Weaponising Mass Distraction from Overpopulation Denial?
TRANSCEND MEMBERS, 23 Mar 2020
20 Mar 2020 – Social Distancing under Conditions of Overcrowding?
Overcrowding: The future may well marvel at the primary strategy advocated globally in response to the coronavirus pandemic, namely social distancing (Coronavirus: What is social distancing and how do you do it? New Scientist, 17 March 2020; Wondering About Social Distancing? The New York Times, 16 March 2020; An Expert Guide to Social Distancing — and what to do if friends and family aren’t onboard, The Guardian, 17 March 2020; Coronavirus (COVID-19): Information on social distancing, Australian Government, Department of Health, 15 March 2020).
Social distancing is in process of reinforcement by closure of borders between countries, possibly to be extended within countries and within urban environments — “lockdown” (Coronavirus: European Union seals borders to most outsiders, BBC News, 18 March 2020; Coronavirus Travel Restrictions, Across the Globe, The New York Times, 18 March 2020; Government in talks on scaling up social distancing, tightening ban on mass gatherings to fight coronavirus, ABC News, 18 March 2020).
The question here is the viability of social distancing on a planet on which overcrowding is already widely recognized — but as a purely local challenge. This is most evident in the restriction of access of tourists to popular destinations. The reality of local overcrowding is the theme of a separate argument which notes the total unreality of global implications (Local Reality of Overcrowding — Global Unreality of Overpopulation: comprehensible reframing of engagement with global issues via metaphors of proximity, 2019).
Population density: Just as it is extremely rare for any politician or scientist to refer in any way to “overpopulation” — except as a myth to be dismissed — it is remarkable to note the ease with which the viability of social distancing is widely advocated and uncritically accepted, despite the most obvious physical constraints on a planet of limited dimensions. It is even more curious to note that even the most respectable sources of information on the spread of coronavirus around the world avoid any correlation whatsoever with population density. Are we witness to a form of “Big Lie” — whether cultivated deliberately or unconsciously? (Existential Challenge of Detecting Today’s Big Lie: mysterious black hole conditioning global civilization? 2016).
Bluntly stated, in the light of the process of infection, the closer the average proximity, the higher the probability of coronavirus infection — hence the social distancing strategy. But how is this realistically possible in crowded urban environments, where many are obliged to sleep in one room, or where the streets are characterized by crowding — as is typical of cities in many developing countries, especially in slums? The conditions of infection may well be aggravated in climates where some must necessarily crowd together for warmth or shelter.
Overpopulation: What is the perspective that is so systematically avoided and why? (Institutionalized Shunning of Overpopulation Challenge: incommunicability of fundamentally inconvenient truth, 2008; Prohibition of Reference to Overpopulation of the Planet, 2018).
Given the recommended requirements for social distancing — 1 to 1.5 meters separation — what reconfiguration of the urban environment does this imply, given the need to anticipate future pandemics? Does the prospect of future pandemics imply a need to radically restructure urban architecture?
Is there space for such reconfiguration on a planet which it is assertively declared to be unconstrained by overpopulation — if the matter is even mentioned?.
Misrepresentation of overcrowding: Clearly “overcrowding” passes the lips of politicians and scientists only with the greatest of difficulty — as can be satirically suggested (Prohibition of Reference to Overcrowding: daft proposal for an international convention, 2019). The manner by which it can best be handled — indirectly and locally — is indeed through “social distancing”. It could however be asked how an equivalent “strategic euphemism” might be found for “overpopulation” — globally, rather than locally, and even more indirectly of necessity.
It is somewhat incredible to note the manner in which any sense of overcrowding as such is avoided in most references to the spread of coronavirus. Thus for Jeremy Rossman as a virologist:
There are several possible reasons for the low number of cases in many of these countries…. including weak travel connections, effective border screening and travel restrictions, local climate effects, a lack of screening or a lack of reporting (Why are there so few coronavirus cases in Russia and Africa? The Conversation, 18 March 2020).
As with most representation of the cases worldwide, in the case of Switzerland, the point is argued in terms of the total population, not in the light of the density in urban areas:
When countries are ranked based on infection rate (cases/population), Switzerland now ranks ahead of China. Only Italy, South Korea, Iran and Norway have higher per capita infection rates than Switzerland. (Coronavirus: Swiss per capita infection rate surpasses China’s Le News 10 March 2020)
Rare exceptions are evident in the case of some cities, as noted by Blair Kamin (Why Chicago and other cities are vulnerable to the virus: their strength is their weakness, Chicago Tribune 17 March 2020):
But now, when physical proximity carries the risk of infection and spreading a pandemic, the virtue of urban density is suddenly a vice. Shoving density off its pedestal is the mantra of “social distancing,” which seeks to prevent the sick from coming in close contact with the healthy.
A similar conclusion is drawn with respect to prisons, and other typically overcrowded facilities (Coronavirus inevitable in prison-like US immigration centers, doctors say, The Guardian, 11 March 2020; US jails begin releasing prisoners to stem Covid-19 infections, BBC News, 19 March 2020). Hence the tendency for closure of educational institutions.
It is even rare to see any mention of overcrowding by the WHO, an exception being a more general comment, not specific to coronavirus however:
For communities, inadequate shelter and overcrowding are major factors in the transmission of diseases with epidemic potential such as acute respiratory infections, meningitis, typhus, cholera, scabies, etc. Outbreaks of disease are more frequent and more severe when the population density is high.(What are the health risks related to overcrowding? WHO)
Reference to overcrowding and population density is even rare in scientific reports, a notably exception being Hasan Sumdani, et al (Effects of Population Density on the Spread of Disease, University of Texas Arlington, 2014).
Modelling spread of infectious disease? It is therefore of great interest to note how epidemiologists purport to model the spread of infection with pandemic possibilities — specifically according significance to population density (How scientists quantify the intensity of an outbreak like coronavirus and its pandemic potential, The Conversation, 5 February 2020). The focus is on the so-called basic reproduction number (R0):
The basic reproduction number may vary across locations because contact rates among people may differ due to differences in population density and cultural differences. The effective reproduction number may vary, as well, because the communities in different locations may differ in their level of immunity. (The reproduction number, Australian Government, Department of Health, April 2006)
A more specific reference is made by Joel Achenbach (Coronavirus came from bats or possibly pangolins amid ‘acceleration’ of new zoonotic infections, The Washington Post, 7 February 2020):
Once a virus jumps into humans, population density becomes a factor in turning what might potentially be a small eruption of illnesses into an epidemic. A crowded city such as Wuhan, which has a population on the same order of magnitude as New York or London, creates conditions for person-to-person transmission.
It is therefore surprising to note the report by the Imperial College COVID-19 Response Team (Neil M Ferguson, et al, Impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to reduce COVID19 mortality and healthcare demand, 16 March 2020) on behalf of the:
- WHO Collaborating Centre for Infectious Disease Modelling
- MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis
- Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics
The global impact of COVID-19 has been profound, and the public health threat it represents is the most serious seen in a respiratory virus since the 1918 H1N1 influenza pandemic. Here we present the results of epidemiological modelling which has informed policymaking in the UK and other countries in recent weeks… Two fundamental strategies are possible: (a) mitigation, which focuses on slowing but not necessarily stopping epidemic spread – reducing peak healthcare demand while protecting those most at risk of severe disease from infection, and (b) suppression, which aims to reverse epidemic growth, reducing case numbers to low levels and maintaining that situation indefinitely. Each policy has major challenges. [emphasis added]
The report makes no mention of “basic reproduction number”, although reference is made 18 times to “R0“, and refers only once to “population density” in the following terms:
The basic structure of the model remains as previously published. In brief, individuals reside in areas defined by high-resolution population density data. Contacts with other individuals in the population are made within the household, at school, in the workplace and in the wider community. Census data were used to define the age and household distribution size. Data on average class sizes and staff-student ratios were used to generate a synthetic population of schools distributed proportional to local population density.
Another very useful summary from the data is provided by Tomas Pueyo (Coronavirus: The Hammer and the Dance What the Next 18 Months Can Look Like, if Leaders Buy Us Time, Medium, 20 March 2020). This has no mention of “population desnity” and mentions “R0” but once.
Learning from climate modelling? The diffidence of medical expertise with regard to population density strangely echoes that of climate scientists with regard to population on a planet purportedly subject to anthropogenic warming, as highlighted separately (Uncritical Strategic Dependence on Little-known Metrics: the Gaussian Copula, the Kaya Identity, and what else? 2009). The Kaya identity mentioned there plays a core role in the development of future emissions scenarios in the IPCC Special Report on Emissions Scenarios prepared for the Third Assessment Report (TAR) in 2001. It is even explicitly obvious in a contribution to the Fourth Assessment Report, where it is stated that:
The Kaya Identity (Kaya, 1990) is a decomposition that expresses the level of energy related CO2 emissions as the product of four indicators: (1) carbon intensity (CO2 emissions per unit of total primary energy supply (TPES)), (2) energy intensity (TPES per unit of GDP), (3) gross domestic product per capita (GDP/cap) and (4) population… At the global scale, declining carbon and energy intensities have been unable to offset income effects and population growth and, consequently, carbon emissions have risen….
The challenge — an absolute reduction of global GHG emissions — is daunting. It presupposes a reduction of energy and carbon intensities at a faster rate than income and population growth taken together. Admittedly, there are many possible combinations of the four Kaya identity components, but with the scope and legitimacy of population control subject to ongoing debate, the remaining two technology-oriented factors, energy and carbon intensities, have to bear the main burden.…(H.-H Rogner, et al, Introduction. In Climate Change 2007: Mitigation. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007) [emphasis added]
With regard to the Kaya Identity, at the time of the Copenhagen negotiations on climate change, might its discoverer, Yoichi Kaya, have echoed the words of David Li regarding the Gaussian Copula before the financial crash of 2008: Very few people understand the essence of the model?
Might the same now be said of the “basic reproduction number” (or “R0“) in which the population-density factor is so subtly implicit? Is evocation of a “Big Lie” then to be considered unreasonable?
Bluntly stated again, are the spread of infection and the fatalities of a pandemic directly proportional to local “overcrowding”. Are the fatalities all the greater globally as a consequence of “overpopulation”? Should any future modelling, like The Limits to Growth (1972), take into account the vulnerability to pandemic associated with overpopulation?
Proxemics and social distancing: Given the emphasis on “social distancing”, it is appropriate to note the science which has long addressed “social distance”, namely proxemics, as discussed separately (Range: proxemics and dilution of experiential connectivity, 2019). Whether it is framed as a “pseudo-science” by epidemiologists is a matter for further analysis.
Proxemics has tended to distinguish between four types of distance: (a) public distance (above 210 cm); (b) social distance, maintained during more formal interactions (122-210 cm); (c) personal distance, maintained during interactions with friends (about 46-122 cm); and (d) intimate distance, maintained in close relationships (from 0 to 46 cm). Preferences differ between cultures (Agnieszka Sorokowska, et al: Preferred Interpersonal Distances: A Global Comparison, Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 48, 2017, 4)
In response to coronavirus, it remains to be seen how proxemics informs the strategy of social distancing — notably in the light of the arguments of John A. McArthur (Why is social distancing so hard? Because it goes against every cultural norm of human communication. NewsWise, 18 March 2020). The case of one culture has been discussed (John Mason, Six Feet of Separation During Coronavirus: how Arabs will cope with it, Arab America, 18 March 2020). The latter remarks: it is interesting to note that six feet of separation is an enormous breach of Arab social norms. This would be true of other cultures.
The basic contradiction lies in assumptions regarding the possibility of social distancing under overcrowded conditions on a planet on which many already experience severe space constraints. The ironies with respect to social distancing strategies are all the greater in the case of rural areas, where the population density is necessarily far lower than in urban environments. Arguably people in isolated homesteads have long anticipated and “implemented” the degrees of “social distance” now recommended.
Critical distinctions? How to distinguish between the “lockdown” extreme of social distancing and “self-incarceration” or “self-imprisonment”, especially when enforced is some way — rather than being purely voluntary? Does this reflect the aspirations of fanatics for “homeland security”? (Coronavirus update: 84 million people under stay-at-home orders in US, Albania deploys Army to enforce curfew, ABC News, 22 March 2020; California orders its nearly 40 million residents to stay home to prevent the spread of coronavirus, CNN, 20 March 2020; Think before you coronavirus curfew and other commentary, New York Post, 20 March 2020). How has it been possible to transform every country into a form of “concentration camp”, “refugee camp” or “reservation”?
Ausweiss? Anticipating policy development in other countries, it is especially bizarre to note the order by President Macron of France (‘We are at war’: Macron orders French to stay home over coronavirus epidemic, The Local, 16 March 2020; France in lockdown: What exactly do Macron’s new coronavirus restrictions mean? The Local, 16 March 2020; France’s lockdown permission form: What is it and where do you find it? The Local, 16 March 2020). It could well be considered surreal that isolated farmers should be required to fill out and carry with them a form while herding animals alone in remote locations. And what of the homeless, and the illiterate, whether migrants or otherwise? Should they get a “friend” to fill out the form?
“Fighting” a virus? Increasing use is made of the war metaphor, with the image of humans “fighting” a virus, (UK pubs and restaurants told to shut in virus fight. BBC News, 20 March 2020; David Katz, Is Our Fight Against Coronavirus Worse Than the Disease? The New York Times, 20 March 2020; Mina Pollmann, Japan Takes Additional Measures to Fight Coronavirus Outbreak, The Diplomat, 13 March 2020). Is it comparable to any image of an elephant endeavouring to fight a mosquito — and equally ridiculous?
The latter image recalls the extent to which the greater challenge of the times is recognising the “elephant in the room” (Climate Change and the Elephant in the Living Room, 2009). Who exactly is “fighting” whom?
Medical expertise? Strange to witness have been the successive changes in the recommended maximum size of gatherings, whether reinforced in any way or not. The numbers have variously diminished from 1,000 to 500 to 10 to 2 — in the light of medical expertise of the highest order — prior to conditions of lockdown and avoidance of any social contact (Coronavirus: Germany tightens curbs and bans meetings of more than two, BBC News, 22 March 2020). Arguably again, a gathering of 100 dispersed over an extensive area is quite distinct from a gathering of 100 in a night club or church.
Masking? Obvious measures, whether recommended or voluntarily adopted, is the use of face-masks as a feature of social distancing. This occurs in a period in which there is extensive debate regarding problematic face-covering — framed in terms of human rights or the needs of face-recognition technology for security purposes. This has given rise to anti-mask legislation against face-covering, possibly as part of discriminatory religious agendas.
This is occurring in a period in which the coronavirus has given rise to a worldwide shortage of facemasks, the wearing of which is presumably prohibited by much legislation of that kind. Such legislation is a feature of related legislative idiosyncrasies (Facism as Superficial Intercultural Extremism, 2009). As a metaphor, what else is being “masked” by this transformation?
Suppression? With one of the officially recommended responses to the pandemic being “suppression” (in contrast to “mitigation”), this strategy naturally recalls that elaborated with respect to terrorism, as separately discussed (Eradication as the Strategic Final Solution of the 21st Century? Indicative checklist of possible domains of application, 2014).
As strategies, both mitigation and suppression are a reminder of those already implemented with regard to information from dissident perspectives — readily criminalised with dubious justification. To what extent is official data on the pandemic, and recommended responses, already subject to “suppression”? Does “mitigation” refect the fake-news strategies already adopted by authorities when deemed appropriate? Why is this factor not integrated into reporting on the pandemic, given that it was a major factor on the occasion of th Spanish flu pandemic? As recently noted (Containment — the attempt to limit spread of a virus and even eliminate it — has failed (The Single Most Important Lesson From the 1918 Influenza, The New York Times, 17 March 2020).
Donald Trump has made repeated efforts to frame the current pandemic as resulting from a “Chinese virus” (Trump Defends Using ‘Chinese Virus’ Label, Ignoring Growing Criticism, The New York Times, 18 March 2020). It is therefore appropriate to note that the reason the 1918 pandemic was clled “Spanish flu” was a consequence of the Spanish media being the only uncensored sourc of information, at a time when the media of other countries, as noted by Evan Andrews:
Since nations undergoing a media blackout could only read in depth accounts from Spanish news sources, they naturally assumed that the country was the pandemic’s ground zero. The Spanish, meanwhile, believed the virus had spread to them from France, so they took to calling it the “French Flu”. (Why Was It Called the ‘Spanish Flu?’, History, 12 January 2016)
Economic consequences? It has become increasingly evident that, as strategies, social distancing and lockdowns have disastrous economic consequences (Coronavirus Outbreak Could Destroy Up to 25 Million Jobs: ILO, The New York Times, 18 March 2020).
Vulnerability and insecurity? Restricting families under lockdown conditions can exacerbate domestic violence, as noted by Melissa Jeltsen (Home Is Not A Safe Place For Everyone, HuffPost, 14 March 2020):
As “social distancing” is urged to contain the coronavirus outbreak, home is exactly where the danger lies for some. But for others, such as victims of domestic violence for whom work is a necessary respite from the unpredictability of their partner’s abuse, there can be more immediate danger inside the home than outside it.
Hand-washing? The remarkable focus on hand-washing, so explicitly associated with social distancing, has not been explored in relation to its use as a metaphor — most notably as cited in the notorious abdication of responsibility by Pontius Pilate. The metaphor has been variously cited in relation to the many who have denied responsibility with regard to the ongoing historic trial/hearing of Julian Assange, as discussed separately (Extradition and Trial of Julian Assange: web resources, 2020; Future Commemoration of the Trial of Julian Assange: a Passion Play for Truth reframing the Christian glorification of speaking truth to power, 2020).
It is ironic that Assange should be indicted for his actions against the suppression of information by authorities at a time when there is every reason to believe that authorities will be very tempted to suppress information of relevance to any collective response to the current pandemic — both to disguise the inadequacy of the strategic response and to avoid engendering panic as a consequence. Being incarcerated while awaiting the result of his trial, there is every reason to suppose that, in his health compromised condition, Assange is among the most vulnerable to the coronavirus.
Cynics would readily argue that Assnge’s death would avoid embarrassment to authorities — following the pattern of Jeffrey Epstein’s demise. Opportunists might argue the possibility of reducing overcrowded prison populations by some such means. The pattern recalls the use of smallpox infected blankets in triggering the Great Plains smallpox epidemic of 1837.
There is further irony to the worldwide hand-washing requirement in that it suggests that everyone is effectively a “Pontius Pilate” — thereby able to dissociate themselves from any responsibility for the fatalities of the current pandemic, and from the current ills of a global civilization in crisis.
Research of the greatest urgency? The nature of the pandemic has triggered an unprecedenteed reallocation of funding to pharmaceutical laboratories world wide. Despite the stockmarket crash, there is little difficulty in recognizing the profits being made by “Big Pharma” — especially when possible cures become available. Little is said about how the world may be held to ransom under such circumstances — and how there would be every justification to engender diseases for which expensive cures are required. What check is there on this?
By comparison, with social distancing as the strategy of first response, it is curious to note how little new funding for “research” into the consequences of social isolation has been considered appropriate — and urgent. What, for example, are the consequences of:
- releasing convicted prisoners into society, with the expectation that they self-isolate?
- ignoring the manner in which those already socially isolated will receive food and medical care — most obviously the elderly without relatives or “friends”?
- failing to address the psychosocial stress engendered amongst those who are exceptionally dependent on socialisation — and “getting out of the house”?
- the degree to which social isolation and social distancing will engender new forms of criminality — or abuse?
- simplistic measures of compensation for the most obviously disadvantaged (loss of employment, etc), ignoring less evident issues?
- ignoring the implications for trial by jury under conditions of social distancing?
- the reinforcement of social inequalities?
Democratic assembly? Measures in place, or being envisaged, offer every opportunity to prohibit democratic protest and assembly of any kind. Already applied to conferences, this woud necessarily extend to legislative bodies — which might otherwise debate on the merits of any given strategy involving the restriction of human rights.
Collective distancing? As promoted, social distancing encourages and reinforces the separation between individuals to avoid infection. This is partially enforced by what amounts to distancing between collectives through the closure of borders between countries, or in some cases between regions. This curiously corresponds to trends towards formal separation between countries through abandonment of multilateralism — exemplified by separatist movements (Brexist, Catalonia, etc), reneging on multilaterial agreements (US dissociation from Paris Climate Change Agreement, etc), and curtailing aid to the underprivileged.
More intriguing is the manner in which social distancing reflects collective distancing in psychosocial terms — politically, ideologically and religiously. This is perhps best exemplified by the well-documented progresive erosion of trust. In that sense, social distancing as a strategy is a new symptom of an ongoing and well-developed trend of social breakdown.
Unforeseen consequences? It is already argued that global mobilization in the face of the coronavirus pandemic presage a turning point in economic and political culture (Peter Isackson, Social Distancing or the Danger of Life With Others, Fair Observer, 16 March 2020; Greg Miller, Social distancing prevents infections, but it can have unintended consequences, Science, 16 March 2020). The latter notes that:
- social isolation can increase the risk of a variety of health problems, including heart disease, depression, dementia, and even death
- older people may be more susceptible, including the loss of family or friends, chronic illness, and sensory impairments like hearing loss that can make it harder to interact.
- despite the possibilities of electronic communication, such modes of communication do not entirely replace face-to-face interactions; a lot of the meaning conveyed between two people is actually not conveyed in the actual words, but in nonverbal behavior on which many may be especially dependent
- the social cohesiveness cultivated by many through social gatherings may be undermined in unforeseen ways and to an unforeseen degree
Confronting mortality: The strategy recommended by expertise of the highest order is in response to the probability of a percentage of fatalities considered unacceptable — but carefully not compared with that of other causes of death which might appropriately evoke equivalent panic. A list by Wikipedia is suggestive in that respect (List of causes of death by rate). It is also appropriate to ask how such percentages are to be compared with other causes of multiple deaths so frequently evoked in the news, notably various forms of violence and natural disaster.
The point is specifically made by Ron Paul (The Coronavirus Hoax, Information Clearing House, 18 March 2020):
A virus that has thus far killed just over 5,000 worldwide and less than 100 in the United States? By contrast, tuberculosis, an old disease not much discussed these days, killed nearly 1.6 million people in 2017. Where’s the panic over this?
More curious is the suggestion that those most vulnerable from the pandemic are the elderly — namely those with the highest probability of dying anyway, as with the “health compromised”, possibly having indulged in various forms of “substance abuse”. As argued by a palliative care physician: There is, therefore, a glaring imperative to confront the topic so many of us long to squirm away from: the inescapable fact of mortality (Rachel Clarke, We can’t be squeamish about death: we need to confront our worst fears, The Guardian, 15 March 2020). Cynics might also argue that many of the vulnerable have long been indifferent to the fatalities exacerbated by the policies of their governments — most obviously in distant countries.
Insights from conspiracy theory? Information is already circulating about the manner in which the coronavirus has been fabricated, with the declaration of pandemic as a questionable device by those who hope to benefit thereby. The question is whether panic is indeed being deliberately cultivated as part of a “Big Lie” as noted above. Other possibilities include:
- Selective “culling”: From this perspective, the manner in which the elderly are framed as the most vulnerable — as with those who have indulged in “substance abuse” — reinforces any arguments that the disease has been deliberately designed as a means of “culling” excess population. Aside from the case made in the past for eugenics, might this reflect a response to widespread concerns about ageing populations? Analogous arguments have been made with regard to the HIV virus (Conspiracy Theories: The CIA and AIDS, Time; Jacob Heller, Rumors and Realities: Making Sense of HIV/AIDS Conspiracy Narratives and Contemporary Legends, American Journal of Public Health, 105, 2015, 1)
- Implementation of dubious and repressive measures: It is always difficult to determine to what degree an emergency has been hyped as a device for disguising implementation of previously impossible repressive legislation. Such subterfuge can be all too readily denied, with no one to prove the contrary. The point was remarkably made at the time of 9/11 when the PR adviser to Tony Blair made the classic remark which ended her career (Andrew Sparrow, Sept 11: ‘a good day to bury bad news’, The Telegraph, 10 October 2001)
- Weaponisation of coronavirus: It has been variously suggested that the virus was created as part of biochemical warfare research — and even planted in China by any of several obvious suspects. Promotion of social distancing could then be understood as part of testing public response (Thalif Deen, Could the Coronavirus Be a Biological Weapon in the Not-Too-Distant Future? Other News, 20 March 2020).
- Vaccination? The much anticipated vaccination against coronavirus, possibly to be made mandatory, would be expected to set side the resistance associated with vaccination hesitancy. To the extent that this reflects legitimate concerns, these would be reinforced by the suspicion that the vaccination would have unforseen or additional functions (exemplified in the many controversially uses of pesticides).
- Cultivation of fear? The many references to the manner in which the coronavirus threat has been hyped suggest that this could be consistent with the deliberate cultivation of fear to achieve political or other strategic goals. The strategy has long been a feature of religions in inciting a fear of God. It has been evident in the cultivation of fear of terrorism.
Ensuring global strategic coherence: More intriguing is the possibility that undemocratic means are being employed by those “behind the scenes” to implement strategies understood to be necessary. These have proven to be non-negotiable in a viciously divisive political system in which rational argument is only too readily dismissed. An indication of this is offered by Graham Dockery (What do the coronavirus and Greta Thunberg have in common? They’re both great for the planet, RT, 18 March 2020). The author insinuates that “extreme measures” being taken to stop the spread of coronavirus are what “environmental crusaders” really want in pursuing their climate change goals.
Others make similar points (How the coronavirus crisis is helping improve the environment across the world, SBS News/Head Topics, 21 Mrch 2020; Riya Sokol, Thank you Coronavirus: thank you for shaking us and showing us we’re dependent on something bigger than we think, YouTube, 19 March 2020).
In response, as reviewed by Ted MacDonald (Right-wing media figures are making unhinged connections between the coronavirus and climate action, Media Matters, 19 March 2020):
Some of right-wing media’s most prolific climate deniers are using the disastrous effects of the coronavirus to promote their anti-climate agenda across multiple platforms. These figures have reframed their usual climate attacks around the pandemic. Some have compared the (alleged) outcomes of the Green New Deal to the (real) impacts of the coronavirus, while others have claimed that both the coronavirus and climate change are being used by leftists to push a radical agenda.
Another insight is offered by the desperate need of authorities to be able to blame anyone but themselves for previous strategic incompetence. Examples include: “the Chinese”, “the Democrats”, and “the military-industrial complex”.
The pandemic can therefore be welcomed, as long argued with respect to any invasion by extraterrestrials, as a singular threat — effectively an Act of God — or a form of singularity (Emerging Memetic Singularity in the Global Knowledge Society, 2009). In the absence of any means for eliciting global strategic coordination, or any understanding of how that might be otherwise conceived, the pandemic could be understood as a necessary trigger in global systemic terms — whether enabled by “God” (as a feature of end-times scenarios) or as a resilient consequence of the Gaia hypothesis. Might extraterrestrials opt for use of such a strategy to “stabilise” global civilisation?
Rather than alien invaders, has it now been effectively recognized that the key to global consensus is through triggering a series of pandemics whenever such coherence is deemed vital to sustainable development?
Social distancing as a displacement strategy: Framed as regrettably but necessarily radical, it is appropriate to explore whether social distancing is a distractive device for “not discussing” other issues of which coronavirus may well be only one consequence — and a convenient form of camouflage. Are there other issues which merit similarly “regrettable, but necessarily radical” responses? Clearly the current pandemic (already predicted as to be followed by others) has effectively displaced the consideration of other global issues which have been the recent focus of controversy.
The vigour with which politicians have engaged in a highly unusual degree of bipartisan focus on the pandemic contrasts remarkably with the divisive discourse on these other matters — with no viable consensus — issues which many deem to be urgent.
The point could be highlighted by a simple exercise in substituting “climate change” (or any of the others) for “coronavirus” in the many recent declarations of politicians and others. As an example, other matters of urgency for which global consensus is repeatedly (and vainly called) include: migration, terrorism, poverty, resource shortages, inequality, and human trafficking.
Evocation of “war” with its legislative implications: Especially interesting is the case of terrorism which has been promoted as the problem about which there can be no question regarding the need for global consensus — and hence the so-called Global War on Terrorism. The response to the pandemic has already been framed as a “war” — requiring war-like legislative provisions (Gaby Hinsliff, We are at war with coronavirus, The Guardian, 17 March 2020; David Eccles, “We are at war”: France locks down as pandemic surges, InDaily, 17 March 2020; Ryan P. Burke, The ‘war’ on COVID-19 doesn’t mean military lockdown, The Hill, 20 March 2020).
It has not proved possible to enact such a response to climate change, despite arguments for such measures (David Blair, etc, We must fight climate change like it’s World War III — here are 4 potent weapons to deploy, The Conversation, 16 March 2020). However, as with the achievement of “sustainable development”, it is possible that framing strategic challenges in terms of “war” may itself be avoiding subtler modes of response (Enhancing Sustainable Development Strategies through Avoidance of Military Metaphors, 1998). The degree of dependence on “think tanks” may be but one indication of current inadequacy (Tank Warfare Challenges for Global Governance: extending the “think tank” metaphor to include other cognitive modalities, 2019).
Some make the point that it is the dysfunctional organization of the global system which requires radical readjustment — which may well be brought about by the consequences of the current pandemic (Andrés Ortega, The Deglobalization Virus? The Globalist, 18 March 2020). Is the pandemic to be recognized as the ultimate catalyst for degrowth or zero growth? (Brian Davey, Coronavirus, Degrowth and Self Isolation, Resilience, 18 March 2020). The normality of business-as-usual — widely upheld as desirable — may well not be recoverable (Gideon Lichfield, We’re not going back to normal, MIT Technology Review, 17 March 2020). As the latter remarks:
Social distancing is here to stay for much more than a few weeks. It will upend our way of life, in some ways forever.
The possibilty of martial law to enforce whatever provisions are deemed necessary, with or without critical review, is already evident (Stephen Lendman, Martial Law is Coming to the USA? Information Clearing House, 23 March 2020; Debbie White, Corona Coup: secret military plan to impose martial law and stop civil disturbances if government is crippled by coronavirus, The Sun, 22 Mar 2020; Matt Honeycombe-Foster, Government ‘planning for martial law’ under emergency no-deal Brexit preparations, PoliticsHome, 27 January 2019). What is the diffrence for the citizen between “martial law” and “lockdown”?
Requisite sacrifice in time of war? Should the fatalities associated with the coronavirus pandemic, and the constraints on the efficacy of social distancing, now call for a reframing of “sacrifice”? (Americans must relearn to sacrifice in the time of coronavirus, The Washington Post, 19 March 2020; Coronavirus outbreak is ‘a time of sacrifice for all of us’, PBS News Hour, 15 March 2020). As noted by Caitlin Oprysko and Susannah Luthi (Coronavirus Trump labels himself ‘a wartime president’ combating coronavirus, Politico, 18 March 2020), the leder of the free world declared:
Now it’s our time. We must sacrifice together, because we are all in this together, and we will come through together.
The necessary “confrontation of mortality” noted above has long been a feature of warfare in which many — if not everyone — should be prepared to die for their country, despite controversial consideration of that requirement (Justin Ebert, Dying for one’s country: poetic or propoganda? The Red and Black, 4 November 2015). Explicit evocation of the possibility dates back to the exhortation to the citizens of Rome by the poet Horace: Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (“It is sweet and fitting to die for the homeland”)
Death as a consequence of pandemic implies that the “enemy” bringing about fatality is now everywhere. Rather than seeking to avoid engagement with the enemy — typically framed as cowardice in conventional arenas — what does “prepared to die for one’s country” now mean? Should the elderly be especially prepared to do so — rather than the conventional expectation (by the elderly) that this is an obligation for the young? As with the security services, are the elderly and the “health compromised” now expected to “take a bullet” to protect society, as may be speculative explored (Terminal Empowerment: socio-political implications of radical mutual assistance amongst the terminally ill, 2003)?
From the perspective of the statistics of warfare, should the fatality rates from coronavirus now be framed as “honourable” in the face of an implacable enemy worthy of appropriate demonisation by official propaganda and the arguments of religion?
Tolerable fatalities in time of war: Governments are notoriously tolerable of fatalities in time of war — possibly regretting the fatalities inflicted on the “enemy” and civilian populations (after the fact) and deploring the fatalties of their own forces and civilian populations. The fatalities are presented as a necessity, lomg framed by so-called just war theory. With the response to pandemic now framed in terms of a war-time mindset — unquestionably — consideration could be given to the level of fatalties considered tolerable in the light of past adoption of that mindset.
New reflection on the matter is offered by Albin Eser (Killing in War: unasked questions — ill-founded legitimisation, Criminal Law and Philosophy, 12, 2018):
Killing in war as a matter of course may be inferred from the fact that, as stated by Thomas Hobbes, “all laws are silent in the time of war” [Inter arma enim silent leges]. Although this traditional law-suspending power of war has been restricted to a certain degree by modern humanitarian international law, it is still commonly assumed that killing in war, unless and as long as not explicitly forbidden, is per se permitted and thus does not require any further legitimisation. This is in fundamental contrast to a “normal” homicide, which requires special justification to be considered lawful. This commonly unquestioned license to kill, by the mere reason of being at war, is all the more astonishing given that no legal norm can be found that positively and explicitly declares killing in war to be lawful.
Frequent reference currently made to the fatalities resulting from the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918. Lasting from January 1918 to December 1920, it infected 500 million people — about a quarter of the world’s population at the time. The death toll is estimated to have been anywhere from 17 million to 50 million, and possibly as high as 100 million, making it one of the deadliest epidemics in human history.
That period — namely World War I — was witness to the implementation by generals of military strategies which resulted in a total of some nine million combatant and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the resulting 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide. This can be compared with the marked by 70 to 85 million fatalities of World War II — more specifically those implemented as acceptable by the UK and the USA. In the case of the UK the example cited is that of Marshal of the Royal Air Force Sir Arthur Travers Harris (“Bomber Harris“) in implementing the policies of Winston Churchill, namely the “area bombing” of German cities, most notably the Bombing of Dresden. In the case of the USA, the most cited examples are those of the Atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The fight against the pandemic is already being framed as World War III, raising questions as to what has been learned from the strategies implemented at that time, especially in the light of subsequent military strategies over decades by a Western coalition (Transforming the Unsustainable Cost of General Education: strategic insights from Afghanistan, 2009; Mark R. Wilson, The 5 WWII Lessons That Could Help the Government Fight Coronavirus, Politco, 19 March 2020). As of 5 August 2018, there have been 3,459 coalition deaths in Afghanistan as a result of that conflict, and an estimated 360,000 civilian deaths in Afghanistan
Whilst fatalities are indeed to be deplored in theory, what fatalities are in process of being considered tolerable in practice by authorities — notably by those leaders inspired by Winston Churchill? How many are expected to die in combat with the virus or as a consequence of collateral damage? The young? The elderly? The marginal?
If from some strategic perspective the world has indeed become “overpopulated” and ungovernable (by increasing from 1.6 billion in 1900 to over 6 billion in 2000), what percentage can global civilisation “afford to lose” without jeopardising its integrity? Would such a loss come to be considered as “healthy”, as many have argued?
Self-reflexive implication of social distancing? There is of course every reason to be focused urgently on the fatalities and chaos engendered by the pandemic. However this is in itself an unfortunate distraction from the learning to be derived from the crisis — and others expected to follow. A valuable question is asked by H. Bruce Franklin (What Is Covid-19 Trying to Teach Us? CounterPunch, 13 March 2020):
Neither Covid-19 nor a major recession poses a threat to our survival as a species. We do, however, face two existential threats, both created by our species, and each featuring our nation in the lead role. At the very moment when only global unity and cooperation can save us from threats of nuclear holocaust and environmental devastation, deadly nationalism is tearing our species apart. Can Covid-19 teach us that those two great menaces to our existence are also not zero-sum games? That our species either wins or we, as well as many other species, all lose?
Rather than a question of winning or losing, the challenge might be more appropriately framed in the transcendent spirit of Eastern martial arts as how to learn from one’s opponent to avoid the questionable enthusiasm for the restrictive cognitive conventions of zero-sum games, as variously imagined (Ensuring Strategic Resilience through Haiku Patterns: reframing the scope of the “martial arts” in response to strategic threats, 2006; James P. Carse, Finite and Infinite Games: a vision of life as play and possibility, 1986). Are there new possibilities, if we recognize that the form and operation of the coronavirus is a mysterious image of who we are, whether collectively or individually?
Is there some strange sense in which humanity has evoked the coronavirus as an appropriate challenge to a global civilization usefully recognized as “health compromised”, especially as a consequence of “substance abuse” understood in its most general sense? How is learning from epidemics to be enabled, as framed by Shirley Lindenbaum (Kuru, Prions, and Human Affairs: thinking about epidemics, Annual Review of Anthropology, 30, 2001).
Does the form of the coronavirus mirror the human condition in a way that merits exploration if a “cognitive antigen” is to be discovered? In that sense, is the coronavirus very much an indication of who humans are and who they conceive themselves to be? The case was partially explored separately (Reimagining Coronavirus in 3D as a Metaphor of Global Society in Distress: crowning pattern that connects spiky organisms, satellite constellations, nuclear explosions, and egomania? 2020).
Clues to some such understanding might be derived from a sense in which, when it is possible, social distancing is only a viable response to local overcrowding. It is however only a local indication of a degree of global overpopulation — currently impossible to constrain. The latter possibility is an issue which national, regional and global governance has been afraid to recognize — let alone to address. Unfortunately, in systemic terms, pandemics (like wars) would seem to be engendered by society to address that challenge otherwise. However this too would seem to obscure a challenge which may be more fundamental.
To the extent that epidemics derive from genetic mutations transmitted from animals, their impact on humanity can even be understood as natures revenge (Evaggelos Vallianatos, Nature’s Revenge: Climate Change and COVID-19, CounterPunch, 20 March 2020; Shay Cullen, Coronavirus Outbreak: the revnge of nature? UCA News, 28 February 2020). Uncritical denial of that possibility is symptomatic of the problem (Alan Levinovitz, The Coronavirus is not Mother Nature’s Revenge, Foreign Policy, 5 March 2020).
Anthony Judge is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace Development Environment and mainly known for his career at the Union of International Associations (UIA), where he has been Director of Communications and Research, as well as Assistant Secretary-General. He was responsible at the UIA for the development of interlinked databases and for publications based on those databases, mainly the Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential, the Yearbook of International Organizations, and the International Congress Calendar. Judge has also personally authored a collection of over 1,600 documents of relevance to governance and strategy-making. All these papers are freely available on his personal website Laetus in Praesens. Now retired from the UIA, he is continuing his research within the context of an initiative called Union of Imaginable Associations. Judge is an Australian born in Egypt, a thinker, an author, and lives in Brussels. His TMS articles may be accessed HERE. (Wikipedia)
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