Two quite different philosophers writing on quite different matters in quite different times came to one idea: ridiculous speech has the power to mesmerize and block debate. Jean-Paul Sartre writing at the height of the Holocaust saw that anti-Semites discredited adversaries not by persuading with good arguments but by disconcerting with pure nonsense. Noam Chomsky post 9/11 claimed that President Bush employed language not to communicate but to provoke an effect. In many ways the Frenchman and the American foreshadowed methods by which Covid-19 has doped certain countries into committing hara-kiri.
There are many aspects of the repulsive methods worthy of attention. Take the blistering jibes. Democrats name the GOP the “party of death” for being in a hurry to lift lockdowns. They accuse protestors of flying into a rage over “the inconvenience” of being stuck at home, as if bankruptcy, drug abuse and suicide are inconveniences.
There is a second, more transcendent aspect. Hyperbolizing the pandemic as a war, lords of the lockdown raise the price of foregoing civil rights in return for being saved from what poses a serious threat mainly to the elderly, but for the rest is hardly more than a bad episode of the flu
Giving careers and runners for high office a shot in the arm, the more collateral damage caused by lockdowns the better. There can’t be too many bankrupts and unemployed for the Joe Biden campaign.
How much can words be twisted yet make sense? Advocates for lockdown could have a hard time finding perverted speech in claims that seem innocuous and innocent enough. Take the following.
- As a result of the coronavirus outbreak and the economic ramifications, an additional 130 million people could be on the brink of starvation by the end of the year.
- Prior to a coronavirus recession that cost 40 million people their jobs, Trump aimed to double his support with black voters.
- Coronavirus has wiped out hundreds of thousands of jobs in Spain.
- The numbers are an early indicator of the depth of desperation the virus has caused in countries, unlike Israel, which did not plan on how to deal with the lockdown's economic results..
- The Trump campaign was on the verge of opening 15 urban field offices until the pandemic put businesses on lockdown.
Can a virus turn summersaults? Corona is capable of infecting people, making them sick and, in bad cases, especially with the elderly and immune system challenged, hospitalizing and killing. But economic ramifications? Wiping out jobs in Spain? Causing famine in relatively virus-free parts of the world and depths of desperation? Or having an economic recession named after it? Or supplanting governments by imposing lockdowns on business activity? Can a virus do all that? And thinking of it, what kind of virus can rob state coffers and make the governors of California and New York run to the White House for a bailout?
About the latter a Talmudic tale springs to mind. A boy kills his parents. In court he pleads for mercy because of being an orphan. Thus, pleading poverty, act heads of state who locked everything down longer and harder than most.
As it is with animating a virus, so it is with evangelizing the lockdowns. According to this narrative, ‘stay-at-home’ is the policy of virtue while re-opening is the reckless and deadly policy.
It all depends though, on what colour you are in terms of both politics and skin, and what you are breaking lockdown rules to do. If you are protesting against the lockdown then you deserve the death coming your way. Thus writes some trendy medic. “Individuals who get COVID-19 while protesting the public health measures necessary to stop its spread, should not get a ventilator before those who have been playing by the rules.”
While critics of lockdown must be denied ventilators, [say some medics], critics of racism are encouraged [by public health experts ]to protest, mask or not and social distancing be damned. Rioting is an essential service, houses of prayer are not.
By contrast breaking lockdown rules to protest against racism merits a pat on the back. A letter signed by more than a thousand public health experts gives the green light. Protesting for the right cause makes the risk of spreading Coronavirus a risk worth taking:
"White supremacy is a lethal public health issue that predates and contributes to COVID-19. Pro-lockdown protesters are rooted in white nationalism and run contrary to respecting black lives.”
In short, while critics of lockdown must be denied ventilators, critics of racism are encouraged to protest, mask or not and social distancing be damned. Rioting is an essential service, houses of prayer are not. Don’t worry – health experts have not taken leave of their senses. They are provoking and disconcerting opponents with repulsive nonsense.
Can it really be that fighting a pandemic boils down to hypocrisy and bias? Governor of Michigan Gretchen Whitmer believes so, and acts accordingly. “Fighting coronavirus isn’t only a matter of public health. It is a matter of civil rights.”
And could it be accidental that desperados presiding over collapsed economies impose the worst lockdowns of them all? Take the clique of gangsters that runs South Africa. They viewed the pandemic as a god-given invitation to grab power. Even when they bowed to the inevitable and permitted parts of the economy to re-open, the lords of lockdown warned of not opening one province where the opposing party holds sway.
If and when South Africa’s lockdown ends, the man at the top has promised a “care economy,” shorthand for taking care of taxpayer money. And that word “Care” from a ruler whose police force shot to death or beat to death eleven poor blacks for disobeying lockdown rules. On top of his Care Economy there’s to be a “Green Economy to “bolster the country ravaged by Covid-19.” Note yet another attempt, shameless and nonsensical, to make Corona the villain of an economic suicide.
There may be a law of attrition here. The more protracted a lockdown the stupider and crueller it gets. A High Court judgement against South Africa’s lockdown had something to say about that:
“It was irrational to ban hairdressers when a single mother and sole provider, who would have been prepared to comply with all health measures, must now watch her children go hungry while witnessing taxis pass with passengers in closer proximity to each other than they would have been in her salon. She is stripped of her rights of dignity, equality, to earn a living and to provide for the best interests of her children. And what about the gogo (poor elderly black woman) looking after four youngsters in a one-room shack during the whole lockdown?”
One aspect of the lockdown is irredeemably disgraceful. It slips out in an article that appeared in Scientific American. Pandemic models spitting wild and frightening scenarios are to become a tool for scaring people into behaving in a wanted way. “Climate Science Deniers Turn to Attacking Coronavirus Models” In so many words it admits that giving people a good honest to goodness fright is the real purpose behind Corona modelling. The models worked the way they were meant to work, it says, giving a glimpse into “a dire future that was partially averted because of collective action. Americans responded (wonderfully) to pleas for social distancing.”
Politicizing science didn’t commence with coronavirus, nor will it end there. The pandemic has been a fire drill. No threat can beat Climate Change. Locking down society and shutting down business for the sake of Corona compares to Climate Change as a tea party compares to a royal banquet.
Steve Apfel is an economist and a cost accountant, but most of all a prolific author of non-fiction and fiction, published in many journals and sites. His books include: ‘The Paymaster’ (Fiction); Hadrian’s Echo (Non-fiction); ‘A bias thicker than faith’ (non-fiction, for publication during 2020), and ‘Balaam’s curse’ a WIP biblical novel.