For A More Humane Pandemic

April 2020 revision

Including the US, many countries’ public health authorities, their virologists and hospital workers, have coalesced with politicians, citing mortality risks to the immune-compromised, and prioritizing support for health care professionals in a time of ramping demand in many jurisdictions. Together they have instituted an isolation and immobilization policy upon a great, crude swath of the people, now designated “non-essential workers.”

Eager to protect and serve, people have embraced the virologist’s statistical conceptualization of people as disease vectors. People have embraced a sort of altruistic policy, suggested by public health officials for indefinite implementation. We can see this collective enforcement everywhere, as people impose self- house arrest and dutifully sew their own face masks. Police have expanded checkpoints from DUI to immigrants and now the entire population of disease vectors. Parks are closed, corporations and states furlough and fire employees, New York epidemiologists call for Americans to “freeze in place,” and the only people allowed to move their bodies in plague-riddled Milan are people who own dogs.

 

There is a greater good at stake. It’s just not the greater good we think. While we admire the brand of selfless cooperation, there is also a very strong element of inhumanity in our approach to the pandemic. It is very much rooted in a fundamental, Malthusian premise: Our humanity is the problem to be eradicated. To follow expertise means faithfully following whatever lab-coated technocratic policy crushes humanity while, thankfully for the politicians (some of whom liquidated their vulnerable investments before policies were implemented), maintaining and augmenting economic inequality. The issue here is that indefinite detention, for example the prohibition of walking, the preference for indefinite isolation and immobilization, is also torture in a walking, communicating species, which is what humans are. Both policy confining people to cell-like apartments and mortality are distributed very unequally, afflicting people who live in public infrastructure-poor areas and in the US, particularly long-beseiged African Americans.

Yet if we agree with population management experts in law, that isolating and immobilizing criminals and migrants in prisons is a necessary cost, logically we must agree to the similar recommendation of population management experts in health:  immobilizing disease vectors long-term in their homes is a necessary cost. We have a specific model for how we address problems, optimizing the variables of masculine policing employment, maintaining the medical system as -is, reducing deaths among the immuno-compromised, and maintaining the state-mediated intergenerational transfer of wealth from the working class to business owners and top managers. Applied to the COVID-19 pandemic our “health” and “epidemiology” concepts are narrowly technocratic and political;  nonetheless when we say it’s all for health, we think of our mortality and feel deeply.

Governments have offered trillions to compensate businesses for the economic depletion accompanying extended shut-down of all but “essential” work– primarily hospital and guard work. When life is on the line, most people are pleased to pitch in, particularly helping to police and abnegate themselves. In Canada, a Globe & Mail thought leader posed himself a Pandemic Mr. Rogers, affirming that Canadians are “helpers,” and that what helpers do is isolate and immobilize themselves.  But there is more to being a responsible member of a human society, even in an emergency.

 

A better approach is possible in many places. In Vo, an Italian town where an early COVID19-related mortality occurred, the government instead tested everyone and isolated the 3% of the population that proved to be infected (80% of whom were asymptomatic). In a mere two (2) weeks, the blanket-testing and selected-isolation approach eradicated COVID19 from that population. Iceland is a prominent exception to the technocratic-political refusal of mass-testing. It has been mass-testing and select-quarantining to stop the virus in Iceland within a couple of weeks. With its high public health capacity and systematic incorporation of humane criteria in public policy, Sweden has pursued a testing-forward, selected isolation policy to maintain a socio-economy where federal transfers don’t facilitate business to loot the paychecks of future generations. With its high public health capacity and systematic incorporation of humane criteria in public policy, Kerala has responded to the crisis with effective disease suppression balanced with humane supports and democratic freedoms. As the Wall Street Journal recently observed, countries such as Germany, that are conceptually able (via corporatism) to recognize the contribution of their working class to their economy, soon moved onto increasing their testing capacity, toward a testing-forward approach that allows them to minimize population isolation and immobilization. Minnesota has the capacity to mobilize a testing-forward approach, and save its diverse working class and the economy that depends on human thriving.

 

While blanket testing takes state organization and costs money up front, it can be more efficient and effective–and useful in the long run, and will cost less than shutting down the entire society and economy, and indefinitely treating most people inhumanely as nothing more than disease vectors, a variant of criminals, as the technocratic-political population-management model must do.

 

Different conditions require different interventions. The testing-forward approach is not appropriate in urban concatenations, such as Milan, London, and New York City-Connecticut, where for specific reasons of age demographics, culture, and global economic network and transit centrality, COVID19 has raged throughout the population, and spread outward. In those metropoles, selected testing and blanket isolation & immobilization makes sense. Just as Wuhan was transformed into a “dystopia,” in the first week of May New York’s Governor Cuomo announced that New York City would become a surveillance and policing city as its response to its convulsive, central COVID-19 experience. Because NYC is a capitalist metropole, this will create a commercial export industry in antihuman infrastructure. This antihuman policy and infrastructure will be heavily promoted, but must be resisted outside these capitalist criminalized, disease-vector population cores.

Blanket testing/selected isolation would work best in regions with a lower incidence of transmission. The virus has been spread with the travel of business elites. Yet even in seemingly highly-infected Colorado, playground for the rich, testing has shown that only 1% of the population is infected. Regions less central and disadvantaged under global capitalism could move into a forward economic position, diminishing global inequality, if they were permitted to take advantage of their more moderate COVID-19 exposure, by instituting universal testing rather than the debilitating and interminable blanket isolation & immobilization approach that looks best on computer simulations preserving the existing parameters that produced the crisis.

 

Unfortunately, in countries like the US, policy flows from its financial metropoles. In a pandemic, this subsidiarization is not beneficial. It is a lack of regional-appropriate capacity. While global centers have the resources to manage morality throughout, including solidarity with the afflicted, distinctive high-capacity regions like Minnesota have a different responsibility, to always recognize that that the authoritative status of population management and policy expertise not only reflects their wonderful technical knowledge, but is also conferred by experts’ and politicians’ attunement to optimization at the hearts of the global system—misconstrued, in technocratic conceptualization, as universal welfare. Favoring “freezing” the hinterlands, metropole expertise will argue that the virus and antibody tests are not perfect. Yet if the virus and antibody tests are not perfect, in humane-policy jurisdictions like Sweden, Iceland, and Kerala, they have been shown to be sufficient to allow for efficient, targeted virus suppression and eradication—without incurring other forms of mass health devastation, economic collapse and exacerbated, multigenerational inequality.

 

We need to be able to recognize when and where population management detaches from the human, becomes inhumane, so that we can instead support policy alternatives more effective and efficient for circumstances in our part of the world, connected to but also distinct from people in other places. Doing like Sweden, Iceland, and Kerala, and following not just the virological disease-vector population framework and the politician’s population-communications framework, but incorporating Enlightenment sociological and developmental biology perspectives can help us keep our eyes on what it is to be human and what we need to make to support humanity.  In this pandemic, a cost-forward blanket testing/selected isolation approach would cost some percentage of the trillions governments are working to transfer from workers to business elites for generations, where such problems as coronaviruses are caused by already-excessive discounting of workers’ human needs and welfare (Wallace, Liebman, Chavez & Wallace 2020). It would require immediately building testing capacity under state direction. It would require an organized mobilization, redeploying many of the out-of-work legions in the work of testing, or bringing into testing the armies of frustrated altruists within the military. It would be stridently opposed by metropole expertise, because it would be an expenditure of collective resources, and the global financial metropoles will not benefit from either mass testing or the diminishment of socio-economic inequality.

A testing-forward turn would also reduce the runaway risks and costs of universalizing blindness to the multiple conditions humans need to thrive and survive. For all their hopeful public recitations, none of the potential upsides of the crisis will materialize if we are not able to recognize these conditions, and act upon them now.

 

Mid-March reporting held that Minnesota state and private (eg. The Mayo corporation) labs did not have sufficient supplies to do mass testing. This “shrug” reporting was quite common in the US and Canada at the time, and there was little interest in how the state might fund and organize testing in these jurisdictions.  Throughout the US the main interest in this story was exhibited by political partisans, who used it to bicker over which party was to blame for the poor testing capacity. This diversion is part of the problem with dependency on antidemocratic political leadership temporarily patronizing virologists. By contrast, Sweden averted politician leadership problems by having long ago built up an independent public health bureaucracy. Politicians have little say in public health policy there, though there was some attempt by politicians to intercede. Without politicians able to jump into manipulating people’s fears to keep policy choices within inequality-preserving parameters (eg. using police and commercial tech to institute a vast prison landscape), Swedish public health experts could take into account the significantly-deleterious mental and physical health impacts of treating humans as little more than population network nodes, and instead design epidemic interventions that preserve human health. While the US and Canada shrugged at their own incapacities or gave room for politicos to carp at their political enemies, governments such as Germany’s began to fund and organize mass testing capacity.

Mayo is among the private corporations that raced to produce immunization, as, with both state and private markets, immunization is expected to be more lucrative than testing. It could be that Mayo’s for-profit requirements mean that Minnesota, unlike Iceland (which state has more independence from New York), does not have the public-private-sector incentive to produce the testing that could end the epidemiological threat far more quickly than more-profitable immunization. This for-profit medical preference will be devastating to human health and the economic viability of the working class and capitalism itself in the short, medium, and long-term. Did Minnesota public health authorities have the capacity to intercede and redirect efforts? In April, Minnesota announced its public health officials had convened Mayo and the University of Minnesota to produce 20,000/day swab (molecular/RNA) coronavirus testing capacity. Yet the governor of Minnesota continued to prioritize isolation & immobilization policy, barring the public from parks and recreation.

Are we blinding ourselves to our humanity in order to prevent us from “squandering” our wealth on making less-central regions viable, in order to reserve our wealth as back-end compensation for the disruption of existing centers of overaccumulation? Minnesota’s economic and political elites are well connected to the US financial metropole; but because Minnesota also has working class people, from farm workers to small business owners to furloughed managers, following an isolation and immobilization program is not in this region’s health or economic interests. Ultimately, even our friends in New York can benefit from Minnesota pursuing a humanist testing-forward approach, and preserving health, social, and economic integrity in the US.

Our problem isn’t insufficient mobilization. Our problem is that we are already excessively subordinated, as our swift lockdown makes evident. Prioritizing policies that keep the wealth in overaccumulation centers, stubbornly discounting life outside centers of overaccumulation, will reproduce the crisis conditions, because those crisis conditions inhere in dehumanization and inequality. This pandemic, like the epidemics before it and the crises that will come after it, has everything to do with how capitalism in a dense human-population world smashes its giant, necessary, global working class into no economic choice but to reproduce themselves by living off of what awkward combination of commodified and, especially, uncommodified goods and services they can access and cobble together (Katharine Moos, 2019; Wallace, Liebman, Chavez, and Wallace, 2020). Capitalism separates wealth from the working class, but the population is needed to grow wealth. The wild game must be supplemented by poultry. The development must sprawl into field, forest, and watershed. While we clutch our pearls and claim that our expert antihuman policies are for the “health,” the frontline nurses and doctors, the grandpas and people of color, in fact we are living in a time in which a sinister Malthusian presumption undergirds our expertise: In our disposition to maximize the augmentation of dehumanization and inequality both in our everyday and our emergency policies and institutions, we continue to discount the humanity of working people, to discount their economic contribution, to take more and more from them, to immiserate, stunt and weaken them around the world and cut short their lives, our lives. How can we develop feelings about the foundation of our pandemics, so that we can stop reproducing them? Do well-educated Minnesotans have the capacity to break with the antihuman population management models? Can Minnesota put its weight behind testing rather than freezing humanity?

 

For supporting articles, follow Mara Fridell on Twitter.

References

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appendix:

 

Anglo-American Health Authorities Prescribe Indefinite Isolation/Immobilization:

‘How long will we need to practice social distancing? “For now, it’s probably indefinite,” Dr. Marrazzo said.’ —New York Times, March 17, 2020.

 

‘How long, then, until we’re no longer behind and are winning the fight against the novel coronavirus? The hard truth is that it may keep infecting people and causing outbreaks until there’s a vaccine or treatment to stop it.

“I think this idea … that if you close schools and shut restaurants for a couple of weeks, you solve the problem and get back to normal life — that’s not what’s going to happen,” says Adam Kucharski, an epidemiologist at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and author of a book on how outbreaks spread. “The main message that isn’t getting across to a lot of people is just how long we might be in this for. As Kucharski, a top expert on this situation, sees it, “this virus is going to be circulating, potentially for a year or two, so we need to be thinking on those time scales.’

Vox, 3/17/ 2020, Coronavirus Lockdowns.

 

Testing Data

COVID-19 Testing Data: https://ourworldindata.org/covid-testing

 

 

Conservatives’ War on Women

Refuting conservatives’ War on Moms (war on social reproduction):

“According to a 1995 U.N. Human Development Report, ‘If more human activities were treated as market transactions at the prevailing wages, they would yield huge monetary valuations–a staggering $16 trillion… Of this $16 trillion, $11 trillion is the non-monetized, ‘invisible’ contribution of women.’ The work of moms–both of moms who are in the labor force and those who are not–is significant

…with equal resumes and job experiences, mothers (today are) offered $11,000 lower starting salaries than non-mothers (Fathers, on the other hand, (are) offered $6,000 more in starting salaries than non-fathers). Since over 80 percent of women in our nation have children by the time they’re 44 years old, this means the majority of women in our nation are disadvantaged by discrimination at some point in their lives…(W)ith the cost of raising children so high, three-quarters of moms are now in the labor force. And many moms go in and out of the labor force at different times in their lives, sequencing their careers, thus making the distinction between moms who are in the labor force, and moms who are outside of the labor force nearly irrelevant. Many moms have been both”
(K. Rowe Finkbeiner, April 2012).

Finkbeiner points out that 50% of the workforce is now female (Coincidentally, 50% of the population is female.), in major part because the economy has been structured, via the asset-price / cost of living increases and consumer debt that capital depends on, to induce all adults to work to live within the constraints of capitalism. No, it’s not the abject slavery of having no access to money within capitalism (the classic middleclass dependent housewife fate); but (with all due respect to Gertrude,) coercion is coercion is unfreedom is vulnerable to exploitative manipulation by despots.

“But the brouhaha over Hilary Rosen’s injudicious remarks is not really about whether what stay-home mothers do is work. Because we know the answer to that: it depends. When performed by married women in their own homes, domestic labor is work—difficult, sacred, noble work. Ann says Mitt called it more important work than his own, which does make you wonder why he didn’t stay home with the boys himself.

When performed for pay, however, this supremely important, difficult job becomes low-wage labor that almost anyone can do—teenagers, elderly women, even despised illegal immigrants.

But here’s the real magic: when performed by low-income single mothers in their own homes, those same exact tasks—changing diapers, going to the playground and the store, making dinner, washing the dishes, giving a bath—are not only not work; they are idleness itself. … So there it is: the difference between a stay-home mother and a welfare mother is money and a wedding ring. Unlike any other kind of labor I can think of, domestic (reproductive) labor is productive or not, depending on who performs it” —Katha Pollitt, quoted by Corey Robin (April 2012).

Temma Kaplan argues that capitalists are in some historical periods, such as the present, confident about the supply of labor. When confident about the supply of labor, capitalists dismantle welfare, that is, they destroy reproductive social supports as well as democratic supports, and privately pocket “the savings” (the surplus).

As the wealth surplus is hoarded and destroyed, most people are impoverished, and these extreme conditions force particular adaptive relational strategies. Conservatives not only withhold the massive build-up of wealth; they buy popular support for their rule by paying off men with Little King privileges–abuse of women. Hey, it’s free. The poor consequently cannot build cohesive, productive, developmental cross-gender relationships; they cannot build supportive families and communities. It’s a wonderfully self-replicating hierarchical system for the elite. And it means poor women raise kids alone.

“Single women raising children alone or with other women who were not necessarily blood relatives became one of the possible working class family forms back to the 16th century…(P)oor women raising children alone or with kin and friends has been the model for one kind of proletarian family in certain places around the globe for centuries. It has been the family structure of poverty under capitalism.” –Kaplan, Temma. 2002. “The Disappearing Fathers Under Global Capitalism,” pp. 152-157 in Holmstrom, Nancy, ed. The Socialist-feminist Project. NY: MR.)

Decreeing– legislating!–that by submitting to patriarchy, by any means necessary, women will solve poverty = shooting the fish you stuck in your own poverty barrel. It preserves and champions inequality, surplus hoarding and capitals destruction, the sociopathic freedoms of the elite, and poverty, while playing with poor, disrupted, radically-constrained  women’s miseries. It solves no problems. It’s nothing more than bullying. It is conservatism.

Kaplan’s social-feminist theory, BTW, is obviously perfect for explaining Trump and Rightwing populism, and explaining slavery-state antichoice policy in 2019. It also suggests that population reproduction policy is not immaterial to the development of conservatism, as the pro-immigration Open Borders coalition has been trying to insist.

Arabia & the West: Painful Lessons from Media History

In the solid “The Arab Spring and the West: Seven Lessons from History,” The Guardian‘s Seamus Milne reaches into the British Pathe News Video Archive to recall the oil-dependent fundamentals of West-Middle East Relations.

1) The West never gives up its drive to control the Middle East, whatever the setbacks.

2) Imperial powers can usually be relied on to delude themselves about what Arabs actually think.

3) The Big Powers are old hands at prettifying client regimes to keep the oil flowing.

4) People in the Middle East don’t forget their history – even when the US and Europe (conveniently) does.

5) The West has always presented Arabs who insist on running their own affairs as fanatics.

6) Foreign military intervention in the Middle East brings death, destruction, and divide and rule.

7) Western sponsorship of Palestine’s colonisation is a permanent block on normal relations with the Arab world.

recommended reproduction reading

I have been through a hell of a lot of pregnancy and childbirth books. If you have already gotten pregnant, I recommend the following books:

1) England, Pam and Rob Horowitz. 1998. Birthing from within. Albuquerque: Partera Press.
2) Greenberg, Gary and Jeannie Hayden. 2004. Be prepared: A practical handbook for new dads. New York: Simon & Schuster.

I recommend these two books for both parents. The England book is good for birth preparation, but I would skip the end parenting chapter, where the author gets crusty and mean all of a sudden. England’s a midwife and her strength is preparing for and giving birth. The second book’s more about parenting. Even though the Greenberg book says it’s for dads, if you’re female and it’s been decades since you’ve last babysat, it’ll be helpful. I’ll update this entry when I find a good guide to breastfeeding. However, there are a million classes on breastfeeding.

If you are an American considering getting pregnant, I strongly recommend you read Naomi Wolf’s myth-busting Misconceptions: Truth, Lies, and the Unexpected on the Journey to Motherhood (2001). It’s essential reading for improving your ability to make thoughtful, informed decisions, and to recognize masked structural imperatives in the American system of reproduction that lead to hidden experiential and behavioral patterns.

The caveats to this recommendation are three. (1) Some sections of Wolf’s book are bound by a heavy uppermiddleclass persepctive, such as where women get isolated out in suburbs while the husbands are ensconced in upper-management tracks. It’s not that similar dynamics don’t operate for other classes, but you get a feeling that the circumstances are different, and they’re not really explored here. Many of us are not uppermiddleclass, and we’re still concerned about how American motherhood inexorably ends up slaving away for patriarchy and capital. But Wolf does at least work to explicitly point out class and race dynamics.

(2) A few of Wolf’s experiences are the result of her being an author, and more inclined toward neurotic, artistic, highly imaginative reveries than you might be, such as where she falls into obsessing on misogyny and death in a swimming pool aerobics session.

(3) In the end, Wolf has some social movement suggestions for improving health care and mothers’ and childrens’ welfare. But here Wolf is missing a big gaping problem in her proposed social movement program. She clearly possesses an insufficient understanding of American society, history, and politics. There have been Mother’s Movements in American history. These impassioned, organized movements resulted in weak and temporary social improvements, and thus fail to catch Wolf’s eye. But Ian Gough trenchantly observed in 1979: Social movements through history and around the world “have sought to substitute conscious allocation of resources to meet social needs for the unplanned operation of unregulated market forces. Behind these social movements, in turn, lies the strength of the organized labor movement. The example of the United States shows how powerful organizations of blacks, women, welfare clients and so on will fail to achieve lasting improvements in social policies in the absence of this bulwark against the power of the dominant classes”–a labor movement.

It is crucial that we remember that it is not just rational actor men or the state or human resources departments that need to be won over or overcome. There is a more salient force behind American society formation that we can never overlook. We need to study history to come to terms with capitalism.

What Wolf can’t see clearly enough from her study of contemporary uppermiddleclass women’s painful experiences in a suburb is that capital has for centuries fought viciously in the U.S. to destroy any institutions that threaten its tools of division and control.

Short of a profound social movement that incorporates an understanding not just of patriarchy and racism, but of class conflict and capitalism, and short of a structural weakening of capital’s class and state institutions of coordination, there will be no further improvements in the welfare of women, children, and families, there will be no development of the American welfare state, and corporations will not sponsor practices that give working people more control over their lives–even if these practices are only described as improving health care or women’s careers.

Capital is highly organized and employs legions of analysts, strategists, managers, publicists, lawyers, and a whole range of militarized police. It is only once in a blue moon that capital is temporarily fooled on the margins by a partial movement of reformists, and relying on that ephemeral improbability is not a social movement strategy. It’s been fairly futile for working people to stump for better working and living conditions in fractured, pro-capitalist bands of interest. Even when the elites give us a nice, compensatory library or museum, they do it for the tax break and only after an alarming bout of labor agitation.