A striking case of policy and institutional constriction in the engineered absence of an autonomous Left
The COVID-19 pandemic demonstrates that authoritarian solidarity fights against demos-capacitating policy. One example is the important case of global pandemic policy leadership laboring to divert from a test-and-trace approach that would permit targeted rather than extended, extensive, and intensive incapacitation. From its start in private strategy groups composed of military, politicians, and doctors networked with military and political parties (for example, the US pandemic strategy group Red Dawn), pandemic policy has been biased toward population incapacitation. In an era in which pharmaceuticals were a leading capitalist industry, the military enemy-population incapacitation model served as a complement to the vaccine market. Right up to March 2020, the US was considered a global leader in pandemic planning because of its focus on population incapacitation and the vaccine market. The vaccine market became the capitalist substitute for democratic development. Pharmaceutical corporations came to be widely regarded as the only legitimate source of liberty. While Anglo-American liberals believed themselves to be nobly defending science and the vulnerable margins against barbarians, their version of science was reductive and slipshod enough to cohere them principally to an authoritarian coalition.
For example, the UK Sage group included hospital managers and political party strategists. Early on, Sage decided that they would forgo test-and-trace pandemic management. The group, including politicians representing pharmaceutical profits, asserted that test-and-trace would cost more than it was worth. Pandemic policy models that optimized existing hospital capacity piled on by correlating testing approaches with higher incidence of COVID-19. In other words, some researchers were disseminating the logic error that testing causes SARS-COV-2, rather than identifies viral transmission. Due to a management error that lost test-and-trace data, comparative data on test-and-trace in the UK became available and economists analyzed it. It turned out upon analysis that test-and-trace was very effective (Beale 2020); though by reducing the spread of the coronavirus via identification and selective quarantine, testing-and-tracing would reduce the pharmaceutical industry’s profit margins. However, in the interim, spring through fall 2020 (AKA the Southern hemispher’s winter), as Melbourne, Australia stepped into the role of extended, extensive lockdown poster child, the UK Sage group rejected test-and-trace policy in favor of a TINA lockdown-to-vaccine policy. Their policy prescriptions were copied in tributary regions, where media trumpet Melbourne’s prison-like conditions and its ensuing summertime defeat of the coronavirus (reminiscent of Canada’s earlier summertime “defeat” of the virus. Almost makes you think stronger summer immunity plays a predictable role in the suppression of ILIs (Influenza-Like Illnesses)).
In February 2021, further prosecuting the Anglosphere case against targeted test-and-trace, The Guardian ran headlines about how Hong Kong’s “ambush” targeted test and trace policy violated civil rights and discriminated against the poor. It was a case of authoritarian implementation of test-and-trace, with Hong Kong health authorities targeting poorer residents living in crowded city neighborhoods, where little evidence of coronavirus transmission was found. On the other hand, in contrast to the “virtuous,” information-lite, winter-long mass lockdown authoritarianism instituted in the Anglosphere, the authoritarian Hong Kong deployment of targeted test-and-trace only immobilized the working class residents of crowded neighborhoods for two (2) days. Where Hong Kong’s interpretation of test-and-trace was more inequitable, the Anglosphere mass lockdown approach intensified inequality more gravely.
Given that lockdown-centric policy benefited the pharmaceutical industry at the expense of the medical industry, one might have imagined that medical professionals would have used their clout and collective action capacity to intervene, to help pressure and organize pandemic policy that would reduce the burden on hospitals and hospital staff. By and large, the medical profession did not. While in backstage knowledge-sharing seminars, medical professionals merely listed community transmission as their preferred target amongst a number of factors correlated with COVID crisis conditions in long-term care, medical professionals and their organizations actively promoted lockdown-heavy policy at the expense of policies, like test-and-trace, that would both reduce the burden on hospitals, and diverge from population incapacitation. Particularly in Commonwealth countries, health care and hospital coalitions’ social media messaging pounded on extending and intensifying population incapacitation, military-grade lockdown, as the only reasonable alternative to what they asserted were the only and irresponsible alternatives: first a reconstruction of “herd immunity” as a moral ill; then “opening” for the petty sake of small business revenue, contrasted with the fearsome gravity of mortality. (In contrast to Canadian medical professionals, in October 2020, rather late and two months out from vaccines hitting the market, the American AAMC called for a national test-and-trace mobilization in the US.)
The Anglosphere medical profession’s choice to eschew test-and-trace, more humane policy that would reduce pressure on hospitals, was a precondition for preserving maximal vaccine markets, suggesting that the medical profession is also invested in pharmaceutical profits–or at least, as this Deloitte pharmaceutical industry strategy report indicates, the medical profession is managed by the pharmaceutical industry. That could be researched with a political-economic approach. Or the medical profession’s choice may indicate a population incapacitation preference within the medical profession, and important limitations in the medical profession’s concept of solidarity–limitations that should have been anticipated by a review of doctors’ record of political campaigns opposing public health. While it could be difficult to research such preferences, due to social desirability issues, nonetheless the social-psychological hypothesis as well as the political-economic hypothesis and the outcome suggest that to preserve the public welfare, including health, medical professionals should not be treated as unique and primary authorities, determining public health policy–any more than should politicians representing powerful corporations with financial interests at citizens’ economic and health expense.
Varieties of Sacrificial Solidarity:
Population Incapacitation v. Democratic Capacitation Solidarities
Solidarity involves sacrifice. There are different distributions of sacrifice within different kinds of solidarity. We often think of solidarity in relation to unions and social movements, but of course there are solidarities that distribute sacrifice quite differently. The convergence of conservative-liberal institutions and conservative-liberal government has created a version of solidarity that sacrifices the health, wellbeing, and human development of the “population,” a deindividualized theoretical construct deployed wrecklessly in inegalitarian, widely-incapacitating governance. The development of working-class people’s human capacities–for collective organization, strategization, and communication– are sacrificed in capitalist solidarity. Women’s human development is sacrificed in patriarchal solidarity. Black people’s and Indigenous people’s liberty to pursue human development is sacrificed in the solidarity networks of racial capitalism and colonialism.
The long roll-out of COVID-19 public policy reveals the distribution of sacrificial solidarity in the context of the “era of democratic recession” ( Diamond 2015; Shrecker 2020) presided over by conservative-liberal institutions and conservative and liberal ruling parties. A coalition of institutions combines with governments run by conservatized liberal political parties leading the sacrifice of human welfare and development on behalf of markets in vaccines and incapacitation technologies, as well as with conservative governments, a patriarchal network sacrificing human welfare and development, to demand the solidaristic sacrifice of the population’s health, wellbeing, and longevity. Conservative-liberal institutional allies have included hospital management, the medical profession including its members in both private practice and public health, pharmaceutical corporations, health care workers unions, social workers (considered part of the health care workforce, which constitutes in total 13.5% of the Canadian workforce), and most steadfastly, media.
Thus, a more population-capacitating test-and-trace pandemic policy is neglected in favor of incapacitating mass lockdowns, where isolation and immobilization are scientifically well-understood to deplete health and reduce longevity. An activated and amplified coalition of interests overdetermines the incapacitating approach, particularly as it maximizes vaccine market profits. It is a further indicator of non-sovereignty that countries like Canada are dominated by the population-incapacitation coalition, as vaccine prioritization (let alone population incapacitation) is not unambiguously in the national interest. Coronavirus vaccines are an expenditure rather than a source of profit in tributaries like Canada. Coronavirus vaccines are developed in the US, UK, Europe, China, and South Korea, and produced chiefly by the US and India, as well as to a lesser extent in China, the UK, Germany, and South Korea.
In tributary hinterlands, conservative-liberal institutions including the public health department, a low-capacity union representing health care workers, and the medical profession’s pecuniary interest in credential scarcity and monopolizing public health decisionmaking, combine to produce a prone reaction to the pandemic, leaving only core policy mimicry, the sacrificial solidarity of population incapacitation.
The population-incapacitation coalition’s ethical case is ambiguous. Over the course of 2020 and 2021, the population-incapacitation solidarity coalition misled the public about the duration of the pandemic, instead ramping up their demands for population incapacitation over the months and years, while their media amplified these demands. To incapacitate the demos, to divert the public from less-incapacitating pandemic policy, and to advance incapacitating policy and institutions, including the vaccine market priority, the authoritarian coalition portrayed the pandemic to the public as resolvable with shifting windows of time-delimited sacrifices and rapid vaccine development. In 2020, they had publicly encouraged a locked-down population to believe that vaccines would permit lifting constraints, in part to stave off public interest in less-incapacitating, long-term pandemic management. The outlier state of Sweden, whose organicist-science public health department was from March 2020 explicitly managing the pandemic to maintain democracy and broad human health for an expected pandemic long haul, was opportunistically vilified by the population-incapacitation solidarity coalition in moments in which Swedish population health and mortality statistics looked less competitive than their Scandinavian neighbors. By mid-January 2021 as vaccines were beginning to be distributed, the Anglo-American corporate-state media introduced norms continuing antihuman population incapacitation measures, as well as messaging encouraging the depersonalized mass to abandon expectations for access to human conviviality, contact, and mobility. Melbourne’s long, intensive lockdown was touted as the policy model.
By the end of January, as the US fall 2020 elections had concluded, political party networks’ incentives for oppositionally politicizing the pandemic ebbed. In the conservative hinterlands of Canada, though hinterlands transmission rates were low, the conservative provincial government announced along with the federal Liberal government that they were instituting amplified carceral measures to maintain a more constraining regional mass quarantine indefinitely. Liberal and conservative political parties lunging for population incapacitation policy cohered around a carceral approach. While the Canadian Liberal Party diverted billions of dollars in public revenue to the development of a permanent, for-profit traveler prison archipelago across Canadian cities, inhabitants of America’s Siberia, Manitoba, were threatened with costly motel incarceration if they attempted to escape the flat, deep-freeze, commercial-agriculture province lockdown for regions permitting better outdoor activity opportunities, when a rolling maximum of 0.3% of the population had contracted the virus (per restricted testing identification), of which tiny fraction of the population, 3% experienced significant symptoms–symptoms that the existing acute care facilities were able to treat, as the facilities had been supported to treat influenza in elderly populations by the previous NDP government. COVID-19 population lockdowns were imposed on populations whose human welfare was steeply discounted, as in tributary hinterlands, for political convenience and without valid reference to local conditions.
Political convenience has required a politics of fear. As justification for increasing population incapacitation, the conservative hinterlands government cited the mutability of the coronavirus, intimating that it was “more deadly” than ever. The claim was not backed by scientific conclusions, and there was no public education about the viral trade-off between deadly and transmissable. The conservative-liberal foundation of pandemic policy was population incapacitation to preserve the institutions of socio-economic inequality.
Incapacitation Governance, Biosecurity, and Human Rights
At a first read, it looks as though COVID-19 has exposed a shocking dearth of state capacity. Across Canada and many regions of the world, ruling political parties and markets failed to mobilize to correct the identifiable, accumulated governance failures that created extraordinary global vulnerability to the fundamental biotic process of viral development. Countries including Canada saw a climb in the mortality and further impairment of older people, particularly those over 85 whose health was already in steep decline and so were living in long-term care homes, many of which were structured on economic efficiency criteria, and facilitated contagion. Eventfully, this biological and infrastructure susceptibility spilled over into crisis for long-term care and acute-care hospital logistics. In 2021, medical professionals and exhausted, traumatized logistics managers voiced the need for a systemic approach to the intense crisis site of long-term care. Where pre-existing problems flaming SARS-COV-2 into pandemic continue to be systemically neglected, we find governance responses maintaining and furthering population incapacitation institutions–such as the Canadian federal government’s choice to use emergency legislation not to mobilize long-term care and other health infrastructure improvements, but rather to deploy a $4.45 BN budget toward funding the construction of private traveler prisons (“isolation sites”) across Canadian cities. The pandemic reveals not state incapacity but the long trend toward market-based citizenship fortifying a property rights regime pitted against human rights, demos-capacitating solidarity, and human health (See also Schrecker 2020).
Other anti-scientific irrationalities and moral hazards of population-incapacitation governance in Canada include the federal governing party’s refusal to exercise leadership and engage the Canadian public in an information campaign allowing the public to understand and participate in the rational global distribution of vaccines first and foremost to the people whose health is significantly threatened by the coronavirus. The Canadian Liberal Party has simply refused to activate the Canadian rational altruism brand, favoring instead a low-profile nationalist vaccine policy (RJ Leland 2021), along with the extension of mass home incarceration and further institutionalization of traveler incarceration.
Its inability to lead a rational, humanist approach to vaccine distribution is associated with the ruling liberal party’s unwillingness to relinquish the tool of fear politics, the incapacitation policy of misleading the public about the coronavirus health-risk distribution, a communications policy autocrats deem necessary to ensuring lockdown compliance. Opposing a capacitating humanist approach to crisis management and intervention, the pseudo-scientific aura of “population” health management corrodes as it serves to support the irrational, anti-scientific policy priorities that produce such profound, debilitating crises amongst humans on Earth (See Wallace et al 2020).
Introducing A Distinctive Organicist-science Approach to Pandemic
“We know that policy choices have long-run consequences” (Piereson 2004). Now that liberal and conservative political parties have cohered around the population incapacitation agenda, we can assess who, outside of Sweden and other minority parts of Europe (French and Italian teachers striking for return to schools with health protections), are championing a democratic capacitation-forward response to long-term pandemic. So far, most of the remnant Anglo-American Left has been noticeably unable to distinguish a working class capacitation approach.
Instead, and particularly under its financial-metropole leadership, the Anglo-American Left has coalesced with autocrats deploying mass incapacitation to maintain and exacerbate current resource maldistributions, with the Anglo-American Left contributing the moral argument that feminized workers and marginalized, poor people of color are best protected from the threat–people pathologized as disease vectors–by extended mass lockdown. The remnant Anglo-American Left has also justified its authoritarian coalition on the basis of invalid rejections of non-incapacitating policies, such as test-and-trace, clarifying health communication, and targeted global vaccine prioritization; invalid, opportunistic assumptions about emergency duration; invalid assumptions about the distribution and facilitating conditions for COVID-19 mortality and debilitation; alignment with mechanistic commercial science and medical interests misrepresented as science tout court; silencing organicist science, including social epidemiology and its warnings on the serious effects of long-term immobilization, isolation, and impoverishment; and the anti-populist framework, and uneven opposition to politicized conservative party pandemic strategies, though the Anglo-American Left has embraced politicized conservative and liberal parties’ pandemic strategies where those have been aligned with population incapacitation.
Long-run consequences of deepening the inegalitarian institutionalization of population incapacitation include significant socio-material harms–direct harms such as decreased population health and longevity associated with immobilization/sedentarism and isolation (organicist social epidemiology science that the Anglo-American Left has abandoned), but as well a cascade of harms associated with resource maldistribution. Population incapacitation has worsened resource and power maldistribution; over the long crisis, the global working class has so far lost $3.7 trillion, while the global billionaire class has gained over $10 trillion (January 2021). This resource maldistribution undercounts the aggravated inequality growth in conservative-liberal regimes, where a large proportion of the working class is state-subsidized into small business ownership, which (captured working class) population has also lost income and smallholding assets.
What has stood out is that most of the remnant Anglo-American Left has deferred to and embraced authoritarian population-incapacitation policy during a long Shock Doctrine crisis–a crisis whose very roots are in inhumane institutions. Presumably this sort of Left is oriented to ameliorative advocacy during quieter moments. We can associate such a Left with ad hoc local charity; the Romantic revival and Call-out culture; meritocracy, professionals and managerialism; and organizational subordination to liberal political parties and their primary, capitalist constituencies. This is the crooked little Left that remains alongside other authoritarianisms after a century of capitalist Cold War evisceration of the global capacious Left (Bevins 2019). Its mass-incapacitation COVID-19 pandemic response is a measure of the liberal party and Counterenlightenment-conservative theory dependency of the remnant Anglo-American Left.
Lockdown/vaccination is a conservative-liberal and not a Left solution to problems. In the biosecurity lockdown/vaccination regime, mass society “does their part” by self-abnegating to the detriment of their health and longevity, their economy, and democracy. The “population” recognizes its Terrestrial biology as the problem, dehumanizes itself, and preserves itself as a vaccine market, where priority access to vaccines is the sign of social value (“essential workers”), prestige. The population agrees with decisionmaking elites that commercial vaccine development and consumption will solve the problems that the impact of infectious disease shows to be clearly caused by inequality and public infrastructure poverty (public goods scarcity).
So for example, instead of using their collective action capacity to fight to institutionalize more humane conditions bolstering human immunity and health, such as better institutional ventilation (HVACS and openable windows for fresh air), small class (not classroom) sizes, and half-day school for highschoolers, US teachers’ unions misused their collective action capacity in winter 2021 to fight to jump the global vaccination queue. Most people’s immune systems can handle the COVID-19 coronavirus. COVID-19 death and impairment are clearly strongly associated with inhumane living and working conditions, as important contributors to pre-existing immune system inadequacy; and vaccines should have been prioritized for subpopulations–from Native American reservations to Brazilian favelas– beseiged and weakened by the socio-somatic incapacitation unleashed by colonialism and capitalism, as well as long-term care residents at the end of life living in long-term care homes in need of humane redesign. Those among teachers and students who suffered pre-existing disease and poverty should have had a priority place in the vaccine queue by virtue of their immunity impairment.
Most US teachers and students had no ethical claim to jumping the queue. There were far more vulnerable populations domestically and around the globe. Because there was no viable Left to observe and articulate the glaring, overwhelming correlation between COVID-19 death and impairment on the one hand, and on the other, exposure to inequality and public infrastructure poverty, US teachers’ unions followed the politics of prestige: With lockdown pandemic policy taking democracy-compatible solutions off the table, commercial vaccines were left as the only available collective care option. To access vaccines first meant social prestige. Health care workers were first in line for vaccination; teachers’ unions demanded the only sign of “Essential” status available to workers in capitalism.
Examples of a distinctive working-class capacitation approach include:
a) Law & Political Economy policy reforms distributing wealth to address vulnerabilities glaring in the light of pandemic;
b) using emergency powers to mobilize resources, including:
i) expanded public health care capacity: test & trace capacity, long-term care restructuring, hospital and acute care capacity, social epidemiological public health research and policy institutionalization, and removal of excessive professional barriers to medical education and practice;
ii) Basic Income protection and economic independence; democratically-capacitating community infrastructure investment including parks, water and air quality, light and ventilation systems in public buildings, sewage systems, active transit, and quality public housing; education for democratic development renewal; and criminal code reform–in order to target with supports and significant reforms the failing social and institutional areas that the pandemic has revealed to be overburdened with dangerously-unhealthy and inhumane conditions: working-class communities of color, long term care, junk jobs, and prisons and carceralism.
Over and over, for three generations and more, we have observed how the conservative-liberal Right is organized to translate the crises it generates into inequality institutions, setting up further crises which in turn allow the Right to channel the world’s busy system gamers to exponentially increase inequality and so crises keeping most people disorganized. Incapacitating population management is inegalitarian culture. Commercial vaccines markets, surveillance and AI Big Data analysis, permanent online work, using tributary populations to test drugs, and loosened drug regulation–the consensus pandemic treatment–are not brakes on crisis-prone inegalitarian culture; they are accelerators. Misrecognizing inegalitarianism as morality, we are getting swept up in the culture, and we do not know how to set boundaries and we fear to break collaborative networks. Thus we assist in the construction of our own avalanche of crises. The pandemic is not as special as we like to think. Again, we have failed to recognize the social construction of pandemic, leaning on inegalitarian anti-populist political culture to justify lunging to the unwarranted, sociologically-illiterate conclusion that to recognize the pandemic as socially constructed is to see it as imaginary. The pandemic is not just caused by a scary invisible alien bug enemy, and it’s not caused by a polluted horde, population that morality requires be smothered out. As it has always been, pandemic is caused by our reflexive collective refusal to use our organizing capacity and resources to prioritize and bolster widespread wellbeing, our reflexive collective choice to “solve” problems over and over again by discounting and displacing socio-material human thriving. COVID-19 has shown us that we are still hopelessly enthralled by the margins-centering inegalitarian justice telos of the Counterenlightenment Right. We continue to help reproduce our growing immiseration and planetary crises. Caught between a collectively-manufactured, irrational inequality of sovereignty, freedom, and human development, and our socio-biological nature, we are always in pandemics.
A self-directed Left will not coalesce with authoritarian policy that incapacitates an extensive, dehumanized and pathologized “population” while maintaining anti-scientific and mechanistic inequality priorities. We want to use crises, especially long crises such as pandemics rooted in global, commercial, capitalist occlusion of human thriving, to galvanize and institute egaliberte policies, not to cooperatively, solidaristically accommodate and coalesce with authoritarian, dehumanizing social structuring, however it is always sold as protecting the most vulnerable, per venerable conservative theory. Consensus authoritarianism builds & cements mass-incapacitating and debilitating inequality institutions, particularly destructive in an unchecked Gilded Age, and all the more difficult to dismantle “after” the crisis.
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- In Counterenlightenment Canada, reason is reconceptualized as cooperation. But cooperation with whom? With Essential health care workers and the sick and dying, of course! You’re not a Monstrous Antivaxxer are you?
Capitalists’ police killed off the constructive socialists, unions were poisoned and dismantled. We’ll never get out of this shitpit, with its floors caving beneath us all the time as its chorus of loge gremlins praise the cooperation, until we fight down the many cop layers, organize the working class, and so free the constructive socialists. Those should be the priorities.
But in the meantime, I’m going to say something about human capacitation v. the incapacitation reflex, as ways to solve problems. How can we stay solid behind working-class organization if we cannot even think beyond mass incapacitation, our monomania in all the crises?
- One example of the COVID reinstatement of mechanistic-positivist pseudo-science was on display in February 2021, when the CBC’s Piya Chattophyay interviewed a University College London psychologist, Katerina Fotopoulou, encouraging her to leap from her research expertise to assure the Canadian public that whereas touch deprivation, yes, seriously undermines animals‘ health, and in the past, prior to COVID-19, touch deprivation also used to have serious consequences for humans, people are now miraculously exempt from isolation and immobilization harms, due to new, mystical qualities of “adaptability” and “resilience.”
Surely humans possess some adaptability and resilience, but the limits of those are already known through the volumes of previous research (and Fotopoulou’s ongoing research) into the harms inflicted by isolation and immobilization. It is possible that the SARS-COV-2 virus, or the lockdown policy, or some other novel mystery factor, contains some heretofore-unobserved and untheorized quality enhancing human adaptability and resilience, much like Peter Parker’s spider bite gave him superpowers; however, that sort of baseless speculation belongs in comic books and bong sessions. Science proceeds logically upon theory, the collective of previous empirical evidence and analysis. This example of a political-market comms org, the CBC, deploying a clinical psychologist and private psychotherapist for comms control, demonstrates that positivism-mechanism is pseudo-scientific mysticism. Just as liberal parties develop dialectically with conservative parties, positivism-mechanism is a main vehicle itself for the proliferation of scientific illiteracy.
- Consensus authoritarianism: A 2009 post on military-guided private pharmaceutical investment in vaccine development as well as mass-lockdown policy instituted with the 2001 US Health Emergency Act.
- The legacy of AIDS population management today: In the AIDS epidemic, the late 1980s problem for epidemiologists to solve was widespread homophobia, which reduced public support for pharmaceutical innovation, an expensive health intervention for a subpopulation that in the core was not economically marginalized or otherwise particularly health-challenged, nor was it incapable of political organization. The solution pharmaceutical, medical and political strategists designed was to obliterate in the core an understanding of the epidemic as variably distributed. Particularly political party-affiliated AIDS activists widely marketed the idea to the public that everyone had an equal chance of contracting and dying of AIDS. Distribution was stigmatized as a disease variable that would inevitably be immoral if permitted in public discourse and problem solving. We can’t handle the truth.https://giphy.com/gifs/IgsXOXGPxfT3O/html5. In other words, the solution epidemic and political strategists devised was to proliferate scientism, scientific illiteracy, and fear. There were two useful political results: First, this fear solidarity campaign tapped into the Anglo-American 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. Second, this fear solidarity campaign was particularly effective among youth–such as myself–who preferred to identify politically in solidarity with gay men. As a young person, I identified politically with gay men, and I truly believed that I was going to die of AIDS. Because fear solidarity was a new population management device, it took health care workers off guard. When I went to get tested for AIDS, steeled for my immanent mortality, the health care workers would roll their eyes at my ignorance of the disease distribution.