Love in the Time of Corona

My Top Coronavirus Pieces for Quarantine

 

Firtsly, if you’re part of that small group of 7.8 billion people who didn’t read my last post, go there for Tom Pueyo’s excellent back-of-the-envelope analysis of the COVID-19 figures.

 

A long read (but fuck it, what else have you got going on):

 

‘Social Contagion’, Chuang

 

A brilliant analysis situating COVID-19 where capitalism and nature collide – brought together by the vanity of techno-politics and the inescapable contradiction in their supposed dichotomy. Fear not though, unlike my own ramblings, this is a detailed and very accessible explanation; as the authors put it:

Now is not the time for a simple “Scooby-Doo Marxist” exercise of pulling the mask off the villain to reveal that, yes, indeed, it was capitalism that caused coronavirus all along! That would be no more subtle than foreign commentators sniffing about for regime change. Of course capitalism is culpable—but how, exactly, does the social-economic sphere interface with the biological, and what kind of deeper lessons might be drawn from the entire experience?

For those who enjoy, can I recommend Rule of Experts by Timothy Mitchell!

 

The Economic Consequences of the Chaos

An ill-forgotten word of warning and call to arms from the wise one:

 

A Brave New World

Yuval Noah Harari warns that the pandemic might unleash Surveillance Capitalism in a way not yet seen outside of China, as people, choosing essential security over essential liberty, walk willingly (and with 2 meter distancing) into the Panopticon. As Harari puts it simply, “The same technology that identifies coughs could also identify laughs.”

‘The World After Coronavirus’, Y N Harari

 

Polemic

Laurie Penny’s reverie on how epidemics exploit the weaknesses in our societies:

 

‘Panic, Pandemic, and the Body Politic’, Laurie Penny

 

Climate Change

There’s been a fair bit of commentary recently on the environmental benefits to the shut-downs we’re seeing around the world and, for sure, the satellite images of GHG emissions dissipating have been great fun to watch. Eric Holthaus, however, provides a nice corrective to some of the more short term and lazy discussions. The threat COVID-19 poses to emissions is transitory and minimal; the threat is poses to economic inclusion (essential for environmental sustainability) and green transitions is real and deadly.

 

‘No, the coronavirus is not good for the climate’, Eric Holthaus

 

Very short feel good story:

Not for the first time in Revolutionary Cuba’s short history have so many owed so much to so small a nation…

 

‘How Cuba is Leading the World in the Fight Against Coronavirus’, Alan Macleod

 

EMs!

 

‘This Pandemic is an Ethical Challenge’, Martin Wolf

Martin Wolf raises important concerns for the threat the virus poses to the developing world.

 

Update 27/03/2020

 

Tomas Pueyo update

‘The Hammer and the Dance’, Tomas Pueyo

 

Bail-out Conditions

Bill McKibben of 350.org urges the House to attach conditions to the coming bail-outs and too fucking right, there’s no shortage of historical precedent!

‘If we’re bailing out corporations, they should bail out the Planet’, Bill McKibben

 

 

“Real power lies not with the oppressors but with the oppressed.”

 

Now, I’m no fan of the right wing populists holding sway in Italy today – to the detriment of intellectualism and the decency of human equality – but I may well prefer them to the Italian predecessors of the last decade or more. Moreover, I may well prefer them to their rivals in the North.

 

The sad truth is, fallen amongst neo-liberal elites and Fabians, these populists, in their sincerity and ideological fervour, may be the best and last hope for the wretched and downtrodden, European nations and peoples south of the Alps and the Danube.

 

Without Italy standing up to Germany now, what hope is there for Greeks – who have been denied the right to invest, to work, to even partake in their culture for nearly a decade? What is the future of Spain – who’s young are forced (very much against their wishes) to emigrate and sell their labour to the very Northern Europeans who decimated their homelands while flouting EU laws themselves?

 

What benefit has Europe’s southern half reaped from having its currency artificially held above its competitive rate, so that Germany can have its artificially held down? What productivity gains or convergence have the south experienced as they are forced to austerely sell the family silver and reduce expenditures, while their northern neighbours’ huge states provide patient capital investment, universal world-class education and state run essentials?

 

Well, perhaps this article can help illuminate the disgrace:

 

‘Italy: How to Ruin a Country in Three Decades.’ – Yves Smith

Hegemony and the violence of objectification

Quote day! As I return to my blog, in supplication to my one or two followers after a long absence, I thought I’d strart off with this revealing line from Ayn Rand’s old friend, Big Al.

 

In 2007, Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, was asked by a Swiss newspaper which presidential candidate he was supporting. He said it didn’t matter:

 

“We are fortunate that, thanks to globalisation, policy decisions in the US have been largely replaced by global market forces. National security aside, it hardly makes any difference who will be the next president. The world is governed by market forces.”

 

By “objectification”, I am referring to a terrifying and violent form of horizontal power; the establishment of subjective, ideological beliefs – almost always closely aligned to the self-interest of their proponents – as ‘objective’, unquestionable facts.

hack /hæk/: a journalist

 

Journalists have been getting an awfully bad rap recently. The proliferation of “alternative facts” seems to have undermined their authority (indeed, their very purpose) and various world leaders, representing nations traditionally supportive of the Fourth Estate, have recently been appointed who deem them as nothing more than a biased, elitist mouthpiece who speak like defenders of democracy, but act as unelected legislators.

 

So, never one to fly in the face of public opinion, I thought I’d chip in to mankind’s apparent preference for authoritarianism. This particular thumb biting is in response to a flurry of articles by my favourite brown-noses, the Financial Times. In this recent spew, they have been temperately covering the, almost benign, little “shift” to the Right in the world’s fifth most populace country. [‘shift to the right’ – FT; ‘faith in Bolsonaro’s free-market conversion’ – FT; and many more…]

 
While The Telegraph is for middle-class morons too prudish for the Sun (when I taught English as a foreign language, The Telegraph was the go to newspaper as it contains the simplest english), FT occupies a terrible middle ground. Some of its writers are excellent (Sandbu), some of its brains intimidating (Tim Harford), much of its news valuable, but there can be little doubt that they do represent what populists accuse them of being and, with them, I find the fawning fetishisation of power and the status quo particularly unxious.

 
Like the girl with no friends, joining in the chauvanistic “banter” of arseholes, in the hope they’ll let her join the gang and not bully her as well, you can always trust FT to print whatever line of argument will appeal to that familiar, self-serving worldview that says, “They may be harsh but classical economics and laissez-faire markets are practical, sensible, and we are practical, sensible people. It may be tough but there’s an unsubstantiated MBA logic that’s long served us well. It’s common-sense.”

 

As I haven’t been posting nearly as much as I’d like and am keen to get this out, I thought I’d save myself some time by lifting the following elucidation of ‘common sense’ straight from Ania Loomba’s life-changing read, Colonialism/Postcolonialism:

 

“Gramsci makes a crucial distinction between ‘philosophy’ and ‘common sense’ — two floors or levels on which ideology operates. The former is a specialised elaboration of a specific position. ‘Common sense’, on the other hand, is the practical, everyday, popular consciousness of human beings. Most of us think about ‘common sense’ as that which is obviously true, common to everybody, or normative. Gramsci analyses how such ‘common sense’ is formed. It is actually a highly contradictory body of beliefs that combines ‘elements from the Stone Age and principles of a more advanced science, prejudices from all past phases of history at the local level and intuitions of a future philosophy which will be that of the human race united the world over’. Common sense is thus an amalgam of ideas ‘on which the practical consciousness of the masses of the people is actually formed’ (Hall 1996b: 431)…. Hegemony is achieved not only by direct manipulation or indoctrination, but by playing upon the common sense of people”

 

Before we get back to FT, I have another passing thought regarding the rationalizing, normalizing tendency known as ‘common-sense’. Orwell wrote, “There will be no revolution in England while there are aspidistras in the windows” and who could deny him?

 

Today, Britain stands “a little offshore island, poor and cold”. It’s people are the most powerless, wretched and denigrated in the Western World bar (by some margin) its offspring over the Atlantic. While the Swedes have their Independence, the Danes their Happiness, the Germans their Success and the French their Republic, the Brits have their hierarchy and an empty promise of Greatness. Be you proudly working class, proudly middle-class or proudly upper-class, you will be proudly British despite it all – likely, because of it all – and because class, “subjects”, “betters”, negative freedom, “ambition” are all part of British common-sense, the sick man of Europe will remain the sick man of Europe (before leaving Europe), and there will be no revolution in Britain.

 

Now, back to the flinching cowards..

 
Painting Jair Bolsonaro’s election as anything other than an utter disaster for everything we as a species have managed and hold dear, is not much of an exaggeration. He threatens an environment already on the brink of irreparable damage [12 years to apocalypse]; despises indigenous peoples, blacks, women, and gays; has zero understanding or appreciation of democracy; and has already proven himself a deft hand at misinformation and manipulation via social media. The terrifying thing is, with Brazil’s moral benchmarks, he could really make some headway on these fronts. Ethnic cleansing of Brazil’s black favelas is almost certainly on the cards as he sends stormtroopers in with a license to do whatever the fuck they want (if that sounds like an exaggeration and not calm and measured ‘common-sense’, I encourage you to read… anything about Brazil). Women can say goodbye to the recent promises of abortion access (though, I have to concede, most Brazilian women seem more than happy with this – I wonder how they’ll feel about narrowing the definition of rape?). The world as a whole can bid adieu to our diverse brothers and sisters in the Amazon – and perhaps the Amazon itself. Legal procedures and representation, voting eligibility and access, sedition and political opposition…. we’ll see.

 
But never mind all that! I’m simply being a naive dreamer; cliché of Generation Snowflake that I am. I’m just thinking about the wet, softy human rights issues. We’d all like to think about them but, first, we must consider the economy and – “Haven’t you heard!?” – #Bolsomito has employed a Chicago-trained investment banker as his Finance Minister; Phew!

 
Because countries the world over are known for growing into prosperous economies when they have financiers in the Treasury, right? Human capital is raised through well financed education and healthcare which taps into the potential of the entire population, infrastructure is improved, R&D and patient capital are invested in, healthy reserves are built up in the Treasury and pension funds. That happens, right? Right?…

 
After all, look at the standards of living and human attainment levels coming out of the world’s Social Darwinist, low tax, low welfare, oligarchies; like the US – the world’s worst people – or the many African nations the US remade in their image; paragons of Freedom the lot of them.

 
Of course, here again, I’ve let my snowflake concerns for the bottom 99% get in the way of the adult considerations of the common-sense FT. I should be thinking of the hard facts of stock markets and government budget balances, which always benefit from Chicago-trained financiers running the Treasury. Look at what a sterling jobs Greenspan and Paulson did in the US. After all, bar every other example in history, Chile proves that a psychopathic Fascist, leading a cabal of feudalistic oligarchs, sat atop of shockingly violent and repressive pigmentocracy, is always a win for long run, economic prosperity.

 
“Now”, says the FT journalist, “With this common sense well established and us all in agreement that the Far Right’s benefits far out-weight their negatives, let us proceed with cutting the taxes of the cool guys across the bridge from our offices and removing any supports which may create opportunity and challenges to their children’s privileged birth-rights.

 
See, cool guys? I’m sensible. I’m one of you. Please let me join the gang.”