April 14, 2021

An answer to the text “On the Anarchist Response to the Global Pandemic”.

An answer to the text "On the Anarchist Response to the Global Pandemic".

The world we used to fight in is changing, that’s a fact. The COVID19 pandemic is pushing us to our political and personal limits. And it is true that after a year of waiting, of limited actions, of being subjected to the half-hearted decisions of governments who do not hesitate to apply severely measures that do not work we all feel frustrated and tired. Also reading a continuous flow of information on overloaded media networks (TV and internet) where reliable information is lost, does put more confusion in the whole story. Meanwhile, the richest or most privileged people allow themselves to applaud at the windows and visit their second home in the countryside, just to spend a “quiet” lockdown, while we are dying of boredom, depression lack of work and social link. The anger is growing.
But this anger, as legitimate as it is (especially since it is not new) must, as always, bring a valid criticism to the capitalist society and the state. And to do this among all the misinformation we find, we suddenly have to sort out the real criticisms, based on valid arguments, and the fanciful theories, fed by certain “undisclosed” capitalists, and happy to find, once again, allies in the workers’ ranks.
This is why reading articles like this one ( https://mtlcounterinfo.org/on-the-anarchist-response-to-the-global-pande… ), spread by anarchist networks, makes the task of some comrades all the more difficult.

It is a well-written text that appeals to many feelings very much rooted in the anarchist tradition, and in doing so, makes its arguments more admissible. But perhaps a little too much. We propose a little critical exercise.

From the begining we are given a division between “those who believe in a fully autonomous and liberated life” and those who “thus comply with the mandates of technocrats and politicians”. refusing de facto the possibility for anyone to agree with the majority of scientific studies (we will come back to this). This does not take into account the fact that we do not need a threat from the state to ensure that we respect the lockdown (as an anarchist or not).
In the context, there is nothing to prevent following the lockdown and criticising the state’s responses, because that is what it is all about. Going along with it is not an endorsement of the State. To imply otherwise is fallacious.
And unfortunately this is not the only argument that leaves an aftertaste. Indeed, many points that could have been genuinely debatable are covered with a layer that is usually only found among “conspiracy theorists” and the far right.

Arguments such as:
“Science is definitely NOT a matter of consensus”.
or even
“It is absolutely wrong to suggest that there is a complete and irrefutable understanding of its characteristics and dynamics, and that all scientists, researchers and doctors around the world are in agreement on the public policy to combat it. ”
Shows that the author(s) have a bias that biases their judgment.
It is not wrong in itself, but it is wrong to not to acknowledge it.
No, indeed science is not a consensus. On the other hand, a large number of studies that point in the same direction CREATE a consensus, which is the case here (again, we will come back to this later). If we deny it for COVID19 we can deny it for climate change, the harmfulness of asbestos or nicotine. This is the slippery slope we have to watch out for.
And of course we don’t need 100% approval from doctors/scientists to act. This is a parallel to ecology, because it is an argument used by capitalists to counter measures that do not go in their direction and which they support with arguments such as “the scientific community does not agree on the subject” when the ratio is 98/2.
Moreover, some arguments are not even arguments, they are just judgemental such as :
“experts locked away in laboratories using esoteric methods are the only voices generating single policy statements for entire nations”. This is a caricature (or straw man) of the real arguments to be made against Big Pharma. Especially since this straw man completely ignores the fact that it is not scientists who dictate political measures, despite the rhetoric of the authors. To be convinced of this, one only has to read the data from the studies that come out and are freely available online and see the political measures taken afterwards.
But the worst part is probably the “esoteric methods”.
This suggests that scientists are making it up as they go along without knowing what they are doing, which is nonsense. If this is true for the politicians, there have been more and more pandemics since 1980, epidemiologists have been waiting for “the big one” for the last 5 or 10 years and they have prepared a lot of measures for the occasion (1). But the states did not apply them correctly in order to spare capitalism and the economy (and the re-election of its leaders). And now everyone is being blamed except the main culprits: Capitalism for having reduced the distances between humans and biodiversity because of the overexploitation of resources (which creates pandemics) (2) and which has greatly reduced the distances between countries (which allows viruses to spread rapidly), and the states which are taking inappropriate measures by listening halfway to the studies done, to satisfy the economy. As a result, we have semi-rigid measures that are harshly enforced by the police, which adds to everyone’s frustration. We are forced to work face-to-face, to socialise with our colleagues, but not with our family and friends… which is ridiculous in every way.

The “funny” part of the story is that most epidemiologists agree that COVID19 is just a rehearsal for the “real” pandemic (3), the one that will have the potential to disrupt the production chains and precipitate the collapse of our society.
All of the above could only prove a certain bias, which is rather regular in a text addressed to anarchists. After all, we are not impervious to conspiracy theories (4).

In the “SCIENTIFIC” section, we find their arguments and the studies that corroborate the arguments. Apart from the fact that these arguments are obviously opposable, such as the fact that the hospitals would not have been overloaded (which should please our comrades in the medical sector) we will look at the sources.
The study to contradict the implementation of lockdown can be quickly countered by more comprehensive ones (5), and when you look at the methodology, they take the USA in “strong containment”, and they almost don’t take into account if the measures have been respected or not.
But it’s even worse than that in fact.
This study is funded by the Stanford COVID- 19 Seroprevalence Studies Fund. The same Stanford that is behind a criticized study ( here: https://www.the-scientist.com/news-opinion/how-not-to-do-an-antibody-sur… ). A whistleblower reported that this study was indirectly funded by Jetblue (a very anti-lockdown airline), to go along with their agenda…(Buzzfeed article but whatever: https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/stephaniemlee/stanford-coronavirus-… ).
And here we notice that a certain John Ioannidis was the director of this study financed by Jetblue.
We’ll give you a hint: who is in the study that “proves” that lockdown doesn’t work? John P. A Ioannidis and Eran Bendavid, also a member of the previous study.
In addition, Eran Bendavid appeared on Tony Robbins’ podcast with Michael Levitt, Nobel Prize of Chemistry, who made a number of bad predictions about COVID19 over the past year, including that Ireland would not have a second wave or that it would be surprising if Israel had more than 10 cases. Fanciful predictions that never came true (the podcast in question: https://www.tonyrobbins.com/podcasts/covid-19-facts-from-the-frontline/ ). In this 2h38 podcast from March 2020 we hear recurrent arguments from the anti-lockdown / anti-masker community such as the diminishing impact of COVID19 on the general people’s health, the economy, and plenty of misinformation about virus detection methods etc…
We can also find former Minnesota Republican Senator Scott Jensen, who was later sued by the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice for “reckless medical advice” for comments he made on Facebook and for an interview he gave on 7 April 2020 in which he claimed to have been ordered to inflate the numbers of COVID19 victims in his state. He also cast doubt on some of the subsidies hospitals would receive per person declared dead from COVID19. There is no evidence to date to confirm such claims.
Dr. Dan Erikson and Dr. Artin Massihi are also around the table, both of whom have participated in conferences that have been widely criticised by the medical community: “What these doctors are doing is corrupting the process from the start to make it look like they’re doing an honest policy analysis,” added Noymer, who is an associate professor of population health and disease prevention at the University of California, Irvine.” (6)
In short, this podcast is a panel of people with dubious motives, which makes it a goldmine of fallacious and conspiratorial arguments

Well, we could possibly say that it is a misunderstanding, a coincidence or a mistake. Indeed, there are mini debates around some of these stories that may cast doubt. One thing is certain: the earlier study by John Ioannidis and Eran Bendavid was ripped apart by other professionals in the field: “The study dismayed epidemiologists who said its tests were imprecise and its methods sloppy. “(7)(8)
Not enough data and studies done to fit their views… like the article here: the search for “truth” is only done in the direction that confirms the bias. The mere fact that of ALL the available studies, many of which refute these points even in part, the authors took this one is rather telling.

We are not going to dwell on the fact that the second study that is cited comes from Frontiersin, which is a journal with a reputation for accepting anything and everything and which has generated a lot of controversy (anti-vax articles, editors seeking to interfere with studies…)) “According to Allison and James Kaufman in the 2018 book Pseudoscience: The Conspiracy Against Science, “Frontiers used internal journal management software that does not give reviewers the option of recommending rejection of manuscripts” and that the “system is set up to make it almost impossible to reject papers”.

The last study is just a criticism of the inefficiency of capitalism and private health services. The delays (especially in the US…) are precisely because the hospitals are overloaded, contrary to what the authors claim at the beginning.

The American Scientist article is actually truncated, as the quotes are made to fit a rhetoric that suits them. They quote just enough to make it look like the division among scientists about lockdown is 50/50:
“In the fight against Covid-19 today, the global scientific community is divided. On the one hand, some strongly favour active and sometimes even draconian public health interventions, including widespread cessation of non-essential activities, prescription of masks, travel restrictions and quarantines. On the other hand, some doctors, scientists and public health officials are questioning the wisdom of these health interventions because of the great uncertainties that remain about their effectiveness, but also because of the growing evidence that such measures may not work in some cases, and may even cause net harm. As people are thrown out of work as a direct result of temporary closures and more and more families find themselves unable to pay their rent or food, there has been a sharp increase in domestic violence, homelessness and illegal drug use.”
In fact, the majority recommends rather drastic measures, as explained below in the same article:
“The two sides of the COVID-19 war are illustrated by two documents, the John Snow Memorandum and the Great Barrington Declaration, which were released online in October. The former represents the majority position, which supports strict measures to limit human contact and movement in all areas. The Great Barrington Declaration, the minority position, advocates “targeted protection”, allowing younger and healthier individuals to continue to live, work and go to school, while aiming for greater protection measures for those most vulnerable to the virus – the elderly, the institutionalised and other high-risk individuals. This approach has been most widely used in Sweden.
Sweden is well known for having failed to respond to COVID19 effectively and admitting it (before applying lockdown measures).

We come to an important point here: this is exactly the principle of the manufacturing of consent used by industries (cigarettes don’t kill, asbestos is fine, and especially global warming that doesn’t exist that much kind of rhetoric). They are capitalists who want to instil doubt in people’s minds so that they can continue to sell their production, making us believe in the famous 50/50 in science (when it is clearly not the case). It’s a shame that anarchists are falling for this when there could be many solid critiques of the capitalist and state management of the COVID19 crisis.
In fact, we could make a parallel with the environmental issues : scientists look at a problem, find the source and argue that if you remove the source you remove the problem, and talk to politicians. Politicians look to the bosses and their electorate and try to bargain for a middle ground. The problem is that for ecology (or health) there is no middle ground… It’s either we react or we get the problem. The COVID19 was either a “stop it or we take more terrible variants” kind of situation (and we see where we are now). Since June-July 2020, scientific papers and press articles have been talking about the appearance of variants and the dangers they represent… And the decision-makers have not taken ANY decision since. The public opinion is not in a position to put pressure on the leaders because of studies like this which blow a wind of doubt only to serve the rhetoric in the company’s bosses support.
We have to say, there are nuances to be made on certain points according to new studies, but this does not negate the rest.

There are studies and arguments to be made, and of course everything needs to be continually checked as much as possible, but this kind of pro-capitalist inspired criticism, without realising it (or not, that is the question), is terrible because it impinges on the dissemination of information that is essential for people’s decision-making.
The text talks about the fact that it is up to the people themselves to make their own informed judgement. But how can you do that when the real news is drowned in a flood of useless or contradictory information? (Knowing that contradiction is there to push into inaction).
It’s a shame they’re talking about it there:
“Prolonged lockdown and severe curfews have made many people aware of the danger posed by Covid-19, but the threat posed by the virus is not really understood. “
And this is true. But they use John P. Ioannidis as an example, citing one of his studies (which in fact is not a study, it’s an opinion piece made on 17 of March 2020) at the very beginning of the pandemic: https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/17/a-fiasco-in-the-making-as-the-corona… .
Just note how he already had the idea that lockdown was useless so early in the pandemic.

The Scientific American article makes an observation: it is hard to go against the majority in the case of COVID19. But we must also take into account that some studies are not serious and have no place in the decision-making process, whatever the opinion of Dr Raoult, Dr Levitt, and so many more. It is not because one brings an argument or a study that goes against the majority that one is right.
This is exactly what Malatesta was warning about in “Democracy is a lie : thoughts and notes on Anarchism” : “There is among us a tendency to consider true, good and fine everything that appears under the agreeable cloak of revolt against the accepted “truths”, especially if supported by people who are, or call themselves, anarchists. This shows a deficiency of that spirit of investigation and criticism that should be maximally developed in anarchists.”

By understanding the previous points, some arguments suddenly become much more visible in their bias:

“We feel it is necessary to clarify that a new coronavirus is not something that would be detected immediately by doctors or researchers when first transmitted from animal to human. Given that coronaviruses are common and because they induce similar symptoms (as well as having a similar symptom course to other forms of respiratory viruses) and that SARS-COV-2 is not symptomatic in a third of the people who contract it, it would not be surprising if it was circulating on Earth before anyone knew to look for it. “

A totally illogical conspiracy argument: if a virus capable of killing more than two million people in one year had been around for a long time, it would have been seen and sequenced.
And we know the answer anyway : “Phylogenetics estimates that SARS-CoV-2 appeared in October or November 2019″(9). And in a hyperconnected world where we travel around the world in 24 hours, we can obviously understand that the virus was everywhere when it was discovered in December 2019 in China… This ties in with the anti-capitalist argument we made earlier.

There are also some good and bad things in the conclusion:
“In the current paradigm, the state and its selected technocratic experts filter the available data and highlight only what supports the policy decisions they have already decided to implement without any consideration of public opinion.”

NO government wants to implement lockdown. It is very clear in the decisions taken, it is very clear in the economic stakes, it is very clear in their desire for re-election… So why pretend?
The state clearly did not wait for the pandemic to turn into a fascist body. Most of the laws passed against opponents or reducing freedoms do not date from 2020…
It is mainly the fact that the measures taken are not in line with what is needed to make COVID19 disappear, and at the same time the state enforces its half-hearted measures very severely that creates the initial problem.
The “filter” we are talking about here only bothers them because it partially cuts off the spread of their conspiratorial ideas, not because it harms individual freedoms.

“massive crimes against humanity”.
You know who uses this kind of expression? The German anti-vax pseudo “Dr” Fuellmich, who wanted to do a class action lawsuit against governments in order to put the anti-vax vision and science on an equal footing on a legislative field at international level. We know this because some comrades have done a complete debunk of the announcement video.

This passage leaves some of us wondering:
“As anarchists, the autonomy of our minds and bodies is a core value. We believe that human beings are intelligent enough to decide for themselves how to evaluate their environment and determine how to move forward in life by meeting their needs and desires.

Intelligence is not immense knowledge and facility in maths. Intelligence is the ability to adapt to a context, we agree. But to be able to adapt, we must be able to read and understand our environment to make good decisions.
To make good decisions you need good information… which we don’t have because of the doubt created by the companies, and the people who fall for it and feed the networks with “counter-information”, to the point that we all have doubt about many subjects that are totally proven by science or reach consensus.

A good passage from the text might be this:
“Science is a tool to enlighten humanity by elucidating the mechanisms of cause and effect. It is a process of discovery. What we do with this enlightenment, how we live our lives with the information discovered, depends on us as individuals and communities. ”
Which is partly true, but to be able to do that we need to be in a world without political and capitalist interference. Because that’s the problem here: the hindrance of information by people with financial interests, and that’s very clearly a criticism that we can make as anarchists. To see this, just listen to another interview with Dr. Alan Preston, one of the protagonists of the podcast revealed earlier: “You don’t want the cure to be worse than the disease itself, that’s not the direction we want to go. And unfortunately, some of the things that you [the interviewer] mention, can make the very good argument that the cure is worse than the disease itself. So the cure of making everyone stay at home, and the cure of closing down businesses to save lives… it’s not to say that lives aren’t important but, of course they are, but we can make that argument for all sorts of deaths. We just can’t, as a society, function by wanting to mitigate all of that. It will not happen.
I’m now going to talk about unemployment, which is probably the most unique situation we’ve ever had in the United States from that perspective. A lot of people are paid much more today as unemployed people than they would have been if the Care Act had not been passed. Why do I say that? Because in the state job search offices, it’s not uncommon for you to get up to 50% of your income when you apply. But because of the Care Act and some of the financial conciliations that have been given to these people it’s, not all of them, but some of them, that are getting up to 150% of their income [inaudible]. So, I mean, think about that. These people are not so desperate as to say, “Oh my God, I have to go back to work because I’m getting one hundred and fifty percent, and I can do it for 26 weeks, six months […]” (10)
This is a partly false and partly a capitalist remark by a privileged person who tells us in a contemptuous tone that making a part of the population die of COVID19 is less important than the economy and the companies. And it’s a pity that these employees are not “desperate” enough to return to their jobs! Who will serve us now? And anarchists are basing themselves on this kind of people for arguments? Let’s be serious for a moment!
From our point of view, if a person who is working earns less than if he or she were unemployed, this means that wages are much (much!) too low to live properly. Do we need to point this out?

The world we live in is not conducive to decision making. COVID19 is a perfect example, and it also ties in with our ecological response: we don’t have the time to know, so we let others do it (who do without knowing, apparently).
If we had all the precise scientific information, if we were collectively able to understand them correctly without distorting them (as done in the article), we would follow the way more easily and it would go in the direction of the “common objective”, because yes, the objective of the well-being of all passes by drastic measures on our personal life (it is not us who affirm it, it is the majority of the scientists who know what they talk about and who do not have any interest to lock up people at home during more than one year). The state is irrelevant in this personal choice: those who don’t want to put on a mask don’t hesitate to do so. Those who want to confine themselves find themselves in the category of “sell-outs” according to the authors of this text.
The last point is that the problem is not the state and its totalitarian tendencies (since they are always present), it is the fact that a logical decision is being passed off as a political decision.

The anarchist critique of COVID19 is not in the response to how people react to it (anarchist or not) when they have the right informations, it is the critique towards the responses that capitalists and states have brought:
– Counter-informations that sows doubt in order to continue their profits.
– Decisions without any head or tail, or even no action at all.
– The social response of these two governing bodies.
– The disregard they had for the lives of members of the poorer classes to maintain their privileges.
And many other topics.
Capitalism and the state, in addition to being responsible for the pandemic (indirectly), have provided no solution. It is up to us anarchists to argue that without the interference of these two entities, the crisis would already be if not behind us, at least we would be a little bit better as a society.

What can we learn from this?

Firstly, that we are not, despite our best efforts, immune to capitalist shenanigans. It is important to recognise and accept this, as it will allow us to better understand these rhetorical and propaganda tools if we pay attention to it.

Secondly, that any criticism of the state or of capitalism is not in fact a good thing. Indeed, using flawed argumentation or dubious theories will only give weight to our political opponents and destabilise us. We all agree that debate is vital, and necessary in any case in a free society, but that debate is increasingly tending to become opinions against facts, rather than opinions on how to deal with the facts.
Observing the data, admitting mistakes and modifying one’s speech if necessary, is a better way of approaching things and adapting to situations such as the one here.

Thirdly, we must realise that such biases only serve the interests of capitalists and states. Now that we have vaccines available, they will be quick to reopen everything, to pretend it never happened and to leave the basic problem untouched. Capitalism is still there, it is imposing itself in new corners, and the anarchist response is not present, too busy as we are checking the false from the true in the crumbs of selected information given to us by the same capitalists.
In the meantime, our efforts are nothing but blunders. The proletarian and poor classes are increasingly divided politically, the rich are increasingly rich and united thanks to the sticks they place in the wheels of free and reliable information and access to knowledge. It is not our role to participate in the placing of these sticks in the system. Our struggles are directed at the economy, patriarchy, power, and the fascists, racists, homophobes, and other movements that allow the division of the proletariat for the benefit of the powerful.
There is also a critique to be made of the way we understand and convey information. Obviously John Ioannidis, Eran Bendavid and Michael Levitt (among many others) all had an opinion on the COVID19 issue as early as March 2020 when they tried to diminish the facts in order to “put things into perspective”. So they were biased even before they did their studies, which conveniently go their way. The fact that they are renowned (or even that they have won a Nobel Prize) is no protection against error and personal bias. If it is proof of anything it is that there can be no idol, or person with such power in science as in politics or anything else. It seems rather ridiculous that we have to point this out to anarchists…
Finally, the critical spirit that has accustomed us to constantly oppose the vitiated doxa of the world in which we live must not become a posture independent of changing facts and circumstances. Protecting the most vulnerable people in our communities and helping each other through self-imposed restrictions not to obey laws and the state but because conditions demand it is an act of solidarity and not some blind ignorance of “sheep following the herd”. Even animals in a herd or pack will close ranks to protect the older or more at-risk ones in order to saves them.

We will end with the words of Malatesta once again, as he sums up the situation excellently:
“The freedom we want, for ourselves and for others, is not an absolute, metaphysical and abstract freedom which in practice inevitably results in the oppression of the weak; but it is a real freedom, a possible freedom, which is the conscious community of interests, voluntary solidarity. “


1 https://www.ft.com/content/2a80e4a2-7fb9-4e2c-9769-bc0d98382a5c

2 https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02341-1

3 https://khn.org/news/infectious-disease-scientists-preventing-next-pande…

4 https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/193590867.pdf

5 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40258-020-00596-3#ethics

6 https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/04/29/dubious-coronavirus-claims-by-cal…

7 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ioannidis

8 https://twitter.com/mlipsitch/status/1252782018968109057

9 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronavirus_disease_2019

10 (around 48 min) https://themodelhealthshow.com/alan-preston-epidemiology/

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