CONSPIRACY THEORY: NUTS AND SLEDGEHAMMERS
(For footnoted version, see Recent Posts)
“With the destruction of history, contemporary events themselves retreat into a remote and fabulous realm of unverifiable stories, uncheckable statistics, unlikely explanations and untenable reasoning,” wrote a revolutionary communist some 40 Years ago. This was a time long before the Internet, Donald Trump or COVID 19. It has come to mind at a time of concern about what is called generically ‘conspiracy theory’ and alarm at its enhanced scope via ‘social media’. That it makes for such enhancement is undeniable and the same writer, Guy Debord, wrote elsewhere that fascism was archaism presented with the most modern technological means, but the conditions for such ‘theory’ have a wider basis, the relationship between cause and effect opaque or perverted.
My concern here is not just with the slapping down of such stuff that uses an anti-Semitic/cosmopolitan template, using common narrative tricks, but also with the way ‘conspiracy theory’ is used as a generic accusation which can also be a means of shutting down reasonable and scrupulous attempts to track effects to real causes or intentions whether complex or not, and of sceptical inquiry in general. This in world of professional opinionists, all too eager to dismiss those who raise concern about discrepancies between what is said and what is being done, at the silenced links between cause(s) and consequence(s), as conspiracy theorists.
This involves recognition that there and have been such things, conspiracies as commonly understood, planned in secret like the manipulation of the LIBOR benchmark rate and other price fixing a particular instance of Adam Smith’s ““People of the same trade seldom meet together but the conversation ends in conspiracy against the public”;or the Iran-Contra-cocaine business in the Reagan period; the fiddling of diesel emission figures by car makers. The most successful will be unrecognised or at least until they can be admitted like the coups planned by the USA against the Mossadeq government and that of Jacob Arbenz in Guatemala. Even if they become known a little closer in time it will be dismissed as of the past. In a novel which involves and inquiry into Iran -Contra “To bring up 1984 implied that the past had consequences, which in situ was not seen as a useful approach.”
Conspiracy theory with this anti-semitic/cosmopolitan template is something else, usually involving fantastic logic, misapplied significances and ‘reader’ flattery, that a follower of one its varieties is really in the know . Sometimes it is strategic and organized. As applied to COVID-19, what matters is to examine how states and some oligarchic capitals are using the situation to increase their dictatorial or oligarchic power, while saying that they did not therefore cause the virus outbreak. To do otherwise would be conspiracy theory of the 2+2 =5 variety as was the case back in 2003 when some ultra Cold-War-leftists wasted their own and everyone else’s time with assertions that the USA itself had organised or allowed the 9/11 attacks to happen. It was a diversion from opposing the ‘war on terror’ politics that followed and used to make such needed opposition open to ridicule. This matters now when critiques of elements of oligarchic capitalism, pharmaceuticals, philanthrocapitalism and the ‘hollowing out’ of its mode of democratic government, are being appropriated by fascistic forces. This follows on from the strategic failure of socialists and communists to recognise and celebrate the altruism of self-discipline shown by millions of young and middle aged people in face of COVID, and then being sucked into being defenders of oligarchic capitalism presenting itself as the defenders of the Enlightenment and a generic ‘science’.
I am myself a beneficiary both that altruism and the National Health Service, and of pills produced by pharmaceutical research that is largely capitalistic in its mode .. My caution about the accusation of conspiracy theory’s use as a show-stopper however comes from the way it was for example used repeatedly against serious anti-imperialist critique at the time of the Western ‘Gulf War’ against Iraq in 1991 and, in the sociological sphere, the response of the dominant centrist intellectual Daniel Bell to C.Wright Mills’s book The Power Elite. “Although Mills contends that he does not believe in conspiracy theory, his loose account of the centralization of power among the elite comes suspiciously to it.” It’s that ‘suspiciously close to’ phrase, both prissy and slimy, that screams Bad Faith out loud, but Bell’s normative construct assertion that power is nowhere has been reproduced by the post-structuralist notion that power is everywhere. Mills’s real crime was that he named the names in the revolving doors in the USA between corporate capital, the military, its bureaucracy, and government. It is an account that stands the test of time right up to and in the time of Donald Trump too.
COVID 19 has amplified existing conspiracy theory by coming as a shock from what is proving to be a hard-to-control external threat that can be internalized by anyone. Bernard de Mandeville’s start of the 18th century view was: “Primitive man saw an invisible enemy behind every Mischief and every Disaster that happens to him, of which the cause is not very plan and obvious; excessive Heat and Cold, Wet and Drought that are offensive; Thunder and Lightning even when they do no Visible Hurt; Noises in the Dark.” We can be glad that we have the means to escape such paranoid ignorance but still have a ‘Centrist’ like President Macron of France talking of being “in a war against an invisible enemy”, a typically conspiratorial view of the world of COVID 19
I say ‘amplified’ in relation to ‘social media’ because the conditions for the coming into being of conspiracy theories were already in existence. These are:
*the secrecy, paywalls and claims of confidentiality that hide real information while most people not privy to it, know that there is such hidden information, as well as the dominance of Opinion in ‘traditional’ media. Another revolutionary communist, the scrupulous epidemiologist Rob Wallace describes how-
“At present humanity is caught in its own pandemic theatre with various parties pointing elsewhere to absolve themselves of due responsibility. And we are each prompted to identify with one or another Pavlovian finger…The ceremonial battles between science and governmental distrust, or along other axes, China and the USA or wildlife vs livestock, parcel us into manipulable camps. In the spectacle of debate, we are allowed to struggle over opinion, the core of the extreme center’s politics, but truth is never up for grabs, we’re told. It’s instead locked away in journals and think tanks that the State and philanthrocapitalists own.”
Though on the evidence he argues for the land grabbing and consequent environmental change as causative of changes in the ecologies of virus-carrying animals as the likeliest cause of the virus’s transmission, he scrupulously looks at the evidence for the idea that it escaped from a Wuhan lab. One of the many many crimes of Donald Trump is that by his anti-Chinese rhetoric it made it difficult to even look at the evidence. This was not helped by the free-ride given by the centrist traditional media outlet the Guardian to Peter Daszak of EcoHealth Alliance trashing the idea of a lab escape without acknowledging his and its role in virology research in China. This evading of declarations of interest is no different to the free-rides given to very right wing think-tanks by centrist media outlets like the BBC -think tanks which have helped made the ground for the more fascistic conspiracy theory. Wallace’s own conclusion is, when it comes to causation, is one to hold on to:
“I see the field and lab hypotheses framed together. Big Ag’s performative “biosecurity” and building all those labs post-H5N1 and -9/11 both represent efforts at avoiding addressing the economic model driving the emergence of virulent pathogens to begin with. Cleaning up the mess only after it happens.”
* The growth of ad hoc power set-ups with an institutional veneer but with not even a semblance of democratic accountability and in which the ‘revolving doors’ between ‘public’ and ‘private’ power sources are normal. Outfits like Global Information Infrastructure Commission or the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. I will show how in world health policy, philanthrocapitalism and its ad hoc set-ups like GAVI have such power. Early on in the present pandemic the WHO was sidelined by “an ad hoc grouping of 20 world leaders and global health figures, including the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the American philanthropist Bill Gates were on a call meeting. GAVI and representatives of pharmaceutical capital are involved in at least two such ad hoc groupings with large budgets of public money.
* The pernicious effects of heavily right wing supposedly ‘free-market’ think-tanks have been clear for a long time. Indeed the strategic networking of Hayekian think-tanks developed by the battery-chicken innovator Anthony Fisher could itself be seen as a real conspiracy, done secretly and with the specific intent of destroying social democracy. What is pernicious is how they have been allowed to present themselves as academic institutions with ‘fellows’ but with no external examination and how instrumental they have been in the ideological and practical undermining public health systems. It has been especially easy when “The ratio of pundits to reporters and of opinion to information is in the order of ten to one.”
*The power of lobbyists and consultants to influence policy in a secretive manner and with whom the revolving doors are positively swinging as with the UK Department of Health and the octopus-like KPMG. These and the amorality of PR companies like Dragon Associates and Burstyn to tell the world Bahrain is not repressive and will use the courts to prevent any contrary information becoming public at moments when it matters. And now, in the UK, the ad hoc distribution of power and huge amounts of money to ignorant and incompetent accountants and consultants as substitutes for its public health system. Most of all the encouragement of conspiracy theory has come from the strategic promotion of private interest Doubt. A healthy scepticism is perverted into “Doubt is Our Product” as a tobacco lobbyist described his work. It is a standard of self-interested climate change denial and it becomes prop for the But-you-can’t-prove-I’m-wrong argument used for example by the 9/11 fanatics mentioned above. Or more hatefully by fascistic shock-jock, Rush Limbaugh saying number of Tsunami deaths is unproven, cannot be proved and therefore a liberal conspiracy etc.
*The world of big money and opaque banking where ‘dirty money’ is occasionally revealed to be functional to capitalism’s financial system and then disappears back into it after claims of confidentiality or not-guilty pay-offs to courts. Likewise tax evasion, shell companies and off shore banking. Opaque, opaque and in the end too much, just too complex to take on board. It is too a world and one in which complex production chains and equally opaque ownership chains leave workers having no one to confront, in which cause and effect in production and wages are remote. All this is not extraneous but essential and functional to the present oligarchic capitalism.
*The budgetary interests of differing parts of the state bureaucracy and of institutions both public, private and public-private which have access to traditional’ and social media.
*The inability of state and capitalist power to admit mistakes.
*The popular culture genre of Dystopia and Apocalypse. As has been pointed out capitalism is keen on fantasy apocalypse while creating the conditions for a real one. In the present it is especially strong when there are so many biowarfare and bio-mutation narratives that parallel the growth of biotech capitalism.
*That there are a wide variety of conspiracies in the clearest sense of the word as described above.
In this world it is hardly surprising that conspiracy theories flourish.
As they do, hateful or stupid and ‘social media’ has empowered them. In face to face conversation we can ask, “Do you really mean that?” and “Where did your evidence come from?” Social media with its anonymity and so able to bring out the worst in us especially when it comes to blame and its allowing stuff to ‘go viral’ clearly creates means of transmission that did not exist before. We also know via leak that provocation of a particular type is part of the business plan automates as algorithm which is to keep us on social media as much as possible. As the leaked Internal Facebook memo from 2018 has it: “Our algorithms exploit the human brains’s attraction to divisiveness” and that more would be fed to “gain user attention and increase time on the platform.” The neuro-behavioural basis is ideological but the intention is clear. But it is also a time when people in power can say barefaced lies in public and expect to get away with them at a time when ‘traditional’ media still determine agendas and presume that they fill the hole of a “democratic deficit”.
The longest running of the hateful has been anti-semitic whether Jews as capitalists running the world or as Communists aiming to rule the world. In recent times George Soros as finance capitalist, liberal and cosmopolitan in outlook has been a go-to hate figure One of the most hateful ‘theories’ at present is QAnon whose main medium is social media and likely as not could not exist without it. It would appear to be the culture wars gone fascistic but it is also strategic, purposeful and financed. It uses traditional conspiracy theory tropes with an element of apocalyptic cinema but it id also not surprising that one of its websites’ operators is or was a senior vice-president at Citibank, one Jason Gelinas a “longtime Wall Street IT expert” with a special interest in data mining.
When I was young over 50 years conspiracy theory was relatively innocent. It was called the Gemstone File and in great detail purported to show that a famous Greek shipowner Aristotle Onassis was a global criminal mastermind. It circulated on cyclostyled sheets from person to person and this created the sense that you were in on something that you were in the know. In this it mimicked the seductive nature of secrecy described by a heroic whistleblower at the time of the Vietnam War, Daniel Ellsberg: “After you’ve started reading all this daily intelligence input and become used to using what amounts to while libraries of hidden information, which is much more closely held than mere top secret data, you will forget there ever was a time when you didn’t have it,and you’ll be aware only of the fact that you have it now and most others don ‘t…and that all those other people are fools…You’ll be thinking…!What would this man be telling me if her knew what I know?” Conspiracy theory of the QANon type offers the cut-price version of the same and works by flattery; that you now are in the real know as well as its call to arms.
The crime of generic conspiracy theory is that it makes it difficult to question official and centrist policies and promises, and especially when fascistic versions play at being ‘anti-establishment, and also to separate out the different strands of people in what look like small-scale unholy alliances in the time of COVID. With those refusing to wear masks or socially distance a characteristic modern day macho style of patriarchy is evident, “Real men don’t wear masks.” Additionally a sense that wearing them is to be a socialist in the broad sense of a self-interested altruism which is somehow conflated with a repressive ‘deep’ state, isolating people. But this too is hardly surprising, the demand for a social self-discipline, masks and self-quarantining is not something consumer capitalism has prepared us for. Personally I wear a mask not from obedience but enlightened self-interest and that it is somehow for the common good. With generic ‘anti-vaxxers’ this also seems to involve a narcissistic sense of body as my temple. Both claim an individualism that is an ultra version of mainstream ideology but ‘anti-vaxxer’ as an accusation does conversely claim an ethical superiority tied to one particular and top-down medical tool. As an accusation it also blunts how some people oppose particular vaccines and does not take into account the passivity that waiting for the vaccine implies when success stories with COVID like Taiwan have come from a participatory public health track and trace strategy.
With some Islamicists anti-vaccination campaigns it is more a patriarchal anti-Westernism per se and they have used some past crimes and errors to justify themselves, but some of those events from the past inform people without such agendas.
The history of experimental injections with no concern for those being experimented on has been widespread and, lest the examples I give encourage a Cold War view of the world there is a large body of evidence if the same history in China and Russia. The early trials of influenza vaccines in the 1940s in the USA were conducted in prisons in California and Letchworth village the New York state. Similar people were used into the 1960s for hepatitis and malaria research. In the same period vaccines were trialled on the children of not-married mothers and orphans in Ireland. There is equally a mountain of secondary evidence of such ‘experiments’ in China and Russia. In February 1988 Dr Anthony Fauci, now a good guy because Trump disses him, announced that the US was planning large scale human experiments in Africa to test AIDS vaccines. Perhaps there has been a sea change forced by Black activism but in April of his year two heavyweight French doctors Mira and Locht appeared on TV to suggest that virus and vaccine testing should be done in Africa as had been done with AIDS and how “we tried things on prostitutes who are highly exposed and do not protect themselves.” Provocateurs are ten a penny these days but the unchanged casual colonialism and willingness to uses the powerless with its historical reference was evident and rightly shot down by famous African-French footballers like Didier Drogba. Since then testing by leaders in the vaccine race have been conducted in Sao Paulo and Cape Town before Europe’s ‘second wave’ on the grounds that there weren’t enough cases in the West as if The USA with its over 2 million cases were on another planet. No, not conspiracy but a reflection of global hierarchies.
These are also in evidence in types of vaccine and their relative cost. The many fights of countries of the South with the capitalist pharmaceutical oligarchy to produce generic versions of patented drugs and medicines id well known. On the other side the recent cases in 2019, of polio being caused by the mutation of a ‘live’ polio vaccine itself in Nigeria, Angola, FR Congo and the Central African Republic. This will unfortunately give ammunition to patriarchal political opportunists but the bottom line here is that the oral vaccine containing a live virus is a lot cheaper than the inert version used in the West. The matter of cost will be especially important in what will be a fight to implement the distribution of any effective COVID vaccine.
To be clear, vaccines have saved millions of lives and made millions of lives bearable, even while they have not been able to save millions of lives and while millions of lives have been saved by other means. What the ‘anti-vaxxers’ have done is to make it difficult to ask questions about the politics of vaccines in the context of worldwide healthcare and the interests involved in it. They make it easier for one to be pushed into the camp, as Rob Wallace described of “Science” even while there are so many differing scientist voices. This is perhaps as it should be but has not prevented Science and the Enlightenment as absolutes and which leads for example, to becoming a resolute defender of Bill Gates, the philanthrocapitalist who has so much say on world health policy, research and practice, and in the process trashing all alternative medicines in such a manner as if take-a homeopathic -remedy or even herbal remedy and you’re a fascist.
For ‘anti-vaxxers’ Gates is a specific hate figure and subject of conspiracy theory. It was perhaps from his point of view simply bad timing that Event 201 described on the its website as “a high-level pandemic exercise” and in which he was a prime mover should have carried out in New York in mid-October 2019, not long before he first cases of COVID 19. Coincidence, though it also what fictional detectives don’t believe in and in some cases may be significant, is meat and drink to conspiracy theory. The event did not come out of nowhere in Gates’s own history. At the time of the first Ebola outbreak he called for a supra-national militarized global health authority modelled on NATO for future epidemics. In June this year he repeated a call for increased preparedness against pandemics but not because of the ecological degradations that are their likeliest causes. Instead it is because of terrorist types “weaponizing disease” even though there is no suggestion, not even from Mr Trump that COVID was caused in this way. Gates however doubled down with a hypothetical ‘non-state’ actor building a deadlier smallpox in a lab. There was not even a hint that any shift away from omnivorous capitalism, just as the vaccine itself as a solution would if successful preclude any need for change. “…a politics of fear dominates the global health agenda shown in a tendency to securitize health issues –framing them as existential threats demanding exceptional measures – or as uncertain risks needing to be contained. All of which makes for a short-termist agenda based on crisis management and disease containment”, Rob Wallace on the button. The invoking of the military -which fits so well with the securitizing of health issues – is one more way of undermining public health systems that allow for a degree of public accountability and active participation.
Event 201 itself featured as well as Gates’s own Foundation the John Hopkins Center for Health Security which seems now to have assumed the role of global COVID statistician; and the World Economic Forum (Davos), a supposed capitalist brains trust. Given the interests involved its priorities for such a circumstance were not surprising. “Travel and trade are essential to the global economy as well as to national and even local economies, and they should be maintained even in the face of a pandemic.” As has been known since the first days of COVID-19 is that travel and trade have been the main transmission source that have ,made it a pan-demic.
This Bad Timing, the coincidence has prompted conspiracy theory – as well as previous talk of ‘supra-national organisation which in US ears especially is akin to communism, – that Gates actually caused COVID as if to prove a point and, more obscurely make money. What this stupid accusation has done has prevented an examination of what an emphasis on vaccines as the solution to the bad healths of the world leads to. In particular it has obscured the run-down of public health systems in the rich and poor parts of the world. In the Nigeria referenced above in relation to polio for instance, a public health spending cut was announced in May which pinpoints the question of who and how a vaccine would be administered assuming its effectiveness and possibly promised affordability. Without being aware that Event 201 going to turn out to be bad timing, its organisers and participants were well aware that a media offensive would be required in the event of a pandemic.
“Governments and the private sector should assign a greater priority to developing methods to combat mis-and disinformation prior to the next pandemic response. Governments will need to partner with traditional and social media companies to research and develop nimble approaches to countering misinformation. This will require developing the ability to flood media with fast, accurate, and consistent information. Public health authorities should work with private employers and trusted community leaders such as faith leaders, to promulgate factual information to employees and citizens. Trusted, influential private-sector employers should create the capacity to readily and reliably augment public messaging, manage rumors and misinformation, and amplify credible information to support emergency public communications.”
This it might be said anticipates and is a strategy for countering conspiracy theory(ies), but equally assumes that they will be arbiters of truth as if they were objective arbiters with no interests. This cannot be taken at face value when in the UK for one both GCHQ and the army’s 77th Brigade which priduces ‘video and audio content, using data to understand how the public receives different messages, and creating “attitude and sentiment awareness” from large sets of social media data, — have been given the role. That these interests are not neutral is shown in Event 201’s emphasis the maintenance of trade and transport and in what follows:
“While governments and public health authorities serve as the first line of defense against fast-moving outbreaks, their efforts are chronically under-funded and lack sustained support. Global business leaders should play a far more dynamic role as advocates with a stake in stronger pandemic preparedness.”
Immediately you want to scream yes well why is it chronically underfunded and lacking in sustained support? The fact perhaps that Gates and the supporters of Davos, the rentier oligarchs pay so little tax. Instead with your ‘foundations’ and alliances you have wormholed public health systems and the World Health Organisation itself, institutionalised with its Initiative on Public Private Partnerships for Health. It is not I think conspiracy theory to talk of the influence in the past of the pharmaceutical oligarchy on decision making. Whether it was a ‘conspiracy’ as defined by the MP Paul Flynn or not the decision of the WHO, to declare the Swine Flu outbreak of 2008 a pandemic and whether it deliberately downgraded the definition of a pandemic in order to hype the sickness it did benefit manufacturers of antiviral drugs and potential vaccines – in which, it was alleged, some WHO scientists had vested interests. The outcome being large sums of public money spent on what were unused drugs and which have had the effect in the present of an alleged delay in the WHO declaring COVID 19 a pandemic.
What is for sure is presence of private capital consultancy, or indeed the invasion of health (and education) by capital in the face of falling profitability in other sectors and the clamour of claims on global surplus value. The ubiquity of McKinsey, KPMG, Coopers, Boston Consulting Group, Deloitte and the rest of this oligarchy are clear in the various arms of Mr Gates’s philanthropic set-ups – the Bill and Melnida Gates Foundation itself, GAVI the vaccine alliance and the Global Fund for AIDS, TB and Malaria -which have little interest in ‘bottom-up’ initiatives. Instead we have managerialism, the belief that there are such things as ‘management skills’ that can solve anything without on the ground experience or long-term knowledge. This is maintained in spite of a very uneven record and in the health field which, as in others is riddled with conflicts of interest. The recent experience of the UK health service with Deloitte’s and then with Serco provides fair warning.
To say it again, vaccines have saved and improved millions of lives, and as a vulnerable person I hope a vaccine is produced which allows us to be truly social persons again. What stands out though is how vaccine development has dominated the narrative of COVID. It is a speciality of Foundations as described many years ago by Robert Arnove, not only are they largely unregulated and unaccountable concentrations of power and wealth, they ‘establish an agenda of what merits society’s attention”. Event 201’s media strategy cited above is a clear example. Even here the narrative has been not just Foundation determined but Western-centric so that we hear nothing of the over one hundred year old Pan American Health Organisation and its non-Philanthrocapitalist successes in vaccine distribution in Latin America and the Caribbean. The narrative began predictably with a race -the vaccine runners and riders – but has been through various ups and downs since, the most measurable of which have been the share prices of a variety of biotech and pharmaceutical company share prices according to leaks or rumours of test trials. At one ‘down’ point one its enthusiasts the Guardian newspaper even had an article whether an insufficient vaccine would do more harm than good in a two-step of expectation and retreat from expectation when it comes to a cure in the form of a vaccine, a flirting with expectation that is characteristic of the recent phase of capitalism. In this case expectations of the world pulling together undercut by Cold War ‘security notions and capitalist rationale.
On 3rd May 2020 A Guardian headline read “Hostile states trying to steal coronavirus research, says UK agency”. While the ‘alliance’ is all for pooling together R&D, in the face of what is a global threat, there are opportunist thieves –watch out, there’s a mugger about- on the prowl was the gist of the article that followed from its science correspondent. The evidence for this came from National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), indeed the article is in effect a press release, in which it warns of hostile states trying to steal COVID research including that on vaccine development. This is followed by classic nudge and wink stuff “It is understood that” (by whom?) Russia and Iran are behind it followed by unnamed experts saying that also China is also a ‘likely’ perpetrator. However it also “understood” that there have been no successful attacks. Industrial espionage is I imagine normal and if I were the Iranian government where many lives have been lost and is under heavy sanctions I would be trying to make sure I was not left out. Finally we get to see how those slippery ‘hopes’ that China will join the ‘alliance’ really are when we are told the Anglo-Saxon ‘stern white man’ alliance Five Eyes nations –UK, USA, Canada, Australia and NZ- whose exclusive intelligence grouping was once called Echelon,(The Anglo-Saxon world of colonisers and settler colonialists seeing itself as the only reliable ‘stern white man’ to police the world with settler colonial Israel now more than an honorary member) are preparing a document as the basis for suing China for having not been forthcoming at the end of 2019 about the virus. On this specific point this is no time to get dragged into taking ‘Cold War’ sides. President Trump’s eagerness to blame China in a geopolitical context simply gets in the way of seeing how the difficulty of bringing bad news to power evidenced everywhere is acute in that country.
In April 2020 the US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Wednesday declined to promise that a coronavirus vaccine would be affordable for all Americans, „”We would want to ensure that we work to make it affordable, but we can’t control that price because we need the private sector to invest” he told members of Congress. One response might be ‘he would say that wouldn’t he’, he having been a lobbyist for pharmaceutical corporates. Another that he was just being more truthful than vaccines for everyone flim-flam. The talk of this being a global problem and that we’re all in this together being standard flim-flam was shown up by the Cold War hacking and spying allegations mentioned. It was confirmed by the British and other governments refusing to support a WHO initiativeto encourage countries to share research on coronavirus treatments and produce any final medicines patent-free. This would mean they could be distributed fairly according to need. The proposal, a voluntary scheme that would pool knowledge, intellectual property and data about coronavirus health technologies. Pfizer called the proposal “nonsense”, while the big British companies working on coronavirus treatments, AstraZeneca and GlaxoSmithKlein, refused to participate.” Following the ins-and-outs of the various promises and qualifications of promises when it comes to the pricing and availability of as yet not-existent vaccines is a job in itself and one can only support the efforts of the present head of the WHO leader Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
What Mr Azar’s appraisal does rather miss out as ideologically-minded ‘neoliberals do is the amount of public money that supports or subsidises private sector research and sometimes production itself. It is clearly the case that the US lead in sectors like IT has come from subsidies from the Defense Department most of all through its DARPA section; and that the Bayh-Dole Act on patents gave ‘the private sector’ the right to claim the profits from such subsidy. In the area of pharmaceuticals this is not exclusive to the USA, in China and Russia the military play a large role in virus research. DARPA while working on creating the perfect soldier with various areas of research from intelligent textile uniforms to drugs to pre-empt PTSD or rather anys ense of guilt) is perhaps naturally given both the history and possibility of biowarfare concerned and in relation to COVID the potential biowarfaring of bats. The Defense Department’s own Overseas Research laboratories have been just some of those that as Rob Wallace described sprang up after the first SARS outbreak and the various Avian flus. DARPA’s own embrace of biotech started specifically after the 2008-9 swine flu epidemic and specifically which in 2014 saw it creating a Biological Technologies Office. The Acronyms then start to flourish with the ADEPT (Autonomous Diagnostics to Enable Prevention and Therapeutics.) program that funded private capital companies. In 2018 the PREEMPT (Preventing Emergent Pathogenic Threads) which “seeks to support military readiness by going after new viral infectious diseases at source…”. Naturally enough its budget requires some ‘military readiness’ angle which fits well with the War analogy common to illness in political talk. War on Cancer, War in AIDS etc, but that it is looking at closer surveillance in human communities the in contact with wildlife with the potential of the pre-emptive strike in of the parts of the world as with ‘failed state’ assessment. Their vocabulary does not bode well: “New proactive intervention will center on methods for disarming a virus before it can make a jump across species.” Even more sinister “Successful intervention will be tailored to anticipate threats”. Another DARPA offshoot is its ECHO (Epigenetic Characterization and Observation) program)) . This has now morphed into the Pandemic Prevention Platform (P3) which is ‘spearheading’ the super-fast development of mRNA vaccines a foundational technology pioneered by DARPA in its ADEPT program and now embracing universities (including Plymouth) (and which is being commercially developed by Moderna in the US which is getting up to $483 million from another arm of the US state, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. The US state’s own vaccine development umbrella project Operation Warp Speed is under the direction of an army General.
To mention military involvement in funding is not intended to promote new conspiracy theories, though again it should be out in the open -otherwise it will do this, but to see the usually opaque state-private capital funding links. Where conspiracy-type controversy has emerged but been submerged by President Trump’s generic anti-Chinese rhetoric it relates to the relation between the New York based EcoHealth Alliance and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, the centre of the COVID as lab escapee narrative. The Alliance has been funded as a ‘Partner’ by another branch of the Federal state, USAID as part of the PREDICT project active since 2009. In April of this year its funding was abruptly cut off by Trump because of its connection to Wuhan but with the scientific rationale that it was party to Gain-of-Function studies there. This is when “different strains of pathogen” are run “though host species to allow the virus to evolve its own stereochemical solutions to the problems presented by a host immune system or microbiocidal. It is all aimed at developing antidotes to virus but has been seen as inherently dangerous. The pros and cons here are well beyond the scope of this text or indeed the author’s knowledge, but what is relevant is how it became part of a strand of conspiracy theory that sees the making and/or leaking of COVID in which Dr Anthony Faucit in his US National Institute of Health role became another hate figure. This on the basis that the NIH as well as USAID also may have supplied money to Wuhan via EcoHealth Alliance. Having been shoved aside by the Trumps for not telling them what they wanted to hear, Faucit became specifically a hate figure for pro-Trump fascists. But it was the Trumps who allowed Gain-of-Function studies to be restarted in the USA after they had been banned during the Obama Presidency, a moratorium imposed.
These joint -and EcoHealth Alliance being a ‘non-profit’ and therefore deniable partner-laboratory set-ups were what Rob Wallace referred to above “building all those labs post-H5N1 and -9/11.” From the early 20th century from the moment that influenza with its varied and ambiguous symptoms could only be determined to be influenza in the lab, power shifted there. Neoliberalism has been described as a fairweather ideology or fairweather mode of capitalism with its just-in-time and long production chains but if there has been any precautionary principle at work it has been in those labs. Necessary work, problem-solving analysis but one which in related manner; did not Prevent COV ID-19; did not in any way counter the land grab-greed that changes the very ecology of animals and viruses; co-existed with a run down in public preparedness for the pandemic they did not prevent. In the USA under both Trump and Obama, the reasonable centrist, the federal government cut its role for such preparedness and in the UK it is left to some courageous doctors to push the government to reveal what its 2016 pandemic preparedness said, just the food for a serious conspiracy theorist.
Conspiracy theory is more comforting than what will be involved with the radical transformations of the capitalist economy and the environment it is playing which are needed to reduce the risk of more pandemics to come, a transformation capitalism cannot make. COVID 19 has made it more directly clear than climate change activism has been able to do. It creates an opportunity for such change and in this context a focus on ‘anti-vaxxers’ and conspiracy theorists has a tendency to sound smug and more to the point is a sledgehammer-and-nut line up and a displacement from our own failings in regard to fascistic appropriations of ‘anti-elites’, and not confronting the real politics of modern fascism, life as a zero sum game. On the first recognition of and revulsion at the psycho-political realities of hierarchy, its maintenance and reproduction as integral to exploitation has lacked teeth from the anti-capitalist side: “We are he 99%” not just anodyne but not taking on the psycho-social reality of real power elites and contesting that, the circularities of entitlement. Zero-sum politics, ie that a gain for any set of other people must be at your expense, usually but not exclusively with racist overtones, is the real basis of modern fascism. What it says though is that not only is capitalism so destructive and unable to make the world safe but it no longer holds the promise of life getting better for most people at almost any level. Banging on about anti-vaxxers and the rest is a displacement activity to the enormity of what it means that capitalism is “not for for purpose” and its managerialism singularly incompetent.
25th Ocober 2020