Cowering for One’s Country in the War against Coronavirus


Anthony Judge | Laetus in Praesens – TRANSCEND Media Service

They Also Serve Who Only Cower and Wait?


11 Apr 2020 – The argument here follows from a previous criticism of the strategy of social distancing, so rapidly adopted worldwide (Social Distancing under Conditions of Overcrowding? Weaponising mass distraction from overpopulation denial? 2020). The speed with which consensus was achieved within countries could be considered remarkable when compared to the procrastination so evident with respect to other issues variously upheld as urgent. Many note the contrast with the response to the well-documented challenges of climate change, now sidelined, if not totally obscured (William Nordhaus, The Climate Club: How to Fix a Failing Global Effort, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2020). The same could be said of the dramatic challenges of developing countries and widespread injustice — now clearly far from urgent, irrespective of the associated suffering and fatality..

The earlier criticism focused on the avoidance of systemic thinking which resulted in misrepresentation of social distancing in an overcrowded context. In particular it encouraged highly questionable modelling of the development of the pandemic crisis, most notably ignoring relative population density — an exercise undertaken with a minimum of transparency and peer review. Consequently this has given rise to multiple ironies and contradictions in the implementation of social distancing. The argument raised questions about the requisite sacrifice in time of war — as the strategic response has come to be enthusiastically framed by authorities in an effort to elicit rapid consensus and solidarity..

As the argument is further developed here, the implementation of widespread lockdowns as the primary strategy can be effectively recognized as a “call to cower” by authorities. With a focus on compliance, this has raised concerns with regard to emergent officiousness, authoritarianism and hidden agendas (Edward Santow, We must combat Covid-19 but creeping authoritarianism could do more harm than good, The Guardian, 8 April 2020; Coronavirus: why we must tackle hard questions about police power, The Conversation, 9 April 2020; Michael Sean Winters, History warns us: Crises like COVID-19 can give rise to great evil, National Catholic Reporter, 3 April 2020; Saladdin Ahmed, COVID-19: Communism or Fascism, TelosScope, 18 March 2020).

Curiously the country seen by many as the ideal retreat in time of crisis — most notably by the extremely wealthy — is now developing characteristics of a police state, as noted by Binoy Kampmark:

It’s all about the lever of balance. Laws made for public protection, within which public health features prominently, provide grounds for derogation authorities can exploit. Like plasticine, the scope of power during times of an emergency extends. But at what point does a state of public health become a police state? In time, we may find these to be not only indistinguishable but synonymous; the body will be the site where liberties are subordinate to regulation, movement, medical testing, and directives made in the name of health…. Another by-product of these measures is a willingness to turn citizens into accessories of the state… the do-good brigade enlisted in public health’s calling. This saw the establishment of an online site which was swamped with reports within an hour of its activation, crashing it.(The Coronavirus State: New Zealand and Authoritarian Rumblings, Australian Independent Media, 11 April 2020).

It is to be expected that the superpowers will use the strategic and legislative opportunities of the pandemic to enhance their dominance and to further hidden agendas (Mark Minevich, Can China use coronavirus to pave the way to a new world order? The Hill, 2 April 2020; Coronavirus Drives the U.S. and China Deeper Into Global Power Struggle, The New York Times, 22 March 2020; Naomi Klein, Coronavirus Capitalism — and how to beat it, The Intercept, 17 March 2020).

The argument here contrasts with a separate exploration of whether imaginative engagement with the form of the coronavirus is preferable to a fearful cognitive mindset inhibiting emergence of new thinking enabling a more fruitful response. This framed the question regarding the appropriate form of global organization and knowledge architecture required in a response to any pandemic — and any crisis of other crises. The argument through visualization was then further developed (Coronavirus — Global Plan, Doughnut, Torus, Helix and/or Pineapple? 2020; Engaging Playfully with Coronavirus through “Organizing” Global Governance? 2020).

The focus in what follows is however on the appreciation of risk of death in immediate response to a pandemic, in contrast to that in warfare as otherwise understood. — and a continuing experience for many in countries which are “socially distant”. This compares curiously with the lack of appreciation for risks now predicted to arise from climate change — and currently evident in fatalities from natural disasters, readily recognized as heralding future deaths and loss of livelihood. There is however a strange irony to the appreciation of heroic courage of populations during other forms of warfare — in contrast to the widespread condemnation of those who then cower at home as “conscientious objectors” and “pacifists“. Lockdowns are now promoted by authorities as a means of avoiding risk of fatality, with cowering at home as the primary means of safeguarding human life — especially that of others.

There is a further irony to the use of drones and other surveillance technology to ensure lockdown compliance in the face of a pandemic (Apple and Google are building a coronavirus tracking system into iOS and Android 53, The Verge, Apr 10, 2020). It is similar technology which is now the primary means of enabling fatalities in arenas of military conflict — obliging people to cower for shelter in homes which may well be specifically targeted in consequence. The irony is all the greater in that the drones are piloted by agents safely ensconced in bunkers and facing zero personal risk. Under such circumstances, what form does courage take in the face of risk?

Perhaps the greatest irony lies in the sense in which people are being called upon to await the discovery, production and dissemination of a vaccine against COVID-19 — a “silver bullet“. This will be produced with the complicity industries under circumstances readily comparable with the operation of the so-called military-industrial complex, of which warnings have been given in the past: a “medical industrial complex”? There is every probability that authorities will render vaccination mandatory — thereby requiring that people receive one or more “shots” (US Government Considering COVID-19 “Immunity Cards, Futurism, 10 April 2020). The necessity for such a “shot” will be framed in terms of the need to safeguard others from infection — effectively to “take a bullet” for everyone else, if not for oneself. Does the world population require a “shot in the arm” to engage effectively with climate change and safeguard future generations?

The title and subtitle of this argument is necessarily provocative — an invitation to condemnation. The basic point is however the need for contrasting perspectives in times of crisis, rather than the management of consent (Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: the political economy of the mass media, 1988). The question is why such alternative views are deprecated in order to achieve knee-jerk consensus.


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