One interesting topic among many brought up by the Covid-19 pandemic is the comparison of ways in which different political and health service systems, not to mention societies, are dealing with the crisis.
Generally speaking, they’re all fucking it up.
But each is fucking up in their own way, and the proponents of each are using that to bash the ‘failings’ of the systems they intrinsically dislike. My friend Ting Guo of Hong Kong Uni shared a fascinating analysis by Byung-Chul Han, which speaks of factors like the Confucian tradition making East Asians more compliant and trusting in their leaders — and so on and so forth; well worth a read. So we have one highly surveilled society using that big data approach to target testing and isolation and thus reduce the cost in their poor citizens’ lives, while others, ‘democracies’, bastions of ‘freedom’ seem unsure whether to protect lives or the economy (well, which to appear to be protecting).
Heaven forfend I’d suggest that the more utilitarian alt-right, the demonic spawn of unholy mating between Thomas Gradgrind and Ayn Rand, see this virus as a gift, targeting the elderly, the ailing, the homeless and the helpless. For certain people in a number of countries who’ve been advocating some sort of cull for a while now, it must seem perfect — except perhaps that 80% of its ‘target group’ have a nasty tendency to get better, despite their governments keeping the supply of life-saving equipment at a minimum — and for those of us with an annoyingly socialised health system, the workforce can be further depleted with insufficient safety measures, ready for increased absorption into the private sector (profitable bits only, of course — but we’d better be seen to applaud them, I suppose).
Incidentally, I can’t wait for the financial vultures to start rerunning those old adverts, now saying, are you the victim of mis-sold PPE?‘ …
Some, even more cynical than I, have called this ‘eugenics by stealth’. But that’s harder to buy into when the virus is no respecter of self-proclaimed Übermenschen — though they’re better equipped to hide from it, like Vincent Price in The Masque of the Red Death, and even to claim to have had it, if that suits their herd immunity, no big deal narrative. Anyway, those it kills are already out of the breeder’s handicap. So eugenics? Sorry, no.
I can’t endorse the initial Chinese response, nor any cover up some in China may wish to try on now, but I think most major nations, finding a breakout of something in their back yard, would be very tempted to brush it under the news carpet and hope it fizzles out. Why risk panicking the populace and then looking stupidly alarmist when not much happens, except a lack of bog roll in the stores? Let’s face it, Trump and Bolsonario tried to write it off even when they had all the facts from the Asian experiences — and countries wilfully ignoring the evidence of the trailblazers have no fucking excuse.
Perhaps more important than their obedient nature in places like Taiwan and South Korea, was their recent experience of SARS. People are not just more inclined to be compliant, but they’ve seen what epidemics can do already. Once bitten, twice isolated.
By the bye, it’s not well publicised amid all the accusations that Xi sent commiserations and offers of help to many Western countries, and that the central CCP has been publicly instructing the provinces, like Hubei, not to cover up new figures — but this itself could of course be no more than window dressing and a smokescreen. However covering up can only work for so long, and they must be aware of that. As Trump is almost learning, viruses don’t respect bluster and lies either.
What surprises me most is that Sweden, the bastion of cool-headed, scientific, liberal thought, is taking the very let it run its course approach that the British and American governments no doubt wish they could, neither quite having the nerve of Victor Orbán and his emergency dictatorship coup in Hungary (and it remains to be seen how that will play out in the long run, especially if Europe threatens expulsion, which, I accept they may lack the spine to do while shell-shocked themselves). It will be interesting to see if the Swedes change their minds as the death toll increases (which I have no doubt it will).
The herd immunity idea is all very well from some angles, but the strain on the health and service systems while it’s peaking unchecked would nadger the economy for a long time to come, so it really is a case of damned if you do, economically depressed if you don’t, and either way there will be plenty of knock-on fatalities. Or, to one of my political hue, a serious threat to the capitalist system at its very roots. But that may be for a later entry.
Some twitterati keep saying it’s inevitable we’ll all get it and that way we’ll build up immunity etc etc. But this is dodgy on a number of counts. Herd immunity is originally the theory that if you can vaccinate a certain number of a population (domesticated animal or human), the transmission of the disease will be sporadic at worst and the whole population will effectively be immune. With far more transmissible (but far less deadly) diseases, this has worked well until Satan (figurative) brought in his army of little anti-vaxxer morons. Anyway, not everybody needs to or will get it, that’s the point. And, as I say, the cost of trying to build that up quickly is that more people will catch it on the way and the services will be overwhelmed too. Those dealing with it are especially vulnerable because of the huge initial viral load they get hit with, which has far more chance of getting to the lungs before the immune system knows what’s happening.
As an amateur political thinkist, a number of questions assail me. Are authoritarian states better equipped to deal with this sort of thing? How do different democracies react and is that about their constitutions or their national characters? Particularly, I wondered about the direct democracy of Switzerland. Now, we in the UK, like the Good Ol’ USofA, have in recent years been ‘taught’ to distrust ‘experts’, to bang on about freedom and treat any request for order or responsibility as just some conspiracy to keep us down. Other populaces do seem to have more of a trust that their governments have their best interests at heart, and are indeed their own representatives, and this is particularly true with a system like the Swiss. But such systems are also notoriously slow-moving; when you need a two thirds majority on any major issue (and have a small ‘c’ conservatism at your heart), it’s less of a surprise that the Helvetics took so long to give women the vote (they needed 2/3 of their menfolk to agree).
But my spy in Lausanne tells me they are also good at planning for emergencies and giving their elected representatives responsibility — and their trust — to do a sensible job. So not only were they able to invoke emergency isolation and distancing measures quickly, the constitution says that no canton (state) can pass emergency restrictions more draconian than those issued from Berne. It seems a good job that the American federation doesn’t have that law, so at least some states can go against the advice coming from Cloud-Cuckoo land.
So what of the lungs of man under anarchism? My first thought was a worrying one. But then I realised that if a truly anarchist, exchange-free society did exist, many of the problems would not be the same because we would not be the same. Conspiracy theorists and paranoiacs actually rail against the current restrictions of ‘freedom’ and human rights, and the ‘bullying’ of their governments, while citizens stubbornly congregate, partying and even coughing purposefully on passers-by in acts of potentially suicidal defiance. I’m an anarchist, for fuck’s sake, and I totally agree we should be locked down. Spot executions for the bastards who go out, hand me a sniper rifle now, etc etc.
OK, I exaggerate for effect a bit. But it is the only sensible thing to do, and being told to do it, if only in part, by neo-fascists doesn’t alter that.
Am I leaning towards a more syndicalist anarchism in my old, virus-vulnerable age? Maybe. I’ve always reiterated that Anarchy is Order, as the circle-A symbol indicates. And there would be a need for a rapid-response mechanism for all sorts of natural and man-made emergencies. In a connected world, this would not be difficult to create and maintain (although we’d also need low-tech contingencies for stuff like solar activity knocking out all our electronics for a while).
And there would be no problem keeping all sorts of research and emergency planning and thinktanking going, for pandemics, asteroids, whatevs — things that our governments have ducked or scrapped as too costly or not ideologically sound in their ‘democratically’ fluctuating views. Cost wouldn’t be an issue when there’s no such thing as cost. If people are available, and have something to contribute, they’re in — and all their conclusions would be shared and discussed publicly: bottom up processes.
But most of all, the economy would be far less damaged by the hiatus (and yes, even exchange-free societies need economics, just very different). It’s the system of stocks and rents and jobs and mortgages and all that shite that spins off from the artificial construct of money and the illogical paradigm of exchange that will cause the biggest shocks, the deepest recession. Yes, there would still be a lot of rebuilding and refilling of stores to do, though I like to think with better testing and voluntary use of ‘big data’ the spread could have been contained or slowed far better in a truly democratised system. In fact almost everything could shut down for a month all over the globe, so everybody who had it and lived would be over it, isolate all those who treated them for a further month while others took on their roles and the virus wouldn’t be alive in a single host and the story would be over; end of story. No, I know that’s bollocks, but either way, after the dust settled, no one would have lost a business or a home or be in huge debt; everyone capable of doing so could simply put their shoulders to the wheel and enjoy the challenge of working together to revivify society.
Interestingly the proponents of Universal Basic Income have been shouting into their echo chambers online too. It’s a simple and probably economically sound idea (I’ve always thought it makes perfect sense for hard-line capitalist billionaires and entrepreneurs to support it too; as an anarchist it seems a form of counter-revolution); just paying everybody, at least for the duration, a simple living salary, like passing GO on a Monopoly™ board. Cheaper than having an army of clerks and new software to means test us all in various categories, and it’s fine that folks who can still earn will be topping up (though this could replace the need for employers to pay a full salary to them). But this brings howls of anguish from the money is the root of all activity brigade like IDS: it would be a disincentive to work, they bleat despite any number of studies showing this is not the case — in fact possibly the opposite. Anyway, as someone pointed out, at this point in time we need to disincentivise people from going out to work!
Maybe the spontaneous acts of goodness we’ve seen already, more important and efficacious than, and sometimes flying in the face of the official policies from above (even if less reported than the mindless racist attacks and abuse against health workers that fear engenders in an undereducated population of wage slaves) will also be fertile ground for the idea that there is an alternative. Of course those in power are scared of either outcome, but my position has always been that they really should embrace them and realise that, in the right kind of society, once we all recognise the goals that are of real and lasting value in life, they’d gain as much if not more than the oiks and losers they so despise.
Now I agree these are sketchy first thoughts. I don’t put this forward as a full-on research or proposal paper. But I just thought I’d share some musings with all my reader.
It’s something to do while I’m stuck at home alone.