Laura Dodsworth has published an excellent Q&A with Toby Green and Thomas Fazi about their new book The Covid Consensus: The Global Assault on Democracy and the Poor – A Critique From the Left. The authors explain that their purpose in writing is that “although many critics of the Covid policies have come from a Right-wing perspective, we wanted also to develop a critique from a Left-wing, internationalist and anti-neoliberal perspective. In a sense what this shows is that, while the question of COVID-19 has been politicised like almost nothing in history, the questions it raises go far beyond traditional party political frameworks.”
Here is an extract:
Q: You said that in the space of eighteen months, the response to COVID-19 had upended seventy-five years of democratic norms. Can you explain what you mean and again provide historical comparisons?
A: What we saw was the institutionalisation of what Giorgio Agamben and others have called the “state of exception”. The state of exception is when the norms of daily life are upended because of the arising of a crisis which is said to be so severe that political norms have to be suspended. The state of exception has in fact been a core element of political life in Western geopolitics. We saw it during the aftermath of 9/11, when certain aspects of daily life were restricted; and it has been seen far more often in places where Western political power has been exerted, in colonial Africa, and in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what has happened is that the state of exception took over Western political life completely: freedom of debate has been restricted, freedom of movement upended, norms supposedly safeguarded by Conventions on Human Rights (such as the right to a family life) trampled over — and all with no legal comeback, as the powers of the judiciary to intervene were also severely curtailed.
After such a shock to democracy, what happens next? In this case, as we put it in the book, it is on life-support. We have been able to write, research and publish this book, even if it is very difficult to get mainstream media to cover it. This shows that the tenets of democratic debate and discussion still exist. We are not under house arrest or worse.
Nevertheless, we must recognise that the pandemic response has thrown up some severe questions about democracy in the (mis)information age: as we show in the book, misinformation has been the rule and not the exception, virtually on all sides. Since democracies rely on the theory of rational choice, which requires accurate information — if this no longer exists, then democracies are in trouble.
Q: You pointed out that the protests in Trieste, London, Paris, and Melbourne and the truckers’ protest in Canada were largely ignored by the mainstream press. The coverage of many aspects of Covid prompted me to question deeply for the first time, how much we trust the media to comprehensively and accurately report on world events. I believe we see something similar with coverage of purported anthropogenic climate change. Did Covid change your relationship of trust with the media? Can you think of other current and historical examples of media blackouts?
Again, this is one of those issues where the Covid crisis presents elements of continuity with the past, while also marking a radical turning point. Of course, anyone with a functioning brain has been aware of the deeply biased and pro-establishment reporting on the mainstream media for a long time now. However, the kind of propaganda campaign that we witnessed during the pandemic was unlike anything ever seen before.
Not only was the narrative harmonised across all media, offline (something for which the institutional architecture was already there, through global organisations such as the Trusted News Initiative) and online, but for the first time ever it was harmonised on a global scale, as billions of people throughout the world and across several countries were exposed, for the first time in history, to a single overarching narrative sanctioned by a single supranational entity: WHO. As the French researcher Laurent Mucchielli notes, the pandemic saw a “historically unprecedented attempt at global information control”. This ‘full-spectrum control’ of the information flow was truly astonishing. It was a full-on assault on the minds of citizens, a veritable form of mass psychological warfare — which indeed saw the active involvement and participation of the military and intelligence apparatuses of several states — aimed at stoking fear, panic and confusion in the population.
The Covid crisis was also relatively unprecedented in terms of the micromanagement of the information flow on social media platforms. Indeed, one of the elements the pandemic brought into stark relief is the symbiotic, mutually dependent relationship between Big Tech and state apparatuses, particularly in the United States, and the former has become a critical tool in information warfare. As the virus spread across the world in early 2020, social networks promoted compliance by censoring and deplatforming critical voices or opinions, delegitimising contrary views by referring to ‘independent fact-checkers’ of dubious reliability, and imposing warning labels that required click-through to access content. All of these measures formed part of a coordinated effort involving the most powerful governments and institutions on the planet.
So when it comes to ‘media blackouts’ there’s no historical precedent that comes even close to what we witnessed during the pandemic.
Q: French President Emmanuel Macron said “[It is] only a very small minority who are resisting. How do we reduce that minority? We reduce it by pissing them off even more… When my freedoms threaten those of others, I become someone irresponsible. Someone irresponsible is not a citizen.” Personally I was astonished that a president talked out his country’s citizens that way. Funnily enough, I was ‘bleeped’ on air for repeating his words. He can say this to the people of France, but I couldn’t utter the translation on British broadcast media. Is responsibility (decided by the state) a condition of bring a citizen? What was your reaction to his words?
We weren’t particularly surprised. Macron’s words were far from unique. This kind of institutionally sanctioned hate speech was the norm for a while, in some countries more than others (usually paralleling the severity of the mandates). Several statesmen, political leaders and commentators openly accused the unvaccinated of being threats to society, if not outright murderers, criminals, who deserved to be excluded from public life.
There were appeals to exclude the unvaccinated from the national health service, in some cases not to allow them to leave their homes, and even to let them die. Again, this was utterly unprecedented. This was the first time, since the experience of 20th-century fascisms, that a minority had been subjected to this kind of institutionally promoted stigma and discrimination. It was truly scary, and a reminder of just how easily societies that view themselves as progressive and civilised can slide into barbarism.
However, from the institutions’ perspective, it made perfect sense: on the one hand, it compelled people to get vaccinated; on the other, it created an ‘enemy within’, an Other, which could be blamed for everything — the continuation of the pandemic, stress on hospital capacity, the emergence of new variants, driving transmission to vaccinated individuals, and the necessity of ongoing lockdowns, masks, school closures and other restrictive measures — while at the same time creating a scapegoat against which people could direct their anxieties and frustrations.
What was particularly shocking was the support that the denigration, dehumanisation and discrimination of the unvaccinated enjoyed among progressives and left-leaning people, usually at the forefront of the defense of discriminated minorities of all sorts. Even someone like Noam Chomsky, a self-described anarchist, said that the unvaccinated should be forcefully removed from society. “How can we get food to them? Well, that’s actually their problem,” he said. Trying to understand why the Left supported the barbarism of the Covid response is one of the reasons that led us to write this book.
Their answer about the unprecedented nature of the “fast-tracked, experimental, non-immunity-generating and, ultimately, little-known next-generation ‘vaccines'” and the mandates imposing them on the population is also worth checking out.
Worth reading in full.
You can buy The Covid Consensus on Amazon here.
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