I’m in the middle of writing a post pursuing the clatter of contradictions sounding through the COVID consensus. In doing so I came across this brave and resounding rebuttal of both the Israeli and global responses to the perceived pandemic. It was published on the Swiss Policy Research website.
Professor Ehud Qimron, head of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Tel Aviv University and one of the leading Israeli immunologists, has written an open letter sharply criticizing the Israeli – and indeed global – management of the coronavirus pandemic.
In the end, the truth will always be revealed, and the truth about the coronavirus policy is beginning to be revealed. When the destructive concepts collapse one by one, there is nothing left but to tell the experts who led the management of the pandemic – we told you so.
Two years late, you finally realize that a respiratory virus cannot be defeated and that any such attempt is doomed to fail. You do not admit it, because you have admitted almost no mistake in the last two years, but in retrospect, it is clear that you have failed miserably in almost all of your actions, and even the media is already having a hard time covering your shame.
You refused to admit that the infection comes in waves that fade by themselves, despite years of observations and scientific knowledge. You insisted on attributing every decline of a wave solely to your actions, and so through false propaganda “you overcame the plague.” And again you defeated it, and again and again and again.
You refused to admit that mass testing is ineffective, despite your own contingency plans explicitly stating so (“Pandemic Influenza Health System Preparedness Plan, 2007”, p. 26).
You refused to admit that recovery is more protective than a vaccine, despite previous knowledge and observations showing that non-recovered vaccinated people are more likely to be infected than recovered people. You refused to admit that the vaccinated are contagious despite the observations. Based on this, you hoped to achieve herd immunity by vaccination — and you failed in that as well.
You insisted on ignoring the fact that the disease is dozens of times more dangerous for risk groups and older adults than for young people who are not in risk groups, despite the knowledge that came from China as early as 2020.
You refused to adopt the “Barrington Declaration”, signed by more than 60,000 scientists and medical professionals, or other common-sense programs. You chose to ridicule, slander, distort and discredit them. Instead of the right programs and people, you have chosen professionals who lack relevant training for pandemic management (physicists as chief government advisers, veterinarians, security officers, media personnel, and so on).
You have not set up an effective system for reporting side effects from the vaccines, and reports on side effects have even been deleted from your Facebook page. Doctors avoid linking side effects to the vaccine, lest you persecute them as you did with some of their colleagues. You have ignored many reports of changes in menstrual intensity and menstrual cycle times. You hid data that allows for objective and proper research (for example, you removed the data on passengers at Ben Gurion Airport). Instead, you chose to publish non-objective articles together with senior Pfizer executives on the effectiveness and safety of vaccines.
Irreversible damage to trust
However, from the heights of your hubris, you have also ignored the fact that in the end the truth will be revealed. And it begins to be revealed. The truth is that you have brought the public’s trust in you to an unprecedented low, and you have eroded your status as a source of authority. The truth is that you have burned hundreds of billions of shekels to no avail – for publishing intimidation, for ineffective tests, for destructive lockdowns and for disrupting the routine of life in the last two years.
You have destroyed the education of our children and their future. You made children feel guilty, scared, smoke, drink, get addicted, drop out, and quarrel, as school principals around the country attest. You have harmed livelihoods, the economy, human rights, mental health and physical health.
You slandered colleagues who did not surrender to you, you turned the people against each other, divided society and polarized the discourse. You branded, without any scientific basis, people who chose not to get vaccinated as enemies of the public and as spreaders of disease. You promote, in an unprecedented way, a draconian policy of discrimination, denial of rights and selection of people, including children, for their medical choice. A selection that lacks any epidemiological justification.
When you compare the destructive policies you are pursuing with the sane policies of some other countries — you can clearly see that the destruction you have caused has only added victims beyond the vulnerable to the virus. The economy you ruined, the unemployed you caused, and the children whose education you destroyed — they are the surplus victims as a result of your own actions only.
There is currently no medical emergency, but you have been cultivating such a condition for two years now because of lust for power, budgets and control. The only emergency now is that you still set policies and hold huge budgets for propaganda and psychological engineering instead of directing them to strengthen the health care system.
This emergency must stop!
Professor Udi Qimron, Faculty of Medicine, Tel Aviv University
Thanks to Tribune and Emily Ingram for this important reminder of the strike that gave birth to ‘flying pickets’ and later to the acapella group, ‘The Flying Pickets’, steadfast supporters of the miners in the 1984/85 Great Strike.
Fifty years ago on January 9, 1972, miners across Britain walked out on strike in a landmark dispute that popularised the flying picket. We speak to striking workers about their memories on the frontline.
New Year’s Day 2022 – an azure and windless sky beckons, promises and resolutions hang not yet tested in the still air. New Year’s Days I’ve had too many to mention but this one is different. It’s surreal, sinister and disconcerting.
I’m now into my 75th year on this god-forsaken earth. For more than half a century I’ve spouted forth about the evils of capitalism, even advocated revolution but my stance has not cost me dear. A tapped phone here, a night on a police station floor there, a few bruises on the picket line. Nothing to write home about. Indeed, it might well be argued that I’ve made something of a career out of being the useful ‘token ‘radical, not ‘in and against’ rather ‘in and compromised’ by the State. I’m of a post-war generation, whose lives were improved to different degrees by the struggles of our forefathers and mothers. With all its warts, and I railed against its shortcomings, the social-democratic society was a step forward. Neoliberalism has been closing down its gains for over forty years. I’ve sought to criticise this assault, arguing against the insidious influence of behaviourist psychology and worrying about the danger of us sleepwalking into an authoritarian and intolerant society. Again I have not been taken to task by the powerful for this dissension. As far as being troubled goes, it’s been wrought by my own self-doubt and anxiety. As a dear friend whispered gently, ‘being a couch revolutionary isn’t exactly uncomfortable’.
Two years ago I would have shaken my bald pate in disbelief at the predicament I face this New Year’s Day. The Greek government has determined that all the citizens and residents of the country, who are over 60 years of age will be vaccinated with the ‘booster’. Refusing to comply will lead to the following State punishments.
Each person resisting will be fined 100 euros each successive month until they give in. Over 25% of Greek pensioners, around 700,00 persons, receive less tha 500 Euros a month and even the average pension amounts to only 869 euros before deductions. In my case it seems that if I resist the 100 Euros will be procured for the government by my accountant.
Each person resisting will not possess therefore a valid vaccine passport. This means they will only be allowed access to supermarkets, grocery stores and chemists, to food and medicine. They will be barred from all public indoor spaces – tavernas, kafeneion, the beating heart of Greek life, even, I’m not sure, the Church – and public events. If this is enforced they will be excluded from the majority of what we might call civil society.
I want you to be shocked and angry in the face of such a draconian scenario, imposed by a government without an ethical leg to stand on. I worry that the propaganda machine churning out numbers, numbers, numbers will continue to cloud the issue. Mass testing alongside the emergence of a milder but more infectious variant will inevitably mean an upsurge in infections, leave aside the fact that the USA Centre for Disease Control has just disowned the PCR test, admitting its unreliability. A touch late, methinks.
In essence, the Mitsotakis government’s authoritarianism, whilst running deep in its historical blood, is inseparable from the influence of the corporate and pharmaceutical giants of our era. It is about power and profit. It is about politics. It is not about health. At this point, some readers may sigh. Am I in Covid denial? For now, I will only say that I believe that the COVID threat to society as a whole has been exaggerated enormously; that from a health point of view things could have been managed so very differently.
Peak Case Fatality Rate in winter 2020
Case Fatality rate in June 2021
4 in 100,000
4 in 100,000
14 in 100,000
20 in 100,000
8 in 10,000
5 in 10,000
2 in 1000
1 in 1000
8 in 1000
3 in 1000
80 or above
Table 1: Proportion of people catching covid who die with it by age in England – official gov.uk figures
The data presented above for June 2021 does not take into account booster vaccinations, early treatments and Omicron being less dangerous than earlier variants. These figures are calculated based on every ‘covid death’ including those where covid may well have been a bystander infection as often occurs with respiratory viruses. [Taken from ‘The Six Miracles of COVID’ Health Advice Recovery Team]
Thus, walking Glyka this morning, I felt my back was against the stone wall running down our lane, never mind that it was crumbling with the passing years. What to do? If I decline to be boosted I don’t think I am a health hazard. I don’t think I am being irresponsible. The growing evidence, given the vaccine has not lived up to the hype, is that the unvaccinated and the vaccinated are no more dangerous in terms of transmission to each other than each other. The mandatory vaccination of the over 60s here in Greece owes nothing to its democratic tradition, harking back much more to the dark days of the junta. As with all authoritarianism, it is industrial in its practice. The idea that treatment ought to be tailored to the particular history and circumstances of the individual is an anathema; that the principle of bodily autonomy, ‘our body, our choice’, is fundamental regarded as passe; that a healthy older person with no underlying comorbidities with legitimate concerns about the safety of an experimental drug has every right to demur is seen as utterly unacceptable; and as for the once cherished notion of informed consent that’s consigned to the historical bin.
Obviously, given my analysis of the situation, I should refuse the jab. Yet I prevaricate. I’m perplexed and angry. There’s nothing unique about the corner I’m in. Insofar as it’s special it’s to do with relationships, most intimately with my family. Becoming a ‘refusenik’ would curtail all sorts of simple social acts, just having a morning coffee down in the village. It would prevent me from travelling to see my children and grandchildren. Perhaps, if I was made of sterner stuff I would hold out. As things stand, in the absence of visible collective resistance, I suspect, I will shame-facedly comply. I have until the 16th of January to decide. Rather than be true to the active intent of the slogan, ‘educate, agitate, organise’ I’ll retreat passively into being agitated. I will persuade myself that I will live to fight another day. Will that be when the fourth jab is demanded? History will be the judge.
Across the duration of the ‘pandemic as I have broken out of my own ‘Leftie’ bubble I have discovered a rich range of alternative opinions and analyses. In doing so I don’t think I have abandoned a fundamental commitment to the political struggle for individual, social and political autonomy, the creation of a society, overseen by each of us in concert with one another. However, some of the most stimulating conversations I have entered into have been with liberals and indeed libertarians of a Right-wing hue. Inevitably we have disagreed, often deeply but with a degree of respect. Thankfully voices of left-libertarianism have also soothed my troubled mind but, in truth, not that many. As far as the authoritarian Left from the International Committee of the Fourth International via the Morning Star to the Labour Party is concerned, such a pluralist desire to listen and converse rather than preach in an elevated state of certitude and ‘true’ consciousness is nothing but a sign of dithering weakness and, of course, the curse of ‘false’ consciousness.
Thus, perhaps bloody-mindedly, I shall draw your eyes in the coming weeks to writers from across the political spectrum, who, I think, are worthy of your critical attention.
The first of these is a certain Charles Eisenstein, who I had never heard of a few months ago. Since back in the early 70s and my political awakening I’ve always hated the sloppy and vindictive caricature of those we disagree with as being ‘thick’ and stupid. It remains such a hopeless and arrogant perspective. Charles takes up the question in ‘Divide, Conquer; Unite, Heal’
The media and social media are profuse with hateful sentiments about how the unvaccinated deserve to die, should be denied medical care, are immoral, ignorant, narcissistic, sociopathic, and so on.
I am sorry to observe hate on the other side of the vaccine divide too. Sometimes I see in health freedom communities half-hopeful, gloating posts about how the vaccinated will someday wail and gnash their teeth in abject regret when mass vaccine-induced death shows them the error of their ways. Monikers like “sheeple,” “normies,” and “vaxtards” play into the most dangerous controller agenda of all—to divide and conquer by fostering internecine hatred.
If we who oppose vaccine mandates wish to live in a world based on dignity, we should do everything we can to affirm the dignity of all human beings. By dehumanizing those with opposing views, we reinforce the same pattern that dehumanizes ourselves, the dissidents.
Basically, whether deliberately or not, a situation has been engineered to dispose the public toward division. It is an old formula: Enemies are among us! The unclean put us all at risk! The heretics will bring the wrath of God upon us all!
Let us recognize that ancient formula and how closely the dominant Covid narrative conforms to it. Is that conformity just a coincidence? Were past incitements mere propaganda and hysteria-mongering, but this time the heretics really do put us all at risk? At the very least, we should recognize with grave suspicion any incitement to hatred. We the human family have fallen for that trick so many many times before.
Searching for Understanding in the face of Power and Propaganda: The Impossible Dream
I had a dream last night. Hardly newsworthy but personally troubling. In truth my sleep is often disturbed by nocturnal neurosis. I’m forever anxious in the scenarios summoned up by my unconscious, forever forgetting, forever failing to fulfil tasks or promises, forever letting myself down. Now and again the tales are so real I awake suffused with dread about my comeuppance, thankfully followed by a huge sigh of relief as reality sets in. This feeling of release is almost worth the worrying somnolent journey.
Last night’s dream was a warning. Indeed it was stuffed full of shots across my bow. Friends, comrades and acquaintances, old and new, offered their advice in a variety of styles from a concerned Rogerian whisper to an insistent authoritative instruction. Their recommendations were mouthed in a diversity of settings – a staff meeting, a conference, a trade union demo, the pub or indeed the living room. The message went along the lines of ‘keep your counsel’, ‘best to let all this go’, ‘would be wiser to keep a back seat’ and ‘just shut up about it’. ‘It’ was questioning the COVID narrative.
Unravelling why I was thus reprimanded hardly needed a psychoanalyst. Yesterday I was messing around with a couple of interrelated bits of writing focused on the benefits and deficits of pandemic-led social policy. In particular I was looking at the impact upon children and young people of the closure of schools and youth provision. All the more so as UNISON had underlined in its call for the return of face masks in secondary school classrooms and the reintroduction of “bubbles” the deeply problematic character of the regimes being imposed even when schools are open. As I scribbled, a long-standing trade union activist I was very conscious of treading on thin ice. The more I mused the more critical I became of the stance of both UNISON and the National Education Union [NEU], which seemed to be profoundly at odds with a commitment to pupils and students. I was feeling nervous about how I was going to explain my disagreement.
Then, despite my effort to ignore the news, my Chromebook threw up a notification of the latest SAGE doom-mongering modelling. Reluctantly I visited the Guardian web site to read.
The scale of the threat posed by the Omicron variant was laid bare by government scientists last night as they warned that there are now hundreds of thousands of infections every day. That daily number could reach between 600,000 and 2 million by the end of the month if new restrictions are not brought in immediately. broad
The government’s SPI-M-O group of scientists, which reports to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), also warned that, based on their modelling, hospitalisations could peak between 3,000 and 10,000 a day and deaths at between 600 and 6,000 a day.
I bridled at their stupefying arrogance in claiming that a speculation of ‘between 600 and 6,000 deaths a day’ was somehow scientific. A soothsayer could hardly do worse. I felt anxious and hopeless. The spectre of authoritarianism was returning to haunt both the present and the future.
The advisers suggested reintroducing measures “equivalent to those in place after step 2 or step 1 of the roadmap in England”. Rules at that time included the “rule of six” and just two households meeting; they also barred holidays abroad, while care-home residents were allowed only one regular visitor.
Reviving its role as the Ministry of Fear SAGE marketed a return to a Stage 1 clampdown by suggesting that ‘infections could be limited to between 200,000 and a million a day. Hospitalisations could run at between 1,500 and 5,000 admissions a day and daily deaths would be 200 to 2,000′.
The size and scope of this propaganda stopped me in my tracks. As ever the tame media obeyed the whip, trotting out the cliches – tidal waves and avalanches of cases. Is it any wonder there are a lot? This last week 9,390,590 tests were carried out. Of these 513,574 tested positive, which as we know doesn’t tell us a great deal in terms of the severity of the symptoms. An alternative headline could be ‘almost 9 million people didn’t have COVID’ but that’s hardly the issue. More to the point is that on the back of very limited early data on the OMICRON variant we rush to impose restrictions that have still not been tested for their effectiveness.
Now and again I wake from a dream gasping for breath, believing I am being smothered. I felt something similar, a tightening chest, as I took in the long queues for the all but mandatory booster, reflecting that they were less than likely to be consulted before being jabbed. Wondering too, on what basis have so many embraced apparently the oft confused and inconsistent hegemonic narrative? Matthias Desmet, the Belgian Professor of Psychology at Ghent University advances the notion that those supportive of the dominant version of events are in a state of collective hypnosis. My intuition is to resist such a sweeping generalisation about why people think and act in the ways they do. I am more sympathetic to his view that in an individualistic society bereft of a vision for the future even the imposition from above of a sense of solidarity has furnished a collective purpose, a reason for existence. As of now this an important discussion for another day.
Back to last night I found myself in the wake of the media storm, embarrassed to be thinking, “perhaps I’ll leave posting these thoughts till after Xmas, to when things die down a little.” ‘Why,” I asked myself guiltily? “What on earth are you bothered about?” Weary I retreated to my bed, to be beset therein by the troubling dreams.
This morning, having walked our Glyka and, for her, made the porridge, glistening with honey, I discerned the wood for the trees. The questions asked of me by my ghostly friends were but my own to myself. One in particular leapt out, voiced in the dream by a close comrade of many years. The interlocutor began by pointing out that across fifty years in the youth work world as worker, manager, lecturer and activist I had achieved a decent reputation. Yes, I was seen as something of a radical maverick but a likeable one at that. My friend’s tone altered. Didn’t I realise that challenging the lockdowns, the vaccines will be regarded as siding with the Right, worst of all as abandoning all you have stood for? They warned, if you go any further down this path, you will be cancelled.
Knowing this was in fact what I was thinking myself when I sought sleep last night felt sobering and liberating. Reputations, intact or tattered, are the province of the beholders. Across the last 20 months men and women, high and low, have risked their careers and livelihoods to speak out against tyranny. Proof of the tyrannical nature of society today is the suppression of the ideas and the assassination of the characters of those in opposition to what’s going on. In this context my overnight self-centred anxiety is pathetic. However in its ordinariness it does reveal the obstacles we face in mounting resistance to the creeping toralitarianism, which threatens to be the new norm. There will be so many, who disagree with the present state of affairs but who fear for their jobs and families, scared to speak out.
For what it’s worth, settling my debts, at least for now with my debilitating dream means I will risk getting on the wrong side, being on the wrong side.
More than ever I think we are at a pivotal moment in history.
As I finish this quasi-confessional, Austria has rendered ‘vaccinations’ mandatory with Germany about to follow in its neighbour’s footsteps. The new German Chancellor is quoted as saying, “for my government there are no more red lines as far as doing what needs to be done.” ‘Covid passes’ have been approved in France and the UK. Here in Greece ‘unvaccinated’ pensioners will be fined directly by reducing the amount of their state-pension payments. Whilst in the Victoria State of Australia ‘unvaccinated’ teachers will not be paid during the summer holidays and will be sacked in April if they do not comply with compulsory inoculation. Perhaps I should compile a more extensive account of the heavy-handed measures being taken across the globe. The list goes on….
Democracy faces Dictatorship
Humane, emotional, spiritual and intellectual freedom faces Inhumane, cold, mechanical and behavioural slavery.
For what it’s worth I’ll keep going on about ‘IT’ – in spite of the voices in my dreams.
Searching for Understanding in the face of Power and Propaganda Part Four: Who is misinforming Whom?
From the dramatic announcement of COVID’s deathly appearance at the beginning of 2020 trying to understand what’s been going on has been haunted by the dilemma of who to believe? The dominant narrative is said to be following the Science, absurd but monotonically repeated, its ridiculous simplicity hardly questioned by a compliant mainstream media. More or less any criticism of this narrative has been derided and defamed. Perfectly legitimate, informed and plausible alternatives proposed by scientists thinking differently censored.
None of the following is original and for some readers may seem tedious, even obvious. Yet, in my attempted conversations with others, particularly perhaps members of the better educated as they might put it, I’ve been struck by an unquestioning allegiance to the official line. Indeed implicit is their scarcely veiled view that considering and researching dissent is to sup with the Devil or even David Icke. Or perhaps more mundanely they indicate that such moidering about the nature of the pandemic is unnecessary and discomforting. As best I can, I’ve attempted to follow the dominant explanations of the threat posed by the virus, together with the rebuttals to this controlled consensus offered by a passionate and prestigious array of health professionals and others from across the globe. As it is I cannot possibly cover the range of medical and ethical dilemmas raised by this opposition. Thus I’m going to address the principal areas of contention that seem to come up in the everyday, often frustrating exchanges of the last 18 months. As I often excused myself to my dear late friend, Malcolm Ball, “it’s my best thinking thus far’ and it is in this provisional spirit that the following is offered.
The virus did not appear out of thin air. You and I might have been taken aback, having other stuff on our minds. On the contrary, the ruling class, fronted by its management team of arrogant CEOs, servile politicians and a motley crew of entrepreneurs, behavioural and medical experts, was in quite another place. Given the ongoing economic crisis, the ever-present risk of hyperinflation, the elite was sanguine re the prospect of emergencies, of pandemics. At the very least these occurrences offered both breathing space and a living laboratory within which to test out measures that might be in its interest.
Indeed the powerful had been disappointed by the failure of the 2009 Swine Flu to get off the ground. Vaccines aplenty gone to waste as the frightening forecasts of thousands dead did not materialise. Undeterred, in October 2019 the World Economic Forum and Johns Hopkins University organised Event 201. This was a training exercise based on a zoonotic coronavirus starting a worldwide pandemic. The experience was sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and GAVI the vaccine alliance. The organising executive published its findings and recommendations in November 2019 as a Public-Private Cooperation for PandemicPreparedness and Response: A Call to Action. One month later, China recorded its first case of “Covid”.
The idea of vaccine passports didn’t come out of the blue either. In the autumn of 2019 the European Union published its ‘Vaccination Roadmap’ a long-term policy plan to spread vaccine “awareness and understanding” whilst counteracting “vaccine myths” and combatting “vaccine hesitancy”. It mooted the feasibility of developing a common vaccination card/passport for EU citizens. On September 12, 2019 at the joint EU-WHO ‘Global Vaccination Summit’, they announced the ‘10 Actions Towards Vaccination for All’, which confirmed their shared sense of purpose. Without a doubt, they were ahead of the game.
CASES, CASES, CASES
“It’s just a process that is used to make a whole lot of something out of something. It doesn’t tell you that you are sick and it doesn’t tell you that the thing you ended up with was going to hurt you or anything like that.” [Dr Karry Mullis, Nobel Prize winner for his invention of the PCR test]
The inventor’s caveat has been wilfully ignored by the medical profession. His caution is unbeknown to most of us. The former hail the test as the ‘gold standard’. As for ourselves, bound to trust in the Science, we apparently believe that the test speaks the truth. The number of cases produced by the test, forever spiking and surging, rarely ebbing, represents the existential threat from which all compliance follows. In the mainstream media, for example, the Guardian has carried on its front page throughout a banner citing the number of cases found each and every day. It exudes anxiety. Elsewhere, on the internet’s COVID forums, the members seem to gather in a collective virtual breakfast to peruse the latest figures in their locality. Even a small increase is seemingly welcomed, proof that the followers of the masquerade are blessed to be the righteous and that the ill-disciplined maskless are the Devil’s work.
‘Detection of viral RNA may not indicate the presence of an infectious virus or that 2019-nCoV is the causative agent for clinical symptoms …this test cannot rule out diseases caused by other bacterial or viral pathogens.’ [USA Centre for Disease Control and Prevention]
Those convinced of COVID’s murderous intention shy away from the following concerns regarding its actual presence in our lives.
The PCR test is flawed, unreliable and never intended to be a diagnostic tool.
Insofar as it discovers something, a shred of material, it does not know if this is alive or dead, whether it is the common cold, flu, another respiratory virus or COVID.
Even discovering something depends on the amplification of the material in question, the number of cycles used – less than 30x is likely to produce a negative result, more than 35x likely to be positive. The NHS cycle threshold [Ct] is 40x. The World Health Organisation itself admits that ‘when specimens return a high Ct value, it means that many cycles were required to detect virus. In some circumstances, the distinctionbetween background noise and actual presence of the target virus is difficult to ascertain.‘
Mass testing flies in the face of the normal relationship between a medical practitioner and someone seeking help, advice and diagnosis. Put crudely healthy people with no symptoms do not go to the doctor. The mass testing of the population for a virus with a survival rate of well over 99% is a remarkable step to take. Inevitably the more the testing, the more the cases. Significantly the daily record of cases, seized upon by the media, is never broken down. What symptoms are being found and to what degree are these being displayed by those tested positive?
In fact, the majority of covid cases/infections seem to be asymptomatic with over 75% experiencing little or no symptoms. It is unsurprising that this awkward statistic has been buried and replaced by the outrageous deceit of ‘asymptomatic transmission’. Key to the spread of fear has been the notion that anyone, friend, neighbour or passer-by could be without anyone knowing dangerously infectious. This misanthropic myth continues to inform the belief that children are a threat to their elders, particularly the eldest, their beloved grandparents.
“From the data we have, it still seems to be rare that an asymptomatic person actually transmits onward to a secondary individual.” [Dr Maria Van Kerkhove, head of the WHO’s emerging diseases and zoonosis unit}
The WHO confirmed that asymptomatic spread was not a consideration when it stated in a media briefing in June 2020: ‘Based on our data, it seems unlikely that an asymptomatic carrier will transmit the infection to someone else. We have a number of reports from other countries. They monitor asymptomatic carriers, their contacts, and do not detect further transmission.’
Certainly, the issue of the number of people entering hospital as a result of COVID is acute. Yet even here all is not straightforward. According to Public Health England, a ‘Covid hospitalisation’ is anyone admitted to hospital for any reason within 28 days of a positive Covid test. This includes patients, who are admitted for other medical reasons and given the regularity of testing within a notoriously infectious institution have every chance of becoming a positive case.
Almost from the beginning of the ‘pandemic’ to demur from the official line has been met with the emotive cry, ‘there are people dying!’ The inference is plain and passionately declaimed. To be dissident is to display one’s callous indifference to loss of life. It is a charge that sticks in the craw, coming as it often does from people, who have turned their backs across the decades against the catastrophic consequences of capitalist exploitation and imperialist adventures – millions dead, the brutal legacy of its barbarism. It is a smear, all the more offensive, coming from people, who have voted without a moment’s doubt for the privatised dismembering of the NHS, prior to now ostentatiously clapping in orchestrated coordination for the poorly paid carers, to whom previously they’ve never given a fleeting thought of concern. Critically this wilful, deluded ignorance pays no attention whatsoever to the damage wrought by the one-sided policy, the lives lost and ruined by default. As I write no rigorous audit has been undertaken to weigh up the human costs on either side of the COVID balance sheet. Twenty months on, why hasn’t there been a serious cost-benefit anaysis?
Like it or not the number of heart-rending deaths from COVID is grossly inflated. Countries around the globe have been defining a ‘Covid death’ as a ‘death by any cause within 28/30/60 days of a positive test’. Removing any distinction between dying of COVID itself, and dying with COVID from something else distorts utterly the situation we are facing.
The vast majority of COVID deaths have serious underlying comorbidities. In March 2020, the Italian government published statistics showing 99.2% of their COVID death had at least one serious comorbidity. These included cancer, heart disease, dementia, Alzheimer’s, kidney failure and diabetes, among others. Over 50% of the deceased had three or more serious pre-existing health problems. This pattern seems to hold up across the globe. In the UK an October 2020 Freedom of Information request to to the Office of National Statistics revealed less than 10% of the official “COVID death” count at the time identified COVID as the sole cause of death.
Is it covidiotic to question whether COVID is the 21st-century version of the Great Plague of 1665, an explicit and implicit analogy utilised cynically by the army of doom-mongers in the service of the powerful?
‘Experience has shown that communities faced with epidemics or other adverse events respond best and with the least anxiety when the normal social functioning of the community is least disrupted’.[ Donald Henderson 2006 – architect of the victory over smallpox]
In Spring 2020, here on Crete, the first round of the general lockdown was surreal. By chance, I was in Chania, a big city by our standards, on the first day of restrictions. The atmosphere was light-hearted as the sophisticated Xaniots laughed and elbowed rather than hugged and kissed one another. Back in my rural village, a gentle philosophy prevailed. The almost deserted streets reminded the older residents of life in the 1960s – only the donkeys were missing. Quickly, though, the good humour evaporated as the impact of all but closing down people’s lives hit home. Family and community ties threatened. Children and young people’s education undermined. Small businesses devastated. Society’s good health on all sorts of levels, mental and physical visibly worsened.
Lockdowns do not prevent the spread of disease. There is scant evidence that this draconian intervention decreases the number of COVID deaths. Comparisons between regions that locked down and those that didn’t has revealed no discernible pattern.
In October 2020 Dr David Nabarro, World Health Organization special envoy for Covid-19 described lockdowns as a ‘global catastrophe[.
‘We in the World Health Organization do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of the virus[…] it seems we may have a doubling of world poverty by next year. We may well have at least a doubling of child malnutrition […] This is a terrible, ghastly global catastrophe.‘
Unemployment, poverty, suicide, alcoholism, drug use and other social/mental health crises are, to borrow a term, surging all over the world. Meanwhile, missed, delayed surgeries and screenings are inevitably going to see increased mortality from such as heart disease and cancer in the immediate future….and inexorably increase the pressure on health services world-wide. Meanwhile in the UK as winter beckons, what’s new?
Yet we are constantly told that lockdowns will protect the NHS. Yet as part of its COVID policy, the NHS announced in Spring of 2020 that it would be “re-organizing hospital capacity in new ways to treat Covid and non-Covid patients separately” and that “as result hospitals will experience capacity pressures at lower overall occupancy rates than would previously have been the case.” Thus the NHS reduced the possible occupancy of beds in the face of a supposedly deadly pandemic. In addition, millions were spent on emergency ‘Nightingale’ hospitals, which never saw action in the war on COVID. Contradiction and inconsistency abound. Hypocrisy and opportunism ever present. Dedication and concern exhausted.
Lockdowns kill people. There is growing evidence that lockdowns – through worsening people’s social and economic circumstances – are deadlier than COVID with all its inevitable variants.
For those wedded to the official narrative wearing a mask has become the emblem of being responsible, of illustrating a philanthropic concern for the common good. For those of us at odds the donning of a face covering signals abject obedience to the State, a misanthropic mistrust of fellow human beings. Of course, life is more complicated and contradictory than this dualism. None of which prevents governments wheeling on stage the mask mandate whenever convenient.
On the ground, as ever, the ordinary reality defies the exhortations from the corridors of privilege. The ridiculous idea that people, as they go about their business, are split between the diligently covered and the negligently naked is forever exposed. On the streets of Chania, my nearest urban setting, the inhabitants wear masks or none, wear them below the nose, chin, hanging around their necks or wrists, wear them clean or mucky as they prefer. Some kilometres away, only the other day on a moon-lit evening in my village square we gathered together to celebrate the lighting of the Christmas Tree. With little sense of eccentricity or irresponsibility, almost none of us felt the need to hide our faces. I suspect that this mishmash of responses to the masking mandate is quite typical. Instinctively we mistrust this imposed relational barrier. At best we are half-hearted in our compliance. Most of the time we neither do it properly nor consistently. Against this messy backcloth, the idea that politicians and advisers can make positive claims about the efficacy of masking is absurd.
Three weeks before the UK’s first lockdown, the UK’s Chief Medical Officer advised that “In terms of wearing a mask, our advice is clear: that wearing a mask if you don’t have an infection reduces the risk almost not at all. So we do not advise that.” Then, with absolutely no new hard evidence to change that assessment, politics trumped science when masks were legally mandated on public transport in England on 15 June last year and then on 24 July in shops.
Masks don’t work. At least a dozen scientific studies have shown that masks do nothing to stop the spread of respiratory viruses. To add insult to injury masks aren’t that good for us. Wearing one for long periods, wearing the same one more than once is not so smart. I’ll leave till another day the obscenity of insisting that children are masked.
Masks aren’t great news for the planet. Millions upon millions of disposable masks have been used per month for over a year. A report from the UN found the COVID pandemic will likely result in plastic waste, notably in the form of face masks. more than doubling in the next few years.
In essence the mask seeks to muzzle us into obedience. It confirms that we are in dire danger. It demands that we police one another into compliance. It is the visible expression of the desire to divide us from one another, to undermine our humanity. It is about social and political control. It serves no other purpose.
I’m a post-Second World War child, never thought much about vaccinations. They seemed, as best I remember, a very good thing, giving long-lasting protection against threats such as measles and polio, the latter especially. Insofar as I thought about it, medical advance was to be welcomed. Later on, my naivete was briefly disturbed by the thalidomide tragedy, all the more so as I fell in love with the voice of Thomas Quasthoff.
I was moved by his fortitude and his amazing talent before shrugging my shoulders and hiding my head in the sands. Yet, somehow and from somewhere, when the ‘pandemic’ kicked off I was wary about the leading role being assumed by Big Pharma and the promise of vaccine salvation. In particular, I was struck by the lack of interest in finding immediate ways of ameliorating the symptoms of COVID infection.
The COVID ‘vaccines’ are unprecedented. Before 2020 no successful vaccine against a human coronavirus had been developed. While traditional vaccines work by exposing the body to a weakened strain of the microorganism responsible for causing the disease, these new COVID ‘vaccines’ are the product of a laboratory breakthrough in genomic sequencing. So far, so good and clearly there is much promise. However the inventor of the technology himself, Dr Robert Malone has expressed serious concern about its use in the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
The mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) vaccines theoretically work by injecting viral mRNA into the body, where it replicates inside your cells and encourages your body to recognise and make antigens in response to the “spike proteins” of the virus. They have been the subject of research since the 1990s, but before 2020 no mRNA vaccine was ever approved for use.
Despite claims by corporate-funded fact-checking sites that everything about the ‘vaccines’, despite the rapidity of their evolution is above board, there is no getting away from the fact that the drugs are on trial. They are only in use because of enabling emergency authorisation provided by the United States Food and Drug Agency [FDA]. Confidence in the process is not enhanced when, for example, Pfizer admits:
‘The long-term effects and efficacy of the Vaccine are not currently known and that there may be adverse effects of the Vaccine that are not currently known’.
Such an admission troubles not our governments, granting vaccine manufacturers legal indemnity if unfortunately, their products inflict harm. The USA’s Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act (PREP) grants immunity until at least 2024. A similar EU licensing law offers the same protection, whilst the UK not to be outdone has agreed on permanent indemnity for any harm done when a patient is being treated for COVID.
At the centre of an utterly legitimate caution or refusal to be inoculated has been the complete ditching of the principle of informed consent. To take the obvious how many of those vaccinated were anything but the next in the queue? How many were involved in a serious conversation ahead of the jab about the ups and downs of being inoculated, about the possible immediate and longer-term consequences?
The public at large was encouraged to believe that it would be fully vaccinated after two jabs, the implication being that full protection would be forthcoming. In fact, the vaccine manufacturers themselves knew full well that the efficacy of their gene-based creations was based on ’reducing the severity of symptoms’. Indeed at a later moment conducive to its interests, they have granted that the ‘vaccines’ do not confer immunity or prevent transmission. From which sobering time we have entered the period of the much-needed 6 months, nay 3-month booster. Evidently, the protection from the vaccine wanes quickly after 90 days. Perchance the vaccine is not the triumph trumpeted. Perhaps we can imagine the setting up of a national vaccination subscription scheme. All of these developments are intimately related to the contrived anxiety about what are the inevitable appearance of variants.
Are we not allowed a wry smile at the calculated coincidence of circumstances? An Omicron variant of mild disposition triggers a global panic, lends fuel to renewed restrictions on social existence. Thankfully Big Pharma rides to the rescue, not only in the shape of today’s boosters but also tomorrow’s. BioNtech’s CEO steps up to the plate, announcing that his company will have an Omicron-targeted 3 dose [!] vaccine on the market by March! Surely, surely we smell a rat. Enough for now.
I’ve scribbled a number of versions of this post and binned them, All in danger of saying far too much and saying far too little. This effort could go the same way but it is what is, replete with weaknesses and silences. It will have to do for now. It is merely food for thought.
If I’m to recommend just one alternative source of information, analysis and opinion about COVID it is Swiss Policy Research
Amongst lacunae I hope to fill in a Part Five made up of shorter pieces are:
Masking and Vaccinating Children and Young People
The suppression of alternative treatments for COVID
The demise of the individual patient and her replacement by people as generalised infection risks
Focused Protection and Immunity
Big Pharma and Profit
Vaccination Passports and the pandemic of the vaccinated
Hopefully, the latter discussion will return me to my overwhelming concern – the character of the present profound social, political and economic crisis, the totalitarian intentions of the ruling class and the possibilities of collective resistance.
A final necessary confession. Back in June I succumbed to pressures largely of my own making and had the second of my Astra-Zeneca jabs. As a fit 74 year old I didn’t feel vulnerable but I wanted to travel to see family and dear friends. My rationalisation didn’t prevent me from shedding a few pathetic tears. Time does not stand still. I am not off the leash of principle. If I am to remain an approved member of society the Greek government demands that I have a booster in the next few months. We will see what transpires.
As a child and a young person, Remembrance Sunday was always a moment of great importance in my family. My father unfurled the Union Jack on the flag pole in our council house garden. Moustache waxed, smartly turned out, a sailor, he was the proud bearer of the White Ensign standard as we marched to the Cenotaph. Only half grasping the common bond uniting the men and women, who had in differing ways experienced the ravages of war, the ceremony touched my youthful soul. The impeccable, almost endless silence broken by the mournful, moving bugle sounding the Last Post. The profound sense of loss expressed in Laurence Binyon’s ‘For the Fallen’.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning We will remember them.
As I grew older I rebelled against my father’s patriotism. For quite a time I adopted the view that Remembrance Sunday had lapsed ironically into a celebration of war, into a justification for the excessive spending on Defence. I kept a somewhat pompous distance from the proceedings. I didn’t don a red poppy. My pomposity was paralleled by the ritualistic and ostentatious self-righteousness displayed by those poppy-wearers in the public eye.
My own pretence was pricked a quarter of a century ago. The occasion was a visit to the Second World War German cemetery in Maleme on the island of Crete. Row upon eternal row of simple headstones stretched into the distance remembering hundreds of dead German soldiers aged 16 to 18 years. Hardly a stone’s throw away, I stood moist-eyed once more in front of a village memorial commemorating the execution of the young and old men of the Cretan Resistance. In whose interests was this tragic, bloody loss of life?
The experience led me back to reading afresh descriptions and analyses of the World Wars. To an extent, I could get my head around the Second being the defence of Democracy against Fascism. However, no such positive rationale surfaced to soften my anger and tears at the meaningless slaughter of a generation from aristocrat to proletarian in the First. In whose possible interests could this frightening futility be imagined? For what it’s worth I understand the First as an inexorable consequence of the political and economic crisis of the day and the ruling class imperative to establish a new order of power and influence. In its malevolent eyes, youth could and would pay the price,
Anthem for Doomed Youth
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle? — Only the monstrous anger of the guns. Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle Can patter out their hasty orisons. No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells; Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,— The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells; And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all? Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes. The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall; Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds, And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.
As a few people know I’ve been trying in recent weeks to pull together my thoughts about the manufactured COVID pandemic, described by the British Prime Minister as a war within which we’re all in it together. Given my history within youth work, I’ve been struck from the outset of this campaign and the imposition of the lockdown by the thrusting of young people into the frontline of this supposed battle, starved of resources. Their mentors, be they youth workers or teachers, have not been the collective of conscientious objectors demanded by these times as youth centres were abandoned and schools closed. And, of course, as it has suited, young people have been accused without a shred of evidence of being traitors to the cause, irresponsible ‘super-spreaders’, failing in the responsibility to protect their elders.
However, my growing anxiety about what is being done to young people as part of the elite’s need to create a renewed capitalist order was deepened with the news a few days ago coming out of the USA. In key cities such as New York and Chicago, children, five years upwards are being offered a $100 bribe to get the experimental drug. On the basis of what medical evidence and what sort of ethics does a society agree to ‘vaccinate’ children, who are neither at risk themselves nor a risk to others? And in seeking to do so, hasn’t the slightest idea of what might be the medium and long-term consequences? This flagrant disregard of a fundamental principle of medicine that its practitioners do no harm is the tip of the iceberg when it comes to assessing the harm being done to today’s younger generation. Breasts are belatedly beaten as the inevitable impact on their mental health and their prospects for the future is revealed.
I fear that a Third World War of a contemporary character is unfolding. As in 1914 and 1939 capitalism is in crisis and seeks to establish a new order, a new normal that maintains, even increases its power over humanity. In this conflict, the younger generation is to the fore. Of course, my sweeping speculations, my problematic generalisations, my homogenisation of young people may be wide of the mark. However, in an immediate sense. whatever the failings of my broader analysis, young people and ourselves are facing an assault on taken-for-granted rights, unimaginable but two years ago.
To take perhaps an extreme example of the demands being made upon both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated from Australia, the first are obliged to carry proof to be ‘free’, the second excluded from New Normal existence. “If you want your freedoms, get the jab” cries the State Premier. **
Since October in France, the country’s health pass – or pass sanitaire – has been extended to under-18s, meaning all teenagers will need to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test to access places like cinemas, museums, restaurants and indoor shopping centres. Here on Crete, as of last Saturday, the everyday simple act of sipping a greek coffee in the village kafeneio requires showing QR codes and identity cards. Even on their own terms, these restrictions are riddled with contradictions, which I will speak to in Part Four of ‘Searching for an Understanding in the Face of Power and Propaganda.’
The generation, in whom we place our hopes for a more just and democratic society, is being trained to accept that freedom is the possession of the State. Obedience makes free.
To return to my father and his comrades statuesque and dignified as the Last Post pierced the cold November air, they believed they had fought for a better future. I remember to this day my dad’s explanation of why it was right to fight. ” We did it so my country would be a place where you would never have to show your papers to live”.
To put the Queensland draconian restrictions into context the official State COVID figures from March 1 to November 13, 2021, are:
“There will be 500,000 deaths in the UK.” Neil Ferguson, Imperial College. March 16, 2020
“The perceived level of threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent. using hard-hitting emotional messaging.” SAGE [SPI-B]. March 22, 2020
“The coronavirus is the biggest threat this country has faced for decades. All over the world, we are seeing the devastating impact of this invisible killer. From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.” Boris Johnson, March 23, 2020
These three utterances capture the conscious hyperbole and calculated cynicism inherent in the outpourings of both politicians and their hand-picked experts at the beginning of 2020. Despite the pronouncements of the World Health Organisation [WHO] and Patrick Vallance, the UK’s Chief Scientific Advisor [March 13, 2020], ‘a very mild illness for nearly all of us’, the die was cast. The people of the UK, man, woman and even child, were to be frightened, terrorised. That they knew little of what they should be afeard was by the by. The people were deemed too ignorant to understand. The democratic notion that they should be informed and decide upon the appropriate response, nothing but absurd. This was war and only the High Command could possibly know what was best.
“Is there any means known more effective than war, assuming you wish to alter the life of an entire people?” — minutes of the Carnegie Foundation, 1908.
As for the enemy, the virus did not play fair. It could not be bombed, or even. so it proved. vaccinated out of existence. The virus itself was irritated by the abstract name by which it was designated, COVID-19, but pleased as its offspring were graced with Greek epithets, Alpha, Beta, Delta. How long might this go on – even unto Zita? In truth, the virus doubted such a historic possibility. Its impact upon the mass of unfortunates who crossed its path was in the main little out of the ordinary – headache, cough, temperature, tiredness, lack of taste, the shivers if badly affected, hardly anything if not. Its forefathers and mothers had inflicted much the same. In truth the virus felt a mite guilty, its conscience pricked. Here, there and everywhere, in the end, COVID-19 was primarily a deathly problem for the old and/or vulnerable with underlying complications. The virus thought they were too easy a target for a pathogen, said to be an existential threat to humanity.
In Greece, where I live, as of November 1, 52 deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours, bringing the overall total of pandemic victims to 15,990. Of these, 95.4% had an underlying condition and/or were aged 70 or over. The official percentage figure is typical across Europe . It is time to put aside my personalization of the virus. Not least because treating the virus as a sentient being has been a staple throughout the mainstream narrative. The virus, it is said, has closed schools, youth groups and playgrounds, pubs and restaurants, parks and gyms. Indeed in its cunning, it leaves you alone when dining, mask set aside but stalks you to the toilet if you forget the face covering. For the virus is struck dumb in the face of masks, worn properly or otherwise, rendered impotent. Why this plastic face cloth should warn off the virus is irretrievably woven into the mythology of the pandemic. Evidence for its efficacy is thin on the ground – see Part Four of this rant. However the manufactured tension between the masked and the maskless, the good and the bad, the obedient and disobedient, the responsible and irresponsible has been deeply divisive. It has turned us against each other, serving to distract our attention from those who are responsible for the 18-month worth of imposed interventions into our daily existence. Divide and rule so the old saying goes. As I write the unvaccinated in Greece are being denied access indoors to kafenia and tavernas, the beating heart of community life.
All of which returns us into the arrogant hands of the medical and behavioural experts gathered together in March 2020. Pompously they ignored the fundamental premise of a holistic public health policy. This held that when faced with a specific health threat the response must, at one and the same time, deal with the particular whilst taking full account of any actions taken upon the general health of society as a whole. The consequences of this skewed strategy – the impact upon the mental health of so many people, not least children, to take but one example – was criminally ignored until the last few months. I must confess to a distaste for the crocodile tears shed lately. Anyone remotely in touch with the worlds of formal and informal education, health and social care, knew full well that lockdown would be harmful for the younger generation.
No matter, the first national press conference set the scene, a nervous Prime Minister, deprived of buffoonery, flanked by his experts and following an ignorant, one-sided notion of the Science, warned us of catastrophe if we did not do as we were told. The assembled press concurred. These journalists, an embarrassment to their profession, the stenographers of our times, nodded and took dictation. Touching their forelock they asked the meek and mildest of questions. Criticism, even curiosity was frowned upon. The next morning the mainstream media from the Sun to the Guardian shared the shorthand and replicated in unison the government’s propaganda. Labour, desiring to prove its conservative credentials, to be tougher than tough on the virus, parroted the line.
On what you might regard as a flimsy personal aside, the order to stay at home didn’t seem quite right to me. Growing up as a child in the 1950s, Doctor Cull, the community’s and my family’s faithful GP insisted that when I had a cold I should get as much fresh air as possible. Later, in my teens, given my dad worked down the pit, I went with him several times to the Miners’ Convalescent Home in Southport. There we would push many a collier with respiratory problems along the seafront and the length of the magnificent prom. Taken away from the cramped terraced houses of their birth the bracing air was seen as vital to their recovery.
As for the behaviourist vanguard leading the fight, knowing that the virus was nowhere near lethal for the majority, it determined that a marketing strategy was required. The plague needed to be advertised. In the absence of dead bodies on the streets, people might well not pay sufficient notice. The relentless brainwashing was set in motion. The slogans abounded, appealing to a smug sanctity.
STAY HOME, PROTECT THE NHS, SAVE LIVES PROTECT YOUR LOVED ONES I WASH MY HANDS TO PROTECT MY NAN I WASH MY HANDS TO PROTECT MY FAMILY I WEAR A FACE-COVERING TO PROTECT MY MATES I MAKE SPACE TO PROTECT YOU
And, almost criminal in their lack of ethical concern.
IF YOU DO GO OUT YOU CAN SPREAD IT. PEOPLE WILL DIE DON’T KILL GRANNY CORONAVIRUS. ANYONE CAN GET IT. ANYONE CAN SPREAD IT DON’T MEET UP WITH MATES. HANGING ABOUT IN PARKS COULD KILL
Without a doubt, these formulaic sound-bites marked young people’s cards in a time-honoured way. If they met in the park or wherever any rise in cases was down to their self-centred insubordination.
When it comes to assessing the ups and downs of the pandemic in statistical terms the mainstream media know only the language of spikes and surges. Nothing is contextualised. The Guardian, once the go-to bastion of liberal, progressive, pluralist journalism carries a daily banner indicating cases, hospitalisations and deaths. These categories are only revelatory if they are broken down. This is never the case. To do so would uncover all manner of inconsistency and distortion. Meanwhile, the Guardian eschews any idea that it should promote a critical exchange between differing analyses of the pandemic predicament. Rather it exudes sneering scorn for any departure from COVID-19 orthodoxy. It sinks to the level of the tabloids in running anecdotes, dripping with an ‘I told you so’ self-righteousness – ‘Anti-vaxxer, dies from Covid’ and ‘Anonymous, agonising parent says her child was bullied at school for having the vaccine.’ On the global scale, it ran in April with headlines such as ‘The system has collapsed’: India’s descent into Covid hell’ accompanied by stock photos of burning pyres of the dead. In fact, the images reflected only the traditional Hindu response to the end of mortality. After two days the Guardian conspicuously forgot about India. The sub-continent’s purpose was served.
The Guardian, the BBC and all profess not a word about the suppression of competing interpretations of the pandemic offered up by a diversity of alternative media sources. Evidently, anyone disputing the mainstream narrative, whatever their prestigious medical credentials or their biography of intellectual integrity is to be contemptuously dismissed as an anti-vaxxer or conspiracy theorist. It matters not that they are neither. The slander is sufficient. Depressingly, leading lights of the Left such as Owen Jones and Paul Mason define dissent as dangerous, even calling for the closing down of criticism. Meanwhile, the unelected, corporate arbiters of truth at Facebook or Google can censor any opinion at odds with the status quo without a questioning murmur. The Guardian, self-styled independent and investigative, remains silent. On April 23, 2020, OFCOM, the UK’s communications regulatory body issued the instruction that health claims contrary to the government’s policies should be perceived as harmful. The censorship is excused by the deeply contrary notion of ‘misinformation’. No such sense of contradiction can be found in the launch in the USA of Good Information Inc by ‘progressive’ billionaires Reid Hoffman, George Soros, and others. The public benefit corporation, led by former Democratic Party strategist, Tara McGowan will fund new media companies and efforts that cut through echo chambers with fact-based information. Presumably with a straight face and without a hint of doubt McGowan says that ‘the group’s goal in the next year is to raise more awareness about immediate solutions to counter disinformation before it spreads.
Embedding ‘Covid-safe’ behaviours into people’s everyday routines will require a coordinated programme to shape the financial, physical, and social infrastructure in the United Kingdom. Education, regulation, communications, and social marketing, and provision of resources will be required to ensure that all sections of society have the capability, opportunity, and motivation to enact the behaviours long term.[my emphasis]
Michie is quoted widely as stating in a June interview that face coverings and social distancing should become permanent. Much has been made of her four decades-long membership of the British Communist Party. For those of us with a communist disposition, inspired by the young Marx, by Pannekoek, by CLR James, by Castoriadis, by Kropotkin and Bakunin, the vision’s corruption by its all-too understandable connection with the parties of that name is always frustrating. In essence, she is a ‘soft’ Stalinist, a technocrat and social engineer, utterly comfortable with knowing what is best for us. Hers is a bureaucratic collectivism. It is of significance that, starved of the elixir of militancy and clutching at straws, the Left as a whole has been seduced by her top-down version of ‘nudged’ solidarity. The orchestrated Clap For Carers, the apparent widespread adoption of masking has been interpreted as a prefigurative philanthropic expression of class struggle. I am less than convinced. For my part, I have come across, amongst others, the seriously scared, the pragmatic, ‘best comply or I’ll be fined’ and the misanthropic maskaloholics, who see the worst in all of us. Perhaps I’m not seeing the house for the bricks but I’ve not detected much political energy in the compliant. If I get to Part Five I’ll try to tangle with the crucial issues of what we might mean in this tumult by notions of solidarity and resistance.
Michie’s report follows the contemporary mantra ‘that till everyone is safe no one is safe’, which begs more than a few questions. For example, is it possible to be truly alive and fearful of existence? The goal though is to render the desired risk-free behaviour Normal, Easy, Attractive and Routine [NEAR]. There is much fashionable, shallow talk in the report of co-creation and co-production but only if you agree to the behavioural necessities in advance. In reality, the strategy will be delivered through a partnership between the state and corporations, who will deliver and monitor the desired changes in our individual and collective behaviour.
Susan Michie’s politics and ambitions are in tune with the desires of the Great Reset I touched on in Part One of these musings – the passage towards a global-led technocratic and surveillance capitalism. I have little doubt she supports the proposal that some form of global governance has to be achieved, a medium of control requiring ‘scientific’ regulation and a central role for experts. I have every expectation that she will be invited to speak about her research at the next Davos summit.
As I pen the last few words of this cry of concern about the insidious and insistent influence of behaviourism on our lives, the mainstream media continues to collude with its compulsory agenda of anxiety, After all, during the pandemic, the UK government has become its primary source of funding, hand in hand with Big Pharma sponsorship. Once more balanced reporting about the ‘experimental’ vaccines is shunned. In short the media’s unquestioning support for a vaccination programme from almost cradle to grave serves to deepen the divide between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, the latter collapsed into the reprehensible, even sinister category of ‘anti-vaxxers’. I will look more closely at the contentious medical issues raised in Part Four. For the moment the ‘othering’ of those, who for legitimate, informed and thoughtful reasons decline vaccination is deeply disturbing. The enemy is indeed within. It is one another. The SAGE group’s campaign of fear has willfully disregarded the British Psychological Society [BPS] code of ethics. In her formidable book, A State of Fear. Laura Dodsworth draws attention to Gary Sidley, a psychologist, who has challenged the BPS without success. In worrying about the tactics used by SAGE and the implications for our children and grandchildren, he says:
I don’t want to think about that really. It’s not a good place. There is something distinctive about using fear to get people to conform which is so distasteful and ethically unacceptable. Fear impacts on every aspect of our being.
In reality, behaviourism has no such qualms. It spreads its strangulating tentacles worldwide, confident in its certainty and immune to considerations of ethics or politics. It will serve authoritarianism, whatever its ideological hue. To take but the British incarnation the Behavioural Insights Team [BIT], affectionately or otherwise known as the Nudge Unit, initiated by David Cameron in 2010. According to Dodsworth, the Nudge Unit is ‘now a profit-making social purpose limited company with offices in London, Manchester, Paris, New York, Singapore, Sydney, Wellington and Toronto. It has run more than 750 projects and in 2019 alone worked in 31 countries. It has conducted over 1000 workshops for governments around the world, training 20,000 civil servants in behavioural insights.’
If anything it is the debilitating influence of these pseudo-scientific experts that ought to render us fearful rather than cheerful. They are nothing but the purveyors of official propaganda, the enemies of democracy and of the open, argumentative education that creates critical citizens.
By knowing how people think we can make it easier for them to choose what is best for them their families and Society [Thaler and Sunstein  ‘Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness]]
.We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”
― Edward Bernays, Propaganda, 1928
A passionate riposte is demanded. Bernays’ rationalisation of the status quo refused. We will not be moulded and manipulated. We reject their assumed authority. We are not puppets, the playthings of the powerful. We will decide together in questioning dialogue with one another, what is best for us, our families and society. We commit ourselves to the struggle for an authentic democracy.
[Part Four will examine the medical evidence, whilst Part Five will explore in relation to the pandemic, the slide to authoritarianism and the shift to technocratic capitalism the questions of agency and resistance.]
In looking at the pandemic from an economic and political perspective I will proceed from what might be seen as the ABC of a critical analysis.
It is necessary to ground what we are looking at in the specific circumstances of the time.
In doing so we should be mindful also of the historical context if this seems pertinent and we might allow ourselves a speculation about the future if appropriate.
Additionally we must situate the phenomenon being scrutinised in the power relations of society. Cui bono? Whose interests are served by the way in which the object of our concern is characterized; by the way in which governments respond; by the way in which the people respond and so on?
My starting point is both simple and profound. The COVID-19 pandemic expresses first and foremost a crisis of capitalism’s health, much less so a crisis of our individual and collective physical health. I shall seek to give substance to this assertion which if true has enormous consequences both for our day-to-day existence and the ongoing struggle to create an autonomous and democratic society.
As for weighing up what’s going on in 2021, I’ll go back no further historically than the Second World War. I acknowledge the following sketch is rough and ready but it’s no more than a starter for a critical exchange of views.I wonder if such a proposal to be argumentative makes any sense in these dualist and censorious times.
The Social-Democratic Consensus
As the war came to an end the capitalist class was afeard. Talk of radical and revolutionary change hung in the acrid air. To retain their overall control they conceded the following:
An acceptance of the mixed economy, public and private cooperation, the nationalisation of basic utilities – water, electricity and so on.
An agreement that the leaders of the working class should have a seat at the table,
A recognition of the value of universal free education, social and health care.
However grudging, an allowance that the individual, the social and the political are inextricably intertwined.
The Neoliberal Fightback
Thirty years later influential sections of the ruling class were increasingly unhappy about the post-war social contract. Certainly, they were concerned to restore their share of the profits but were also deeply troubled by the growing pressure exerted by working-class militancy and the rise of the social movements demanding equality and justice. To retain their control they set in motion a counter-offensive. Its cornerstones were:
A rejection of the mixed economy and an explicit commitment to the primacy of the ‘free’ market as being the ultimate expression of what is good for everyone, rich or poor.
The utter necessity to undermine the autonomous organisation of the working class and the social movements, exemplified by the 1984/85 violent assault on the National Union of Mineworkers and the softer seduction of leaders and activists from the women’s, black and gay movements into managerial roles serving the neoliberal project.
The launch of an extraordinarily ambitious social engineering project designed to alter our very personalities; to privatise our existence, turning us in on ourselves as individuals and away from collective understandings of our situations; to see ourselves as passive consumers rather than active citizens.
Neoliberalism in crisis
The 2008 banking collapse served notice that the neoliberal economic model was broken. An opportunity of resistance beckoned. In the marginal world of youth work, I argued that we should reassert youth work as open, volatile and voluntary in opposition to the increasingly taken-for-granted closed, imposed, scripted version – youth work as intuition rather than youth work by numbers.
On the broader front, significant protest raged across the world but it was fragmented and largely contained. Nevertheless, the ruling class was shaken and stirred. Across the next decade, it was forced to act pragmatically, bailing out the banks with a massive infusion of ‘public’ money, whilst trying to work out a longer-term strategy that served its interests and maintained its power. The sticking plaster of quantitative easing hid the reality of unsustainable debt, the austerity-imposed immiseration of millions and the obscenity of the rich getting ever richer.
The United Nations poverty adviser, Philp Alston compared contemporary Tory policy to that which had created the workhouses of the nineteenth century. Research undertaken at the University of Bristol led by David Gordon illustrated that in the UK [population 69 million] 18 million people could not afford adequate housing; 12 million were too poor to engage in many forms of social activity; whilst 4 million children and adults were not fed properly. However, austerity was not too austere for the richest 1,000 in the UK, who increased their wealth by 60 billion pounds in a single year, 2017/18.
My guess is that from a ruling class perspective these themes have dominated their many extravagant meetings in snowy Swiss or sunny Mediterranean resorts.
A compelling shift to believing that some form of global governance had to be achieved. The vision would require ‘scientific’ regulation, a central role for experts and the obedience of the senior management representing compliant states.
Hindering such a sweeping move would be nation-states with notions of autonomy and democracy itself, even in its limited representative guise, along with dissident collectives and dangerous maverick individuals.
How might an alienated population, exhausted from work, deprived of work, retired from work be persuaded to go along with a major restructuring of social relations in favour of the powerful at the expense of the powerless?
Towards a global-led technocratic and surveillance capitalism
The reference group for grasping the strategic thinking of the powerful in a period of profound social, political and economic crisis is the World Economic Forum [WEF], which in its own words is “the global platform for public-private cooperation, of partnerships between businessmen, politicians, intellectuals and other leaders of society to define, discuss and advance key issues on the global agenda.” On board amongst many are Amazon, Google, Facebook, Barclays, Deutsche Bank, Morgan Chase, AstraZeneca, Pfizer, the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations – all powerhouses on the international scene – not to mention the World Health Organisation and International Monetary Fund.
Somewhat in passing I find it intriguing that to comment on the intimate social connections between these corporations is often now dismissed as a sign of that neurotic condition, ‘conspiritatis’. Similarly it is seen almost as a cheap trick to pursue the money, to scrutinise the financial chicanery of these shakers and movers. When, to my mind, these avenues of inquiry are the basis of investigative journalism and social research, of speaking truth to power, if you will forgive such a hackneyed phrase.
To return to the question of the elite’s thinking, sections within its ranks have long felt that some sort of global overview of the social, political and economic order was necessary. To take but one example, Zbigniew Brzezinski, later Jimmy Carter’s Security Advisor, in his 1970 book ‘Between Two Ages: America’s Role in the Technetronic Era’. wrote:
“The technetronic era involves the gradual appearance of a more controlled society. Such a society would be dominated by an elite, unrestrained by traditional values. Soon it will be possible to assert almost continuous surveillance over every citizen and maintain up-to-date complete files containing even the most personal information about the citizen. These files will be subject to instantaneous retrieval by the authorities.”
“The nation-state as a fundamental unit of man’s organized life has ceased to be the principal creative force: International banks and multinational corporations are acting and planning in terms that are far in advance of the political concepts of the nation-state”
This globalising technology-led tendency has gathered pace in the last decade with the WEF at the forefront of proceedings. The following are but a few quotes from Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum contained in his 2016 book, The Fourth Industrial Revolution.
“Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies are truly disruptive—they upend existing ways of sensing, calculating, organizing, acting and delivering. They represent entirely new ways of creating value for organizations and citizens”.
“Sooner than most anticipate, the work of professions as different as lawyers, financial analysts, doctors, journalists, accountants, insurance underwriters or librarians may be partly or completely automated…”
“Drones represent a new type of cost-cutting employee working among us and performing jobs that once involved real people”
“Already, advances in neurotechnologies and biotechnologies are forcing us to question what it means to be human”
We are at the threshold of a radical systemic change that requires human beings to adapt continuously. As a result, we may witness an increasing degree of polarization in the world, marked by those who embrace change versus those who resist it.
Enter the Pandemic
Whether the consequence of zoonotic transfer or laboratory leak, the COVID-19 virus has failed to live up to the catastrophic expectations of half a million deaths in the UK based on Neil Ferguson’s discredited computer modelling. It was never the 21st century version of the Black Death. Indeed WEF’s Kurt Schwab and Thierry Malleret in a book, The Great Reset, published in July 2020, allow that COVID-19 is “one of the least deadly pandemics the world has experienced over the last 2000 years”, adding that “the consequences of COVID-19 in terms of health and mortality will be mild compared to previous pandemics”.
Nevertheless they cannot contain their delight at the opportunities opened up by its emergence.
“It is our defining moment”, “Many things will change forever”. “A new world will emerge”. “The societal upheaval unleashed by COVID-19 will last for years, and possibly generations”. “Many of us are pondering when things will return to normal. The short response is: never”.
“The pandemic is clearly exacerbating and accelerating geopolitical trends that were already apparent before the crisis erupted”.
Amongst the themes running dizzily through their excitement are:
The crucial need for the financial sector, together with the corporate, technological and pharmaceutical giants, to be the enlightened leadership of the way forward in tackling the world’s problems. “The combined market value of the leading tech companies hit record after record during the lockdowns, even rising back above levels before the outbreak started… this phenomenon is unlikely to abate any time soon, quite the opposite”.
The necessity of digitally transforming our private and public existence, whether through shopping, via a shift to on-line banking; on-line education, tele-medicine or even e-sport “Online banking interactions have risen to 90 percent during the crisis, from 10 percent, with no drop-off in quality and an increase in compliance.”;“In the summer of 2020, the direction of the trend seems clear: the world of education, like for so many other industries, will become partly virtual”; “The necessity to address the pandemic with any means available (plus, during the outbreak, the need to protect health workers by allowing them to work remotely) removed some of the regulatory and legislative impediments related to the adoption of telemedicine”;“For a while, social distancing may constrain the practice of certain sports, which will in turn benefit the ever-more powerful expansion of e-sports. Tech and digital are never far away!”
The requirement that our physical and psychological presence on earth is subject to the policing and surveillance of what we do and what we think – see also Shoshanna Zuboff’s ‘The Age of Surveillance Capitalism’. In the wake of the lockdowns, vaccine passports, physical muzzling and ideological censorship, I’ll visit the biosecurity state and freedom of thought and movement in Part Three.
The demand that we speed up becoming identifiable, immunised, traceable, card-carrying, cash-less consumers.“The current imperative to propel, no matter what, the ‘contactless economy’ and the subsequent willingness of regulators to speed it up means that there are no holds barred
These developments are revealing but leave unanswered a nagging question, why would the ruling class, hardly noted for its humanity, close down society in the name of our common good? Back in the twentieth century Castoriadis warned against the illusion of ‘perpetual production and ceaseless consumption’, which as it is shattered will invite the rise of authoritarianism. More immediately, in the midst of the pandemic itself, Fabio Vighi ponders “why the usually unscrupulous ruling elites decide to freeze the global profit-making machine in the face of a pathogen that targets almost exclusively the unproductive, the over 80s?”
Given there is precious little evidence that lockdowns have been the compelling riposte to the virus, it is intriguing to follow Vighi’s line of thought.
Above all lockdowns were imposed because the financial markets were yet again collapsing. In order to rescue the markets with another massive injection of cash the real economy had to be halted, everyday business transactions and the need for credit postponed. In this way capitalism buys time as it seeks to revive itself. Such a holding tactic is likely to be played again – see the constant references to new variants, unexpected emergencies. In this stuttering scenario one winner is without doubt Big Pharma. The sickly pharmaceutical giants, whose profits were waning, have been given a new lease of life via the oxygen of public funds provided to develop and then purchase the vaccines.
Reinventing itself is an utter necessity for capitalism as the old certainties disappear. Workers are thrown out of the workforce as automation takes over and increasingly they cannot find a way back into the fold of employment. In general the mass of the population will slide into relative debt and poverty. A chilling question surfaces, to what extent is a significant part of the working and middle classes surplus to requirements?
When push comes to shove the measures taken to counter the pandemic are part of necessary paradigm shift if capitalism is to survive. The taken-for-granted model of endless production and consumption, of inexorable economic progress is heading for compulsory redundancy. Vighi comments that as of now, “ capitalism is increasingly dependent on public debt, low wages, centralisation of wealth and power, a permanent state of emergency and financial acrobatics.”
As for the future it smells dystopian. The WEF’s economic and political programme, the nightmare of stakeholder capitalism or more aptly technocratic neo-feudal capitalism, is a regime of rule by experts. It disdains democracy. It spurns the active, critical citizen. It prefers we settle for being contemporary serfs, obedient and grateful. If you think I exaggerate, look around at the compliance of so many, not least amongst the professional classes, during a manufactured pandemic.
In part Three I will visit the State of Fear created by a toxic mix of company-bound scientists and stenographers disguised as journalists – ‘the’ Science and the supine mass media.
Across the period of the pandemic, I have scribbled a host of responses in an effort to shed light on what has been going on. They have slid surreptitiously into my computer’s bottom drawer or spiralled away embarrassed into the hidden mists of the Cloud. However, I’m provoked to retrieve them. I do think we are living through a pivotal historical moment. It feels better to be wrong than be silent. The title of this post, ‘Searching for Understanding in the face of Power and Propaganda’, makes obvious my conflict with the endlessly circulated mainstream narrative. I will try to give substance to this discord in the hope that it’s possible to debate rather than declaim.
This first post is personal and biographical. It seeks to illustrate, amongst other things, why from the very beginning of the pandemic the leading role played by behavioural science set my dentures on edge. It will become plain why I was thus rattled.
It was a meeting out of the blue that woke me with a start and saw me climbing into the Cloud to rescue my thoughts. A few weeks ago, in the heaving embrace of a maskless Cretan taverna, I hugged and kissed a very dear friend, who I hadn’t seen since the authoritarian lockdown on association and expression was imposed, almost 18 months ago. The hubbub hardly lent itself to thoughtful conversation. Yet as we shook our heads in unison about the manufactured melodrama, within which we were playing our part, the question hung in the nocturnal, perfumed air, ‘Why?’
The morning after, my head clearing, I felt obliged to answer the question for myself, if nobody else. In trying to unravel ‘why?’ I won’t focus immediately on the nature of the virus itself, the deaths, the cost of lockdowns and so on. Such a necessary encounter will come later. For now I’m just trying to get my head around why I was suspicious about the pandemic from the very outset.
I will begin with a couple of truisms.
Firstly, across history, the first commandment of the ruling class in any epoch has been the retention of its power, the maintenance of its control over the majority, almost at whatever cost. Yet I would venture that even at the height of its hubris the elite has displayed a certain psychological insecurity, afraid of its own shadow, the people it dominates. In response, the powerless, the exploited and the oppressed have been forced to accommodate or resist or indeed to do both, most times unaware of their rulers’ fragility. From time to time, thank goodness, the ruling class has been ousted or where would we be now?
Secondly, societies, simple or sophisticated, have sought to socialise their members into an acceptance of and adherence to a set of dominant values and norms. Overwhelmingly these rules were imposed from above, for example, the Monarchy, the Church or the State. Cornelius Castoriadis defined such societies as heteronomous, closed societies of obedience. Insofar as there has been a period of exception in the West, this began in the 17th century with the Enlightenment, the ceaseless questioning of the status quo and was inspired by the struggle for democracy, the clash between the working classes and their masters in the 19th and 20th centuries. Castoriadis dubbed this self-conscious, critical and collective activity, ‘the project of autonomy’. Thirty years ago he worried that the project had stalled. He suggested that there were increasing signs of a retreat into heteronomy, the abandonment of a radical, improvisatory vision of another world being possible, a flight from the struggle for an authentic democracy.
In retrospect, I wonder tentatively if I was born into what might be viewed as a promising but ultimately frustrating, even worryingly final period in the project’s progress, the post-1945 settlement between Capital and Labour. On my way in 1958 to being an upwardly mobile working-class young man, the culture of my grammar school was more open than closed, rich rather than poor in its choices. An English teacher, I loved, ran an after-school Music Appreciation Society, procured for us free tickets to the Halle Symphony Orchestra’s concerts and directed us in a performance of the ‘Seven Ages of Man’, a tableau of extracts from Shakespeare’s works with musical interludes. Meanwhile, a physics teacher, who was a famous international rugby player, found time to encourage me in my eccentric desire to be a successful race walker. Even my disastrous GCE results proved not to be the end of the world. I managed to get a place at a Teacher Training College and flourished in its welcoming, student-centred, liberal climate, strutting the stage as president of the Dramatic Society and representing the college in all manner of sports. I began to find my voice intellectually, even if it sounded through literary rather than political criticism. Whatever my political naivete in those days I always felt stimulated as well as manipulated. Does this marry today with the experience of a working-class lass or lad entering Higher Education?
Of course, my picture of the past is too pretty by far, brush-stroking away contradictions and inconsistencies at a personal and societal level. My first teaching post in a Church of England primary school witnessed a tense relationship with other members of staff, who thought I was far too friendly with the children, threatening the disciplinary ethos of the institution. Yet the gentle headmaster, who did still contrarily and occasionally use a ruler on ‘naughty’ children’s legs, allowed me full rein to teach as I thought fit. As indeed did the Council’s Education Department with a charismatic Director at the helm. He was determined that every child should have a rounded educational experience so schools vibrated in time with the arts, music and outdoor education, encouraged by an abundance of specialist advisers and teachers. When I moved into youth work my centre housed the Department’s very own challenging and controversiall theatre group. You must beware my rose-tinted spectacles. What I am sure of is that this was a period within which there was trust and faith in an open and improvisatory educational process. As best as I remember the words outcome and impact never passed our pursed lips.
Certainly, the 1970s, a decade of discontent and dissension, were the years of my political awakening and my conscious commitment to the project of autonomy, which at the time I would have called the struggle for socialism. Through youth work, I discovered humanistic psychology in its Rogerian variant. Through my growing political activity, I discovered Marxism, Anarchism and Feminism. All these influences in differing and imperfect ways were expressions of the struggle for an autonomous society, within which in concert with one another the people, and no one else, make the laws by which they [we] live. This was no academic experience. It was to be part of the passionate social movements of the time, sometimes at one, sometimes at odds with each other, which looked to develop in theory and practice the inextricably intertwined politics of class, gender, race, sexuality and disability. However, as I moved in and out of the worlds of youth work and political activism I was often dismayed by the crude judgements made about other human beings, whether as individuals or in groups. The person-centred psychology I advanced was devoid of politics. The politics I pursued was psychologically bereft. The task seemed plain – to bring politics into psychology and vice-versa.
In this context, Marilyn Taylor and I began to explore what might be a radical psychology that situated the unique individual and her actions within the matrix of social relations not of her choosing. From the beginning, our effort was plagued by behaviourism in its day-to-day ‘common-sense’ form and by behaviourism’s scientific pretension, its desire to create a theory of personality and human activity, good for all times, all places and all people. In both its amateur and professional manifestations on its best behaviour, it tends simplistically to know what is right or wrong, always confident it knows what is best for others. It nudges us to do its bidding. It is judgemental and disinterested in context or history. It generalises and categorises. At a theoretical level behavioural psychology posits the preposterous notion of a general individual, who floats above the messy complex reality of social relations. Hence the targets for its manipulation are always groups of undifferentiated human beings, for example, youth defined as a homogeneous category or, for that matter, the population of the United KIngdom in March 2020.
As neoliberalism in the late 1970s became economically paramount, behavourism became its favoured ideological tool. In 1981 whilst defending the notion of an holistic social education approach within youth work I criticised the Manpower Service Commission’s promotion of instrumental Social and Life Skills Training for young people, the arena of so-called Youth Opportunities. In an arcane turn of phrase I charged the MSC with desiring nothing less than ‘the behavioural modification of the young proletariat’. Getting on for three decades later I felt able to resurrect the charge.
Possessing no vision of a world beyond the present New Labour has been obsessed with the micro-management of problematic, often demonised youth. Yearning for a generation stamped with the State’s seal of approval the government has transformed Youth Work into an agency of behavioural modification. It wishes to confine to the scrapbook of history the idea that Youth Work is volatile and voluntary, creative and collective – an association and conversation without guarantees.
Neoliberalism seems a broken economic model. However its ideology, the values and ideas it has promoted across three decades, remains hegemonic, ‘the common-sense of our age’ (Hall, 2011). Few remain untouched by a behavioural modification project conducted on the grandest scale, the manufacturing of a possessive and self-centred, satisfied yet never satiated, consumer for whom a notion of the common good is almost blasphemous. Individuals are forced to deal with the social problems outsourced by the state – of poverty, health, housing and indeed education. As for the last of these, neoliberal ideology is instrumental and reductive, deeply suspicious of critical thinking. Teachers teach to test, lecturers cram consumers and, as we shall see, youth workers are led by outcomes.
In July 2012 the Young Foundation produced a Framework of Outcomes for Young People, which sought to bring under manners the volatile world of informal youth work via the introduction of ‘measurable’ outcomes and impact. Marilyn and I wrote a rejoinder, within which we noted:
The die is cast immediately. The product of the framework is to be the ’emotionally resilient’ young individual, who through the planned interventions of youth workers, will shrug their shoulders at adversity. Utterly in tune with government policy this manufactured individual will have less need for public services such as health and social welfare and will be willing to work for whatever wages, zero-hour contracts or indeed benefits are on offer. This is the self-centred, compliant young person of neo-liberalism’s dreams. The last thing such an obedient cipher would do is to ask, “how come this is happening to me, my mates, to thousands of others?” Nowhere in the Framework is there an acknowledgement that to talk of personal change demands an engagement with the social and political circumstances underpinning young people’s lives.
Remarkably the Framework’s fix on young people takes us back half a century. Throughout its pages young people are viewed as a homogeneous category – young people are young people are young people. The young person is denied his or her class, gender, race, sexuality, disability and faith. Despite all the talk about the individual in the Framework the individual described is that theoretical monstrosity, the general individual, who in reality does not exist. It is as if the gains of the late twentieth century in understanding the social individual never occurred. For example a working-class black young woman does not experience the world in exactly the same way as a white middle-class young woman and so on. And indeed the individual working-class black young woman herself can never be reduced to a general expression of her own social grouping. Comprehending the individual is no simple matter.
Indeed I spoke to this critique at several youth work seminars and conferences within the UK , Europe and, even to my delight, Brisbane in Australia, the last of these at Plymouth in 2017. The analysis struck a chord with many who were led to apologise for not singing along. With sadness they advised that there was no option but to chant from the behaviourist hymn sheet or risk losing their place in the choir. As for the behavioural choir leaders they thanked me for composing an alternative tune, pinched a well-pitched note or two and continued to coach the enforced collective rendition of their mechanistic melody. Like it or not, and I didn’t, I returned from such gatherings, heavy of heart. Words were not wounding the confidence of the behaviourists. And on the ground, willing or unwilling, practitioners complied, appealing to each other for the latest in prescribed scripts and recommended tools.
Today, the voices in English youth work emanating from such as the National Youth Agency and the Centre for Youth Impact reflect the watchwords of the so-called ‘third culture’ -‘no politics, no conflict, no ideology, simply science, delivery and problem-solving’. The apolitical hypocrisy on display is par for the course, hardly troubling anyone anymore.
In this context, the dominance of the behavourists and fading resistance to their stranglehold, I had all but withdrawn, to my shame, from the fray. I had been involved in a running battle with a dehumanising opponent, who was well ahead on points. In the last year I’ve written just one piece, Resistance in a Climate of Anxiety and Precarity, which, a single reply apart, did not take seed in parched pastures. Rightly or wrongly I felt isolated, even indulgently sorry for myself. Castoriadis’ concern seemed increasingly pertinent. An arrogant technocratic and managerial outlook prevailed. Intuition, compassion and love exiled.
In the early months of 2020 the dramatic arrival upon the scene of a virus said to be an existential threat to humanity jolted me from my malaise. From the begining I was deeply sceptical about the remarkable overnight unity of 198 countries in following the unelected World Health Organisation’s declaration of a pandemic and the blanket adoption of the same narrative by politicians and the mainstream media across the world. Perhaps it was merely a matter of coincidence.
In particular, given the above diatribe on the dangers of behaviourism, I was alarmed by the central role being played in the UK by the initially anonymous Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behaviours [SPI-B]. The group was charged with providing ‘behavioural science advice aimed at anticipating and helping people adhere to interventions that are recommended by medical and epiemiological experts’. I bridled at the messages contained in the paper, ‘Options for increasing adherence to social distancing measures’, March 22, 2020. Within its pages the group asserted that ‘a substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently threatened’. Hence ‘the perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased amongst those who are complacent using hard=hitting emotional messages’. Thus did a political, unethical and undemocratic campaign of fear begin. I was fearful – not of the virus but of the authoritarianism at the heart of of the SPI-B’s propaganda.
As it was my critical stance did not lead immediately to the renaissance of a sense of solidarity with others, even good friends and comrades – far from it. Slowly, as I delved further into the dilemmas posed, I did discover new collective reference points, some unimaginable a few years ago. These will become apparent. In parts Two, Three and Four I will tangle with some of the tensions underpinning the divisions created by the pandemic. In part Two I will offer my best understanding of the political and economic aspects of the pandemic; in part Three I will look more closely at the propaganda of fear, which still continues; in part Four I’ll explore the suppressed conflicts of medical and epidemiological opinion; and, if I get this far, in part Five I will ponder what resistance and solidarity might now mean.