In this three-part blog, I explore the absence of critical thought and debate by the Left on the global response to Covid, using two commentators I am familiar with as examples. Below, I discuss the Left’s unwitting embrace of Disaster Capitalism and its consequences for progressive politics. I also examine Caitlin Johnstone’s contradictory statements and speculate on the role of ideology in the Left’s blind spot.
Garlanding billionaires — the Left welcomes Disaster Capitalism with open arms
There is more than enough evidence to condemn the case for lockdowns, and most of the restrictions we are forced to endure, as scientifically, morally, intellectually and economically bankrupt. One of the meaningless slogans shouted by the Left as it greeted the first lockdown with maniacal glee was that we should not prioritise the economy over lives. That it should have to be explained to the Left that smashed economies are more lethal than most viruses humans have encountered beggars belief.
Confronted by its decades-long abject failure to capture the public’s imagination with alternative policies and ways of living, the Left prostrated itself at the altar of the god of viruses, beseeching it to do what its leaders could not — smash capitalism and conservative government. It unwittingly begged for the very thing that it had been criticising for decades — Disaster Capitalism.
Perhaps it’s the sheer embarrassment of having fallen blindly into a such a trap that keeps so many on the Left in silence. It seems destined to go down as one of the greatest political own goals in modern history — the Left invented the term Disaster Capitalism, warned everyone about it and wrote books to help us understand and recognise it. It then helped open the gates to the biggest Disaster Capitalism event in living memory, even mindlessly clapping once a week for NHS workers in largely empty hospitals as the billionaires salivated over gains exceeding their wildest dreams and small businesses went to the wall in record numbers. It’s hard to imagine how the Left’s error could get any more perverse than this.
And what do we know about this latest chapter of Disaster Capitalism? It will result in a wealth transfer from the poorer to the richer by an order of magnitude far greater than the ones preceding it. Capitalism is a virus that thrives on misery and it is tragically apposite that a real virus may well be set to deliver capitalism’s greatest gain since its invention.
In 2020, the year of the deepest global economic contraction since the Second World War, global billionaires’ wealth surged to an all-time high of $10.2 trillion — an increase of 27.5% since April. U.S. billionaires’ wealth reached the equivalent of almost one-fifth of the U.S. gross domestic product, with four tech billionaires (Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg) plus Warren Buffett seeing their total wealth climb by 59%.
In the UK, an additional 690,000 Brits have fallen into poverty as a result of the economic fallout from shutting down the economy. Of this 690,000, an astonishing 270,000 have fallen into the deepest form of poverty. Meanwhile, the finances of the better-off groups have improved as much of their spending has been put on hold. This would go a long way to explaining why this group is either indifferent to lockdowns or actively support them. And it would be false to claim that the savage class war that is effectively being waged can be justified on the grounds that lockdowns are saving more lives than they are taking. They simply aren’t because they don’t work.
Finance experts use technical euphemisms to describe the processes by which wealth is transferred from ordinary people to the feudal oligarchs.
Consolidation — a harmless sounding word for the gobbling up by large corporates and retailers of the trade (no price paid) lost by small and medium sized businesses crushed by lockdowns.
Rationalisation — another business euphemism for lives crushed by permanent unemployment in sectors where jobs lost will not be replaced. Those young kids at the checkout counter who politely interact with us when we shop and tell us where to find the chopped tomatoes? Those job losses are cost savings for retailers who have discovered they can do just as well online and naturally a boon to tech giants like Amazon. Fully one third of Britons had completed their Christmas shopping online by the end of November due to Lockdown 2 — a 75 per cent increase on last year’s number. Progress, if you value efficiency over human contact and if you’re indifferent to the consequences of the despair caused by sudden and massive economic shocks. Isn’t the Left supposed to care about this kind of thing?
Before the latest round of pre-Christmas lockdowns, nearly 40,000 retailers in the UK were in “significant financial distress”, 24% higher than last year’s corresponding figure. Does the Left truly believe that the sanity and compassion of the proposals contained in the Great Barrington Declaration should be eschewed in favour of the trail of broken lives that will be left by lockdowns?
The fiscal wealth transfer. As of 6 September, the government had fully underwritten loans to businesses totalling £36.9 billion to help keep them afloat in the crisis. It’s anybody’s guess as to how much will eventually go bad due to inability to repay or fraudulent applications, but continuing lockdowns through to Spring 2021 increase the likelihood that the taxpayer is going to be on the hook for a substantial portion.
The government paid private hospitals an eye-watering £400 million per month for spare capacity but two-thirds of that capacity was not used by the NHS from June to September. What could the NHS have done with this money?
And what could the NHS do with the roughly £100bn being spent on testing which the authors of this BMJ article say could do more harm than good to people, populations, and the economy? What will Big Pharma do with this staggering windfall paid for by the taxpayer? These examples are only the tip of an iceberg that is going to freeze the progress and opportunities of the next generation, expand the reach and power of Big Pharma, Big Tech, Big Everything and widen the gap between rich and poor.
Democracy Now’s sole concern about Covid at the moment is that the greedy wealthy countries are hoarding vaccine supplies, preventing Africa from getting its fair share. It’s an incredibly distorted lens through which to view the Covid fiasco when you consider that not only has the entire African continent of 1.3bn people seen fewer confirmed virus deaths than the UK alone but that it will need an additional $1.2 trillion of debt through to 2023 to repair the Covid damage. Not the damage caused by the disease — the damage caused by the lockdowns in Africa and worldwide. If African leaders, under these circumstances, decide to allocate scarce resources to feeding people rather than vaccinating them, I’d say they would have got their priorities right.
Placing ideological agenda above truth
Why have the likes of Media Lens chosen to eschew even a modicum of scepticism in the face of so much evidence that propaganda and political science is the foundation on which governments have built their calamitous response to Covid? Is there an ideological blind spot causing critical thought to be blocked by an agenda? Is Media Lens’ condemnation of Hitchens borne out of hatred of what they think he stands for or is it a manifestation of a deep-seated belief system that prevents them from thinking critically about this particular crisis? Either way, I now find myself asking: what kind of ideology allows for the unquestioning adoption of extreme societal and economic measures without even a cursory consideration of whether the harms might exceed the sought-after benefits? Have we seen this sort of ideological zealotry before and did it end well?
If ideological abuse of the Covid crisis lies at the heart of the mainstream Left’s silence, the sparse yet contradictory comments by Caitlin Johnstone, another Left commentator, might provide a clue. Johnstone positions herself as, among other things, a ‘Utopia prepper’ and attracts a large following for her ruthless excoriation of mainstream and government propaganda narratives concealing government and corporate agendas. And yet she claimed in July to “find the whole thing [Covid] ultimately irrelevant and boring”:
She then recently wrote this piece rightly denouncing “another major escalation in establishment internet censorship.” But this is a trend that got turbo-charged by the Covid-19 response, which she finds irrelevant and boring. The censorship machine at Facebook, YouTube and Twitter kicked into overdrive to marginalise all dissenting Covid narratives under the cover of curtailing ‘misinformation’ and enforcing ‘community guidelines’. Emboldened by their power, it was only a question of time before the Big Tech Ministry of Truth took off the gloves and went full 1984.
Johnstone can’t pretend not to have seen a gigantic trojan horse being jammed through the gates and then cry foul nine months later at the decanting of its deadly contents — in-your-face censorship, suspension of the right to protest and freedom of assembly, and looming introduction of bio-health passports, to name a few. Did the Left really think existing evils would not be amplified by placing the entire planet under house arrest? Propaganda busters, more than anyone else, should understand that cherry-picking which lies they wish to expose is a dangerous game.
It’s not as if we haven’t seen this playbook before. The ‘War on Terror’ ushered in mass surveillance and illegal bulk storage of personal data, none of which was actually used to prevent terror attacks. Despite rulings that this was illegal, it now seems irreversible. And now we see a War on Viruses that could be replacing the War on Terror, fear, as ever, being the currency of control.
Here’s the clue to Caitlin Johnstone’s ideological abuse of the Covid crisis — she states in this piece:
“The pandemic and a Democrat-controlled House presents a once-in-a-century opportunity to shove hard toward getting Americans the same healthcare rights afforded to everyone else in every major country on earth…” [Boldemphasis added]
Securing health care rights for workers is a noble cause but this is simply not, as I’ve tried to show, the real story behind Covid. I have bad news for Johnstone if she thinks that ‘everyone else in every major country on earth’ has retained their health care rights during this crisis. In the UK those rights have turned into a cruel joke for many as the NHS stopped working so we could ‘protect’ it while the government threw the majority of the country under the bus.
Missed cancer screenings, a referral backlog in the millions and more people dying at home than from Covid because they’re too afraid to visit the hospital (or just can’t access a blocked health system) are just a few of the many quirks of the total and perverse focus on one disease which will mean more people dying from the response to Covid than from Covid itself.
A reduced NHS service may be part and parcel of the ‘new normal’ as a Conservative government looks set to preside over yet another era of austerity which this time promises to be indefinite owing to the astronomical debt levels driven by lockdowns.
Johnstone must be aware of this and so I can’t help thinking: does she think this suffering will be worth it? And, if so, what is the “it” that this suffering is in service of? Has she done her own cost-benefit analysis and concluded that it will be worth it? Is it acceptable for anyone, let alone a ‘progressive’, to turn a blind eye to suffering caused by blatant crisis mismanagement in order to capitalise on a ‘once-in-a-century opportunity’?
“Never let a good crisis go to waste” is the mantra of sociopaths who, rather than apply their energies in good faith to a resolution of the crisis, prefer instead to manipulate it for political gain. It appears that this philosophy of crisis management is also shared by ‘progressives’ on the Left. The earth has been scorched but, rather than expose the lies and convergent opportunism that have fuelled the fire, the Left are content to wade through the pile of bodies, scavenging for scraps of political capital that might bring them closer to their utopia. Anyone looking for proof that the Left and Right might simply be two sides of the same destructive coin can find it in Johnstone’s unwittingly cynical take on how to exploit the pandemic rather than create pressure for a better response to it.
It’s highly unlikely that a commentator as insightful as Caitlin Johnstone finds “the whole thing ultimately irrelevant and boring”. In reality, she appears to be quite captivated by it for the same reason that corporate and billionaire oligarchs are: crisis abuse.
Another disturbing aspect of this apparent calculated cynicism is that it perhaps signifies that the Left believes it really has a chance in beating the Disaster Capitalists at their own game. But in a game of picking at the carcass for gains and scraps, what makes them think they are a match for a cabal of 2,189 billionaire hyenas whose $10.2 trillion, ignoring the army of multinational corporations behind them, has clogged up every pore of the global economy and political power structures, including the very US administration the US Left has just voted into power? The consequence of Silicon Valley’s generous funding of Biden’s presidential campaign is that his transition team is packed with Big Tech industry insiders. Biden simply represents a return to the status quo before Trump and, in some respects, may prove to be the more effective of two evils rather than the lesser. So, wouldn’t it have been wiser and far more morally defendable for the Left to have blown the whistle on this avoidable calamity before it had a chance to take hold?
Peace, love and understanding? Practice what you preach.
Caitlin Johnstone wants “a deeply conscious and emotionally intelligent society in which humans collaborate with each other and with their ecosystem”. It’s easy to preach and practice collaboration with your own tribe, but the most effective demonstration of sincerity would be to collaborate with as many people across the political spectrum to get back the one thing we all need as human beings to survive — liberty and free speech, the oxygen of democracy. That act of collaboration alone would do more than any article Caitlin Johnstone or Media Lens have ever posted to bring us closer to a “deeply conscious and emotionally intelligent society”.
The corporate and government power grab accelerated by the Covid crisis has turbo-charged social, political, technological and economic trends that are making the argument between the left and right look like two bald men fighting over a comb. It is plainly obvious to a growing minority that the Covid threat to the general population in no way justifies the stripping away of the basic liberties we had, until now, taken for granted. What will it take for progressive Leftists to realise that left and right politics will be completely redundant in a corporate fascist technocracy and that we are being well and truly fast-tracked to the status of serfs policed by the state on behalf of our billionaire feudal overlords?
How long do Caitlin Johnstone and Media Lens think they will survive before the oligarchic establishment turns the lights out on their websites? Even if progressives on the Left believe that there was no other way to respond to Covid in the early months of the crisis, there is now more than enough evidence that something is very rotten in the state of Western democracy. It is not too late to start calling out the lies.
Media Lens have done a pretty good job of quietly standing by while also acknowledging the fiction of neutrality in a world where “there are victims, there are executioners, and there are bystanders… and the ‘objectivity’ of the bystander calls for inaction while other heads fall.”
The Germans have a more succinct way of capturing the fiction of neutrality in silence with this expression: Keine Antwort is auch eine Antwort — no answer is also an answer. So I ask Media Lens and every other intelligent progressive Leftist who thinks they can quietly ride out this crisis in the hope that it will end well for progressive politics — is silence your final answer to what could turn out to be the crime of the century?