Thursday, July 9, 2020
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.—Great God! I'd rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathèd horn.
Tuesday, July 7, 2020
Issues & Insights
The media and many politicians inside the Democratic Party continue to shriek over the recent jump in the number of recorded coronavirus cases, seeking to keep the economy closed at all costs — and we mean that literally. Don’t fall for the argument. The data show that, in fact, our pandemic nightmare might well be coming to an end.
OK, you say, Issues & Insights, how can you say such a thing with so little to back it up?
Well, firstly, it’s not actually us saying this. It’s the Centers for Disease Control, which reported that the death rate has fallen so far it’s now roughly equal to the threshold for even qualifying as an epidemic, which isn’t as severe as a pandemic.
“Based on death certificate data, the percentage of (total U.S.) deaths attributed to pneumonia, influenza or COVID-19 (PIC) decreased from 9% during week 25 to 5.9% during week 26,” the CDC noted, adding that this was the 10th-straight week of declining deaths.
While the “percentage is currently at the epidemic threshold,” additional data in coming weeks could change that, says the CDC.
As a piece on the informative Just The News web site explains, “That threshold for (deaths per week for) pneumonia, influenza and COVID-19 fluctuates slightly depending on the time of year, ranging from around 7% at the height of flu season to around 5% during less virulent months.”
So the decline to 5.9% is truly great news, if the trend holds. We’ve reported this decline in COVID-19’s raw death rate before, by the way. The current CDC data compare favorably to the 5.7% average rate for the final 13 weeks of 2019.
And yet, here are some of the headlines we’ve read in just the past couple days in the Big Media:
“As Trump gaslights America about coronavirus, Republicans face a critical choice ” — CNN
“Despite Rising Coronavirus Cases, Trump’s Focus Appears To Be Elsewhere” — NPR
“The Economy Is Not Going Back to Normal” — Slate
“Coronavirus: FDA chief refuses to back Trump’s vaccine prediction” — BBC
“U.S. is still ‘knee-deep’ in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Fauci says” — CNN
“How America Lost the War on Covid-19” — New York Times
You get the idea? Not a hint of optimism, just relentless pessimism about COVID-19, politicized to the Nth degree to make Donald Trump look like a fool or sociopath.
And this is just a handful of examples which underscore that the media, with few exceptions steeped in hatred of all things Trump, have never been more negligent in performing their basic duty to inform their readers about COVID-19. And they’ve never been more politicized or biased.
We hope Americans remember this as the Trump-hating press continues its suicidal shift toward the far left of the political spectrum. To any serious consumer of fact-based news, our Big Media sadly have lost all credibility.
As far as coronavirus is concerned, it’s true that total cases continue to rise. But that’s a function of vastly increased testing, not of surging actual cases, as we’ve noted before.
It’s likely that the only real increase in cases in recent weeks has come from the largely unprotected masses of youngish people taking part in the George Floyd demonstrations, which began in late May and continued through June and into July.
This can be seen in the fact that new cases lean more heavily now toward the young, rather than the old, a strong sign that the youth-dominated demonstrations boosted infections. Not surprisingly, the media now blame Trump for this.
While we’re at it, we’d like to remind you that these are the same “peaceful demonstrators” who have trashed cities across the country for weeks. Just last weekend two people were killed at protests, which “progressive” Democrats supported and defended. Particularly tragic was the death of Secoreia Turner, an 8-year-old African American girl shot by anti-police demonstrators in Atlanta.
Yet, even while encouraging riots and violent demonstrations, irresponsible Democratic politicians have ordered average Americans to remain locked down in their homes and forced many businesses to stay closed, doing massive damage to the U.S. economy.
Why do this? COVID-19 is another tool for the left to gain social, economic and political control.
“It was never about the virus but instead the election,” Brian C. Joondeph, a medical doctor practicing in Denver, recently wrote at the American Thinker. “The so-called surge in cases is more fake news pushed by media cheerleaders eager to destroy the U.S. economy and culture if it makes Trump a one-term president.”
As we noted, the really major development is the continued decline in deaths. The virus’ spread is still “an epidemic to be sure, but an entirely manageable one,” as the PowerLine blog described it this week. We agree.
In the next few weeks, we’ll see whether the outbreak is truly finished. In the meantime, the political fear stampede over “soaring new coronarvirus cases” has to end. And when it does, we hope Americans call the left to account for its attempt to use a pandemic to destroy our republic.
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Smashing up monuments and disowning the past isn’t the way to address racism and show respect to black people. Feeling guilty patronizes the victims and achieves little.
It was widely reported in the media how on June 21, German authorities were shocked by a rampage of an “unprecedented scale” in the centre of Stuttgart: between 400 and 500 partygoers ran riot overnight, smashing shop windows, plundering stores and attacking police.
The police – who needed four and a half hours to quell the violence – ruled out any political motives for the “civil war-like scenes,” describing the perpetrators as people from the “party scene or events scene.” There were, of course, no bars or clubs for them to visit, because of social distancing – hence they were out on the streets.
Such civil disobedience has not been limited to Germany. On June 25, thousands packed out England’s beaches, ignoring social distancing. In Bournemouth, on the south coast, it was reported: “The area was overrun with cars and sunbathers, leading to gridlock. Rubbish crews also suffered abuse and intimidation as they tried to remove mountains of waste from the seafront, and there were a number of incidents involving excessive alcohol and fighting.”
One can blame these violent outbreaks on the immobility imposed by social distancing and quarantine, and it is reasonable to expect that we’ll see similar incidents across the world. You could argue that the recent wave of anti-racist protests follows a similar logic, too: people are relieved to deal with something they believe in to take their focus away from coronavirus.
We are, of course, dealing with very different types of violence here. On the beach, people simply wanted to enjoy their usual summer vacation, and reacted angrily against those who wanted to prevent it.
In Stuttgart, the enjoyment was generated by looting and destruction – by violence itself. But what we saw there was a violent carnival at its worst, an explosion of blind rage (although, as expected, some leftists tried to interpret it as a protest against consumerism and police control). The (largely non-violent) anti-racist protests simply ignored the orders of the authorities in pursuit of a noble cause.
Of course, these types of violence predominate in developed Western societies – we’re ignoring here the more extreme violence which is already happening and will for sure explode in countries like Yemen, Afghanistan and Somalia. “This summer will usher in some of the worst catastrophes the world has ever seen if the pandemic is allowed to spread rapidly across countries already convulsed by growing violence, deepening poverty and the spectre of famine,” reported the Guardian earlier this week.
There is a key feature shared by the three types of violence in spite of their differences: none of them expresses a consistent socio-political program. The anti-racist protests might appear to, but they fail in so much as they are dominated by the politically correct passion to erase traces of racism and sexism – a passion which gets all too close to its opposite, neo-conservative thought-control.
The law approved on June 16 by Romanian lawmakers prohibits all educational institutions from “propagating theories and opinion on gender identity according to which gender is a separate concept from biological sex.” Even Vlad Alexandrescu, a centre-right senator and university professor, noted that with this law, “Romania is aligning itself with positions promoted by Hungary and Poland and becoming a regime introducing thought policing.”
Directly prohibiting gender theory is, of course, part of the program of the populist new right, but now it has been given a new push by the pandemic. A typical new right populist reaction to the pandemic is that its outbreak is ultimately the result of our global society, where multicultural mixtures predominate. So the way to fight it is to make our societies more nationalist, rooted in a particular culture with firm, traditional values.
Let’s leave aside the obvious counter-argument that fundamentalist countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar are being ravaged, and focus on the procedure of “thought policing,” whose ultimate expression was the infamous Index Librorum Prohibitorum (List of Prohibited Books), a collection of publications deemed heretical or contrary to morality by the Sacred Congregation of the Index, so that Catholics were forbidden from reading them without permission.
This list was operative (and regularly updated) from early modernity until 1966, and everybody who counted in European culture was included at some point. As my friend Mladen Dolar noted some years ago, if you imagine European culture without all the books and authors who were at some point on the list, what remains is pure wasteland…
The reason I mention this is that I think the recent urge to cleanse our culture of all traces of racism and sexism courts the danger of falling into the same trap as the Catholic Church’s index. What remains if we discard all authors in whom we find some traces of racism and anti-feminism? Quite literally all the great philosophers and writers disappear.
Let’s take Descartes, who at one point was on the Catholic index, but is also regarded today by many as the philosophical originator of Western hegemony, which is eminently racist and sexist.
We should not forget that the grounding experience of Descartes’ position of universal doubt is precisely a ‘multicultural’ experience of how one’s own tradition is no better than what appears to us as the ‘eccentric’ traditions of others. As he wrote in his ‘Discourse on Method’, he recognized in the course of his travels that traditions and customs that “are very contrary to ours are yet not necessarily barbarians or savages, but may be possessed of reason in as great or even a greater degree than ourselves.”
This is why, for a Cartesian philosopher, ethnic roots and national identity are simply not a category of truth. This is also why Descartes was immediately popular among women: as one of his early readers put it, cogito – the subject of pure thinking – has no sex.
Today’s claims that sexual identities are socially constructed and not biologically determined are only possible against the background of Cartesian tradition; there is no modern feminism and anti-racism without Descartes’ thought.
So, in spite of his occasional lapses into racism and sexism, Descartes deserves to be celebrated, and we should apply the same criterion to all great names from our philosophical past: from Plato and Epicurus to Kant and Hegel, Marx and Kierkegaard… Modern feminism and anti-racism emerged out of this long emancipatory tradition, and it would be sheer madness to leave this noble tradition to obscene populists and conservatives.
And the same goes for many disputed political figures. Yes, Thomas Jefferson had slaves and opposed the Haiti revolution – but he laid the politico-ideological foundations for later black liberation. And yes, in invading the Americas, Western Europe did cause maybe the greatest genocide in world history. But European thought laid the politico-ideological foundation for us today to see the full scope of this horror.
And it’s not just about Europe: yes, while the young Gandhi fought in South Africa for equal rights for Indians, he ignored the predicament of the blacks. But he nonetheless successfully led the biggest anti-colonial movement.
So while we should be ruthlessly critical about our past (and especially the past which continues in our present), we should not succumb to self-contempt – respect for others based on self-contempt is always, and by definition, false.
The paradox is that in our societies, the white people who participate in anti-racist protests are mostly the upper-middle class white people who hypocritically enjoy their guilt. Perhaps these protesters should learn the lesson of Frantz Fanon, who certainly cannot be accused of not being radical enough:“Every time a man has contributed to the victory of the dignity of the spirit, every time a man has said no to an attempt to subjugate his fellows, I have felt solidarity with his act. In no way does my basic vocation have to be drawn from the past of peoples of color. /…/ My black skin is not a repository for specific values. /…/ I as a man of color do not have the right to hope that in the white man there will be a crystallization of guilt toward the past of my race. I as a man of color do not have the right to seek ways of stamping down the pride of my former master. I have neither the right nor the duty to demand reparations for my subjugated ancestors. There is no black mission; there is no white burden. /.../ Am I going to ask today’s white men to answer for the slave traders of the seventeenth century? Am I going to try by every means available to cause guilt to burgeon in their souls? /…/ I am not a slave to slavery that dehumanized my ancestors."The opposite of guilt (of the white men) is not tolerance for their continued politically correct racism, most famously demonstrated in the notorious Amy Cooper video that was filmed in New York’s Central Park.
In a conversation with academic Russell Sbriglia, he pointed out to me that “the strangest, most jarring part of the video is that she specifically says – both to the black man himself before she calls 911 and to the police dispatcher once she’s on the phone with them – that ‘an African American man’ is threatening her life. It’s almost as if, having mastered the proper, politically correct jargon (‘African American,’ not ‘black’), what she’s doing couldn’t possibly be racist.”
Instead of perversely enjoying our guilt (and thereby patronizing the true victims), we need active solidarity: guilt and victimhood immobilize us. Only all of us together, treating ourselves and each other as responsible adults, can beat racism and sexism.
Friday, June 26, 2020
With everything that’s plunging the world into chaos right now, one thing surprising me is, why are Greta Thunberg and Bernie Sanders comparatively quiet? Make no mistake, racism, climate issues and the pandemic are all connected.
Except for a short note from Greta that she thinks she survived the Covid infection, the movement she has mobilized has failed to avoid getting drowned out by the Covid-19 pandemic panic and the anti-racism protests in the US. As for Bernie, although he advocated measures (like universal healthcare) which are now, amid the pandemic, recognized as necessary all around the world, he is also effectively nowhere to be seen or heard. Why aren’t we seeing more, not less, of the political figures whose programs and insights are today more relevant than ever?
In the last months, the topic of Covid totally eclipsed ecological concerns and was only overshadowed in the last weeks by anti-racist protests which spread from the US all around the globe. The crucial ideological and political battle that is going on these days concerns the relationship between the three domains: Covid epidemics, ecological crises, racism. The pressure that comes from the establishment is to keep these three domains apart, and even to hint at tensions between them. One often hears that our main task now is to get the economy moving, and that to do this we should neglect ecological problems a little bit; one hears that chaotic anti-racist protests often violate social distancing and for that reason contribute to spreading Covid infections… Against this line of reasoning, one should insist on the basic unity of the three domains: epidemics explode as part of our unbalanced relationship with our natural environs, they are not just a health problem; anti-racist protests were also given the additional boost by the fact that racial minorities are much more threatened by the epidemics than the white majority which can afford self-isolation and better medical care. We are thus dealing with crises which erupt as moments of the dynamics of global capitalism: all three – viral epidemics, racial unrests, ecological crises – were not only predicted but were already accompanying us for decades.
As for the anti-racist protests, here is how Spike Lee answered the question “Why did eight years of Obama fail to make substantial enough change to race relations in the US?”: “Very good question. But you have to understand: race relations – which have gotten worse – are a direct response to having a black president.” Why? Not because Obama was “not black enough,” but because he embodied the image of a black American advocated by the liberal Left, a black American who succeeded while fully respecting the rules of the liberal game. Protests are a brutal reply to “Now you have a black president, what more do you want?” It is our task to articulate this ”more.” Just remember that, during the eight years of Obama’s presidency, the general tendency of the last decades went smoothly on: the gap between the rich and the poor widened, big capital got stronger. In one of the episodes of ‘The Good Fight’, to follow-up series to ‘The Good Wife’, the heroine awakens in an alternate reality in which Hillary Clinton won the election in 2016, defeating Trump. But the result is paradoxical for feminism: there is no ‘Me Too’, there are no wide protests against Weinstein because moderate establishment Left feminists fear that if there is too strong a protest against male harassment of women, Clinton may lose male votes and not be re-elected, plus Weinstein is a great donor to the Clinton campaign… Did something similar not happen with Obama?
The point is not just (or primarily) that black people should be given more financial support to help their economic situation. There is a wonderful detail in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X: after Malcolm gave a speech in a college, a white female student approaches him and asks him what she can do for the black struggle for liberation; he coldly answers her, “Nothing.” And walks away… When I used this example decades ago, I was criticized for implying that we whites shouldn’t do anything to support the black struggle; but my (and, I think, Malcolm’s) point was more precise. White liberals should not act as if they will liberate the black people, they should support black people in their own struggle for liberation – treating them as autonomous agents, not as mere victims of circumstances.
So, back to our starting question: the disappearance of Greta and Bernie from our public space does not mean that they were too radical for our time of viral crisis when more unifying voices are needed. On the contrary, they were not radical enough: they did not succeed in proposing a global new vision that would re-actualize their project in the conditions of epidemics.