Enlightenment while turned toward elite goals? Or was it co-opting radical ideas to a conservative agenda? Little of Column A, little of Column B? How did the economic requirement for patrons (differentially?) influence the development of the moderate and radical Enlightenments?]
From the 1640s (at least) on then, the elite-driven “moderate Enlightenment” fought to suppress the radical Enlightenment, which however extended its influence through publication, including clandestine publication, sometimes in association with secret organizations like the historical Freemasons (not to be confused with the derivative Northern Irish Orangemen, whose fundamental commitment to British imperialism leaves them uninterested in Enlightenment, nor the eventual devolution of the Freemasons to a business fraternity). One radical strategy was to encode organicist science in a new religion, the worship of nature. I think that is Jacobs’ interest, as the Freemasons archives are an important part of her data. However, she acknowledges that the radical Enlightenment was feared not only, and fundamentally, for its egaliberte agenda, but more publicly, for the “heresy”–the philosophical materialism and atheism that justify egaliberte.
While mechanism is a proud, central part of the Anglosphere capitalist cosmology and has received much attention thanks to its amenability to elite governance and capacity to build commercializable instrumental knowledge fortifying capitalist hierarchy, it is “naturalism” (per Jacobs) that was essential to the Enlightenment, as the animating impulse for Enlightenment was to better understand and improve society, and organicism–not mechanistic epistemology or method–is the completion of the scientific approach, is geared to the collaborative, scientific systemic analysis required for effective, substantial social reform. In other words, social democratic radicals propelled both the Enlightenment and the development of the mechanistic science that was incorporated into building capitalist inequality and meritocratic inegalitarianism, contra the radicals and social democracy.
While she focuses heavily upon her archives and thus the Anglo-Dutch roots of the Enlightenment, Jacobs has a wonderful dialectical read on the development of ideas through history and across regions. Through Jacobs, we can see that Enlightenment is a tradition, a fight over the good society. Enlightenment does not have a continuous, unopposed history, but rather flows and braids over time and across regions.
[Research Agenda: Recuperate the Classical Materialist Tradition in the Radical Enlightenment. (Perhaps Jacobs avoids because of the non-Anglocentric connections with Marxism, opposed 20th century motley-crew socialist revolutions, and egaliberte revolutions prior to the English Revolution, such as the German Peasant revolt, and the role Enlightenment Sweden played in the downfall of the Holy Roman Empire). This is the tradition that capitalist Cold War scholarship buries. Yet Stoicism is resurgent in the patrimonial capitalist restoration, and even in Moderate Enlightenment-Counterenlightenment Canada, for example, it is difficult to look away from the prolonged and extreme suffering inflicted by the Catholic church on behalf of the extractive state.]
Yet by eschewing investigation into the classical materialist tradition as it was recovered by Renaissance scholars and informed the Enlightenment orientation to social reform, Jacobs will mute the ways in which the Anglo-based “moderate Enlightenment” is already a hybrid product of Enlightenment–comparative, organicist science (including mechanist methods) for social reform–and the Counterenlightenment commitment to inequality and inegalitarianism that McMahon (2001) documents so well. It is because of this sine-qua-non Counterenlightenment cause, inequality and inegalitarianism, that scientifically-informed social reform, in the hands of the “moderate Enlightenment,” will reduce to social utility for elites: “modernizations,” efficient management of worker populations, tending toward surveillance, population mobilizations and immobilizations on behalf of capital and empire, and periodic hygienic sterilizations. Further, once capitalist Cold War US strategists strip organicist science off mechanist method, egaliberte social reform is in for a beat-down. (Mechanist) lab “scientists” are enlisted in the resurgent army of religion-mystified imperialism, the restoration and expansion of expropriative political-economy, the restoration of patrimonial capitalism.
Radical Enlightenment has always struggled against exclusion from the polity, has always struggled for sufficient patronage for its adherents to survive in societies built on violent and ongoing expropriation and exploitation. Radical Enlightenment has been violently opposed by Counterenlightenment exponents as well as Moderate Enlightenment adherents ensconced in the polity and enjoying patronage. Radical Enlightenment has been coopted by the imperial Moderate Enlightenment, and it has been tactically routed.
Despite its many disadvantages in the political-economic environment and despite been targeted and beseiged, the brilliant thing is that Radical Enlightenment has been so effective by nonetheless promulgating egaliberte, social-democratic/democratic-socialist ideas through cosmopolitan networks of publication, often clandestine, and secret organizations. Where/when inter-elite solidarity has been low (Revolutionary Era Sweden, for example), Radical Enlightenment ontology, epistemology, cosmology, and ideas have been influential and even very effectively institutionalized.
If the great imperial-capitalist insight of the British, such as Anglo-Irish Moderate (Counterenlightenment hybrid) Enlightenment organizer and chemist Robert Boyle (1627-1691), was that most self-organized societies–including motley crew, collaborative scientists–can be co-opted and subordinated to elite, imperial rule with a combination of carrots and sticks, nonetheless we can survey under what conditions this imperial intervention upon autonomous societies, and their subordination, fails. The history of Sweden (Barton, 1985) shows that elites need to be better organized and more solidaristic than the workers if they are to win the Counterenlightenment utopia, and that Enlightenment ideas can cleave the coalitional elite bloc. Jacobs shows us that Enlightenment ideas thrive and penetrate elite thought where radical-democratic Enlightenment agents can strategize, meet, and publish clandestinely. With the Basque case study, Silvia Federici (1998) also showed that gender solidarity protects societies against imperial intervention, disorganization, and subordinate reorganization.
Such historical studies can provide insight into mapping elite-captured scientific communities (mechanists) as well as raw Counterenlightenment crusaders today, and strategizing to restore the Enlightenment organicist science and materialist philosophy building collective, comparative knowledge for societies capable of fostering universal human development.
Colonial frontier Anglo Canadians in the Prairies, MidCanners, have responded to the pandemic in a distinctive way. First, they do not care whether the country has infrastructure (such as testing capacity, targeted isolation management capacity, or vaccine production) to manage the pandemic. They are colonial managers, so they already have an approach: Regarding themselves as masters of disaster, they repeat official, political party-vetted messaging and model obeying lockdown public orders, redirecting any discomfort or grumpiness or insanity or physical harm onto their fellow hoi poloi.
They do not want to know the origins, and thus the designed function, of pandemic policy, as they do not want to know if the orders come with any purpose or trajectory besides the very best ones that they imagine they are here to comply with.
Likewise, no matter how well educated, they avoid knowledge produced by the international scientific studies anterior to and often at variance with the policy determinations of patriarchal, childless comms pros (politicians, media) and doctor authorities, where every MidCanner forgets that a) doctors have historically opposed public health care, and b) doctors are not scientists, even where the Cold War reduced science to a mechanistic shell of itself, unsuited for system analyses. Doctors are a profession of people with an undergrad science education, who have mostly not engaged science their entire worklives, but rather receive and transmit pharmaceutical marketing. For the most part, doctors are not even good at their one job: care.
To MidCanners, lockdown is doubleplusgood policy, not least because isolation and immobilization allows them to avoid observing what is happening in other jurisdictions. That provincial ignorance permits greater commitment to obeying and policing and even elaborating on public orders, such as enjoying shaming other people. Individual Franco-Canadian men who demand the cessation of the lockdowns and mask hysteria are dressed as villainous motley fools, ticketed, jailed, and and paraded about by the authorities/media as Public Enemy Number One. MidCanners enjoy tut-tutting to the official beat.
In this colonial administrative context, whether there are other public resources and conditions required for human thriving is a strictly verboten, and even unethical question. The good little piece of news (if you equate medicine with health care, as you would as an aging Boomer) is that I think MidCanners are behind greater public supports for medicine. I think. It’s not totally clear, because they seem to be satisfied with lockdown and righteous indignation directed at other people around them. There are vague intimations that lockdown compliance will support medical professionals to govern the territory more ethically (on the side of their day jobs?). But the main MidCan perpetual-pandemic strategy is lockdown and austerity, or disaster upon disaster. As the People of the Disaster, it’s the best of all possible worlds for them. So much disaster to manage, so much compliance to model, so much officially-approved, popular righteous indignation to enjoy, so much trauma to keep on repeat as romantic comms (“Lockdown was a wonderful time of family bonding in which I learned to make nerokomi pottery!”) are produced. When pressed, MidCanners may suggest that by allocating more resources to medicine, certainly along with the expansion of policing and perpetual, extreme lockdown, assumed to be purely healthful and have no significant consequences (“Maybe weaker people experience mental health issues?”), and a new zero-tolerance policy for human mortality at the age of 85, the pandemic may be optimally managed in perpetuity.
MidCanners understand vaccination strictly as a moral symbolic badge of liberal political affiliation. They believe vaccination does nothing in relation to SARS-CoV-2 and variants. The only way forward, they affirm to each other, is lockdown, permanent isolation and immobilization of people, wearing masks always, outdoors, everywhere, and siccing police on lockdown violators. They consider indulging in officially-sanctioned moral opprobrium to be salubrious.
Over the past year and a half, 1000 people died with COVID-19 in Manitoba, population 1.4 million. 0.07% (0.0007) of the Manitoba population died with COVID-19 over 1.5 years. Lockdown fundamentalism might be considered a success, a victory over mortality, except that it is consistently painted as insufficient effort. Perhaps channeling their hockey feelings, MidCanners are very competitive, citing other places that may have had greater, longer, more total lockdowns with even more state coercion. They demand only more lockdown fundamentalism.
Whether those people whose deaths are attributed to COVID-19 might have been at the end of their life–either because of old age or because as Indigenous people within the hinterlands colonial conditions, their health was already beseiged–and died of other causes like the flu is an immoral thought. Again, MidCanners are satisfied that there is only one health variable: SARS-CoV-2. It’s not just that it’s a hard way to die. All COVID-19 deaths of people with multiple failing systems, particularly aged 85 on average, are an epochal tragedy. The stress of medical work with COVID-19 patients is an epochal tragedy, with only one solution. The 200+ symptoms of Long Covid are an epochal tragedy and there is no way that the sufferers’ health was otherwise compromised. There are no other tragedies.* Radio announcers talk about death as if it’s something humans do not normally do. Numbers are scattered about with alarming tones, but context and comparison are religiously avoided. MidCan is always Italy April 2020 in MidCanners’ own minds.
Whether ICU use (raw numbers religiously not compared to pre-COVID-19 numbers), or COVID-related hospitalizations, or raw numbers of people with COVID-19, or increasing raw numbers of people identified with COVID-19, or new variants of COVID-19 extant, or the daily positivity rate (the number of people getting a COVID-19 test who have COVID-19 rather than caution, paranoia, a cold, a flu or something else), or vaccinations of health-vulnerable populations (including the elderly and Indigenous people) and medical workers, or vaccinations of teachers and students, or vaccinations of a large percentage of the population, or vaccinations of the whole population, or multiple vaccinations of the whole population, or permanent vaccine booster compliance amongst the whole population, or absence of people protesting lockdown or masks, the public-orders compliance goal, loosely intimated or assumed to authorize more normal living conditions, is an ever-moving target, and that is awesome and righteous by Manitobans. Because police-sealed borders and mass lockdown are the answer to all the problems, and don’t you dare suggest it’s harmful, you immoral bastard.
The superfun MidCan epitome of this theme has been rolled out by U Winnipeg academics: If one were to suggest we need to make more complex public health decisions and expenditures based on cost-benefit specification and comparison, for example recognizing extended, intensive mass lockdown imposes harms on a continuity with other forms of incarceration that also operate by imposing crippling immobilization and isolation upon humans (as observed in previous scientific studies), you commit symbolic violence upon institutionally-incarcerated people, many of whom are Indigenous. So in observing that lockdown is costly and unhealthy, you’re not only cruel but racist.
Okaaayyy (*slowly banging head on table*), but what about the pre-pandemic social epidemiology on the health harms of isolation outside prisons, for example that afflicts what used to be called shut-ins or that afflicts children with insufficient care and socialization? Or the pre-pandemic social epidemiology studies on the health harms inflicted by childhood sedentarism, immobilization, where children once were able to roam? Or the well-known results of confining women en masse to the home in the post-war era? Or the Durkheimian sociological studies on the results of suboptimal social connection on mortality? Only in a mechanistic-positivist and idealist culture does it become okay to pretend that the fundamental condition of human health and welfare is anything other than facilitative social connection. (OK, plus 23% O air, clean water, and o, I don’t know, a planet with a functioning biosphere.)
As with all Counterenlightenment comms, pathetic emotional manipulation serves as the rags plugging an overtaxed dyke, in this case a dyke holding back knowledge on the impacts of disciplinary lockdown as pandemic policy. For Counterenlightenment moralists, the only people who can be harmed are people at the margins, for this is the best of all possible (colonial extractive) worlds.
It’s honestly difficult for me to apprehend MidCanners as anything but sadists. However, I think they are just trying to pursue Counterenlightenment justice, as it is inscribed in the social work/charity “Disaster Pro” mindset complement in a extractive imperial colony. Canadians: We dig; we patronize the suffering at the margins.
Forbidden Thoughts in MidCan
Over 11,000 Manitobans die on average each year, mostly of circulatory disease and cancer. 64% of those deaths occur in people over the age of 75.
A high rate, 36%, or over 4,000 under age-75 Manitobans also die every year. This death rate is 3.3/1000, afflicting mostly people suffering isolation and privation, insufficient resources in the Northern Indigenous communities of the hinterlands resource-extraction imperial colony.
Apparently not thinking about it very much, the MidCan consensus is that these “normal” deaths are independent of human relations, unlike the COVID-19 pandemic, which requires mass lockdown because, as they recognize it, it does uniquely occur through human relations. They know this because the mechanist-positivist epidemiologist pops up to wave his 3-variable SARS-CoV-2 contagion model, affirming human relations must be suppressed.
The other unexamined assumption characteristic of MidCanners is that, unlike a flu, COVID-19 is a terror diffusing and afflicting people uniformly, and without pattern related to identifiable variables, such as the health-depleting living conditions in Northern Manitoba or end-of-life due to age and failing somatic systems. Because COVID-19 is assumed to diffuse universally and impact people uniformly and to uniquely occur via social relations, in the MidCan mindset, the only possible way to manage COVID-19 is via mass lockdowns.
It’s not possible to compare normal mortality to 2020-2021 mortality because for MidCanners, comparison is immoral. Context is immoral. A complex cost-benefit ledger is immoral. Running government and institutions for the developmental benefit of the people is felt to be immoral. It is considered immoral to recognize that lockdowns are–and have always been–military weapons for preserving exclusive, institutionalized capitalist control over organizing and disorganizing the population–Thus, in qualitatively minimizing non-elite interaction, lockdown prohibits effective non-elite organization, and the many costs of lockdown include not only expanding and normalizing surveillance, policing, and carceralism, but also incapacitating the working-class and suppressing corrective democracy, thereby preserving and exacerbating health-depleting pollution and climate crisis, racial inequality, gender inequality, and economic inequality. But hey, why trust someone who has never been flown to the Bahamas by a pharmaceutical salesman or left a cheque for the Tory Party at the gala.
Seeing when everyday people suffer is immoral in MidCan. For example, why not notice what is happening, as the infinite-lockdown playlist drones on, to the diseases inflicted by antihuman relations and involving extreme premature mortality, such as the increase in childhood-onset Type 1 diabetes, which inflicts blindness and kills people 13 years early? Why not compare that to the weeks or months of life saved at a very infirm age 85, and make a policy call based on saving more and better quality of life, rather than just let doctors bill the public for the care of the diseases they create with pandemic lockdown policy optimizing their workload? Why not change property law and life so that, for example, remotely-settled Indigenous people dazed by imposed Catholic hazing do not suffer so much every day that Indigenous children are as infirm as a 90-year old settler? Why not? Because MidCanners are Counterenlightenment products. As they perfunctorily target the workers for “correction” and fortify inegalitarian organization capacity, their interpretive lens is simple: COVID-19 bad. Everything else is abandoned to desultory, self-indulgent moralism.
Have I mentioned the climate and the 300,000 square miles of flat, commercial ag land private property primarily supporting invertebrates? But far be it from me to characterize Manitoba as an inhospitable, exclusionary, ugly land governed by authoritarian sadists bent on isolating and immobilizing people, policing people, health and economic and political and social and environmental costs together be damned, for that sounds like a prison, such as would discourage people from reproducing (Canadian fertility rate 1.5 births/woman and declining), and as UWinnipeg academics have established for all time, harm to the majority is an ethical impossibility in the best of all possible imperial extractivism zones.
Exception: Other tragedies coming to the fore: 215 Indigenous children that the nuns and priests murdered at a residential school in BC is now allowed as a tragedy, as well as the subsequent revelation of 751 unmarked childrens’ graves discovered at a Catholic-run Saskatchewan residential school. There is an ongoing rollout of First Nations childrens’ gravesites at Catholic residential schools. Antienlightenment is a land of good, wise, authoritative daddies who, under the cover of sanctimonious mystifications, remove, contain and isolate children and youth away from their social networks, the very foundation of their human development. All the better to eat you, my dear.
For the record, in case it’s not obvious by now:
I am not liberal or conservative enough to get off on mass incarceration.
A small number of oligarchs owns most of the Swedish GDP.
This is tragic. It sucks. It is called capitalism.
Within the context of capitalism, Swedish GDP confiscation is also the product of an egalitarian policy, fought for and won by workers: Sweden does not support part of its working class to be nail shop proprietors/slavers and their slaves, as the US and other Anglo countries do.
Instead, Sweden supports job quality and tax redistribution. This meant that Sweden supported its globally-successful businesses to grow (See also Peter Evans, Embedded Autonomy, 1995), while supporting quality jobs. It suppressed crap businesses and junk jobs (Esping-Anderson 1995). Swedes are freer than Anglo-Americans in important ways. The “cost” is that the inherent inequity of inequality is not hidden in Sweden.
You understand who that would be a cost to?
In about 1973, Meidner and Rehn tried to convert these successful big business excess profits into worker-community funds. Global capital said no, the fuck no. That would obviously have been socialism. The global Swedish capitalists took the money and ran. This left the big, comfortable Swedish working class paying taxes to itself out of its employee income, distributing wealth amongst itself while going to university and working for the big, “Swedish” international employers. This is not so different from the Viking era, in which Vikings ran around the world doing business, busting heads, and grabbing loot, while women ran society.
Short of revolution, this is the best you can do with capitalism or any other expropriative, exploitative economy. While the Anglo-American working class went with their feudal instincts, Swedes have been as strategic as you can get. No one else is organized to promote global revolution, and if Americans aren’t, then can anyone else really be? Americans have all the bombs.
So when we point to Swedish GDP concentration as a primary metric of inequality, it’s just because the situation is clear in Sweden. Because workers fought to make it clear. Those Swedish workers are still better off and freer than the small-time slavers who own small businesses, and their slaves, together the crippled, deluded working class of Anglo-America.
Instead of imagining Sweden as a worse US, you should see that to free Swedes from elite expropriation requires Americans to dismantle the Treasure Islands, the global archipelago of tax avoidance. But the American cops and police are too busy gunning down Black people.
An Indian wealth inequality researcher believes that Sweden in particular is due for societal instability, thanks to the extreme concentration of Swedish wealth in the hands of its billionaires. His method, though, does not distinguish when a country’s wealth is owned by foreign billionaires. Is he assuming that foreign ownership is more socially stable? Why? Still caught in the old Indo-Anglo romance?
Today’s British Counterenlightenment “Enlightenment” Revisionism
“Despite the prejudices of its supporters and the distortions of its opponents, it’s hard to find fault with the values that were central to the Enlightenment.” –Keith Thomas, “Lights On and Away We Go,” The London Review of Books, 43(10), May 2021. Thomas identifies Enlightenment values as “justice, truth, freedom of thought, religious toleration, liberal education and personal fulfilment,” in reviewing a new, authoritative British tome on the Western Enlightenment, by Ritchie Robertson, in which those faultless values are repositioned within a British Counterenlightenment framework that Robertson just goes ahead and calls the Enlightenment.
The postwar Frankfurt School distortion and flogging of dead men’s prejudices (where those dead men were explicitly striving to overcome their prejudices) is apparently not working on its own to discredit and sideline the Enlightenment any more, and England is exposed as a reliable bastion of Counterenlightenment, including in its postwar harboring of White Austrians. Enter the revisionist doorstoppers.
The British repackaging of Enlightenment of course centers England as the true source and inheritor of the Western Enlightenment. To accomplish that trick, some tactics are required:
Any ideas in the 17th-18th centuries are defined as Enlightenment. Thus there is no Counterenlightenment reaction, see #4 below. This conforms to the British pretense of no social conflict, only the babble of discourse; no society, in the infamous words of Margaret Thatcher. Nothing but a world of genial comms.
Denial of reason. “We can no longer think of the Enlightenment as the ‘age of reason'” (Robertson 2018: 863).
Decentering of France.
Counterenlightenment (including its conflicted Romantic restoration) is erased and redefined as the “sensible, emotional” aspect of Enlightenment, rather than a distinctive political reaction to the Enlightenment that is still with us, proliferating idealism and affective manipulation in service of inequality and inegalitarianism.
Lord Shaftesbury is cited as the founding father of the “sensible” Enlightenment.
“Sensible” definitely does not mean materialist or historical-materialist, but rather emotional, Romantic, and Counterenlightenment idealism.
Per British “rhetoric, tact, and communication,” this contemporary, anachronistic, dysphasic Enlightenment-Counterenlightenment mashup connects to current British affect theory.
From an American and French perspective, this is tiresome, invalid British imperialism contributing to the perpetuation of Counterenlightenment (in Enlightenment drag, for now), as is par for the course. TBH, British imperial comms make me want to stab my eyes out. But I know if I do, they will just softly tut-tut, and move along with their imperial global bloodletting agenda.
Within a British Commonwealth perspective, by obfuscating historical, spatial, conceptual and political distinctions, this kind of historical revisionism is, like the global financial City of London hub, creative, inclusive and cosmopolitan, heroically innovating a narrative space for both Enlightenment and Counterenlightenment to coexist peacefully (assuming away material bases), smoothing over potential elite ideological fissures and keeping the global bloc cohesive, and–something to idealistically connect elite and worker interests–heroically floating the hypothetical possibility of political transcendence and novelty via discursive “novelty” attentive to hegemonic norms (political comms, messaging through the academy). It’s the sort of history you pursue at the Gilded Age imperial center, where all the problems (people) seem manageable simply by getting the political comms right… since you’ve already got all the economic incentives, police, and militaries in position. While distancing from Adorno and Horkheimer’s rusty proto-neocon defamation of the Enlightenment, the revisionist approach, much like the City of London, remains the very essence of postmodernity. Is aging postmodernism still sexy and dazzling though?
Discovering and centering a consanguine German “Enlightenment”, also focused on emotion (Martus), as a support to the recasting of English Romanticism and Counterenlightenment as core Enlightenment.
Frailty of the British tactic (per Robertson 2018) of adopting “German-Enlightenment” supports: The “sensible” psychologization of the “Enlightenment” in Germany quickly advanced its dissolution, as at the individual scale, no ‘laws’/trends/tendencies are distinguishable, so no basis exists for comparing social infrastructures and their effects, no reason for cosmopolitan challenge to the conventions of the polis.
Frailty of the British tactic (per Robertson 2018) of adopting “German-Enlightenment” supports: Some German Enlightenment accounts (Pecar & Tricorne) are closer to the French tradition, eg. contextualizing Enlightenment debates about comparative imperialism, than to British Counterenlightenment-Enlightenment conflation.
Frailty of the British tactic (per Robertson 2018) of adopting “German-Enlightenment” supports: Discontinuity between contemporary (German) Euro cosmopolitanism reconstruction (as apolitical imperialism, Christianity, capitalism, and Federalism, per Kleingeld & Brown 2019) and “British Enlightenment” version of cosmopolitanism: religious toleration and mature debate, see #7 & #9 below.
Centering Kant, Enlightenment “modernization” is defined as “mature” debate.
“Some of Kant’s leading ideas are orthagonal to the Enlightenment” (Robertson 2018: 858). Kant’s tenuous Enlightenment disposition is used in the British account to legitimize the new British Counterenlightenment cooptation of the Enlightenment.
Method: This individual Kant-center allows British historians to use German-French genealogy method to avoid rigorous, contextualized synthesis across Enlightenment thought.
Erases the democratic motley crew Enlightenment (per Linebaugh and Rediker), Spinozan Enlightenment, and their democratic Enlightenment lineages. Enlightenment is recast as 100% pro-slavery in the stealth-Counterenlightenment accounts of Robertson (2018), Reed, citing Grotius and Montesquieu. (Instrumental genealogy method deployed here again.)
Enlightenment thinkers recast as “intolerant” because “atheist,” rather than religious/idealist cosmopolitans as per British empire, City of London global elite financial hub. Enlightenment is recast as a background story to British capitalist progress and idealist modernity.
Geo-strategic Posing: Inventing a Counterenlightement’s Enlightenment to Rescue a Cosmopolitan Reputation
I’m guessing that behind the outrageous, very shaky British and German efforts to rebrand themselves as incompatible bases of European Enlightenment is a branding failure: Their infamous Counterenlightenments fail to confirm them as cosmopolitan, as the direct inheritors to the best of European posterity, culture and global leadership. Without the glamour of cosmopolitanism, England and Germany are revealed as little more than global capitalist enclaves, imperial bastions of unequal and inegalitarian restoration, fonts of climate, biological, economic, social and political catastrophes. So they strategically sponsor doorstop revisionist accounts of the Western Enlightenment.
So does the US, another geo-strategic rival.
Israel’s Meritocratic-Inegalitarian American Riff on the Enlightenment
Jonathan Israel provides the authoritative geo-strategic Judeo-American version of the Enlightenment. It is partly formulated against American Enlightenment scholarship don Margaret Jacob’s work, which mainly highlights the Protestant engine of the Enlightenment.
Israel gives insight into the British “Enlightenment” tradition as always trying to “moderate,” incorporate Enlightenment into the bedrock of aristocracy.
Israel tries to offer a comprehensive account of the Enlightenment that centers the Kantian contribution. To do that, he must dismiss McMahon’s study of Counterenlightenment, though Israel affirms, as the English do not, that there was a reactionary Counterenlightenment. But in McMahon’s place, he elevates Catholic Dupre’s oppositional account of the Enlightenment, simply because Dupre’s religiosity opens up room for Israel’s (and Sorokin’s) geostrategic claim that Judaism is essential to Western Enlightenment. However, Israel’s version of “Radical Enlightenment” is pretty bourgeois, so it’s Kant not Spinoza asserted at the heart of the “radical” Western Enlightenment. “Radical” means about the same thing in Israel as it means in a Coca-Cola ad.
Israel has to acknowledge that Dupre’s example of Catholic Enlightenment is marginal (“this kind of position didn’t work, either intellectually — that there were really serious problems in reconciling the Catholic stance with this radical viewpoint — or on a personal level. Fauchet and Lamourette had big problems with all these atheists and deists and, in the end, got so angry with them that they had to split away and became very isolated in the last months of their lives. Both were guillotined by the Montagnards later in the Revolution. The Church and the Papacy would not accept what they were doing and rejected it, so that they became isolated theologically as well as in all those other respects.”). Israel also has to admit that Dupre is a part of the effort to associate the Enlightenment with the Pandora’s box of human ills–not considered legitimate within Enlightenment scholarship. What that move is, and what Israel cannot admit because Dupre’s centering of religion is so useful to Israel’s strategy, is Counterenlightenment.
For validity to the American experience, the American account must suggest a division between a “moderate” and a democratic or “radical” Enlightenment praxis, although Israel’s meritocratic-inegalitarian’s view of this seems muddy. It would be a lot clearer if one were to admit of a Counterenlightenment tradition in the US. But admitting and validly identifying Counterenlightenment would in turn require recognizing the democratic or despotic content of philosophy (and law), not just praxis.
“The idea of the essential unity of mankind and of democracy were radical ideas not subscribed to by Voltaire or Hume, nor Montesquieu, nor indeed most of the famous names of the Enlightenment. They were not interested in these ways of thinking. But, as is nowhere more clearly illustrated that in the American and French Revolutions, they were nevertheless a very, very powerful aspect of the Enlightenment which in the long-run had a bigger impact on the future than the Voltaires and Montesquieus had.
It’s this stress on the unity of mankind, on the equivalence of each individual’s interests and happiness — whether they’re Chinese or Arabs or Europeans — which made it easier for these radical Enlighteners to see the history of philosophy as a global phenomenon in which all cultures had contributed. There’s no sense of Europe imposing something on the rest. Universal human rights had to begin somewhere and it happened to begin in Europe.” Though European scholars, beginning with textual recovery and research in the Renaissance and surging through Enlightenment comparative research travels, had already identified philosophical and practical roots for human rights elsewhere around the globe. “It doesn’t mean that universal human rights is European, if it equalizes the status of everyone and works to the benefit of everyone. We should regard it not as being specifically European but global.”
Israel provides an accurate account of Pagden’s job, the cost of which is ignoring the ongoing Enlightenment (supporters of the Revolution) and Counterenlightenment (opponents): “(O)f the main dimensions of the Enlightenment, the Radical Enlightenment seems to me absolutely fundamental.It’s the key to understanding universal human rights and the American and the French Revolutions and the way the Enlightenment relates to everything that happens afterwards. Yet it’s not really been recognized or accepted or studied. It’s more or less ignored in Anthony Pagden’s recent book on The Enlightenment, where there’s not much about it. I think that’s disastrous.
You can’t write about the Enlightenment like that because there’s a very deep split. Once the French Revolution begins, the whole Enlightenment becomes completely divided between supporters of the Revolution and opponents. There is this fundamental division that you see at the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th century between a Burkean Enlightenment — that says never mind all that overconfident theorizing about society and human rights, what we want is a society run by aristocrats and kings and the existing legal systems — and all those who reject that, which is most of the Enlightenment intelligentsia.” That is to say that Burke is an influential contributor to the Counterenlightenment tradition. Here, despite his general acknowledgement of Counterenlightenment, Israel is doing what other Enlightenment scholars must do when they attach the cosmopolitan Enlightenment to their states: He falls into suggesting that there was (is) no Counterenlightenment, only a divided Enlightenment.
As well, Israel’s ideational-political project requires a strong dismissal of the historian’s Enlightenment, including the unromantic part of the French Revolution as a part of the Enlightenment. To do this, Israel elevates philosophers, and dismisses all but the most bourgeois and American of Enlightenment praxis. Israel claims that all Enlightenment philosophers (of the 1790s) denounced Robespierre and the Montagne faction. It’s certainly true that idealist Kant recoils from the bloodshed invoked in opposed social change, but below Israel cites others, though he leans heavily on the English and Germans, who are geostrategically opposed to France, pro-aristocrat, and mostly Counterenlightenment bastions. I need to read Sophie Wahnich’s “In Defence of the Terror” (2016, Verso) to double check on Israel’s claim; later he qualifies it as a 1790s philosophers’ consensus. Israel elevates Napoleon to a militarization of the moderate Enlightenment (where I believe Israel would categorize an anti-democratic Enlightenment figure like Voltaire as “moderate”). Israel imposes upon the Enlightenment the modern Jewish-DNC opposition between bourgeois-imperial, meritocratic-inegalitarian American republicanism (See Piketty’s strong critique of meritocratic inegalitarianism, in Capital and Ideology, 2019), as distinct from (“moderate” British modified aristocracy, but also from) democracy, which Israel’s political tradition dismisses as brute “populism” (see Thomas Frank‘s strong critique of meritocratic inegalitarians’ anti-populism). In meritocratic-inegalitarian morality, if you cannot convince elites, then you must relent, otherwise meritocratic-inegalitarians count the blood strictly on your hands.
“I just want to be clear about this: every important Enlightener always condemns Robespierre and Montagne. You won’t find any Enlightener who says, “oh they’ve got the right idea.” Every Enlightener thinks Robespierre is an absolutely terrible, bloodthirsty dictator who is not marking the culmination of the Revolution but is the destruction of it. There’s no exception to that. All the Germans and the British and the Tom Paines and Mary Wollstonecrafts and Benthams and all the Italians and all the Dutch and the great Swedish radical, Thorild. They’re all mad keen on the French Revolution (as an idea?), but they condemn Robespierre and the Montagne faction….We’ve been given a terribly distorted view of the French Revolution through this (historians’) intellectual failure to see the collision between democratic republicanism — which is the real radicalism — and the populist authoritarianism of the Revolution.” (Jonathan Israel).
Here Israel expresses the creepy meritocratic inegalitarian’s geostrategic refusal to see the Counterenlightenment at work in the Terror. Darrin McMahon is much clearer and more scholarly on the pronounced role of the Counterenlightenment in the clash that elites have tendentiously assigned to the moral failure of the Jacobins and Montagnes. Israel clutches his philosopher pearls in the face of stark, unmediated social conflict, and feels that is legitimate because idealist philosophers like Kant were dispositionally unprepared to acknowledge what it means when you take away unearned privilege: It means elites will come at you red in tooth and claw, hammer and tongs. They’re elites because they have been the biggest warlords on the block, however the clergy draw lipstick on that pig. In disallowing both the violence of inequality societies and the violence of dispossessed elites, meritocratic inegalitarians are in the business not of scholarship but romance and mystification.
The new Political Economy of Law scholars provide a really useful way of focusing on authority. Capitalist authority is based on legally-crafted, coercion-backed, fanciful claims to posterity. This is what confers on capitalists exclusive private property, mostly against other people but also to a lesser extent greasing some other people (distributed to provide them the rarified capacity to live or live comfortably). Contrast that with scholarly authority, where the authority is anchored in connection to posterity and international community (the community of scholars) through disciplined, supported, mental-social submersion in the work of the community of scholars. There are instructive homologies and differences between capitalist authority and scholarly authority (though in a capitalist society, entrepreneurs will try to substitute capitalist authority in for scholarly authority, effacing the basis of scholarly authority). I think if we can grasp capitalist elites through the Political Economy of Law lens, then we can see them leading and necessitating the Terror.
The British are really masters at shying away from this reality, via their Counterenlightenment ideology of aristocratic moderation and domestic improvement through global imperialism. Israel and other American meritocratic inegalitarians, such as are at the heart of the Democratic Party, offer an alternative to British aristocratic moderation, to those whose imperial politics require they blackbox what it is that elites are and do (again, see Piketty 2019 for a critique).
Midcan Peak Counterenlightenment
What does Anglo colonial social work have to do with the Counterenlightenment?
d’Alembert, Jean Le Rond.
Frank, Thomas. 2020.
d’Holbach, . 1770. Systeme de la nature. La Politique Naturelle (1773) and Systeme Sociale (1773).
Israel, Jonathan. The Democratic Enlightenment.
Jacob, Margaret. 2019. The Secular Enlightenment. Princeton University Press.
Linebaugh, Peter & Marcus Rediker.
McMahon, Darrin. The Counterenlightenment.
Piketty, Thomas. 2019. Capitalism and Ideology.
Robertson, Ritchie. 2018.
Robertson, Ritchie. 2020. The Enlightenment: The Pursuit of Happiness, 1680-1790.Allen Lane. 978 0 241 00482 1.
…And How to Dial Down Universities’ Role in Perpetuating Institutional Discrimination and Cultural Discrimination
In this blog article, a professor discusses the widely-recognized and studied problem of student-consumer discrimination against female professors. At the end of the blog article, a student comments, describing how her own personal accounting of witch-like female teachers’ behaviour entitles her to disrespect and expect mothering from female professors:
“I am a 16 year old brazilian student and i had a lot of trauma with teachers.
I will never forget the teachers at the daycare center I attended, Pampulha, it was my first school there and my first trauma with female teachers, I remember shivering the day I forgot my shirt in the classroom because the teacher in my class doesn’t like us to forget things there. I also remember a girl in my class who had learning difficulties in my classroom crying because the teacher yelled at her because she forgot to write ONE word of a sentence that the teacher asked us to do, it looked like she was going beat the girl in my class. another teacher who traumatized me was a japanese girl who got mad at the class and asked me to lay her head on the table, I obeyed and pulled out a chair to make my spine more comfortable, but she pushed me hard and abruptly forward scaring and almost me making me cry and make the table hit my chest and hurt and get ugly in my spine.
my physical education teacher, who called a friend of mine a “disgusting guy” just because she stuck her head out of the curiosity window because a presentation was going on outside the classroom.
I will never forget an English teacher who shouted and humiliated a boy in my class just because she wrote his name in the wrong place on an exam.
I will not forget a geography teacher who called me autistic throughout the school and I will never forget a teacher threatening a friend with the phrase “if you want to see me crazy you will have to eat a lot of rice and beans”
on the other hand, male teachers were the friendliest and funniest and had patience with students with doubts and gave classes praised by everyone, even the girls in my class preferred male teachers to teach.
if you want to fight stereotypes of teachers by being arrogant and boring,
THEN STOP BEING SCARY !!!”
First, I am sorry this young person has had a hard time. Folks have hard times. Who is responsible? Witches? With all due respect to the malingering Counterenlightenment, I am going to argue that witches are not responsible. Moreover, it is not ethical for universities to affirm that female professors are witches, as university administrators have a conflict of interest in this accusation (As they encourage students to imagine their female professors as witches, university administrators stand to extract cheaper labour from female professors). In this blog entry, I controversially assert that female professors are neither mothers of paying customers nor witches. Rather, female professors are scholars.
Transforming Students from Misogynist Consumers to Scholars: The Role of University Policy
Admin-heavy universities have now built up many layers of “protections” for student-consumers, such as the gynophobic international student above who only registers and inflates irrationality in women, explaining that their own gynophobia entitles them to expect mothering from professors with XX chromosomes.
Professors are not supposed to mother students. They are responsible for other work, and students, people often embarking on their third decade of life, are responsible for learning how to work with and learn from other people who are not mother-figures. If students have too many psychological issues to take up that responsibility, there are therapists, or consumers can seek alternative life experiences. Professors, including female professors, do not have the leeway to fill student-consumers’ mothering gaps. Surprising as it may be to many, expecting and requiring female professors to fill student-consumer mothering gaps severely underestimates the rest of these womens’ work and lives. It’s not possible. This university-mediated consumer service needs a rethink.
Universities allow such students to remain fearful-angry (fangry) consumers, rather than develop into scholars. How is this young person going to work with women in the work world beyond the university when the university has wasted their education years, facilitating them to remain a fangry consumer?
In today’s “Karen”-targeting Counterenlightenment world, there are many institutional venues within the university affirming student-consumers’ biases and incentivizing disciplinary interventions upon female faculty. Student evals are just one of many institutional mechanisms that incentivize and amplify consumer misogyny and sexism, undermining female professors’ capacities to do their job.
Universities today are in the labor-management business of undermining their faculty, particularly by affirming and amplifying students’ cultural gender discrimination. As university administrations affirm and amplify students’ sexism, they commit institutional discrimination.
Female faculty should consider organizing and collective-action lawsuits to dismantle institutions that discriminate by gender in enhancing student consumer behaviour, to roll this institutionalized discrimination back.
Women can unmake institutional discrimination, just as they have made it and unleashed it upon their fellow female academics. Over the long neoliberal period, many admin-ambitious female faculty, managers and university lawyers parlayed their gendered norm-reproduction and morality-policing expertise to devise and argue for just such administrative disciplinary interventions, marketing them by suggesting that adding disciplinary bureaucracies to the university would save female faculty from cultural discrimination. In doing so, they have obscured the fact that female faculty are also workers, and employers’ disciplinary institutions will always fall back into amplifying–not moderating–cultural discrimination against female faculty as workers. Employers’ performance-metric and disciplinary institutions will in the aggregate reinforce the patriarchal dominant culture to reconstruct female faculty as “irrational,” “incompetent” workers, essentially: witches or bad mothers.
To reduce institutional and cultural discrimination against women, changes are needed in university policy and administrative bureaucracy. What female faculty need to do their job is not more discipline at work, but extra institutional and union support to recognize professors as professionals, to back their judgment up. Female scholars do not need entrepreneurs to devise more inquisitions and interventions on their student evaluation work. Female scholars need to reorganize university policy to lead the students to reconceptualize female professors outside the gynophobic and sexist categories students have already been socialized into. Elite and expensive universities are better at instilling in students a respect for their professors that can allow students to move into a scholarly (as opposed to fangry consumer) disposition. When fangry consumers are incentivized to learn scholarly dispositions, female professors are freed from impossible mothering-repair demands to do their research-intensive, publishing-intensive, multifaceted jobs as scholars.
As well, scholarly students are better prepared to work with women beyond university. Nonelite and regional universities fail female professors, by default advantaging male professors as they build up employee-disciplining policy and bureaucracies. By facilitating gynophobic consumerism, universities fail women throughout society and reproduce cultural discrimination.
Universities that cannot support their female professor employees as professionals should be pressed to implement a stop-gap measure: They need to end graduated grading, such as percentage grading and letter grading on professionally, subjectively-evaluated work like papers and theses. By ending graduated grading, professors would be able to focus on their scholarly work, and female professors would not be so mired in university disciplinary mechanisms and institutions affirming and amplifying misogynistic student-consumers’ fears and anger. Students at employee-disciplining universities that institutionally discriminate against female faculty should normally be given Pass-Fail dichotomous evaluations. Pass-fail grading is a mechanism that would provide female professors room to do their work, the work that counts for their tenure and promotion; and it would dampen universities’ role in perpetuating EDI failure in labour markets. As in the employment relation, students who adopted scholarly standards would be recognized by references from their professors.
Robert Gordon 2016 showed that US Total Factor Productivity (the underlying effect of innovation and technological change on economic growth) declined starting in the 1970s. Inequality and “capital deepening” (capital input/worker hour) dampened US economic growth. (This is a measure related to the Marxist theory of the declining rate of profit as labor is economically sidelined, “efficiency” and “productivity” increase.) Narrow IT was not able to play the expansionary GPT (General Purpose Technology) economic ignition role that electricity & the internal combustion engine did for a century between 1870 and 1970 (and particularly the latter half century between 1950 and 1970).
What’s the GPT now? Is biotech making a bid for the GPT, via pharmaceutical firms’ vaccine sales as they replace other health care and infrastructure expenditure? Is the (biotech) GPT expansionary, or is it, as with communications and information tech, “dazzling” but narrow, unable to contribute to multiple human needs across food, shelter, clothing, transportation, working conditions, and health other than narrow viral control–and thus likely to exacerbate inequality and economic stagnation?
Will the profits from the vaccine-as-health-care age be so large that pharmaceutical corporations will be able to finesse their legal profit requirements as corporations, and develop and sell vaccines on the side for humanitarian ends, as advocates are arguing? (Something like how defense industry excess profits permit higher salaries?) Advocates are currently portraying the new vaccine age on a one-sided, profits-only ledger. In their view, the change is additive, and any costs are transitional. Yet it is abundantly clear that a vaccine-first social order comes at a steep price for not only other economic sectors, but other contributors to human health. These include repression of infrastructure for youth development. As well, the vaccine-first social order involves expanded expenditure on policing and incarceration, including the redevelopment of medical policy work into policing, as Ontario Public Health has done, and state funding for a chain of permanent traveler prisons in Canadian cities.
If the US, UK, Russia, The Netherlands, China, and India are poised to become pharmaceutical tech winners, yet this is largely about a transfer of wealth from non-pharmaceutical contributors to human health, then who is poised to lose wealth to the pharmaceutical developers and manufacturers? What about poor countries–How realistic is it to expect wealthy countries to subsidize vaccine distribution globally or constrain their pharmaceutical companies’ profits? (Is this a big opportunity for Multipolarity jockeying?)
What about countries, like Commonwealth Canada, with publicly-subsidized medical systems but little pharma industry? What will an expanding vaccine budget benefiting foreign pharmaceutical corporations do to public Medicare systems and other infrastructure contributing to human health?
Vaccines are a consensus method of collective care for a complex, social, mobile Terrestrial species organized under a global capitalist profit- and wealth-accumulation regime entailing social, cultural, work, commercial, legal, political, and coercive relations. From a perspective–liberalism–that values both profit and profit-compatible altruism, vaccines should be a rare, fundamental touchstone of consensus. Every reasonable person should agree with prioritizing vaccine development and compliance.
However, the alliance of conservatives does not affirm this consensus, because, for various reasons, they reject collective care beyond the geographic and/or social boundaries of their personal networks.
I agree with conservatives that vaccine-based altruism is not a fundamental consensus touchstone. But I also disagree with the conservative rejection of humanist solidarity. While I understand the liberal presumption that vaccines should be a consensus issue, as a Marxist feminist, I do not accept that altruism must be compatible with profit (as in pharmaceutical vaccine commerce). Liberals would mistake this for a stubborn, doctrinaire principle, untethered from the social good. It is not.
The reason why I separate profit and altruism is that, while it secures an amazing cross-class and cross-status consensus, profit-compatible altruism, like charity or vaccine development and compliance, crowds out and undermines more fundamental, effective collective care, in such a way as to both proliferate human health crises and entrench dependency on commercial vaccines to provision the conditions of bare life. Profit-compatible altruism crowds out many less-profitable or unprofitable provisions required for mass thriving.
Here a liberal would object: We can have both vaccine altruism and the other conditions of thriving.
Yet we do not. Vaccine altruism emphatically, empirically comes at the price of broadly militarizing and carceralizing human life, entailing health-depleting isolation and immobilization as well as billowing social, political, and economic inequality, which also undermines human health.
I suggest futher that it is no coincidence that vaccine altruism is the consensus point at this conservatized, unequal, inegalitarian point in history. The socio-material conditions of human thriving are already reconceptualized and reserved in a conservatized milieu as luxury commodities. Disbelief in and black-boxing the socio-material conditions of human thriving, marginal and inconsistent recognition that these conditions pertain to nonelites, underwrites profit-compatible vaccine altruism. As the conditions of human thriving become economically inaccessible and culturally forbidden, the population is reduced to bare life, human health ebbs across the population, and we become increasingly susceptible to disease and death. All that stands in the way of our disintegration is the biochemical supplements we can access on the market. Our capitalist, liberal consensus altruism quickly deflates into a far less-disinterested dystopia.
The legacy of AIDS population managementinstitutionalized in liberal political parties
In the AIDS epidemic, the late 1980s problem to solve was homophobia, which reduced public support for pharmaceutical innovation, an expensive, appropriate health intervention for a subpopulation threatened by a sexually-transmitted disease. In the core this subpopulation was not economically marginalized or otherwise particularly health-challenged, nor was it incapable of political organization.
The solution that pharmaceutical and political strategists designed was to obliterate in the core an understanding of the epidemic as variably distributed, despite the sexual mode of contagion and the boundaries of that sexual community in affluent countries. (As Dr. C. Hunt and others showed, HIV spread in Africa along the path of male migrant labor paved by capitalist inequality. However, this empirical trend in Africa was used to further sell the theme of uniform, universal HIV threat, rather than to identify and correct institutions inducing AIDS transmission.) Liberal political party-affiliated AIDS activists widely marketed the idea that everyone had an equal chance of contracting, suffering, and dying of AIDS. Distribution was stigmatized as a disease variable that would inevitably produce immorality if permitted in public discourse and problem solving. We can’t handle the truth of distribution.
In other words, given a political party homo asocial presumption of venal human nature (borrowed from Hobbesian theory and extended from the homophobic members of the opposition party to humanity), the solution epidemic and political strategists devised could not be a pro-social MacAlevey organizing approach, but rather was to proliferate scientism, scientific illiteracy, and fear.
There were two useful political side-effects to this political strategy:
First, this fear solidarity campaign tapped into a version of Anglo-American meritocracy, competitive worker culture, in which every worker reflexively thinks in terms of her own superior diligence and virtue, and suspects her coworkers of immoral shirking. This competitive worker affect is a proven handle for employers and their political parties.
Second, this fear solidarity campaign was particularly effective among urban youth who preferred to identify politically in solidarity with gay men. As a young person I identified politically with gay men, and, thanks to the AIDS activist campaign, by 1990 I was absolutely convinced that I was going to die of AIDS and soon. For AIDS activists that was an insignificant individual price to pay for a greater good. Because disease fear solidarity was a new (or renewed) population management device, it took health care workers off guard, and they were not necessarily on-message. When my friends and I went to get tested for AIDS, steeled for our immanent mortality, the health care workers would roll their eyes and complain about our unscientific ignorance of the disease distribution. But politically, such cracks in the no-distribution strategy were manageable; discursively, to speak of them is, thirty years on, still absolutely taboo within Dem Party networks. In an increasingly unequal, inegalitarian, and manichean world, raising the issue of contagious disease distribution is an emotionally-loaded flag of political-tribal belonging, loaded into a generation’s moral and emotional roots.
The campaign got the job done, and the important learning for the AIDS activists whose political experience would inhere in the Democrat Party (and affiliated parties around the world) was that to lead the public to virtue, pharmaceutical development, requires obliterating public recognition of epidemic distribution. It strategically requires obliterating public recognition of epidemic distribution; and because the strategy is associated with the liberal party and its suite of political commitments and networks, within that network, obliterating public recognition of epidemic distribution is moralityand encompasses solidarity. To both maximize vaccine markets and reduce pressures for institutional and infrastructure reform, liberal political parties and communications professionals associate immortality and altruism exclusively with vaccine development and universal vaccine compliance. Political parties and comms professionals equate any non-vaccine problem-solving approach with death and selfishness. We can only pursue non-vaccine social goods when the last vaccine dose has been sold and administered, the last bug has been annihilated. Fortunately for pharmaceutical corporations and their investors and political representatives, humans are part of the Terrestrial biosphere, and so that biochemical end time will never arrive.
Restoring Epidemic/Pandemic Distribution Knowledge
What do we lose when we prohibit consideration of distribution in crises? Why restore to public discourse consideration of threat distribution? Publicly identifying crisis-impact distribution, for example the distribution of a coronavirus that spreads unevenly via vocalization, allows a society to identify, discuss, and mobilize the population to reform the institutions that make people vulnerable, that eviscerate human thriving. What we have been doing instead in our no-distribution comms strategy is culturally pathologizing humans and throwing our collective efforts behind building inhumane policy and institutions, such as long lockdown waves, along with vaccine development. But it is possible and preferable to maintain knowledge–including public knowledge–of distribution issues in epidemics and particularly pandemics, in order to advance the crucial public goods, beyond vaccine development, required to reduce risks inherent in our biological, material, Terrestrial, human existence.
We should not submit to the manipulative, political, ideological assertion that essentially-scary people (the disease vectors, the unwashed hordes, the mob, the barbarians, the populists, those jackasses who cut us off in traffic, the unmeritorious deplorables) simply cannot handle the truth, and so imprison people in untruths, however building scientific literacy will reduce pharmaceutical profits from the maximal horizon in which crises are only responded to with carceralism and pharmaceuticals. If we can muster our comms to convince people to fear humanity, then we can slap those comms pros across the face a couple times and, in crisis, retask them with orienting people to direct resources and work at failing infrastructure and policy, in order to bolster human thriving, not just to pharmaceutically supplement increased human suffering, as we are doing. We need to switch from that human suffering-and-vaccines pole to thinking around: Which markets, policies, and institutions reduce human thriving, as shown by the distribution of viral impact?
Distributional variables in epidemics and pandemics can be predicted and observed. Identifying the method by which the type of virus transmits, and given the probable tradeoff between virulence and transmissability in any identifiable viral mutation, we should center the following distribution questions and use them to design and build democratic disease containment strategies that protect population health along with subpopulation longevity.
Who is getting very sick or dying, and where? What is the social and geographic extent of the viral transmission?
What is the speed of viral transmission within and across social, sociological, and geographic boundaries?
How does summertime and other costless, natural structural factors bolster immunity and transmission?
How does the built environment bolster or weaken human immunity?
Who gets sick or dies with mutations? How does mutation speed and type alter the assumptions as well as the extent and speed of viral transmission?
Liberal Crisis Strategy Applied to an ILI
Flash forward to the start of the third decade of the the twenty-first century. The AIDS activists are decisionmakers in liberal parties. What happens when we apply their foundational political knowledge–first and foremost, bury the distribution– to herd public support behind pharmaceutical innovation in an ILI (Influenza-Like Illness) pandemic?
The political strategy of obfuscating disease distribution shifts slightly to accommodate the differences between the diseases. In the case of AIDS, the campaign strategy was to obliterate public understanding of how AIDS was transmitted, and the limits of that transmission. In the COVID-19 campaign, the political strategy has been to obliterate public understanding of disease distribution by playing a shell game with public understanding of who are vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2–sick people dying at 85 years of age on average, particularly in long-term care homes–and what conditions decimate human immunity to the level of sick elderly people dying in long-term care homes: poverty conditions. This shell game morally undergirded the Counterenlightenment political claim that only by extending carceralism, long-term mass lockdown, human suffering, could racialized, marginalized people be inclusively cared for. That is a whopping lie.
We reinforce worker competition culture, as diligence and virtue are exclusively associated with lockdown, expanded and extended human suffering.
We further normalize carceralism, shifting into a high gear of carceralism–mass and long-term mass lockdown–as the primary response to crises, crises understood without valid reference to cause or distribution.
We reinforce scientific illiteracy and scientism, ignoring the distribution of COVID-19 mortality and severe illness, as well as obfuscating the impacts of antihuman policies, institutions, and infrastructure on human health and wellbeing, and on democracy and economy.
And we bury what COVID-19 has shown us about where our infrastructure fails to support human thriving. We neglect the most important knowledge COVID-19 gives us: Where we should be redesigning and reforming our institutions and infrastructure–from Long Term Care to schools to workplaces and norms to housing to prisons to parks to health care–to foster the human thriving that confers immunity to ILIs.
The ultimate deadly infrastructure is our capitalist political parties and their comms pros in media, and secondarily, a complicit medical profession, together maintaining infrastructure failures and institutional failures, worker competition culture, carceralism, and scientific illiteracy–maintaining human suffering and increasing vulnerability now and for the long haul. There will never be enough profitable brand vaccines to staunch the epidemics and pandemics generated by the antihuman treadmill we’ve chained ourselves to. Freeze-raying our enemy, humanity, and mechanistically, chemically engineering our way out of Terrestrial life is a Gilded Age class compromise leading right to more devastation.
“Too little, too late. Everybody got to medicate.” The Decemberists, Anti-Summer Song.