It’s a curious fact that, in every disaster movie that comes out of Hollywood, whatever threatens Western Civilisation, Humankind or Planet Earth typically starts with the United States of America, usually New York, but sometimes Los Angeles. Whether it’s alien invaders, nuclear war, the rise of artificial intelligence, terrorist attacks, a tsunami wave, an earth-bound asteroid, environmental catastrophe or a deadly epidemic, it’s as if the propaganda arm of the US state is preparing its population for the disasters to come. Given that the majority of the world-ending disasters threatening humankind are created or inflicted by the US Empire while its citizens enjoy the fat creamed off the rest of the world, you have to ask yourself: ‘Do they know something we don’t?’
The answer to that question lies in another type of disaster movie not included in the list above, and that is the zombie apocalypse genre. Recently resuscitated in such Hollywood hits as the remade Dawn of the Dead and replicated in the UK with 28 Days Later — the movie that uncannily predicts the deserted streets of London today — these films have prepared us for the coronavirus crisis. More than that, they have rehearsed us in how to act out our roles — not as heroes, unfortunately, but as the cast of millions who will play the zombies in the film of our own reality. As the Public Health England announcement on Facebook and Twitter directs us: ‘Act like you’ve got it, anyone can spread it.’ And in this film, Coronazombies! (rated U), what we have been infected with is not SARs-CoV-2, which causes the coronavirus disease 2019 that has induced such fear and panic in the British people, but that other virus we call the media, both mainstream and social. In the slang of the Twittersphere, COVID-19 has gone viral.
So, what can we do about it? How can we stop being coronazombies and start being protagonists in our own film? This is the fourth of the articles I’ve written about the coronavirus crisis since it reached this country, preceded by COVID-19 and Capitalism, Sociology of a Disease and Language is a Virus, so let’s start again by learning something new about SARs-CoV-2 — not from Matt Hancock, our Secretary of State for Health, a 41 year-old computer software salesman and former economics advisor to George Osborne with a background in the housing market, but from Dr. Knut Wittkowski, an epidemiologist who for 20 years was head of the Department of Biostatistics, Epidemiology and Research Design at the Rockefeller University in New York City, and who has been modelling epidemics for 35 years. It’s an unfashionable approach, I know, to ask an epidemiologist about how we should react to disease, but bear with me.
In an interview conducted on 1-2 April, Dr. Wittkowski, like dozens of other eminent epidemiologists, virologists, microbiologists and pulmonologists not working for their governments, expressed the opinion that everything our governments are doing in response to coronavirus is wrong. Not slightly wrong, not questionable, not debatable, but the exact opposite of what we should be doing.
For example, keeping people at home during a respiratory disease epidemic, he said, ‘keeps the virus healthy’, while getting out in the open ‘is what stops every respiratory disease’. This, he explained, is why seasonal influenzas last the winter months and ‘end during springtime’ — roughly, from November to April. Not only that, but according to Dr. Wittkowski it is not practically possible to contain an air-borne virus like SARs-CoV-2. Keeping a population locked down will only prolong the presence of the respiratory disease the virus creates in the population. ‘I don’t see a good reason’, he said, ‘for a respiratory disease to stay in the population longer than necessary’, so we should ask why our government is intent on prolonging it in ours.
Above all, closing schools and keeping children at home is the very worst thing we can do, as it stops the development of herd immunity, which short of a vaccine in 18 months’ time is the only way we will ever build immunity to SARs-CoV-2. As Dr. Wittkowski reminds us, we don’t have a vaccine against the common cold, just as we don’t have vaccines — or we have vaccines that are not very effective — for many of the dozens of other influenza viruses, many of them corona viruses, that we suffer from every year, and which develop into pneumonia that kills the very old and already ill in numbers far greater than those dying this year. But even if we did develop one, the virus will eventually mutate and we will, once again, have to develop herd immunity, just as we do every year to every new strain of virus. ‘For some reason that we haven’t fully understood yet’, Dr. Wittkowski observes, ‘humankind has survived all sorts of respiratory diseases.’
The reality, he says, is that this is just another flu virus, the mortality rate of which is nothing like as high in the UK as the flu epidemics of 2014-15 and 2017-18. And it’s the opinion of numerous epidemiologists around the world not working for their government that what we should be doing is developing our herd immunity as quickly as possible, rather than shutting down our economy, isolating the already vulnerable and the elderly when over 2.2 million people live alone in the UK, sending home asymptomatic health workers that have a tested positive for SARs-CoV-2 who could be treating those with pneumonia, and all the other measures imposed by our governments.
You might be wondering by now why in China, where the outbreak of the coronavirus began in the city of Wuhan, the epidemic is now over barely three months after the first deaths were recorded, and why, out of a population of 1,386,000,000, they had only 3,330 deaths from COVID-19. In the opinion of Dr. Wittkowski, it’s because the Chinese people had an advantage — though not the one we might think. The Chinese government didn’t know what they were dealing with, so by the time they implemented the lockdown strategies that we are copying across Europe, the extent of the infection with SARs-CoV-2 had already reached a peak and tailed off soon after that — just as seasonal viral epidemics do every year.
Unfortunately, because of the internet, by the time a few people in their 80s with several existing health conditions died in Italy over a month later and subsequently tested positive for SARs-CoV-2, a panicking public started demanding that their governments ‘DO SOMETHING!’ So they did, and in doing so they have extended the viral infection. Instead of developing herd immunity as we do every few years to new viruses — of which 5-14 per cent are corona viruses — an immunity that typically lasts around 2 years before we have to develop it again, we have prolonged it. According to Dr. Wittkowski, who after 35 years of modelling viral epidemics presumably knows what he’s talking about, if the government had done nothing this seasonal influenza ‘epidemic’ would already be over, and we, having developed immunity, would be able to visit and look after our parents and grandparents, who until then could have been separated from the rest of us for a relatively short period of time compared to the open-ended shutdown we have now.
The result of all this bad advice — or rather, of governments listening to advice that best serves their agendas — is that NHS staff are being sent home after testing positive for a virus that the elderly and ill patients they should be treating have already contracted, placing further strains on our already under-staffed and under-supplied health services. Our children, who are evolutionarily made to resist viruses, will, when they finally and inevitably return to school, revive the virus in a second wave of infection, probably occurring this autumn, and which is, Dr. Wittkowski says in a damning indictment of government policy, ‘a direct consequence of social distancing.’ And we, who should be out in this spring sun developing the 80 per cent immunity we need to create the herd immunity that will protect us collectively from this year’s dose of influenza, are instead sitting at home in conditions that encourage the prolongation of SARs-CoV-2 in our bodies, and reporting our neighbours who break the government regulations that are not only without any scientific basis but are actually making this crisis far, far worse. Dr. Wittowski’s comment on this situation is not lacking in the weary irony of the scientist confronted with human stupidity:
‘We should not believe that we are more intelligent than Mother Nature was when we were evolving. Mother Nature was pretty good at making sure that we’re a good match for the disease that we happen to see virtually every year.’
Meanwhile, across the globe, governments who have placed their populations under lockdown for the foreseeable future are passing legislation that is trampling all over our human rights and civil liberties. As an example of which, on April 2 the Danish Parliament passed a new law that makes it possible to close websites and impose fines or imprisonment up to 8 years on anyone who publishes information about COVID-19 that contradicts the government’s official line. It shouldn’t be long till we follow suit in the far more authoritarian UK, so spread this information while you can, because tomorrow it might be illegal. In the meantime, get out, get infected, get well.
* Since publishing this article, the YouTube recording of the interview with Dr. Wittkowski, which had over a million viewers, has been removed following policy changes that make anything contradicting World Health Organisation directives on the coronavirus ‘in violation of YouTube community guidelines’.
But isn’t this all another conspiracy theory? How could the government of the UK, let alone those of the dozens of other countries across the world, get away with this? Won’t I be claiming next that the coronavirus was invented by the Chinese government, or the US government, or the Illuminati, or some other secret society?
No, I won’t. Conspiracy theories rest on the purported truth of unverifiable assertions; capitalism, whose workings are what I’m analysing here, works by capitalising on crises, whether that’s the attack on the World Trade Centre in 2001 that justified the rise of the surveillance state, the financial crisis of 2008 that justified over a decade of fiscal austerity, the expansion of the housing crisis in the 2010s that justified the demolition and privatisation of council housing, or the rise of Extinction Rebellion protests against climate change in 2019 that is justifying the expansion of capitalism into new markets. All these crisis moments have been exploited by the UK government to pass legislation that further entrenches Neo-liberal policies in our social, economic and political structures, and the coronavirus crisis is no different. Dismissing the exposure of such opportunism as ‘conspiracy theories’ — as is already being done of any critiques of media coverage and government policies on coronavirus — is how liberals continue to deny the brutal truth about capitalism.
What is different about this crisis is that the communication of the lies about the virus — from its inception in Wuhan to its media representation in Europe, from the changing reaction of our government to its spread to the replication of government lies on social media, from the concession of our political structures to new legislation based on those lies to the universal obedience of our population to that legislation — exactly parallels the way the virus itself has passed from person to person, country to country, around the world. ‘Parallel’ perhaps doesn’t do the relationship justice. The silencing of dissenting voices — and especially those speaking with the greatest knowledge about the virus — has not, yet, been imposed by the UK government or police force or military. Instead, those voices are simply drowned out by the blanket fearmongering of the mainstream press and the white noise of social media. It is the algorithms that replicate the most read, the most liked, the most-reposted and retweeted memes, ensuring the virus of lies continues to replicate at an exponential rate across the internet. Confronted with a supposedly exponentially-growing threat that has no basis either in our scientific knowledge about epidemics or in the empirical data it is producing, the collective fear of our biological selves has turned what is a new influenza virus with a relatively low mortality rate into a global disaster. The disaster is real, and many tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of people across the world will die because of how we — meaning both us and our governments — have reacted to this virus, but the virus itself is unexceptional.
What is the evidence for this claim, and how can such a thing have happened? To draw an analogy for readers more accustomed to reading on this website about the failure of housing provision to meet housing need during the UK housing crisis, in the year between April 2018 and March 2019 there were 213,860 new-build residential properties officially completed in England. Of these, 57,485 were classified as ‘affordable housing’. However, only 4,783 of these were for social rent. Affordable housing, therefore, which the average person can’t in fact afford, made up 27 per cent of all new housing, and social-rent housing, the most in-demand housing tenure, made up just 2.2 per cent.
The immediate comparison to these proportions is that new-build residences are roughly numerically equivalent to the 232,708 people tested for SARs-CoV-2 in the UK as of 8 April 2020; affordable housing to the 60,733 people who have tested positive; and homes for social rent to the 7,097 deaths attributed to COVID-19. In remarkably similar proportions to housing provision, positive tests for SARs-CoV-2 make up 26 per cent of all people tested in the UK; and deaths attributed to COVID-19 make up 3 per cent.
However, the analogy I want to make is between how government-coined terminology has been used to deceive the public about the reality of the crisis — both the housing crisis and the coronavirus crisis. For years now the UK government, the London Mayor, our local authorities and our media have got away with lying to the British public about what tenure and cost of housing is being built in the UK with billions of pounds of public subsidies and the privatisation of public land by calling half-a-million-pound properties for shared ownership and other unaffordable housing ‘affordable’ — even when that lie only constitutes around a quarter of what is being built. But the immediate reality behind that lie is that just over 2 per cent of all new housing meets housing need.
Even worse than this, just as the figures for homes for social rent completed in the UK do not take account of the number of existing council-rent properties either sold under right-to-buy or demolished by estate demolition schemes, or the number of housing association homes converted from social to so-called affordable rent — meaning the net number of homes for social rent every year is in fact a considerable loss and not a tiny gain — so too the actual deaths as a result of coronavirus disease 2019 are still unknown and not reported in the increasingly alarmist figures produced by the government and disseminated by the media.
In this respect, the deliberate failure of our government and media to distinguish between the rate of testing and the rate of infection, giving rise to a hugely exaggerated mortality rate; between positive tests for SARs-CoV-2 and cases in which the tested develop the symptoms of COVID-19, with the former in a ratio of 8-2 or higher to the latter; and between deaths with coronavirus and deaths from it, with the latter constituting maybe 12 per cent or less of the former — parallel the lies they have told about the UK housing crisis.
Until we establish the numerator in this equation by testing everyone in the UK for SARs-CoV-2, announcing that the denominator of 60,733 positive tests gives us a certain percentage of the population infected is mathematically impossible. And since percentages are a mathematical equation, doing so, as the government is every day, is literally meaningless, and ideologically speaking a form of disinformation — lying, to use a simple word. It is because of this that the US statistician, Nate Silver, the founder and editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight, in an article titled ‘Coronavirus Case Counts Are Meaningless’, describes the UK as doing ‘the worst job’ of all countries in the world of detecting the true number of infected people.
In addition to this lack of testing, the UK government is also not distinguishing, even within the limited number of tests it has conducted — about 1 in every 291 of the population — between those who have tested positive for SARs-CoV-2 and those who have developed COVID-19, the disease that is caused by novel coronavirus, and which only develops severe symptoms in a tiny proportion of the population, and overwhelmingly in the already ill and elderly. At present, everyone who tests positive is assumed to have the disease, which from an epidemiological perspective is a flat-out lie.
One of the principles of infectiology, according to Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi, Professor Emeritus of Medical Microbiology at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and one of the most referenced scientists in German history, is precisely the distinction made between infection and disease. In his Open Letter to the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, in which he questions the scientific bases to the lockdown of Germany, he writes:
‘An illness requires a clinical manifestation. Therefore, only patients with symptoms such as fever or cough should be included in the statistics as new cases. In other words, a new infection — as measured by the COVID-19 test — does not necessarily mean that we are dealing with a newly ill patient who needs a hospital bed.’
In response to his letter, Dr. Bhakdi’s university e-mail address was reportedly deactivated this week, and only reactivated again after protests.
Given the ongoing lack of information about novel coronavirus — or, more accurately, the ongoing disinformation about it — not only in the UK but across the world, at present it is hard to establish what percentage of those testing positive for SARs-CoV-2 do not develop COVID-19. But in Iceland, which due to its high level of testing has registered the second highest level of infection per capita in the world, and which unlike the UK and most other European countries is testing people not showing symptoms, ‘about half of those who tested positive are non-symptomatic’, and the majority of those with the disease develop only ‘mild, cold-like symptoms’, with only 42 people out of 30,947 tested requiring hospital treatment. Last month the World Health Organisation estimated that, overall, ‘80 per cent of infections are asymptomatic or mild’; while new evidence has emerged this month from China indicating that 78 per cent of coronavirus infections do not result in symptoms.
Finally, and most disruptive of all for our understanding of the seriousness and threat of COVID-19, there is no information from our government or almost every other government in the world about the actual cause of death of the increasing number of people, most of them in their 70s and 80s, whose deaths are being categorised as ‘corona deaths’. In Germany, the Robert Koch Institute, the federal government agency responsible for disease control and prevention, has even instructed pathologists not to carry out autopsies on bodies officially categorised as ‘corona deaths’. The reason for this extraordinary and unique departure from standard procedure is supposedly the risk of infection to doctors, even though such autopsies are carried out as a matter of course for diseases such as HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, tuberculosis and PRION diseases. In a letter to Dr. Bodo Schiffmann from a German pathologist who wishes to remain anonymous — presumably for fear of reprisals from the German state or those terrified by the government propaganda — he writes:
‘It is quite remarkable that in a disease that is killing thousands of patients all over the world and bringing the economy of entire countries to a virtual standstill, only very few autopsy findings are available (six patients from China). From the point of view of both the epidemic police and the scientific community, there should be a particularly high level of public interest in autopsy findings. However, the opposite is the case. Are they afraid of finding out the true causes of death of the positively-tested deceased? Could it be that the numbers of corona deaths would then melt away like snow in the spring sun?’
Meanwhile, in the UK as in most countries whose populations are under government-imposed lockdowns, the qualification for a ‘corona death’ on our government websites is that COVID-19 is mentioned on the death certificate as a possible or contributing cause of death, or that the deceased showed symptoms similar to COVID-19, or that the deceased tested positive for SARs-CoV-2 at the time of death. One has to ask what other life-threatening event justifying the house arrest of over 2.9 billion people across the world would have such a loose definition of what it is we’re supposed to be threatened by.
As a result of thus systemic lack of accurate information, the only reliable indication we have so far of how many official corona deaths actually died as a result of the disease rather than with the virus in their body is from the National Institute of Health in Italy. On 20 March this revealed that, of 3,200 people who had officially died with COVID-19, only 12 per cent of the deaths, 384 people, had a causal relation to the disease. By this calculation, rather than 2.5 per cent of people in the UK testing positive for SARs-CoV-2 before or after dying of COVID-19, the figure is closer to 0.3 per cent. But in reality, since we have only tested 1 in 291 people, and the vast majority of those have been the already ill and elderly people admitted to hospital with severe symptoms of COVID-19, the actual percentage of people infected with coronavirus in the UK — which by now is likely to be a large percentage of us — that are likely to die because of coronavirus disease is likely to be an even smaller percentage still.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that we don’t die of SARs-CoV-2, but of the respiratory diseases it can cause, which is why it overwhelmingly kills the elderly or those with pre-existing health conditions, why the death rates are higher in areas with high pollution or high levels of tobacco smoking, and why it has had hardly any effect on the healthy lungs of young children. We don’t have a vaccine for SARs-CoV-2, just as we don’t have a vaccine for many of the viruses that mutate into new influenza viruses every year; but we do have antibiotics, which kills the bacteria in our lungs that causes the pneumonia. As Dr. Knut Wittkowski explained in his interview:
‘We don’t die of the virus. We die of pneumonia. So, if we have a virus respiratory disease — once the immune system has created antibodies — the antibodies, or the immune system, kills all infected cells, which destroys much of the mucosa. And bacteria can easily settle on that destroyed mucosa, and then cause pneumonia. And it is the pneumonia that is killing people, if it’s not treated.’
Attributing these deaths to COVID-19, therefore, is both diagnostically inaccurate and factually misleading. Coronavirus disease, when the symptoms become severe, can create the conditions in people whose immune systems are weakened or already suffer from existing health conditions that can lead to pneumonia. Again, this is why deaths attributed to COVID-19 are overwhelmingly among the elderly and/or those with pre-existing illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer or a chronic diseases affecting the lungs, heart, kidney or liver. In confirmation of which, as of 8 April, when the NHS reported that 6,483 people have ‘died in hospitals in England and had tested positive for COVID-19 at time of death’, 5 of them were under 19 years of age; 47 between 20-39; 465 between 40-59; 2,576 between 60-79; and 3,390 of them 80 and over. That means 92 per cent of all deaths in the UK that tested positive for COVID-19 were over 60 years of age, and over half were over 80, the average life expectancy in the UK. No information has yet been released by either the Department of Health and Social Care or its executive agency, Public Health England, about what caused these deaths.
To try to put this in context, according to the Office for National Statistics, which is semi-independent of the government, in the week ending 5 April last year, 10,126 people died in England and Wales, 8,544 of them were over 65 — 84 per cent of the total — and 1,412 of them died from respiratory diseases. Over the same week this year, according to the National Health Service, 3,373 people in England died who tested positive for COVID-19, and 3,120 of them were over 60 years old — 92 per cent of the total.
At the other end of the age range, 5 children have died testing positive for COVID-19 in English hospitals since March this year. Two were aged 19, one was aged 13, and another, the youngest, was just 5. We know this because their ages were published on the Department of Health and Social Care website and subsequently listed on the Worldometer webpage for UK deaths. In comparison, over the same 5-week period last year, 94 children between the age of 1 and 14 died in England and Wales, though without anything like the attention the former received in the UK press as supposed evidence that COVID-19 can kill anyone. Yes, it can, but so can being in a car accident, which 15-19 years olds have almost double the risk of dying from compared to the general population.
Until even the official deaths with COVID-19 have peaked in the UK we can’t accurately assess the severity of this influenza wave to previous years. However, comparing SARs-CoV-2-positive deaths to overall deaths this year, in the week ending 27 March 2020 — the latest for which the ONS provides statistics — 1,534 people in England and Wales — including those who died outside hospital — died where the underlining cause was respiratory disease. Of these, 539 had COVID-19 mentioned on the death certificate as a possible or contributing cause, or the deceased showed symptoms similar to COVID-19, or tested positive for SARs-CoV-2. The overall death rate for this week was 11,141, compared to an average of 10,130 for the corresponding week over the past five years. In other words, in the third week of official deaths from COVID-19, in both mortality rate and in deaths from pneumonia, the UK has registered around 1,000 additional deaths among the over 65s.
By projecting this year’s total deaths and deaths from influenza and pneumonia onto the figures for last year, the website InProportion2 has shown not only that deaths attributed to COVID-19 up to 7 April amount to only 20 per cent of the latter, but that the overall deaths this year have not increased compared to the average number of deaths at this point of the year over the last five years as a result of coronavirus. In the chart the author has produced (below), the blue line shows the number of deaths from influenza or pneumonia in 2019; the orange line exactly matching it up to 27 March — the most recent figures available — shows deaths from influenza or pneumonia this year; and the red line shows the deaths in the UK reported ‘with’ COVID-19 up to 7 April. At this scale, the deaths attributed to COVID-19 appear relatively few compared both to the deaths from all causes and to the number of deaths that usually take place in NHS hospitals.
Finally, even with all the caveats to the accuracy of the latest figures, the 6,483 deaths in England attributed to COVID-19 since March 2020, and the 7,097 across the UK reported as of 8 April, have to be compared to the 28,330 excess deaths associated with seasonal influenza in England in 2014-15, the 11,975 in 2015-16, the 18,009 in 2016-17, and the 26,408 in 2017-18. InProportion2 has since published a chart comparing mortality rates in 2020 and 2018 (below), and it shows that, as of 27 March this year, the total number of deaths in England and Wales is significantly less than for the equivalent period in 2018. Moreover, the deaths attributed to COVID-19 in 2020 amount to just 20 per cent of the deaths from influenza and pneumonia in 2018; and, even combined with the projected increase in deaths from influenza and pneumonia this year, the death toll is only likely to draw roughly even.
With all due respect to the families and memories of the 7,000 people who have died this year from pneumonia, some other respiratory disease or as a result of pre-existing medical conditions — some of whose deaths may have been caused or accelerated by coronavirus disease 2019, over half of whom were over the average life expectancy of UK citizens — this is not an epidemic, except insofar as every influenza virus every year is an epidemic.
So, if coronavirus disease 2019 isn’t a killer epidemic, which all the empirical evidence says it isn’t, what is happening? In January 2014 the Guardian newspaper warned: ‘Britain is dangerously unprepared for a flu pandemic that could kill as many as 315,000 people!’ In September 2017 the Telegraph predicted: ‘NHS braced for worst flu season in history amid fears overcrowded hospitals unable to cope.’ And in November 2018 the Daily Mail tried to terrify us with the news that: ‘More than 50,000 excess deaths were recorded across England and Wales last winter, official figures show!’ Of course, these attempts at scaremongering were no more based in truth than the lies the same papers and every other paper in the UK are printing about the coronavirus now. So why have the latter caught on? Why has the population of the UK been infected with this virus that has turned us into coronazombies, ready to believe everything we’re told by a government and media that has lied to us repeatedly and even openly for the past twenty years and longer? Why, like zombies in a bad film, are the normally mild-mannered British now ready to tear each other apart for disobeying the newly imposed restrictions to our freedoms? Why are we reacting with accusations of culpability, denunciations to the authorities, threats of divine retribution and zombie-like fury to anyone who dares even to question the government’s lies?
For dictatorships to work, laws are not enough, as there are never enough police officers to enforce laws that a working population doesn’t believe in. Historically, totalitarian regimes have relied on the grudges of individuals, on the stoked prejudices of communities, and on the sense of duty of members of society to an abstract notion of a nation or people to police the population. Above all, they have relied on fear. To this end, the government of the UK and of many other countries is actively encouraging its citizens to inform on each other for flouting the hastily-created laws passed by parliaments or simply announced by ministers on the back of the media-created panic about coronavirus. When the government tells us to ‘act like you’ve got it, anyone can spread it’, it is also telling us to turn informant.
Just as happened after the assault with a knife on London Bridge last December, when the National Police Chiefs Council offered members of the British public ‘counter-terrorism training’ and casually announced that 350,000 people are already accredited as Counter Terrorism (CT) citizens, so now new legislation is empowering not just police officers but also community support officers to enact laws that have been dictated by ministers — not debated in Parliament, not scrutinised by Parliamentary committee, not voted on by our elected representatives in the House of Commons. At this stage of our extraordinarily rapid descent into absolute obedience to whatever regulations the government imposes on us and whatever lies its media outlets tell us, it is the general population that, in huge numbers, is doing the government’s work. Whether by spreading lies on social media they haven’t bothered to verify or understand, or by reporting people who disobey the government to the police, it is ‘The British People’ — as Tony Blair liked to call us when telling the lies that lead us to the Iraq War — that are laying the foundations for governance by dictatorship.
Surprisingly — although nothing surprises me anymore about the political gullibility of the UK population — participating in laying this road to dictatorship are many of the individuals and groups that describe themselves as radical, socialist, anarchist, communist or in some other way independent in their thinking and actions from the ideology of neo-liberalism. Unfortunately — although fortune has nothing to do with it — in their eagerness to turn media lies into a stick with which to beat a completely indifferent government, they have turned out to be just as susceptible to those lies as everybody else. In this instance, as in so many previous man-made crises, the so-called ‘left’ in this country is doing the work of our right-wing and authoritarian government. In their warnings against a threat that doesn’t exist, in their lamentations for deaths that are no more numerous than usual, and in their demands for stronger government measures to curb the virus they are in reality exacerbating, they, too, are infected with coronazombyism.
What is coronazombyism, besides the title of the film in which we’re all acting out our allotted roles? According to epidemiologists, virologists and microbiologists who have spent a lifetime studying viral epidemics, the current lockdown of our societies and the economic consequences of this are actually increasing the deaths resulting from this new virus: by depriving our health services of workers who have tested positive for SARs-CoV-2, by cancelling operations for life-threatening conditions, by reducing life expectancy in the future for people forced deeper into poverty. In addition, the further reduction in funding for the NHS and the rest of the public sector as an inevitable consequence of our radically shrunken economy, added to the societal and psychological consequences from job losses and business failures, together with the cuts to oversees aid for developing countries justified by a reduced GDP in capitalist economies, will continue to have a negative impact on the health and life expectancy of millions of people for years to come. The government responses, therefore, and the role of the press and media in framing them for public acceptance and implementation, are not external to, but a part of, the virus. The two are, in a very real and consequential sense, in a symbiotic relation to each other. In this infection of biology by technology, of human consciousness by artificial intelligence, the media virus has initiated a mutation in the coronavirus that has turned it into something far more dangerous than influenza.
Through natural selection, a virus will always ‘choose’, so to speak — although without agency — the host that best allows it to replicate itself in greatest numbers. By keeping most of the Northern hemisphere under house arrest during spring, when seasonal influenza usually ends, governments have turned bodies that would otherwise rapidly produce antibodies to fight off and develop immunity to SARs-CoV-2 into better hosts, extending the presence of the symptomatology of COVID-19 in the population, and preventing us from developing herd immunity on the scale required to stop its replication. In the same way, the artificial intelligence in the algorithms that determine what we see on mainstream and social media exponentially increases the propaganda and lies that tell us what we want to hear: at once frightening us into obedience to new dictates and reassuring us that the government is in control — but, crucially, requires our help (the revived mantra of every crisis that ‘we’re all in this together’). Both systems, the biological and the technological, the natural and the artificial, reproduce themselves, independently of individual agency, as viral transmission through the body politic — or better, the global host. This is the real, present and future danger of coronazombyism.
The evidence of this is everywhere around us, and in a future article I will look at the legislative consequences for us of coronazombyism. But, as always, it’s to the USA that we should look for the stupidest and most dangerous reaction to the coronavirus. President Donald Trump, with typical military bombast, has declared that the fight against coronavirus is a ‘war’, and put the USA on a war-footing against what he calls a ‘foreign virus’, declaring that the US will ‘defeat the invisible enemy’. So I want to end with a quote from Julian Assange, about whose activities as a journalist and publisher exposing the war-crimes of the USA, whose innocence of accusations of rape invented by Swedish prosecutors under US duress, and whose arrest, incarceration and torture in a British prison, also under US duress, the entire press and media of the UK and US has lied or been silent about for the past decade.
In addition to the life of a man the governments of the US, the UK, Sweden, Australia, Ecuador and many others within the ambit of US imperialism are quite blatantly and even openly trying to kill, one of the greatest concerns about Assange’s extrajudicial imprisonment, torture and trial is the watershed it represents in that chimera of liberal democracies — the freedom of the press. Anyone who has followed the lies on which every war of the Twenty-first Century has been started — in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Syria, in Libya — will know how long it has been since this mythical beast was last spotted; but the openness with which Julian Assange has been imprisoned, tortured and is being tried outside of both UK and international law while the press and media stay rigorously and obediently silent represents a new and, most likely, irreversible sea-change in the relationship between the fourth estate and the capitalist state over which it is supposed to exert a degree of scrutiny on behalf of the public.
There are many other contenders — such as the UK-armed genocide in Yemen, the silence of the UK media about the suppression of the Gilets jaunes protests in France, or the anti-semitic slur campaign against Jeremy Corbyn in the UK — but it could be argued that the first manifestation of this new relationship is the transformation of SARs-CoV-2 from an influenza virus into a global crisis. In an interview with RT in May 2011, when he was still free to do so, this is what Julian Assange said about the assimilation of our press and media, both mainstream and social, into the propaganda arm of the state:
‘One of the hopeful things I have discovered is that nearly every war that has started in the past 50 years has been the result of media lies. The media could have stopped it, if they had searched deep enough. If they hadn’t repeated government propaganda, they could have stopped it.
‘But what does that mean? Well, that means, basically, populations don’t like wars, and populations have to be fooled into wars. Populations don’t willingly and with open eyes go into a war. So, if we have a good media environment, then you will also have a peaceful environment.
‘Our number one enemy is ignorance. And I believe that is the number one enemy in everyone: not understanding what is actually going in the world. It’s only when you start to understand that you can make effective decisions and effective plans.
‘Now, the question is, who is promoting ignorance? Well, those organisations that try to keep things secret, and those organisations which distort true information to make it false or misrepresentative. In this latter category, it is bad media. It really is my opinion that the media in general are so bad, we have to question whether the world wouldn’t be better off without them altogether.
‘There are some very, very fine journalists, and we work with many of them, and some fine media organisations. But the vast majority are awful, and so distortive to how the world actually is. The result is we see wars, we see corrupt governments continue.’
I think it would be fair to say that whatever hope Assange once had in the media has now been crushed by 9 years of progressively severe lockdown, first under house arrest in the UK, then claiming political asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy, and now in solitary confinement without charge in Belmarsh prison. What hope remains lies with those of us who still have, for the present, the freedom to understand what is happening in the world, to speak the truth about it, and to act on that knowledge, even under the threat of arrest.
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