Pathfinders: Denialists and Doomsayers
Strange consequences continue to develop from the virus pandemic. Just when you thought the American right wing couldn’t get any more moronic, they’ve started organising armed protests against the lockdown in defiance of their own state laws, and egged on by tweets from Donald Trump, in what is possibly the first ever instance of a sitting president inciting citizens to break the law, all in the name of ‘personal liberty’ (bit.ly/2RRmBQW).
Tom Lehrer’s famous remark about satire becoming redundant is itself becoming redundant. Their reasoning, if one can be careless with the term, must be that they’re not the ones most at risk so what the hell do they care? Let the old and sick die in droves, and save our tax dollars! Maybe they wouldn’t be so callous and cavalier if they realised that’s exactly the way Donald Trump thinks about them too.
No less astonishing is the number of people who reputedly are still going out and simply not bothering to keep their ‘social distance’, either in shops or on roads. Despite everything, a sense of unreality hangs over events. Perhaps it’s all simply too huge for our feeble monkey brains to comprehend. Perhaps it’s easier to take refuge in denial, or unwarranted optimism.
Assisted of course by a media determined to grab headlines with every new drug trial going, no matter how tiny the prospect of success or how far in the future any result can be expected. What the Daily Express does constantly and the Daily Mail does frequently, i.e. prey vampirically on people’s health fears, they’re all doing now with a relentless snake-oil infomercial they call science journalism.
Things are scarcely preferably at the other end of the fortune-teller’s see-saw, where squats the dead weight of doom in the shape of those predicting a 2-year lockdown for many people with health problems. Unfortunately, as studies of depressives show, the Eeyores are usually closer to the truth than the optimistic Tiggers. Out-morosing everyone in the Hundred-Acre Wood is the prediction that, even after the crisis is over, things could get worse still with a post-viral pandemic of chronic fatigue syndrome (aka ME) disabling the world’s working population, as the condition is commonly associated with virus triggers (New Scientist, 15 April – bit.ly/2Vp1Dv7).
Given all this, there’s something rather tasteless about the amount of articles saying how good this is for the planet and climate change. This is like condoling you for the loss of your granddad and then pointing out how good his ashes will be for the roses. It’s obviously true that the roads and skies are emptier, so UK air pollution is down by up to 60 percent (bbc.in/3eCdPQM), and industrial pollution levels are down as oil prices drop to a 21-year low (bbc.in/2RMsAGX). But according to a NASA study the supposed benefits to the climate are vastly overstated, with a short business break scarcely making up for years of concentrated activity (go.nasa.gov/34NfA9k). Nevertheless, according to some deep greens, this is a clear sign that it’s perfectly possible to do all the things the climate lobby and the IPCC have been demanding for years, and which governments seem to think can’t be done.
It’s not a clear sign of any such thing. Pushing a man off a cliff and saying he can fly doesn’t mean you’ve broken the law of gravity. Subsequent events will soon demonstrate otherwise. The coronavirus has pushed the market system off a cliff alright, but it’s falling, not floating, and when it lands, workers are going to get splattered by the dead weight of debt, both their own, and that of governments and employers seeking to redress it through savage cuts in wages and services. And when that happens, you can bet environmentalism won’t be high on the agenda either.
Two important things do emerge from the crisis that demonstrate why global common ownership is a good bet compared to capitalism. One is that, when there’s a crisis on this scale and it’s a question of finding solutions, nobody questions that it’s more efficient to pool or ‘socialise’ efforts across all boundaries, whether economic, political or physical. Anyone arguing that the search for a vaccine should be entrusted to the usual secretive and competitive workings of the profit system would be regarded right now as a lunatic. But drill down into any problem in capitalism and you find the same phenomenon, competing private interests getting in the way of the really useful work. What the virus demonstrates is that, when push comes to shove as now, capitalism throws aside its own logic as useless and hijacks the logic of socialism!
The second is the snide right-wing prejudice that a cooperative society would collapse through a lack of volunteers. Many people now trapped in idleness indoors because of health vulnerabilities would very likely give their eye-teeth to be able to volunteer for useful work in this crisis. We all applaud the efforts of medical staff, delivery drivers and the like. How many more of us wish we could help, and instead are forced to sit on our hands in an unheroic attempt to keep ourselves from occupying a precious hospital bed? What a monumental insult it is to call workers lazy and selfish, when you see how they rush to other people’s aid, even at the risk of their own lives.
Nothing about the current volunteer effort is a surprise to any socialist. We know very well that workers run the world from top to bottom, albeit in the interest of the 1 percent, and from this we conclude that workers are quite capable of running it in their own interest, without the parasitical 1 percent and their corrupt, glove-puppet governments. The only trouble is that workers don’t realise this yet.
People always think a major war or disaster is going to change the world, and this crisis is no different. In all the currently hot and mostly hot-air speculations about ‘life after Covid-19’, one or two people are at least asking the right questions. Taking value and centralisation as the two driving factors of future change, one of these, a researcher in something called ecological economics, presents an interesting choice of four possibilities: state capitalism (which to us is normal capitalism with some state involvement); barbarism (i.e. lawless property society); state socialism (which we would call state capitalism), or ‘mutual aid’ prioritising human need not exchange value (which is not a million miles from what we call socialism). The way the article presents the options, it’s a no-brainer (bbc.in/2zdE8MR).
Does the will to change exist though? Apparently so. A widely reported YouGov poll suggests that 91 percent of people in the UK don’t want to go back to the way things were before the coronavirus pandemic (Independent, 17 April – bit.ly/2VHs8ej). 91 percent is a good start. Let’s hope they mean it.