three great essays from offguardian

Covid Odyssey
John Griffin, OffGuardian, Jan 24 2021

“Wherefore we find our adventurer Odysseus stirring, his patience at an end.
His black ship is run down to the water. He calls for mariners”

Who else senses the world shrinking around them? Was it only a year ago we could twirl a multi-hued globe and contemplate a trip to one of those inviting islets of colour? Now, such goals have become uncertain, hazardous, forbidden even. We are confined to our country, our state, our town, a backyard. An immemorial freedom is being curtailed. We began as a freewheeling species, nonchalantly strolling out of Africa. A hundred millennia later and a trip to the local supermarket will soon be a grand day out, and even this dependent on the whims of a president, a prime minister, a mayor. Are we destined to settle for Hamlet’s fancy, a world ‘bounded in a nutshell’? That feeling of confinement and frustration brought Melville’s Ishmael to the point of knocking people’s hats off in the street. Today, it’s masks. And so, to sea.

I propose a new Odyssey. In the spirit of Tennyson’s ‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield,’ it shall be a voyage to discover the origins of Covid. In time, the story may evolve to become an epic to rival Homer’s. For now, we will have to be content with a synopsis. The initial motive for the first Odyssey was the whisking away to Troy of that exemplar of beauty, Helen. This inducement is going to be harder to conjure today. Leonora in my local farmácia has seductive eyes. But the rest of her is obscured by a black mask. If her ancient namesake were similarly attired, I fear the Greek fleet would still be sitting on the sands. We must picture a fresh scenario. A mysterious visitor to Ithaca’s port brings news of a deadly foe. The people gather round, imagining the imminent invasion of the cyclopes, or gorgons, or a chimera. They are informed that a nasty cold, of the sort that carries off some of the elderly and sick each year, is on its way and everyone should take cover.

Chuckles all round? A sound drubbing of the newcomer? Alas, within a short time this startling account of an epidemios has subdued a hitherto sane land. Wherefore we find our adventurer Odysseus stirring, his patience at an end. His black ship is run down to the water. He calls for mariners. But this expedition is not for everyone. Before we enter the wide salt sea, how best to decide our crew? Most of our islanders have determined Covid a krisis. We have no time to review or debate their savage reasonings. While the mast is stepped, the sails carried aboard, and the long oars looped to the tholes, Odysseus’ wife Penelope has distributed the following multiple-choice questionnaire.

RECRUITMENT TEST (UK VERSION)

BASIC KNOWLEDGE

  1. How many viruses do we have in us?
    a) 1 or 2
    b) 150
    c) 380 trillion
  2. How many people are likely immune to SARS-CoV-2?
    a) None, how could they be?
    b) 5-10%
    c) More than 50%
  3. When did Covid first appear?
    a) Wuhan in Dec 2019
    b) A US military base a few weeks earlier
    c) Iberia in Mar 2019
  4. Sending your 10-year-old off to school, you would be most concerned about them
    a) not having the ferry fare for Charon after succumbing to Covid-19
    b) being attacked by a hippo or Nile crocodile
    c) being struck on the head by a tortoise like Aeschylus

LOGICAL REASONING

  1. If I have Covid when I die, does that mean I must have died from it?
    a) Obviously
    b) Very likely
    c) No
  2. If a study found that 1.8% of people wearing masks caught Covid, compared to 2.1% of a control group that didn’t, you would conclude masks are
    a) 98.2% effective
    b) about 50% effective
    c) as effective as a bronze Corinthian war helmet
  3. Is the following syllogism valid?
    “All residents of nursing homes are mortal. Socrates is a resident of a nursing home. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.”

    a) No, and the question is discriminatory
    b) Under certain circumstances
    c) Absolutely
  4. What do the following figures tell you?: The average age of death is 81.5, while the average age of Covid deaths is 82.4.
    a) One of those curious coincidences
    b) I’d be better off with Covid
    c) There is little to worry about
  5. If PCR tests come up with 97% false positives, identify inoperative fragments of virus, and artificially amplify a minute sample 240 times to make it look more impressive, does it make sense to test?
    a) Of course, it helps us see what otherwise wouldn’t be noticed
    b) Yes, any test is better than no test
    c) No

COMMON SENSE QUESTIONS

  1. If an epidemiologist, calculating death rates, had got it wrong 4 times in a row, you would
    a) trust him this time
    b) be somewhat wary
    c) call down the wrath of Zeus
  2. Given that excess deaths occurred after lockdown began, you would conclude lockdown was
    a) a sensible approach
    b) better than doing nothing
    b) bloody useless
  3. If you found the same people promoting the official Covid narrative were also associated with pharmaceutical companies, health-tech companies, or vaccine manufacturers that could make a killing out of Covid, you would conclude
    a) it was just a coincidence
    b) there might be a conflict of interest
    c) half the government is probably corrupt

INTUITIVE REASONING

  1. If you found that common influenza had disappeared after Covid emerged, you would conclude
    a) it was a wonderful piece of luck in gloomy times
    b) it shows what a marvellous thing lockdown is
    c) we are now counting the common flu as Covid
  2. Noticing that prominent and respected scientists, academics, journalists, and intellectuals all take Covid to be a serious threat, you would
    a) take their word for it
    b) doubt your own sanity
    c) doubt their sanity, and wonder what else they’d got wrong
  3. Shown a photograph of Bill Gates you would
    a) see a respected philanthropist and humanitarian
    b) be relieved that someone with no qualifications was an expert on health policy
    c) think of a naughty schoolboy up to no good

SCIENTIFIC AND PHILOSOPHICAL REASONING

  1. According to the Law of Covid Stupidity, the force of intelligence is inversely proportional to the square of the distance from the centre of a Covid hotspot. The law, often summarized as ‘the fewer the deaths, the greater the panic,’ shows that when there are no deaths at all, stupidity approaches infinity. Indicate your response to the panicked lockdown in South Australia and Sydney after zero deaths were registered.
    a) The number of deaths is not always the issue
    b) They were just being cautious
    c) I’d be concerned about being seen with an Australian passport
  2. Indicate your response to this ontological argument: Covid is something than which nothing greater can be conceived. That which exists in reality must be greater than that which exists only in the mind. Therefore, Covid must exist outside the mind as well as inside. For, if it existed in the mind only, and not in reality, it would not be ‘something than which nothing greater can be conceived’.
    a) Absolutely proves it
    b) I’d have to mull it over
    c) The silliest thing I ever heard
  3. Argument from Design: If, walking over a heath, you came across a fully working Matt Hancock, you would conclude
    a) there must be a Designer
    b) it had evolved from something much simpler
    c) it had devolved from something more reasonable

Circumspect Penelope has done well: the correct answers are all (c).

*

More than 99.5% of people who contract Covid survive it. Which makes a mockery of the oft-quoted dictum, Covido ergo sum infirmum; that is, ‘There is Covid, therefore I am sick.’ Ironically, 99.5% also happens to be the number of people who take Covid seriously, consider Penelope to be a conspiracy theorist, and are petitioning Odysseus for a recount. The crew is picked. Along with some experts in Very Small Invisible Things, and a mysterious grey-eyed woman, we are surprised to find we are mostly journalists, not a profession Odysseus is familiar with. But we assure him of our worth. We are, we say, like a sort of Delphic oracle: busybodies who are keen to reveal the truth, but grossly misjudged. Churning the salt sea to foam, setting sail, our small fellowship of heroic souls, independent thinkers all, leaves this Mediterranean paddling pool. Out through the Pillars of Heracles, into the Atlantic, we head north. Even as Dawn’s rosy fingers light the morning of the seventh day, we come across our first island and our first chance to fathom Covid.

1. LAND OF THE FOOLS

A wide river brings us to a neo-gothic building with a clock tower. Leaning from a window, a blonde scruffy-haired lad in short pants is jeering, telling us to ‘bugger off.’ But already, one of our keen-eyed crew, Pétros, has vaulted the gunwale and now takes the measure of this strange land. It is, he concludes, a simulacrum of a giant playground in which a bullying gang is lording it over their schoolfellows, imposing arbitrary rules and regulations. The ringleaders, rounded up and held at spearpoint, are quizzed. Sniveling, Matt and Raaby blame Johnno; Johnno points the finger at Paddy and ‘Witless,’ and then tries some Ancient Greek. Odysseus pokes him; it’s as ludicrous as a street urchin in royal robes. Their chief skill, he determines, is mindless rabbiting. Of courage, diligence, solicitude, honour, or the ability to think properly, there is no sign.

Pétros, ever fond of metaphors, says they are as boys who have climbed upon and accidentally set in motion, Achilles’ chariot. The horses are too powerful to control and, hanging on for dear life, they have neither the wit nor the will to stop it or call for help. Has stupidity got us into this mess? The journalist Peter Hitchens has, over many months, pointed out the stupidity of the incumbent Tory cabinet. Immature when they took office, Johnson and his mates have retained an adolescent approach to governance. Hitchens refers to the qualities of independence and critical thought that were once the hallmarks of a university graduate. Eroded by a modern education system, we have ended with a populace who no longer know how to think, only what to think.

He could be right. To study the classics is to assimilate not just the wisdom of Western civilization, but a way of thinking. Genuine thought is holistic, a discernment regarding which facts to use and what relative importance they have. Problems easily solved with intuitive intelligence seem big and scary when ‘single vision’ is brought to bear. Ever increasing specialization has brought us fields of science such as epidemiology, and Neil Ferguson. To make him more than a source of facts about viruses is like recruiting an expert on marine borers as chief navigator aboard the Argo; it is to relinquish intelligence altogether. His predictive record alone supports the old maxim concerning experts: as time goes by, they know more and more about less and less, until eventually they will know absolutely everything about nothing at all.

To weigh things up is what leaders are for. A broad understanding of what promotes human health and welfare, how the law operates to ensure individual sovereignty and democratic rights, the economic principles that make for a successful society, all the way up to metaphysical principles, would be nice. But otherwise, ask around. Granted, we had a duty to be cautious at first, since we didn’t know that we weren’t facing the most serious malady ever visited upon Homo sapiens. We now know this is not the case. For months, experts in various pertinent fields have been saying that Covid is not dissimilar to the common flu virus in respect of mortality. There is no justification for quarantining healthy people, closing schools and workplaces, destroying livelihoods, driving the economy into recession, eroding civil liberties, undermining the normal working of a national health system and the psychological well-being of a nation, or for mass vaccination. To ignore their voices, and refer instead to a ‘consensus of scientists’, is like punishing Einstein for challenging the Newtonian paradigm.

A government has a duty not to promote stupidity. Stanley Milgram in the 1960s discovered it was pretty damn easy to get people to obey authority figures. Tempting as it might be to experiment with behavioural psychology, or black psychiatry, explore all the ways you can promote worry, fear, shame or guilt, and see how many wild and arbitrary instructions you can hand out before people stop saluting, you must resist. You must encourage free thought.

We are quickly bringing on the day when an irreconcilable split between an old world of common sense and a new, dangerously unintelligent, one forms. This new ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ will, ironically, comprise the ‘sensible’ ones who no longer accept death as inevitable, see people as biological threats, and would prefer every last disease, down to a sniffle, be conquered, and the ‘selfish’ ones who accept the trade-off necessary for a livable world, the precarious nature of life being the price of freedom, sanity and happiness. The first are in the majority and have made the mainstream media and the police their allies. Once keeping bad journalism at bay with Cerberus-like ferocity, mainstream media now defend accuracy, independence, and impartiality with the vigor of a depleted and flea-bitten Argos on a dunghill. The police, once mild-mannered citizens in uniform, have been made to morph, Proteus-like, into armored, weapon-wielding yobbos.

What level of stupidity, incompetence, bumbling, or vanity would explain the Johnson government ignoring experts, ignoring the experience of Sweden, Belarus, Nicaragua or Japan, ignoring the wholly unalarming facts, and then making things worse? What level of stupidity to seek to continue devastating policies, once it has become clear that more deaths will result than will ever be caused by Covid? What level of stupidity would overlook being thrown out on one’s ear at the next election, or being tried in the highest courts of the land for criminal behaviour? What level of stupidity would weigh the premature deaths of thousands of the elderly, those denied health-care, suicides, physical and psychological torture, crippling debt and mass unemployment, as the unhappy side effect of good intentions? And how to answer for our own kind? Could nearly all mainstream journos have become stupid too, mesmerized by the Sage Sirens soothingly enticing a whole nation to its doom? Odysseus is of like mind. He cannot believe that only foolishness is to blame, and calls us to the rowing benches. Regretfully, we leave our grey-bearded old salt, Pétros. Confident the incompetence will be exposed, he has gone in search of a dead albatross to hang about the neck of Johnno to slowly rot.

2. LAND OF FILTHY LUCRE

Out of the sea mist looms a many-tiered tower of Parnassus-like proportions. Drawing near, we see that most of the citizens inhabit the lower terraces, and that’s where all the activity is. They are feverishly engaged in making stuff which they hand upward. Down from the top come pieces of paper: IOUs. At the summit it looks leisurely indeed: cigars, cognac, private helicopters. Perhaps it takes a man like Odysseus to recognize what is going on. It is slavery in all but name. The whip and peremptory command are gone; no need for coercion. Working to enrich the few, the wage labourer, too, benefits somewhat. The key is money, and the cunning bit is to make people want what they don’t need. By this method small-scale businesses evolve to become mega companies proffering outrageous products, from F35 fridge magnets to F35s; from a mobile phone with multi-lens 100MP camera to a global satellite surveillance system; from a new tasteless tomato to industrial-scale artificial meat labs; from a weight loss pill to global mRNA flu vaccines.

We tell Odysseus that the richest one percent have accumulated twice as much wealth as 90% of the global population, of 6.9b people. Odysseus is used to hierarchy and, once ashore, scales the building to the utmost top, expecting to find there one of the Olympian gods. Instead, he is alarmed that he keeps running into kids. Willy Gates is Covid king here, directing and controlling, thanks to judicious donations to the WHO and various vaccine companies and organizations. Since the fake pandemic began, his fortune has swelled to $129b.

Covid has magic properties. Big Pharma is like Aesop’s farmer with the golden-egg laying goose. A jab or two in the arm for everyone on the planet, 5000 drachmae each, is just the start. Make a virus that’s like the common flu into a silent killer and you’ve effectively made the common flu into a lethal killer too, opening up the market considerably. Covid’s great merit is that it’s invisible, scary, and difficult to get a handle on. So difficult in fact, that most experts are not up to it. Initially the government sought the help of a secretive group, SAGE. However, the even more secretive PARSLEY (Pharmaceutical Advisory Racket Steering Lockdowns and Emergencies Yet-to-come) proved more equal to the task. It alone was vouchsafed the right figures, facts and graphs, insight into the optimum levels and duration for lockdowns, discernment regarding timely and helpful media releases, and knowledge of the best protective kit.

With the focus on fear, the risk of us all drifting into a sort of cheerful heedlessness, and so back to normality, was allayed. Meanwhile, the close working relationship between Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty, Chief Scientific Advisor Patrick Valance, and money, ensured fascinating research for our own kind. Investigative journalist Vanessa Beeley has analyzed the relationship between philanthrocapitalism, Big Pharma and government agencies, and it looks like the potential profits for those involved, now that Covid vaccines are here, will make all Menelaus’ golden riches seem puny.

Propitiously, after many trying months, the goal of the vaccine companies and our own are in lockstep, a miracle, since Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca can’t actually promise to make you immune, or that you won’t still be contagious, or that you won’t need endless boosters, or another vaccine to combat upcoming mutant strains. In the vital hunt for new and emerging viruses, such as the highly infectious B.H.1066-W1, first identified near Hastings in East Sussex, or the 1485-HT-R3 variant discovered in the vicinity of Market Bosworth in Leicestershire: ROSEMARY (Respiratory and Other Simulated Epidemics Modelled As Required Yearly) will no doubt prove itself. However, more exotic herbs may need to be brought into play.

*

Upon the shore, around a driftwood fire, we sit and ponder this bizarre world of killer viruses and house arrests. Odysseus likes a good story, and our golden-haired journalist has an old tale from the Orient. One day Nasrudin, the wise fool, is spotted outside his house throwing handfuls of crumbs on the ground. “What are you doing?” someone asks. “Keeping the tigers away.” “But there are no tigers around here.” “Effective, isn’t it.” Odysseus is reminded of the turning point at Troy. It is, he says, as though his great wooden horse was once more brought to the city gates. This time the Trojans are in trepidation over what the horse may contain, and fearing the worst spend endless days on elaborate schemes to counter the threat. But this time, Odysseus laughs, it is empty. Just then, his sharp eye discerns something going on at the very pinnacle of the tower. The paper money is floating down from the sky like a great flock of birds whose origin is far out to sea. ‘Puppets,’ he says enigmatically. Bidding farewell to more of our crew, we run the black ship into the surf and continue our quest. We will miss our fair mariner at the steering oar, the east wind in her hair as Helios rises out of Ocean astern.

3. LAND OF THE MAD

It’s unfortunate that more people don’t understand how easy it is to get rich. The key to accumulating property is the same as in Plato’s day: lending money at interest: usury. Aristotle frowned upon the practice, believing that money should be used to further the fair and just exchange of goods and services, not to breed more money [Politics Book 1, 10]. For centuries the Church banned the practice for Christians. Without curb, this tendency logically leads to all the world’s wealth in the hands of a few. You can make a start with rare things like gold and silver coin. Lend some out; get more back. But the nifty invention is paper money, which allows you to fraudulently lend out what you don’t really have. The modern banking system, using the fractional reserve system and paper or electronic money, is the brilliant scam we’ve all gone along with. It wasn’t the wisest decision because, although it may allow us to hold onto things for a while, those in charge of the money control the economy and our assets. Money lavishly loaned out one year allows us to thrive. But when the money supply is tightened again, by raising interest rates, we risk losing everything.

Since the 1700s, this scam has enabled the modern great banking families to achieve vast wealth and influence, enough to fund wars and revolutions, a startling outcome for entities that don’t produce anything of consequence. Nevertheless, once the system is up and running it works a treat, feeding off the industry, creativity, and lives of the rest of us, who have become slaves without noticing. Usury on a colossal scale means debt on a colossal scale. When Milton Friedman’s exciting neoliberal pro-market ideas were tried out in the 70s, debt to private banks soared. In countries like Chile, ‘rescue packages’ were introduced, loans to pay off loans, but required the imposition of Structural Adjustment Programs (read: blanket privatization) to ensure money and interest were returned. In the following decades, whole countries were enslaved, their resources stripped, their traditional, self-sufficient economies ruined.

Loans are not there to be repaid. This only delays total control. Rather they are ongoing, permitting the continuous hoovering up of assets and resources. The evidence for how far this has gone today is the debt-to-GDP ratio. By the time a country owes as much as it produces, it is like a prisoner who doesn’t so much negotiate their future as whether they have bronze or iron ankle chains. Ultimate control is in reach once fractional reserve is set to 0% and the economy is fully digitized. Then we are at the mercy of banks, who may instigate negative interest to deplete savings, forcing us to switch completely to borrowing. We own nothing. The present Covid policies show the keen sense of humour of the money-lending elite, ‘lockdowns’ being both the means of further debt control and a demonstration of our true condition as captives. All this and more we explain to Odysseus to bring him up to speed, as we ply Poseidon’s domain, soaking up the vitamin D. Odysseus has encountered wealthy men. He has had his own wealth stripped away and then returned. The gods may control wind and wave. They are not masters of our thought, nor can they constrain our will.

*

We journos have cause to congratulate ourselves only hours later. For, when we set foot on our next island, a barren rock, it bears all the lineaments of a prison camp. We come across a vast compound; then, strong walls, barred windows and heavy doors. Those of whom we spoke evidently hold the people in thrall. Throwing open an unlocked door, Odysseus strides in and we follow. Inside, the well-dressed inmates pace the floor or gather around huge oval tables. They ignore us. Instinctively we move inward and encounter nearly identical rooms and activity, though the people seem less distinct. Advancing further they become wraithlike. And then almost invisible. At the centre of the building, an empty throne. We wonder aloud: Who behaves thus in a jail, and if they can leave anytime, why stay? Odysseus says:

It’s a madhouse, and they wish to stay.

He’s right; how did we miss it? Here, obsession with money and profit has brought extraordinary power and a compulsion to wield it. Returning outside, we make a mental note to contact the DSM 5 Task Force to suggest a new category. Lord Acton said:

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.

A hierarchy of sorts may be inevitable; we all have our merits. But a democracy, which is government of, by and for the people, means that an elected representative’s foremost concern should be the welfare of sovereign individuals. So why does it never work? Did Acton get the cart before the horse? Are people in power made corrupt, or is it that corrupt people seek out power?

It has been calculated that about 1% of people are psychopaths. The psychopath’s world is a cheery one. A grandiose sense of their own worth is matched by a dearth of empathy. Lacking any real concern for others means they are not troubled by the troubles that beset those around them. And when their own actions cause suffering, they are mercifully free of guilt or remorse. Applying their intellect to the most effective way to get what they want, lying, cheating and manipulation are de rigueur. Movement, in a world made narrow by their own narrowness, is perceived as scaling the heights. It is actually plumbing the depths. At every stage, the automatic empathy filtering process removes those with too many scruples. At last, around corporate boardroom tables, normal people appear as pawns in a chess game. Around Cabinet Room tables, normal people appear as ‘plebs’ whose lives hold no particular interest. Whether we vote or not, we get the wrong person.

Psychopaths are stunted beings. Truth, Beauty and Goodness, Plato’s three verities, do not touch them. Their ignorance is a tragedy and a mercy. They do not know the maturity of the human state, but they also don’t know that they don’t know, so are spared the knowledge that their infantilism is always on show, a grotesque and embarrassing thing to the wise. On the trail of this sub-species of humanity, we might expect to discover unusual behaviour or uncommon habitat. Sure enough, we find two things: a penchant for living it up with the boys at sinister sounding locations, and an inordinate fondness for acronyms.

Thus, at the close of WW2 at Bretton Woods we got IBRD and IMF. Later, to control poor countries, IFC; to control food, FAO, CGIAR, IRRI and CIMMYT; water, IWA; health, GHC; medicines, WHO, IFPMA; vaccines, GAVI and CEPI; the environment, UNEP; planetary health, ICPH; media, ATT, NFLX. Marvelous coordinating bodies like the Bilderberg Group, CFR, and ICPP (Trilateral Commission) would provide measured judgement and advice to governments. Forums, such as Davos-based WEF, are ‘committed to improving the state of the world.’ And, in the BIS, One Bank to rule them all … and in the darkness bind them. Even the Pope bows to the sovereignty of mammon, the Vatican endorsing the CIC (Council of Inclusive Capitalism). Overseeing $10.5t in assets, its CEO-members are to be known as ‘Guardians’…

‘Enough!’ Odysseus, reminded of his homecoming from Troy, is beginning to pace. The grey-eyed woman’s eyes flash. Is there no limit to this corruption? Odysseus is for solving the problem of parasites who don’t perform a useful function forthwith. For the third time we stay his hand, warning him that EU regulations prohibit the use of the bow and spear to settle disputes. But now the crew, disheartened, are debating the need to continue this expedition. Most cannot conceive of a land beyond this one, or that it need be sought. Yet, for Odysseus, true power is not of this world. He has been to Hades, has run into some pretty troubling monsters and some pretty cool goddesses. Unexpectedly, our grey-eyed lady steps forth with clear reason. The isle that we seek, the one that lies at the very heart of the Covid quandary, is difficult of approach, veiled in darkness. Yet we should not falter just as we are in reach of an answer, but instead have faith in our leader and in heavenly help. The sail is run up, the rigging made taught. Setting off, the grey-eyed one watchful at the prow, we endure winds, storms, and frightful seas enough to bewail the use of rhetoric, lament our leader’s obsession with adventure, curse Covid, and decry all imaginary isles. But in five days he finds it, black upon a wine-dark sea.

4. LAND OF DEMONS

The storm has abated, but few of the crew (apart from the UK Column boys) are keen to go ashore, not because they are afraid, but because, after a surfeit of Richard Dawkins videos, they have concluded that the supernatural is silly. We owe this complacency to early scientists like Galileo and Francis Bacon, who decided that if you couldn’t measure it, you could discount it. Four centuries of empiricism have seen spirit, soul, beauty, and divinity reduced first to ideas and then to electrochemical processes in the brain. Monsters and demons and all such nefarious forces became the more lively products of imagination. Yet, throughout human history, in most cultures, at most times, both a divinity and the powers that divert us away from it were taken as read. In the Isa Upanishad we are told:

There are demon-haunted worlds, regions of utter darkness. Whoever in life denies the Spirit falls into that darkness of death.

Christ did battle with demons and the Prophet spoke of invisible and malicious jinns. They were in no doubt that dimensions both above and below were real. Flattening the vertical dimension, science came up with a very big, largely lifeless, more or less stupid universe, and atheism. Maybe this wouldn’t matter if we all became relatively innocuous Dawkinses or Sam Harrises, genial humanists still lit by the afterglow of religious ethics; if science was, as in the ancient Greek world, a harmless intellectual exercise. However, it’s not. Paradoxically modern science, free of niggling ethical restraints, has itself produced some unsavoury things:

  1. Nuclear demons — released when the inner structure of matter is broken apart.
  2. Chemical demons — a never-ending stream of debilitating or deadly lab-produced substances, poured with abandon upon our world, and ingested by us.
  3. Biological demons — brought into being in case someone else makes them first, and kept in Genie bottles until we ‘need’ to use them.
  4. Genetic demons — strange twisted beings, the result of restructuring and recombining DNA.
  5. Klaus Schwab.

Klaus, as we know, is that marvelous amalgamation of overly-extended reason and everything that is bad about science fiction. Something happened to SF after the golden age of the 60s. Star Trek, for instance, was once a balance of reason and intuition, logic and empathy, very short skirts and a Starfleet directive to stay focused. Heading off across the galaxy seemed like it might be enjoyable. Computers knew their place and a natural landscape was still an ideal. Carl Sagan criticized it for its anthropomorphic depictions of alien lifeforms and concentration on the interests and obsession of humans from planet Earth. But that’s the point. Star Trek has little to do with the future. It’s a modern-day myth, allegorical and didactic, capturing an ideal of good sense, altruism and nobility from distant memory, a template for a better world, without bigotry, racism or money.

Klaus, on the other hand, must have absorbed SF of the hardest kind: ultra-technological and machine worshipping, in which hubristic tinkering is customary, and where organic life could probably be improved, or better still dispensed with. A 100% left-hemisphere mind would, of course, be happier in a diamond-titanium matrix, free to explore forever an ersatz universe of robot dreams, untroubled by squishy bits. You suspect Klaus would have felt sorry for murderous HAL, obviously the most capable of the ship’s crew in Clarke’s 2001, when he was shut down. (The correct response is “Die, you bastard, die!”) And Kuno, in E M Forster’s The Machine Stops, would be thought ungrateful for wishing to escape a perfect machine-controlled subterranean city of beehive cells, to breathe real air and gaze upon the hills of Wessex.

His own science fiction works, The Fourth Industrial Revolution and The Great Reset, are litanies of praise for what humans throughout history would conceive as insane. And that’s before we’ve left the planet. Pitched as they are to childish minds, it might be appropriate to imagine the ideas contained therein being presented by an author in a red suit with white fur trim. Opening our first presents from Santa Klaus we find the usual tedious hi-tech gadgets: drones, chat bots, autonomous vehicles, automated journalists, librarians, lawyers and doctors, AI-infested appliances and clothes, a 3d printer, some GM snacks, all readily abandoned when we go outside to play. Not so fast. We’ve been naughty, and exploring the world must be curtailed. A damaged environment needs healing with geo-engineering: giant mirrors in low earth orbit, and machines to remove CO2. Nature can wait.

Back indoors, Santa becomes more sinister. In future, our schooling will take place online using augmented reality; we’ll be monitored 24/7 with sensors spanning the planet. Implantable technologies, nanobots and Smart Dust, offer a virtual world. Our behaviour could be modified, thoughts read, memories retrieved, artificial ones added. Knowing we plan to be naughty means law enforcement steps in before we’ve done anything. Everything connected to everything else results in a fusion of machines with body and brain. Using nanotech and biotech, we shall make cyborgs of ourselves, harnessing superior mentation and physical capacities. We’ll have replacement organ tissue, have our genes manipulated, and be able to tinker with the genome of the unborn. A transhumanist vision of this sort, Klaus admits, requires the imposition of global governance, else we try to stop it. An ‘emergency’ which severely restricts the working of democracy, isolates people, and creates confusion and fear, is a disorienting event for the masses. Not so, for those prepared.

As fate would have it, Klaus’s World Economic Forum co-hosted Event 201 in Oct 2019, a conference in which the effects of a fictional coronavirus pandemic were modelled. It’s always nice to have people on top of the situation recognize a transformative crisis when they see one, and be ready to push forward the necessary reset of society, by accelerating economic and cultural change while the rest of us are indisposed by lockdowns, physical distancing, and muzzles. Dark as the landscape around us is, we easily identify here the extreme limit of capitalism, the complete alignment of technology with Big money. The giveaway is the WEF website, and a promo video in which a vacant grinning youth is happy in owning nothing, brilliant counterpoint to the elite’s goal of owning everything.

For centuries, unbridled capitalism has had to accommodate itself to annoying human proclivities such as intelligence, wisdom, and love of freedom and beauty. Klaus and his mates have hit upon an alternative: reshape humanity to suit capitalism; remake humans as robotic slaves, whose every activity perfectly serves and enriches the few. By marshalling an army of ‘little helpers,’ digitally-educated, media-compliant, risk-averse, inexperienced but self-righteous Zoomers and Alphas, this new world will soon be in the bag. Books such as these might as well be read as fantasist manifestos: the threadbare red and white suit is discarded to reveal … Emperor of Earth, Supreme Commander of the Federation of Planets, and Galactic Overlord.

Technologists occasionally have a realistic perception of their work. ‘The physicists have known sin,’ Robert Oppenheimer said after his babies blew apart two Japanese cities. Dwelling upon a future of genetic manipulation, nanotechnology, and robotics, Bill Joy penned Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us at the turn of the century, believing:

We are on the cusp of the further perfection of ‘extreme evil’

Today, pondering our brash attempt to create artificial intelligence, Elon Musk concludes:

We are summoning the demon.

You’d think we would have learned. For we’ve heard it all before. We’ve been warned over and over, by some of the most perceptive writers, who contrast an ideal world with a bleak alternative. In That Hideous Strength, C S Lewis paints a picture of a quiet Oxford college where tradition is quietly ransacked by a company of fanatical scientists with ambitions to rule the world and become immortal. Private armies, torture chambers, and the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments (NICE) are part of the heinous plan. Significantly they start by demolishing an ancient wood. Nature under attack is the hallmark of the diseased mind, and the desire to play God always follows a loss of understanding of what humans are. In JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, this blindness is realized in the orcs. We see the same contempt for tradition, for human qualities, for nature. Ancient forests are razed to create a dark and pitiless world, the antithesis of the hobbits’ tranquil Shire. In the hobbits’ world, anything more sophisticated than a forge bellows was mistrusted. This, because technology is a wedge. Driven too far, it will inevitably cleave the world asunder.

So we need not delude ourselves that The Great Reset is going to be green in any way whatsoever. Environmental philosophers have been at work on the ethical implications of the human-nature interface for upwards of fifty years. And the answers are in. Being ‘green’ is to revere nature, to learn its ways, to limit our impact on it. E F Schumacher’s advocation of intermediate technology is still the pre-eminent solution here. We are part of nature, so greenness also implies a respect for humanity. This does not involve forced change to old patterns and lifestyles, stripping away human attributes and imposing new ones, trampling on human dignity, or replacing our age-old connection with the land with a drone-like existence as harbinger of a new android species. ‘How did it come to this?’ Tolkien has Théoden ask in The Two Towers. We came to it by not heeding the signs, through being unwilling to admit to evil, being duped into confusion over what evil is. We decided it could not happen to us. We read all such warnings in the abstract, and made of prophetic fiction not a wake-up call but a soporific.

The dangers of technology are not first and foremost in how it impacts the physical realm, but in the modality of thought it initiates. Immersing ourselves in an artificial world is like entering a narrow defile where light from the past doesn’t penetrate. No longer seeing the world we once knew, no longer reminded of it, we forget. Persuaded by the sickest elements of humanity into a wholly materialist and quantitate view, a drastically limited conception of ourselves, we are eventually ready to relinquish our sovereignty. If many of our greatest writers were upholders of spiritual tradition, it was for a reason. The Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico believed that civilization could not survive without religion; when it was gone, we could expect barbarism. A metaphysical underpinning is a bulwark against an inhuman world of ever declining standards, ethics, and understanding. And it may just be what gives determination and strength of will to resist the technological inferno of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the inhuman hell none of us asked for.

*

Once more we sit upon a gloomy shore, firebrands burning, pondering what to do. How does one take part in the redemption of the world? We agree that in this Tolkien-like battle we have some things on our side. They who would debase human life, body and mind, to support their agenda always forewarn us of what they intend. And if scripture is to be believed, more than that. In the 14th surah, those who gave up their humanity in exchange for Satan’s ways cry out to him post-mortem. He answers witheringly:

I had no power over you save that I called unto you and ye obeyed me. So blame me not, but blame yourselves (Koran, XIV, 22)

Can love thwart the satanic influence threatening to engulf us? Need we only give assent to traditional values of truth and kindness? Affirm a spiritual understanding of the universe? Abjure our worship of technology and the machine? Start a new online eco-college? Hit the streets with some colourful placards proclaiming we would rather live authentic lives, have nature supply our healing light, air, and sustenance, be our inspiration, our source of vitality, pleasure and beauty? Odysseus is smiling at our timidity, our intellectualizing, our daydreaming and procrastination. He has seen all he needs to see. Is this not fabled Atlantis all over again? A once-great civilization utterly destroyed, sunk beneath the waves, through overweening pride in technological accomplishment?

This is what happens when we deny the gods. The road of modern science and technology must lead to atheism, to a place where ego is sovereign. There, with nothing to guide or check us, awaits the hubristic fantasy of remaking the world in our image. For Odysseus, the gods are alive still. They are that link between the physical world and the spiritual, the personification of the higher faculties. Homer, says Socrates, rightly represents Athena as both reason (dianoia) and intuitive perception (nous). As ‘divine intelligence’, she is the inner voice that guides [Cratylus, 407 a-b]. If modern science and technology is the cause of the world we have made for ourselves, then we are driven to a fateful decision. We must ask, Odysseus says, whether we halt the furtherance of this science altogether. Because one thing is clear. With the science that is emerging we have no future. By abandoning it, we have at least a chance of survival. Odysseus is no stranger to harsh force. Some think he got a bit carried away in his treatment of Penelope’s suitors, topping them one and all. But what price the preservation of a stable world? Athena has come now to whisper in his ear. Once more he will take her counsel.

The Will to Believe: Americans and their Divine Masters
Edward Curtin, OffGuardian, Jan 24 2021

Propagandists are smart people. They begin their devious machinations with the premise that people need to believe in something rather than remaining suspended in doubt or forced to accept the existential courage of despair that leaves them temporarily lost and without answers or masters, suffering from free-floating anxiety. Propagandists are like Mr Death. They know people are afraid of death and aloneness and so use that fear to manipulate them into believing their cover stories for comfort. Propagandists are like the Candy Man, handing out fictive life-savers to the shipwrecked desperadoes willing to grasp on to anything even if it has a big hole in its center. Propagandists take this need for belief and use it to create different scenarios that they develop into full-scale social theater pieces that will give the public various options to believe, all of which are meant to satisfy the public’s yearning for something rather than nothing but which conceal the truth. Facts don’t matter with these offerings, since they are completely illusory narratives. These staged plays usually contain their opposites; one can choose what has already been chosen for one, even seemingly contradictory scripts with opposing roles. Seemingly is the relevant word, for the opposites are not opposites but counterparts, flip-sides of the same coin. But each choice is a choice of belief that satisfies the need to believe no matter how unbelievable. It’s the coin that’s counterfeit. For the propagandists, facts are fictions used to entice the audience into double-binds so entrancing that there is no exit. Or so they hope. The French sociologist Jacques Ellul put it this way in his classic book Propaganda: The Formation of Men’s Attitudes:

For no citizen will believe he is unable to have opinions. Public opinion surveys always reveal that people have opinions even on the most complicated questions, except for a small minority (usually the most informed and those who have reflected most). The majority prefers expressing stupidities to not expressing any opinion: this gives them the feeling of participation. For they need simple thoughts, elementary explanations, a ‘key’ that will permit them to take a position, and even ready-made opinions. As most people have the desire and at the same time the incapacity to participate, they are ready to accept a propaganda that will permit them to participate, and which hides their incapacity beneath explanations, judgments, and news, enabling them to satisfy their desire without eliminating their incompetence. He realizes that he depends on decisions over which he has no control, and that realization drives him to despair. Man cannot stay in this situation too long. He needs an ideological veil to cover the harsh reality, some consolation, a raison d’être, a sense of values. And only propaganda offers him a remedy for a basically intolerable situation.

Thus the need to choose a master, a prefabricated demigod. It is why the American presidents are presented and accepted by their followers as minor divinities. Yes, it is a civil religion, and yes, people will vehemently deny that they revere these figureheads. But those denials ring false, as recent history and the pageantry associated with the installation of these demigods will attest. Take the last three presidents, for example. Barack Obama was considered, by his followers and many others, like a prayer come true, a black messiah come to redeem the country from its racist past and evil war-making deeds of his Muslim-hating, war-mongering predecessor George W Bush. That Obama then waged war on seven Muslim countries didn’t matter to his congregation. Not in the slightest. They revered him as strongly as they had denounced Bush, the black-hatted white demon to their white-hatted black god, for the western movie template underlies these political theater pieces. Obama was a dream come true and the dream factory went into overdrive. As the priestess Madonna prophesied with Like A Prayer in 1989:

Just like a dream
You are not what you seem
Just like a prayer, no choice
Your voice can take me there.

Then the orange-halo-headed Trump was paraded in. To his followers he was the savior who would re-redeem the country from the devilish divinity Obama, the false prophet. He would drain the swamp. Desperate middle-Americans revered this NYC real-estate tycoon and reality TV star who for years was nothing but a running joke among those who actually knew who he was. It didn’t matter to his congregation. Not in the slightest. That he gave to the rich and screwed the middle-class and the poor, increased the military budget, waged secretive wars via drones and private mercenaries didn’t matter a bit. He was a religious figure. To Hillary Clinton’s and Obama’s acolytes, he was Satan himself, and for four years the anti-pageant play was presented by the corporate mainstream media to exorbitant box office receipts and ratings. God and Satan fought in the ring for the ultimate fighting championship. Now, just like Ronald Reagan, another acting president, had the coffee brewing for “Morning in America,” Joseph Biden is greeted by the same media filmmakers as the latest savior, an aging but still virile demi-god who will usher in “a new day” in America. The pageantry surrounding his recent virtual inaugural, like all inaugurals, was a religious ceremony choreographed within an ironic circle of 20k armed palace guards and barbed-wire fencing protecting the erection of the new king, one who, like Oedipus in Sophocles’ tragedy, is presented as the savior who will defeat the viral plague attacking the new Thebes. Unlike Oedipus, however, one can be assured that Biden will not seek to discover the murderer of Laius (JFK), the former king, whose assassination resulted in the plague devastating the country. Oedipus’s search for the truth didn’t end well, and Biden’s long insider career bodes well for no truth-seeking. And like his predecessors’ inaugural ceremonies, this one featured cultural idols such as Hunger Games Lady Gaga, Madonna 2.0, promoting herself as befits idols, and Bruce Springsteen offering his evenings “small prayer for our country,” Land of Hopes and Dreams:

Grab your ticket and your suitcase
Thunder’s rollin’ down this track
Well, you don’t know where you’re goin’ now
But you know you won’t be back.
I said this train, dreams will not be thwarted
This train, faith will be rewarded.

No, we won’t be back, unless you think Biden’s slogan, “Build Back Better,” which is also the slogan of the world’s rulings elites, means what it says. Perhaps then your faith will be rewarded. I’ll go with George Carlin when he said that to believe in the American Dream you have to be asleep.

My faith is that the corporate mass media hypnotists who work for the owners of the country will continue to pump out their religious spectacles and that the various congregations will support their masters as always. The will to believe runs very deep and hand-in-glove with the propaganda. Life’s hard and it’s tough to be without a master. Ernest Becker writes in The Denial of Death:

Men don’t become slaves out of mere calculating self-interest. The slavishness is in the soul, as Gorky complained.

Propagandists’ ability to mesmerize the faithful has increase exponentially as the technological life has increased and been promoted as de rigueur. This online life is propagated as a new religion whose embrace is said to be inevitable and whose faith one must accept as the missionaries for its miraculous nature spread the word far and wide. Propagandists are smart people. They hate freedom.

Indian Farmers on the Frontline Against Global Capitalism: Indian farming “reforms” will benefit a handful of billionaires at the cost of small farms and ordinary laborers
Colin Todhunter, OffGuardian, Jan 24 2021

In the above short video on the empirediaries.com YouTube channel, a protesting farmer camped near Delhi says that during lockdown and times of crisis farmers are treated like “gods,” but when they ask for their rights, they are smeared and labelled as “terrorists.” He, along with thousands of other farmers, are mobilising against three important pieces of farm legislation that were recently forced through parliament. To all intents and purposes, these laws sound a neoliberal death knell for most of India’s cultivators and its small farms, the backbone of the nation’s food production. The farmer says:

Corporates invested in Modi before the election and brought him to power. He has sold out and is an agent of Ambani and Adani. He is unable to repeal the bills because his owners will scold him. He is trapped. But we are not backing down either.” Do the ministers know how many seeds are needed to grow wheat on an acre of land? We farmers know. They made these farm laws sitting in air-conditioned rooms. And they are teaching us the benefits!

While the corporations that will move in on the sector due to the legislation will initially pay good money for crops, once the public sector markets (mandis) are gone, the farmer says they will become the only buyers and will beat prices down. He asks why, in other sectors, do sellers get to put price tags on their products but not farmers:

Why can’t farmers put minimum prices on the crops we produce? A law must be brought to guarantee minimum support prices. Whoever buys below those prices must be punished by law.

The recent agriculture legislation represents the final pieces of a 30-year-old plan which will benefit a handful of billionaires in the US and in India. It means the livelihoods of hundreds of millions (the majority of the population) who still (directly or indirectly) rely on agriculture for a living are to be sacrificed at the behest of these elite interests. Consider that much of the UK’s wealth came from sucking $45 trillion from India alone, according to renowned economist Utsa Patnaik. Britain grew rich by underdeveloping India. What amount to little more than modern-day East India-type corporations are now in the process of helping themselves to the country’s most valuable asset, agriculture.

According to the World Bank’s lending report, based on data compiled up to 2015, India was easily the largest recipient of its loans in the history of the institution. The World Bank thus exerts a certain hold over India: on the back of India’s foreign exchange crisis in the 1990s, the IMF and World Bank wanted India to shift hundreds of millions out of agriculture. In return for up to more than $120b in loans at the time, India was directed to dismantle its state-owned seed supply system, reduce subsidies, run down public agriculture institutions and offer incentives for the growing of cash crops to earn foreign exchange. The plan involves shifting at least 400m from the countryside into cities.

The details of this plan appear in a Jan 2021 article by the Research Unit for Political Economy, ‘Modi’s Farm Produce Act Was Authored Thirty Years Ago, in Washington DC’. The piece says that the current agricultural ‘reforms’ are part of a broader process of imperialism’s increasing capture of the Indian economy:

Indian business giants such as Reliance and Adani are major recipients of foreign investment, as we have seen in sectors such as telecom, retail, and energy. At the same time, multinational corporations and other financial investors in the sectors of agriculture, logistics and retail are also setting up their own operations in India. Multinational trading corporations dominate global trade in agricultural commodities. For all these reasons, international capital has a major stake in the restructuring of India’s agriculture. The opening of India’s agriculture and food economy to foreign investors and global agribusinesses is a long-standing project of the imperialist countries.

The article provides details of a 1991 World Bank memorandum which set out the programme for India. It adds:

At the time, India was still in its foreign exchange crisis of 1990-91 and had just submitted itself to an IMF-monitored ‘structural adjustment’ programme. Thus, India’s Jul 1991 budget marked the fateful start of India’s neoliberal era.

It states that now the Modi government is dramatically advancing the implementation of the above programme, using the Covid-19 crisis as cover: the dismantling of the public procurement and distribution of food is to be implemented by the three agriculture-related acts passed by parliament. The drive is to drastically dilute the role of the public sector in agriculture, reducing it to a facilitator of private capital and leading to the entrenchment of industrial farming and the replacement of small-scale farms. The norm will be industrial (GMO) commodity-crop agriculture suited to the needs of the likes of Cargill, Archer Daniels Midlands, Louis Dreyfus, Bunge and India’s retail and agribusiness giants as well as the global agritech, seed and agrochemical corporations. It could result in hundreds of millions of former rural dwellers without any work, given that India has already reached the stage of jobless growth. As a result of the ongoing programme, more than 300k farmers in India have taken their lives since 1997 and many more are experiencing economic distress or have left farming as a result of debt, a shift to cash crops and economic liberalisation. The number of cultivators in India declined from 166m to 146m between 2004 and 2011. Some 6.7k left farming each day. Between 2015 and 2022, the number of cultivators is likely to decrease to around 127m.

We have seen the running down of the sector for decades: spiralling input costs, withdrawal of government assistance and the impacts of cheap, subsidised imports which depress farmers’ incomes. Take the cultivation of pulses, for instance. According to a report in the Indian Express (Sep 2017), pulses production increased by 40% during the previous 12 months (a year of record production). At the same time, however, imports also rose resulting in black gram selling at 4k rupees per quintal (much less than during the previous 12 months). This effectively pushed down prices, thereby reducing farmers already meagre incomes. We have already witnessed a running-down of the indigenous edible oils sector thanks to Indonesian palm oil imports (which benefits Cargill) on the back of World Bank pressure to reduce tariffs. India was virtually self-sufficient in edible oils in the 1990s, but now faces increasing import costs.

The pressure from the richer nations for the Indian government to further reduce support given to farmers and open up to imports and export-oriented ‘free market’ trade is based on nothing but hypocrisy. On the ‘Down to Earth’ website in late 2017, it was stated that some 3.2m people were engaged in agriculture in the US in 2015. The US government provided them each with a subsidy of $7,860 on average. Japan provides a subsidy of $14,136 and New Zealand $2,623 to its farmers. In 2015, a British farmer earned $2.8k, and $37k was added through subsidies. The Indian government provides on average a subsidy of $873 to farmers. However, between 2012 and 2014, India reduced the subsidy on agriculture and food security by $3b.

According to policy analyst Devinder Sharma, subsidies provided to US wheat and rice farmers are more than the market worth of these two crops. He also notes that each cow in Europe receives a daily subsidy worth more than an Indian farmer’s entire daily income. The Indian farmer simply cannot compete with this. The World Bank, WTO and the IMF have effectively served to undermine the indigenous farm sector in India. The long-term goal has been to displace the peasantry and consolidate a corporate-controlled model. And now, by reducing public sector buffer stocks and introducing corporate-dictated contract farming and full-scale neoliberal marketisation for the sale and procurement of produce, India will be sacrificing its farmers and its own food security for the benefit of a handful of billionaires.

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