'The men at the factory are old and cunning': an essay on Cov19 conspiracy theories
Updated: Aug 15, 2021
'A voice in his head is calling, stop wasting your time there's nothing coming, only a fool would think someone could save you. The men at the factory are old and cunning, you don't owe nothing, better get running, it's the best years of your life they want to steal. You grow up and you calm down and stop working for the clampdown. You stop wearing blue and brown, working for the clampdown.....'
These are lyrics from the Clash song, 'Working for the Clampdown '. This is a song about not being made complicit in the fascistic maneuverings of the State and the far-right leanings of some members of society. Thus it may be surprising to the reader that this is an essay that is antithetical in its approach to the conspiracy theories regarding Covid-19; the vaccines designed to combat it, and the demonstrations in support of so-called 'freedom day', and 'freedoms' in general .
Indeed, this is an essay that argues those in support of the conspiracy theories that claim Covid-19 is a fraud; and social distancing, a concomitant measure to control us, are akin (thus unconsciously) to right-wing libertarian anarchists, who through their rejection of social democratic policies to ameliorate the pandemic, (the social contract), in fact drive us closer to totalitarianism. The men at factory are then, very old and very cunning: this essay argues that 'the men at the factory ' are those opposed to the social democratic, collective measures, that by definition, we have all had to abide by during the pandemic; lockdown restrictions, and social distancing, measures this state would, in normal times, find abhorrent, due to the forcing of government into the role of the 'big State', and the enactment of 'positive liberty' (freedom) the philosophy associated most, although not always, with left-wing governments.
Hence, perhaps the government’s decision to end all restrictions on the 19th July (and earlier than advised by many) in the name of 'freedom day'. An invitation to those who perhaps felt an injustice was being done to them. After all, who needs lifesaving lockdown restrictions if these restrict our freedom? A recent article, Covid Information Struggles i, by Brian Martin included an critical analysis of Google, Twitter and Facebook's decision to 'censor', among other posts on social media, The Great Barrington Declaration. ii
This is a document, which although signed by medics, advocates the now completely discredited herd immunity policy. Martin juxtapositions Macdonald's victimisation and censorship of London Greenpeace in the 1990s with the Great Barrington Declaration as though the proximity of a social democratic NGO in his writing will add credibility to the latter's completely discredited and reckless right of centre pseudo-scientific theories. Martin also critiques the Centre for Countering Digital Hate's (CCDH) focus on the 'disinformation dozen' a group of anti-vaxers. This presupposes that Martin is sympathetic to the sort of freedom that anti-vaxers and Covid-19 conspiracy theorists propagate.
Perhaps this is a little unfair on Martin, however it gives us the opportunity to explore, and I use the term in its loosest sense, the 'rationality' of anti-vaccine proponents and the propagators of Covid-19 conspiracy theorists : so, the Great Barrington Declaration as it is called sets out the so-called benefits of herd immunity; this usually means allowing Covid-19 infections in the population to reach a level that makes it impossible for the virus to find new hosts. Hopelessly flawed in its logic then, as the theory, and theory alone it is, arguably, requires 75 per cent of the population to be immune through survived infection (the Great Barrington Declaration has an alternative thesis on how herd immunity is achieved as we will see below).
Thus one might legitimately ask if that 75 per cent is the remaining population , post-mortem of the original pre-pandemic population. By definition, the Barrington Declaration 's stance on vaccines is as equally bizarre, (seemingly unmentioned), and although its central aim, to reduce the huge pressure and accompanying illnesses that lockdown brings; returning the focus of healthcare systems back to the treatment of chronic conditions, such as cancer is laudable, its notion of how to achieve herd immunity is ludicrous. Ignoring the complications of variants, apparently simply staying at home, getting plenty of fresh air, and washing our hands is how we achieve natural and so herd immunity, not by surviving infection. How without contracting the virus this is achieved one can only ponder on, unless we are to deduce as suggested above, we simply sit it out until those most susceptible have died.
This brings us to the declaration's most ridiculous and dangerous idea: that only the elderly are at serious risk, and yet at the same time it urges caution on nursing home protocol regarding staffing and visits; staff should be those who have achieved natural immunity (a difficult concept as discussed above) and visitors should remain outside. And yet this document is apparently signed by leading epidemiologists. So one can see from this how the contradictions inherent in these dangerous 'alternative facts' play into the sort of postruth politicsiii that lends itself to conspiracy theories: we all know the damage done and the lives blighted, by an at the time, respected scientist, to the MMR vaccine, indeed, the continuing damage being done: in the US the States of florida and Texas have more or less outlawed mention and use of social distancing, for example in schools. Thus the idea that censorship, if that's what it is, in this case, is wrong, is highly disputable on these historical, and, contemporary grounds alone. The contradictions in these conspiracy theories despite the glaring evidence is perhaps their most worrying aspect.
For example, the notion that the pandemic is the result of a deliberate leak from the virology institute in Wuhan, juxtapositioned with the conspiratorial ramblings on social media that Covid-19 isn't real at all, and is a ploy by governments around the world to strip our remaining freedoms from us - and even more bizarrely, irrespective of the damage done to the global economy. Moreover, and whilst at the same time denying the existence of a deliberately released virus, accepting the need for vaccines, while accusing the manufacturers of recklessness in a lack of research into future side-effects, and suggesting another conspiracy to Biohack us all with State controlling microchips. And yet we have academics highlighting, as Martin does, the censorship of documents like the Great Barrington Declaration.
So what sort of freedom do those who have taken part in demonstrations against lockdown restrictions, notably in Martin's home of Australia, and, across Europe want? It is perhaps worth pointing out, hopefully without being accused of indulgence in a conspiracy theory, that Australia, where the biggest freedom march took place, is one of the least vaccinated countries along with New Zealand: lockdown and border controls have stemmed the global tide of infection and death but these countries' vaccine programs have lagged behind the obvious successes of the UK, Israel (Israel also has very low infection and death rates), and parts of the EU. Could it be the lack of proximity to the horrific death toll in Europe and the US; and so the lack of exposure, and thus, insight into how vaccines stem the tide that fuels Covid-19 conspiracy theorists imaginations, and thus which fuel the belief it's all a damaging hoax?
This is unlikely, as in France where until very recently vaccine roll-out lagged behind other countries, due to political scepticism over their safety and efficacy (in fact France is now due to overtake the UK in vaccinations of its population), there have been anti-government demonstrations against lockdown and vaccine passports. Indeed, an allegiance from across the political spectrum marched through Paris recently. They can't all be wrong surely? Well it is the raison d’etre of this essay to argue they are.
It is clear from the death tolls during this pandemic so far, and perhaps from knowing someone who has died, that we can in fact understand that Covid-19 is real. Unless we want to indulge ourselves in a sickening conspiracy theory and pretend the pictures ofpeople gasping for oxygen in Italian hospitals and on Indian streets were fakes, we know it's real. And unless we want to return to Socrates Cave iii, and a world of Ignorance and monsters in the shadows then we 'better get running' as the Clash lyrics state. Moreover, we better get writing, and arguing rationally and with reason, about the pandemic and freedom of speech; not providing oxygen to the fantasies of totalitarianism. Because as history shows, if we allow falsehood to go unchallenged we end up with facisim and violence. We only have to look at recent history and Donald Trump’s invitation to storm the Whitehouseiiii based on arguments taken from the playbook of alternative facts. Nevermind the lessons the Frankfurt School teach us about the 1930s and allowing ignorance and conspiracy to reign.
So if you don't want a totalitarian government and you want to gain more freedom as a result of the pandemic, listen to the science, and use the lessons Covid-19 has taught us about the environment and society to change capitalism and prevent totalitarianism from ever happening again, then don't listen to fairy stories or you'll end up working for an intellectual clampdown: a previous essay - Covid-19: A Gain-of-Function - here, argued the government was wrong to end lockdown and social distancing on July the 19th. This was and is, because of the decision, for example, to allow the voluntary abandoning of face-masks, as this flys in the face of all the available scientific evidence on the protection these afford. And because infection, death and hospitalisation rates were increasing. Thus in this way the State moves in tandem with the 'freedom'marchers and takes us further towards the suicidal totalitarianism of the vociferous minority: it is fascistic in thought telling us it's going to do something really bad to us, and, making us complicit in doing so.