Ready for another rendition of the “no one could have known” routine made famous by all the self-proclaimed liberals who shamelessly went along with the Neo-Cons planned and lie-supported destruction of the Middle East nearly two decades ago?
As in “no one could have known” that by shutting down life as we know it to focus obsessively on a virus mostly affecting what is still a relatively small number of people at the end of their lives (yes, oh squeamish ones we must summon the courage to talk about Quality Adjusted Life Years when making public policy) we probably would:
1. Cause economic devastation and hence excess deaths, suicides, divorces depressions in much larger numbers than those killed by the virus.
2. Provide an already monopolistic and predatory online retailing establishment with competitive advantages in terms of capital reserves and market share that will make it virtually impossible at any time in the near or medium future for the country’s and the world’s small and even medium-sized businesses to ever catch up to them. And that this will plunge huge sectors of the world-wide economy into serf-like ruin, with all that this portends in terms of additional death and human suffering.
3. Cause greatly increased misery and countless additional deaths in the so-called Global South where many people, rightly or wrongly, depend on the consumption patterns of us relatively fortunate sit-at-homers to make it through the week.
4. Destroy much of what was attractive about urban life as we know it and lead to a real estate collapse of extraordinary proportions, turning even our few remaining showplace cities into crime-ridden reserves of ever more desperate people.
5. Force state and local governments, already struggling before the crisis, and unable to print at money at will like the Feds, to cut their already insufficient budgets at a time when their broke and stressed constituents need those services more than ever.
6. Push “smart” monitoring of our lives, already intolerable for anyone still clinging to memories of freedom in the pre-September 11th world, to the point where most people will no longer understand what people used to know as privacy, intimacy or the simple dignity of being left alone.
7. Train of a generation of children to be fearful and distrustful of others from day one, and to view bending to diktats “to keep them safe”, (no matter how empirically dubious the actual threat to them might be), rather than the courageous pursuit of joy and human fullness, as the key goal in life.
We will also no doubt be told that no one could have imagined or known at the time:
That governments often make policy on the basis of information they know to be largely unsubstantiated or flat-out false. Because they know (Karl Rove spilled the beans in his famous interview with Ron Susskind) that by the time the few conscientious researchers out there get around looking past the hype to debunk their initial storylines, the structures favorable to them put into place on the basis of the false narrative will have been normalized, and thus be in no danger of being dismantled.
That our educational institutions, already failing miserably in the essential democratic task of educating the young to engage in productive conflict with those whose ideas are different than their own, will only further promote dehumanization of “the other” through ever-greater reliance on the disembodied practices of remote learning. And that this, in turn, will only encourage the further growth of the “drive-by shooting” approach to “coping” with new and challenging ideas seen so often in our public “discussions” in recent years.
That further fomenting the alienated and alienating educational practices mentioned above will make than it easier than it already is for our oligarchs to enhance their already obscene levels control over our daily lives and long-term destinies through divide and rule tactics.
That according to the Institute for Democracy and Election Assistance (IDEA) fully twos thirds of elections scheduled to be held since February have been postponed due to COVID. And that this does much to accustom citizens and populations to the idea that one of their few remaining democratic rights can essentially be taken away on the basis of bureaucratic whims, creating a dangerous “new normal” that obviously favors the interests of established centers of power.
That Sweden and other countries developed much more proportionate, culture-saving and dignity-saving ways to live safely and much more fully with the virus.
That Anthony Fauci has a well-documented tendency to see every health problem as being amenable to expensive pharmaceutical solutions (some might even call it corruption), even when other less intrusive, less expensive, and equally effective therapies are available.
That the recent history of using vaccines to fight respiratory infections has been ineffective when not grotesquely counterproductive.
That during the first half of the 20th century the infectious disease of polio was a constant danger, culminating in 1952 with a devastating toll of 3,145 deaths and 21,269 cases of paralysis in a US population of 162,000,000, almost all of the victims being children and young adults. The danger then to the under-24 population (some 34 million) of being infected (.169%) paralyzed (.044%) or killed (.0092%) far outstripped in percentages and, obviously, severity anything COVID is doing to the same age group. And yet there was no talk of blanket school closures, cancelled high school, college and pro sports or, needless to say, lockdowns or masking for the entire society.
That the world lost some 1.1 million people in the 1957-58 Asian flu epidemic (more than the present COVID number of 760,000), with some 116,000 in the US (.064% of the population) and the world similarly did not stop.
That the Hong Kong flu of 1968-69 killed between 1 and 4 million worldwide and some 100,000 in the US (.048% of population killed) and that life similarly was not stopped. Indeed, Woodstock took place in the middle of it.
That the decisions to get on with life in all of these cases were probably not the result, as some today might be tempted suggest, of a lack of scientific knowledge or lesser concern for the value of life, but rather a keener understanding in the more historically-minded heads of that time that risk is always part of life and that aggressive attempts to eliminate this most ubiquitous human reality can often lead to severe unwanted consequences.
That there were many prestigious scientists, including Nobel prize winners, who told us as early as March that this virus, while new, would in greater or lesser measure behave much like all viruses before it and fade away. And, therefore, the best way to deal with it was to let it run its course while protecting the most vulnerable people in society and letting everyone else live their lives.
That significant information platforms banned or sidelined the views of these high-prestige scientists, while aggressively circulating the words of jokers like Neil Ferguson at Imperial College, whose stupid and alarmist predictions of COVID mortality (the latest in a career full of stupid and alarmist, but not coincidentally, pharmaceutical-industry-friendly predictions), gave politicians the pretext for setting in motion perhaps the most aggressive experiment in social engineering in the history of the world.
That just as the levels of mortality from the virus were diminishing rapidly in the late spring and early summer of 2020, thus raising hope for a much-needed return to normality, there was seamless bait and switch in the major media from a discourse centering on the logical and laudable goal of “flattening the curve” to one centered on the absurdly utopian (and not coincidentally vaccine-oriented) goal of eliminating new “cases”.
That having the news media focus narrowly and obsessively on the growth of “cases” when 99%+ of them are completely non-life-threatening was journalistic malpractice of the highest order, comparable to, if not exceeding in its sinister effect that which was generated by the media’s wholly unsubstantiated talk of mushroom clouds and WMD two decades ago, talk that led (so sorry brown people) to the deaths of millions and the destruction of entire civilizations in the Middle East.
That government and corporate power holders, having successfully habituated people to engage in major solidarity-destroying social changes through the repetition of the largely meaningless term “case“, will surely come to rely on it and other breathlessly repeated, albeit largely empty, signifiers to paralyze society at will, especially at those times when the people appear to be waking up and coming together to demand a change In the existing balance of social power.
That as numerous existing and emerging studies seem to demonstrate, hydroxychloroquine is, when combined with other similarly affordable drugs, a safe and rather effective early-stage treatment for COVID 19.
That the negative studies on hydroxychloroquine effectiveness published at two of the most prestigious medical journals in the world The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine, and which were adduced time and again at a key moment in the early debate of possible COVID treatments to debunk the drug’s effectiveness, were found to be based on forged data sets. (see earlier entry on how power centers play the game of perception lag with false information to achieve long-term structural changes)
That suggesting world-class professional athletes in their 20s and 30s, or even their less talented and less fit high school and college counterparts, were running a risk of mortal consequences in even minimal numbers by playing in the midst of the COVID spread was, in light of known age-related numbers on the disease’s lethality, at best ridiculous and, at worst, a very cynical fear-mongering ploy.
Repeat after me, “no one could have possibly known these things” and then check your screen to see, as citizens of Oceania, whether you are supposed to be worried this week about the threat from Eurasia or Eastasia.
And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind you to mask up real tight, especially in light of the CDC numbers — you’ll have to forgive here for breaking with the rich tradition of pure panic-driven narrative and moving to the realm of empirical figures — which tell us that up until this point in our “everything must change” crisis:
- 0.011% of the US population under 65 have died of COVID
- 0.005% of the US population under 55 have died of COVID
- 0.0009% of the US population under 35 have died of COVID
- 0.0002% of the US population under 25 have died of COVID
- 0.00008% of the US population under 15 have died of COVID
And as for the most “high risk” people?
- 0.23% of the US population over 65 have died of COVID
Though they’ve tried to sell it otherwise, this thing has very little, if anything, to do with great-grandma’s Spanish flu of 1918.
Indeed, it not even completely clear if it is cumulatively worse in terms of loss of life than the influenzas outbreaks of 1957-58 or 1968-69 that most everyone slept through. But, I guess that doesn’t matter when there’s a narrative to keep.
Might it be time to ask if there might be something else afoot with all this?
Thomas S. Harrington is a professor of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and the author of the recently published book, Livin’ la Vida Barroca: American Culture in a Time of Imperial Orthodoxies.
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