The Covid Consensus, the Global Assault Upon Democracy and the Poor By Brian Simpson

Toby Green and Thomas FaziThe Covid Consensus: The Global Assault Upon Democracy and the Poor: A Critique from the Left, is a book which one can offer any Leftist, if one does associate with them, which I do not. What is relevant here is that The Covid Consensus is written from a Left internationalist position, somewhat like what the Left used to be, critical of corporate capitalism, the exact opposite of us, yet the book supports many of our conclusions. While the crushing of liberal principles of informed consent are appalling, what is particularly frightening was how governments were prepared to lockdown populations and close down businesses, many which still remain closed. And nothing happened. All aspects of the system, including the legal system, worked in a social structuralism way, like a machine, to mutually support the policies. The Left should have been calling out why governments were doing dream contract deals with Big Pharma corporations that had criminal records, with a vax, that was experimental, and initially given emergency authorisation. So much absurdities occurred that the insane became mainstream.


1. What did you most want to achieve with this book?

First and foremost, as complete a record as possible of what has happened in the world since March 2020. The devastating impacts of the pandemic response requires us to be clear as what the nature of that response was: what actually happened, and what the consequences were.

So in the first part of the book we focus on what we call a “chronicle of the pandemic”. This outline takes us from the question of origins of the virus, through the imposition of lockdowns and what we call the “single scientific narrative”, to the development of the vaccines and the vaccine rollout and mandates. We try to focus on what happened, and then in the second part of the book what the impacts of this were. Here the impacts are so clearly catastrophic on so many levels, in all parts of the world. And it’s only by confronting this clearly that we can work out how to prevent this from ever happening again.

On the other hand, we both wanted also to show how in our view the root cause of the catastrophes connected to Covid-19 lies in the transformation of the political economy in the last 4 decades. The erosion of the boundaries between public and private in business/government, and in our personal lives, shaped the Covid response. Neoliberal economic policies created the framework for the enormity of the corruption and vested interests which we discuss in the book. So although many critics of the Covid policies have come from a right-wing perspective, we wanted also to develop a critique from a left-wing, internationalist and anti-neoliberal perspective. In a sense what this shows is that, while the question of Covid-19 has been politicised like almost nothing in history, the questions it raises go far beyond traditional party political frameworks.

  1. I wanted to focus on the chapters on vaccination, because I have also been interested in similar fields, the coercions and incentives and ultimately mandates, as well as the mystery around contracts and data. You said ‘the principle of informed consent had been detonated’. Effectively, one’s Covid status became a precondition for leading anything resembling a ‘normal’ life—for eating out, going to school, playing sports, travelling, even working—amounted to ‘a de facto mandatory vaccination’. I can’t think of anything like it in our lifetimes. Did we cross a public health rubicon? Which countries had the most severe mandates? And has anything like this happened before – please can you flesh out some historical examples to contextualise the situation we found ourselves in?

This is not the first time vaccines are mandates, of course. However, the comparison between the Covid-19 mass vaccination campaign and previous vaccination programmes during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s for diseases such as smallpox, measles and polio are completely off the mark. First of all, the typical vaccine development timeline, pre-Covid, was between 5 and 10 years, and sometimes longer, allowing for extensive tests and clinical trial to assess whether the vaccine was safe and efficacious, and then for a thorough regulatory approval process.

This meant that vaccines overall met high safety standards and were generally considered to be safe. This also explains why historically, in the West, vaccine hesitance and resistance has been quite rare, even when it came to vaccinating children — at whom most previous mandates were targeted, given that many of these diseases overwhelming affected children. This also means that the scope and nature of previous mandates was incomparable to the Covid-19 mandates: never before had vaccination been a requirement for participating in public life, working (except, in some cases, for healthcare workers) or enjoying basic constitutional rights; at worst you would receive a fine or, since most mandates targeted children, the unvaccinated child would be prohibited from attending school.

Finally, pre-Covid vaccines were required to “produce immunity to a specific disease” — as per the CDC’s definition of vaccination up until 2021.

The Covid-19 vaccines — and relative mandates — don’t meet any of these conditions. First of all, as we know, they were developed and approved at breakneck speed (in what we now know to have been highly questionable “clinical trials”). This could only mean one thing: that — even if one trusted the manufacturers’ data on short-term side effects, and that’s a big “if”, given the history of these companies, stained by an endless list of corporate corruption and malfeasance cases — the longer-term effects were necessarily unknown. This was the main reason for people’s concerns, and it is perfectly understandable — and, alas, the torrent of data that is stacking up in terms of adverse effects and vaccine injuries (especially of a cardiovascular nature) is proving those concerns to be justified.

Then there’s the question of the experimental nature of these vaccines: these were the first vaccines based on mRNA technology (and indeed the first time this technology had been authorised for widespread use in general), which works by injecting into the body the coronavirus spike protein to induce an immune response. This only heightened people’s concerns — and again it’s hard to see these concerns as anything but rational. Early research had already raised the possibility that the spike protein might circulate in the blood and throughout the body for days, leading to potentially toxic accumulation in tissues and organs. This has now been confirmed by several studies. As it turns out, many of those that were hesitant about these vaccines weren’t victims of disinformation, but were simply paying attention to what the early research already indicated.

Finally, there’s the question of whether these products can even be considered vaccines at all. As we now know, the vaccines don’t produce immunity, meaning that they don’t prevent infection and transmission — despite a massive propaganda campaign (which we are now being gaslit into believing never happened) to convince people of the contrary (“get vaccinated to avoid infecting others”), and the fact that this became the main rationale for vaccine passports — that of creating “Covid-free spaces” and reducing the spread of the virus. Of course, authorities knew this from day one; indeed, the CDC even went as far as changing the definition of vaccination in 2021: “The act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce immunity to a specific disease” became “The act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce protection from a specific disease”. That’s a definition more akin to a medicine than to a vaccine.

In light of the above, the decision to enforce the mass inoculation of these fast-tracked, experimental, non-immunity-generating and, ultimately, little-known next-generation “vaccines”, including in children as young as five (and more recently as young as 6 months old) — through psychological coercion or through de facto or de jure vaccine mandates — should be considered particularly deplorable from an ethical standpoint, in our opinion, alongside the role of the media and political establishment in directing what may justifiably be considered hate speech in the direction of those who had chosen not to get vaccinated against Covid. Especially in light of the fact that Covid-19 is not a threat to the overwhelming majority of the population, and especially not for children, which makes the choice of mass population-wise vaccination even more absurd. Indeed, for young people in particular, it is becoming increasingly clear “Covid-19 vaccine mandates are likely to cause net expected harms”, as one recent study concluded.

As noted already, it is important to stress that the scope of nature of these mandates is totally incomparable to previous mandates. Of course, not all countries adopted such extreme measures. The UK, for example, never adopted vaccine passes/passports. The most severe mandates were implemented in the US, Israel, Canada, New Zealand and several European countries. These included green passes or vaccine passports that limited access to social activities and travel; workplace “no jab, no job” mandates, covering key workers or some or all public- and/or private-sector workers; healthcare worker mandates; school-based mandates; full-population mandates for the elderly; and even segregated lockdowns of the unvaccinated. So yes, you’re right to point out that we have indeed crossed a public health rubicon, which opens the door to other interventions of this kind in the future.

  1. Likewise, you said that in the space of eighteen months, the response to Covid-19 had upended seventy-five years of democratic norms. Can you explain what you mean and again provide historical comparisons?

What we saw was the institutionalisation of what Giorgio Agamben and others have called the “state of exception”. The state of exception is when the norms of daily life are upended because of the arising of a crisis which is said to be so severe that political norms have to be suspended. The state of exception has in fact been a core element of political life in Western geopolitics. We saw it during the aftermath of 9/11, when certain aspects of daily life were restricted; and it has been seen far more often in places where Western political power has been exerted, in colonial Africa, and in Iraq and Afghanistan. But what has happened is that the state of exception took over Western political life completely: freedom of debate has been restricted, freedom of movement upended, norms supposedly safeguarded by Conventions on Human Rights (such as the right to a family life) trampled over — and all with no legal comeback, as the powers of the judiciary to intervene were also severely curtailed.

After such a shock to democracy, what happens next? In this case, as we put it in the book, it is on life-support. We have been able to write, research and publish this book, even if it is very difficult to get mainstream media to cover it. This shows that the tenets of democratic debate and discussion still exist. We are not under house arrest or worse.

Nevertheless, we must recognise that the pandemic response has thrown up some severe questions about democracy in the (mis)information age: as we show in the book, misinformation has been the rule and not the exception, virtually on all sides. Since democracies rely on the theory of rational choice, which requires accurate information — if this no longer exists, then democracies are in trouble.

  1. You pointed out that the protests in Trieste, London, Paris, and Melbourne and the truckers’ protest in Canada were largely ignored by the mainstream press. The coverage of many aspects of Covid prompted me to question deeply for the first time, how much we trust the media to comprehensively and accurately report on world events. I believe we see something similar with coverage of purported anthropogenic climate change. Did Covid change your relationship of trust with the media? Can you think of other current and historical examples of media black outs?

Again, this is one of those issues where the Covid crisis presents elements of continuity with the past, while also marking a radical turning point. Of course, anyone with a functioning brain has been aware of the deeply biased and pro-establishment reporting on the mainstream media for a long time now. However, the kind of propaganda campaign that we witnessed during the pandemic was unlike any anything ever seen before.

Not only was the narrative harmonised across all media, offline (something for which the institutional architecture was already there, through global organisations such as the Trusted News Initiative) and online, but for the first time ever it was harmonised on a global scale, as billions of people throughout the world and across several countries were exposed, for the first time in history, to a single overarching narrative sanctioned by a single supranational entity: WHO. As the French researcher Laurent Mucchielli notes, the pandemic saw a “historically unprecedented attempt at global information control”. This “full-spectrum control” of the information flow was truly astonishing. It was a full-on assault on the minds of citizens, a veritable form of mass psychological warfare — which indeed saw the active involvement and participation of the military and intelligence apparatuses of several states — aimed at stoking fear, panic and confusion in the population.

The Covid crisis was also relatively unprecedented in terms of the micromanagement of the information flow on social media platforms. Indeed, one of the elements the pandemic brought into stark relief is the symbiotic, mutually dependent relationship between Big Tech and state apparatuses, particularly in the United States, and the former has become a critical tool in information warfare. As the virus spread across the world in early 2020, social networks promoted compliance by censoring and deplatforming critical voices or opinions, delegitimising contrary views by referring to “independent fact-checkers” of dubious reliability, and imposing warning labels that required click-through to access content. All of these measures formed part of a coordinated effort involving the most powerful governments and institutions on the planet.

So when it comes to “media blackouts” there’s no historical precedent that comes even close to what we witnessed during the pandemic.

  1. French President Emmanuel Macron said ‘[It is] only a very small minority who are resisting. How do we reduce that minority? We reduce it by p*ssing them off even more [...]. When my freedoms threaten those of others, I become someone irresponsible. Someone irresponsible is not a citizen.’ Personally I was astonished that a president talked out his country’s citizens that way. Funnily enough, I was ‘bleeped’ on air for repeating his words. He can say this to the people of France, but I couldn’t utter the translation on British broadcast media. Is responsibility (decided by the state) a condition of bring a citizen? What was your reaction to his words?

We weren’t particularly surprised. Macron’s words were far from unique. This kind of institutionally sanctioned hate speech was the norm for a while, in some countries more than others (usually paralleling the severity of the mandates). Several statesmen, political leaders and commentators openly accused the unvaccinated of being threats to society, if not outright murderers, criminals, who deserved to be excluded from public life.

There were appeals to exclude the unvaccinated from the national health service, in some cases not to allow them to leave their homes, and even to let them die. Again, this was utterly unprecedented. This was the first time, since the experience of 20th-century fascisms, that a minority had been subjected to this kind of institutionally promoted stigma and discrimination. It was truly scary, and a reminder of just how easily societies that view themselves as progressive and civilised can slide into barbarism.

However, from the institutions’ perspective, it made perfect sense: on the one hand, it compelled people to get vaccinated; on the other, it created an “enemy within”, an Other, which could be blamed for everything — the continuation of the pandemic, stress on hospital capacity, the emergence of new variants, driving transmission to vaccinated individuals, and the necessity of ongoing lockdowns, masks, school closures and other restrictive measures — while at the same time creating a scapegoat against which people could direct their anxieties and frustrations.

What was particularly shocking was the support that the denigration, dehumanisation and discrimination of the unvaccinated enjoyed among progressives and left-leaning people, usually at the forefront of the defense of discriminated minorities of all sorts. Even someone like Noam Chomsky, a self-described anarchist, said that the unvaccinated should be forcefully removed from society. “How can we get food to them? Well, that’s actually their problem”, he said. Trying to understand why the left supported the barbarism of the Covid response is one of the reasons that led us to write this book.

  1. Following the hypothesis of book, if universal vaccination and mandates were driven by profiteering what does it say about governments on the whole and the individuals within them (you quote Macron, Biden and Draghi for eg) that they berated and punished the citizens they serve in order to benefit big Pharma?

There is clearly a close nexus between government and business at all levels — a very high level of integration. We see this at the World Economic Forum’s meetings, when business leaders and politicians meet: as we say in the book, it is not a conspiracy theory to state that the world’s richest people meet regularly to plan policies which they then seek to enact, but just a statement of fact.

What this shows us is how far the modern state has been captured by the interests of a tiny group of capital monopolists. It is the same process of privatising the profits and socialising the losses, as we saw in the 2008 financial crisis — and then during the pandemic in the financing of the vaccine development and risks (by the state) and privatising of the profits by the corporations.

So what this really reveals is just how far government and business have been integrated through policies of deregulation and corporate secondment to government – the revolving door between the private and the public which has been championed by regulators, and which we discuss quite a bit in the book. This can also help us to understand elements of the response of the mainstream left, who championed a “big state” response without seeming to grasp that the state was not their friend and had been captured by corporate interests rolled out by neoliberal economists and politicians.

  1. This is a key passage from your book for me: ‘In light of all this, the question is not why some citizens had doubts about the vaccine and viewed the campaigns of compelled or enforced vaccination as unacceptably coercive, but rather why so many people, especially on the liberal and radical left— which historically has denounced the capture of governments and institutions by corporate interests—uncritically accepted the information provided by the vaccine makers and embraced the mainstream discourse around vaccines and mandates.’ I think this is a very pertinent summation. The liberal left media and commentators appeared to the most swayed by group think. Do you think a collectivist mindset predisposes people to being less likely to take an outlier position? How else do you interpret the uncritical acceptable of mainstream discourse? I imagine that some of the media will be resistant to your arguments, as they were to the hypothesis of my own book, A State of Fear. What has the reaction been like so far?

There are several reasons why mainstream leftists overwhelming supported the authoritarian pandemic response, often calling for even more coercive measures.

A first reason is that the initial lockdown scepticism of politicians like Trump and Bolsonaro created an instant polarisation whereby being against lockdowns, closures, etc. came to be seen as a right-wing thing, which meant that the correct left position, by definition, had to be pro-lockdown, pro-restrictions, etc. A lot of people on the left turned their brains off at that point and started thinking in purely binary, oppositional terms. Social media algorithms then further fuelled this polarisation.

A second reason is that lockdownists were very good at framing all the pandemic measures – lockdowns, closures, vaccine passes, etc. – in “left-wing” terms (a standard practice of late neoliberal capitalism, rightly defined by some as “progressive neoliberalism”): i.e., as measures that prioritised “public health” and “the collective good”. Meanwhile, any criticism of the lockdowns (and then any opposition to mass vaccination, discrimination of the unvaccinated, etc.) as a “right-wing”, “pro-economy” and “pro-individual” approach, accused of prioritising “profit”, “business as usual” and “personal freedom” over people’s lives and the collective good. This is the standard explanation most left-wing people will offer for supporting practically all Covid measures.

While this position might have been justified, despite its embarrassing naïveté, at the very start of the pandemic, it is shocking that so many people still hold this position today, almost three years into the pandemic, when it has become blatantly obvious that not only have these measures not benefited the collective good (by any definition of the latter) — since the overwhelming majority of people saw their lives upturned despite being at a low or non-existent risk from Covid — but they haven’t even benefited the minority of old people actually at risk from Covid, as the countless studies into the failure of lockdown measures to reduce mortality show. But of course by now it has become very late for a lot of leftists a question of what economists call “sunken costs”: they’ve invested so much in the mainstream narrative that they feel that they can’t afford to admit they were wrong.

A third element has to do with the current left’s flawed understanding of neoliberalism: most  seem to believe that neoliberalism has involved a “retreat” or “hollowing out” of the state in favour of the market. Thus, they interpreted government activism throughout the pandemic as a welcome “return of the state”, one potentially capable, in their view, of eventually reversing neoliberalism’s allegedly anti-statist project. But that’s not at all what neoliberalism is about. Neoliberalism is about the state intervening in the economy and society in favour of big capital – indeed, it’s about a fusion of big capital and the state. So to think that there’s something “progressive” about state intervention per se is incredibly stupid: yes, the state has indeed assumed a more prominent role throughout the pandemic, but certainly not to uphold the interests of the working classes, but rather to further the interests of big capital (in particular Big Pharma and Big Tech).

A fourth element has to do with the contemporary left’s problematic relationship with individual liberty: as a results of decades of (rightly) criticising neoliberal individualism, the left has ended up equating individualism with individual liberty, assuming that the (demand for the) latter is the same thing (and just as bad) as the former. Thus forgetting that expanding freedoms — both negative (freedom from oppression, alienating work conditions, hunger, insecurity, inequality etc.) as well as positive (freedom to collectively shape the direction of society, to fully express one’s potential, etc.) — has always been a central tenet of leftist, even socialist, ideology. The difference with right-wing individualism being that, historically, leftists understood that true freedom can only be achieved through a collective endeavour rather than through every-man-for-himself market competition. The common leftist accusation that anyone standing up for individual freedom, autonomy, etc. is a right-wing libertarian individualist is simply ridiculous. It wasn’t too long ago that leftists fought against government authoritarianism — police brutality, post-9/11 anti-terrorist legislation, etc. — and stood up for the bodily autonomy of women to be able to have abortions. One of the slogans of the feminist movement is literally “my body, my choice” — but apparently that doesn’t apply to vaccines.

A fifth element has to do with class: most middle-class progressives belong to the so-called “laptop class”, whose jobs and living conditions allowed them to easily switch to remote working and to be shielded from the socio-economic impacts of continued lockdown policies, unlike many low-income workers.

A final element has to with the middle-class progressives’ fear of the masses: their engrained elitism drives them to fear the perceived “irrationality” of the masses, hence their willingness to displace democracy in favour of an authoritarian management by “experts” and technocrats. Overall, the consequences of the left’s approach to the pandemic have been catastrophic, and frankly it’s dubious whether the left will ever be able to recover from it at all. For all these reasons, the left’s response to the book so far has been tepid, to say the least!

As a final point, however, it’s important to note that not everyone on the left adopted this line. In New York, Black Lives Matter came out strongly against vaccine mandates in September 2021, noting that they would likely fuel increasing abuse of minorities through police searches. In Europe, major left-wing intellectuals such as Giorgio Agamben and Massimo Cacciari in Italy and Laurent Mucchielli in France opposed the mandates, as did Jean-Luc Mélenchon of La France Insoumise, the major left-wing party in France. Meanwhile the two countries in the Western hemisphere with the least severe restrictions — Nicaragua and Sweden — had left-wing governments. It’s fair to say that it has been in the English-speaking world that the left has been most likely to favour extreme lockdown and mandate measures – and as we said at the outset, in our view this principally has to do with the polarisation over Brexit and Trump.”






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Saturday, 22 June 2024

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