by Simon Elmer
Architects for Social Housing
‘For whether or not the age of revolutions is over, the age of state-formation has only just begun.’
— T. J. Clark, Farwell to an Idea, 1999
Table of Contents
- The Conspiracy Paradox
- The Power of Nightmares
- Capitalising on the Crisis
- Disruption and Redeployment
- The Emerging Ideology
- Biosecurity as Cultic Practice
- The Authoritarian State
- Brave New World
- The Time Given to Us
Hegel remarks somewhere that the owl of Minerva only spreads its wings with the fall of night. By this he meant that history is always written in retrospect about an already realised world. In 1940, no-one could know what every school-child knew in 1945: who won the Second World War. In five years’ time, perhaps, everyone will know the outcome of the current revolution in Western capitalism. But by then it will be too late. The owl of Minerva, the goddess of wisdom, will be on the wing, and we will be left in the darkness. But if we are to keep the light of knowledge burning in her lamp, we can at least try to awaken from the sleep of reason into which we have fallen, and try to anticipate what monsters will emerge from the dark.
We are approaching the first anniversary of the coronavirus crisis in the UK, and more and more people — on the Twitter account of the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, in the Facebook pages set up to share censored interviews with scientists, in the online platforms not yet shut down for discussing the evidence against lockdown, in the illegal meetings of friends in the homes of the people that host them, in the thousands of discussions and exchanges that happen at every act of resistance, every demonstration, every march — know that this crisis has been manufactured. We know now that the emergency measures taken in response to this ‘unprecedented’ crisis have been in place for years, waiting to be put into action. We know that contracts for the campaign of propaganda were signed with PR firms weeks before the first lockdown. We know that, in April 2020, the Cabinet Office approved over £216 million for advertising on what it called the ‘COVID-19 Campaign 20/21’. We know that the criteria for attributing deaths to COVID-19 were changed by legislation back in March to exaggerate the official number of fatalities. We know that 95 per cent of the deaths attributed to the disease were of people with pre-existing health conditions like cancer, dementia, heart disease or diabetes. We know that 84 per cent were over 70 years of age, and that the average age of those whose deaths are attributed to COVID-19 is the average age of death in the UK. We know that, a year into this so-called ‘pandemic’, around 600 patients under the age of 60 without a pre-existing health condition have had their deaths in English hospitals attributed to COVID-19. We know that, in April last year, the World Health Organisation issued instructions to medical practitioners that, if COVID-19 is merely the ‘suspected’ or ‘probable’ or ‘assumed’ cause of death, it must always be recorded as the ‘underlying cause’ on death certificates, whether this is ‘considered medically correct or not.’ We know that the WHO’s recommendations on the use of face masks by the public changed in June following political lobbying by the governments of, among other countries, the UK, and that even then it was primarily to encourage compliance with other restrictions on our rights and freedoms. We know that the first and only randomised control trial of the effectiveness of face masks in stopping coronavirus transmission, and which was rejected by several leading medical journals, when finally published reported ‘statistically negligible’ benefits. We know that, for a long time, the UK Government deliberately exaggerated the number of so-called ‘COVID-19 deaths’ by including anyone who has tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, no matter how long afterwards they died and of what illness. We know that, even now, anyone who tests positive within 28 days of their death is still recorded as a ‘COVID death’. We know that, according to the WHO, 30 per cent of infections, even in high GDP countries like the UK, are contracted in medical facilities, meaning anyone dying in a UK hospital has an equivalent chance of being designated a ‘COVID death’. We know that, even with the withdrawal of medical care for nearly 68 million people for the best part of a year, the age-adjusted mortality rate in 2020 was the highest in only 12 years, and that the population fatality rate from the coronavirus ‘epidemic’ is equivalent to a bad season of influenza. We know that, as even these inaccurately identified deaths have fallen, the Government has turned to the promotion of RT-PCR tests for the virus that, according to its own advisors at SAGE, have a false-positive rate higher than the percentage of the UK population testing positive for SARS-CoV-2 with these tests. We know that 80 per cent of infections with SARS-CoV-2 are asymptomatic, and therefore calling them ‘cases’ is medically inaccurate. We know from a study of nearly 10 million residents in Wuhan, the epicentre of the infection in China, that asymptomatic transmission of SARS-CoV-2 is statistically non-existent. We have known for the past 55 years that at least four coronaviruses circulate freely in UK on a seasonal basis, providing prior immunity to SARS-CoV-2 in around 30 per cent of the population before it reached these shores. We know that any RT-PCR test reliant on encoding the spike protein unique to coronaviruses can detect as SARS-CoV-2 anyone having a common cold from other coronaviruses at the time of sampling. We know that, despite this, the governments of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are using these meaningless statistics to impose tiered lockdowns across the UK, in further violation of our human rights and civil liberties. We know that this is being done under legislation that only authorises such actions when justified by medical evidence that has not been produced for Parliament but merely alluded to in press conferences. We know that the predictions of escalating infections and increased numbers of deaths by senior medical figures employed by the Government have been shown time and again to be wildly inaccurate fabrications based on predictive models challenged by the most eminent scientists around the world. We know that, as of publication, over 351 coronavirus-justified Statutory Instruments have been made into law without a draft being presented to Parliament in advance for debate, without medical or other proof being provided of their justification or proportionality, and without an assessment being made of their impact, and that every one of these pieces of legislation requiring it has been rubber stamped in retrospect by virtual sittings of that Parliament. We know that £22 billion of public monies has been awarded in contracts without prior competitive tender to privately-owned companies with financial links to members of Parliament, the Government and their business colleagues. We know that more and more of the functions of the state are being outsourced to private companies unaccountable to the public that provides the money with which they are paid. We know that, according to the World Bank, the coronavirus-justified restrictions imposed on the UK population since March 2020 have cost the country £280 billion, the equivalent of £4,112 for every man, woman and child in the UK. We know that, in contrast, the wealth of the world’s 2,200-plus billionaires increased by 20 per cent and US$1.9 trillion in 2020, more than in any previous year in history. We know that, by the end of 2020, over a quarter of a billion people across the globe were severely malnourished as a result of coronavirus-justified restrictions. We know that, under the cloak of this crisis, the Government and its financial partners have massively expanded the surveillance, monitoring and control of UK citizens through regulations, programmes and technologies that are implementing the UK biosecurity state. We know that, at the peak of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in April, more than 40 per cent of acute care beds in NHS hospitals were unoccupied. We know there is strong evidence that, at a conservative estimate, at least half the 80,000 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in 2020 were caused by lockdown restrictions that denied UK citizens emergency, elective, social and community care in order to free up hospital beds for an epidemic that was never in danger of arriving. We know that the renewal of lockdown over the winter of 2020-2021 is killing thousands more. We know that this lockdown was decided back in July, before the manufactured rise in so-called ‘cases’ consequent upon a huge rise in RT-PCR tests producing an even greater rise in false positives. We know that over the next five years, hundreds of thousands more people in the UK will fall into poverty, unemployment, bankruptcy and despair that will shorten their lives by many tens of thousands of years because of restrictions justified by these manufactured figures. We know that, although the GDP of the UK is rising slowly back to pre-crisis levels, the restrictions that continue to be imposed on the population are redistributing wealth from the public purse into the pockets of the rich and the powerful on a scale never before seen even in the UK. We know that the mental health of millions of UK citizens is being deliberately and systematically attacked through Government-funded campaigns of terrorism, fearmongering and lies designed to reduce the population to compliance, obedience, resignation and despair. We know that attempts at suicide and self-harm, particularly among British children, are increasing. We know that the fines for the newly-created crimes of not wearing a mask, meeting friends or leaving our home without permission have been raised and will continue to be raised to levels sufficient to financially ruin anyone who disobeys Government regulations. We know that non-compliance with certain coronavirus-justified Regulations can now be punished with up to 10 years in prison. We know that the Government has looked at the legal barriers to making vaccination compulsory for a disease with a fatality rate of 0.23 per cent across the population and 0.05 per cent for those under 70, and has not ruled out making taking such a vaccine a condition of access to public life. We know that UK police forces are being given more power with reduced accountability to enforce these regulations with increased brutality and greater impunity from prosecution. We know that the legal profession, the media, the press, academia, the medical profession, the pharmaceutical industry, the financial and banking sector, the passenger transport industry, the civil service, the security services, the armed forces and every other public institution is collaborating in affecting the revolution of the UK into a biosecurity state. We know that this state is being implemented through the private sector as much as through the public sector, with the information technology industry, the healthcare industry, the education industry, the tourism industry, the hospitality industry and the retail industry all being compelled by coronavirus-justified regulations to enforce compliance with the technologies and programmes of the biosecurity state as a condition of using their services. We know that these technologies will not stop there, but under the guise of monitoring and protecting our biosecurity, not only from SARS-CoV-2 but from any other virus designated a threat to public health in the future, are penetrating and influencing every aspect of our private life, biological existence and social behaviour.
We know all this and more. But the question more and more people are now asking is: why? Why is this being done, and to what end? Of what benefit, and to whose benefit, is the impoverishment of the population of the UK and of most other Western liberal democracies around the world? Why would the governments of capitalist economies deliberately set out to bankrupt millions of small businesses and drive tens of millions of workers into unemployment and destitution? And what, if anything, can we do to resist it? This article is my attempt to respond to these questions, although not necessarily by answering them.
1. The Conspiracy Paradox
Cui bono, in Latin, means ‘to whom is it a benefit?’, or more colloquially ‘who benefits?’ It was a phrase associated with the Roman consul, Lucius Cassius, known in the Republic as an honest and wise judge, who when trying to identify the perpetrator of a crime always asked who stood to gain from it being perpetrated. Unsurprisingly, it’s a question that is being asked with greater insistence as the evidence of the crimes committed under the cloak of the coronavirus crisis mounts up, and the hitherto hegemonic facade of deception is beginning to crack. But there is still a barrier to the wall of lies behind it being torn down, and that is the question of who could possible benefit from the destruction coronavirus-justified restrictions are inflicting on the populations on which they are being imposed by their governments, justified by their media and enforced by their police and security forces.
On the one hand, the question seems almost childishly naïve, like asking why the New Labour Government of Tony Blair fabricated the so-called ‘dodgy’ dossier that justified the UK forming a coalition with the US to invade Iraq on the threat of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that never existed. The fifth largest oil reserves in the world is the short and simple answer. But that answer, which every school child in the UK today knows, was apparently sufficiently unknown — or insufficiently believed — by the British public in 2003 to stop the UK Government and media collaborating to take us into one of the most disastrous military invasions in recent history. I’ve no doubt that in a decade the children of Britain will know why they spend their days masked before an Apple computer, have to update their biometric data into an Android phone every week, have everything they read censored by Facebook and everything they write monitored by Twitter, everywhere they go recorded by Google, and everything they earn and buy overseen and approved by Amazon; but by then it will be too late. We need to know now.
And yet, despite the apparent obviousness of the answer, it is not easy to put into words that everyone can understand and accept. The reason for this, as I want to show in this article, is because it is the wrong question. The current framing of this question offers only two responses, and in doing so has successfully divided the country into two hugely unequal camps. Either we are, in reality, facing a civilisation-threatening virus to which our governments are responding with degrees of incompetence and opportunism but to a genuine and real threat to public health; or the whole thing has been manufactured by a conspiracy of powerful individuals and organisations whose names and initials we are all familiar with by now, and whose immense wealth and influence enables them to grind the organ to which our various governments are dancing.
I don’t believe either of these answers to be correct. I have spent the past year showing why the statistical data, medical reports and coronavirus-justified legislation do not corroborate the veracity of the first answer. But I also don’t believe that the refusal to believe this blatant lie means believing the easily-dismissed second answer that there must — therefore — exist a conspiracy of political, economic and technological powers which have either manufactured this deadly virus in a secret lab in Wuhan or fabricated the effects of a virus whose genome still hasn’t been sequenced. On the contrary, I believe it is this binary response — a deadly virus or an even deadlier conspiracy, neither of which is supported by what we know about the world in the early Twenty-first Century — that has stopped the truth about this crisis appearing to those who are looking for it.
My answer to the question — Cui bono? — rests on a paradox. Its initial premise is a widely-accepted one: that, rather than explaining this crisis, the various conspiracy theories about COVID-19 — like most conspiracy theories — are a product of this crisis. But the paradox I derive from this, which draws attention to what we mean by a ‘product’, is less commonly proposed: that, far from undermining the ideological hegemony of the official narrative about COVID-19, these conspiracy theories are a crucial part of the construction of that hegemony. It is not by examining their claims, therefore, but rather their functions — beginning with the question of whom they benefit — that we can begin to understand what is happening, how it is happening and, maybe, why it is happening.
2. The Power of Nightmares
I want to begin by challenging the explanatory power of conspiracy theories in general, with the hope that, by doing so, it will undermine the foundation on which the coronavirus crisis has been constructed. The best place to start is with one of the most widely accepted and institutionally supported propagator of conspiracy theories, Adam Curtis. So embedded are his theories in our culture that I imagine most people would not regard him as a conspiracy theorist, a term they would reserve for believers in the ‘Illuminati’ or a ‘flat-earth’. But the reduction of all conspiracy theories to occult or scientifically-disproved beliefs is part of the function of what might be called the ‘discourse’ of conspiracy theory that is increasingly being used to dismiss all ideas and beliefs not sanctioned by the institutions of the state, whether political, scientific, religious or cultural. It has always struck me as curious that, despite the content of his numerous and award-winning television programmes — all of which, on the face of it, contradict and undermine what such institutions tell us about the world and recent historical events — rather than being banned or censored or marginalised are available on an almost permanent basis on mainstream broadcasting platforms like the BBC, where they are categorised as ‘documentaries’ and never bracketed with other ‘conspiracy theories’. This has led me to ask, Cui bono? — who benefits from the production, televising, and availability of these apparently subversive accounts of everything from the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the causes of the Iraq War to the power of the media and the 2008 financial crisis.
What all of Curtis’s accounts share in common is this: that history is made by a small group of individuals in positions of political and corporate power, usually putting into practice ideas he traces back to theoretical concepts developed years earlier by intellectuals and only later made possible by advances in technology. It’s a persuasive model of history whose theoretical simplicity is concealed behind the myriad of intuitive and tenuous connections Curtis draws between public and private organisations, whether Governments or corporations, and the secret dealings of their leaders. Indeed, his latest series, Can’t Get You Out of My Head, which is available to view on the BBC now, is an account of the rise of conspiracy theories told through barely articulated connections between individuals and events driven or guided by never identified forces. Significantly, though, over the more than 8 hours of its 6 episodes, the coronavirus crisis warrants only the briefest of mentions 10 minutes from the end, where Curtis merely repeats the standard liberal response about COVID-19 exacerbating inequalities in Western democracies. Some conspiracy theories, it seems, are off-bounds even to a BBC producer.
In this respect, although more credible than, say, Hitler’s conspiracy of Jewish bankers for Bolshevism, Curtis’s histories, in both their theoretical model of change and in the methodology of their telling, with archive footage bringing a veneer of history to historically meaningless generalisations, are exemplary of conspiracy theories in general. Power is located in the hands of a few individuals, who are limited to the intellectuals and mavericks who formulate the ideas, the scientists and engineers who develop the technology that allows those ideas to be realised, the CEOs and bankers who fund their implementation or the politicians and generals who put them into practice. Like the old histories of kings and queens and the wars they started, this is a history of the elite. The masses appear only as the object of their manipulations, the foot-soldiers they send to war, the victims they killed, and the civilians back home who waved their national flags and corporate logos and cheered. What this model of history does is two things.
First, such immense power and influence is attributed to this elite that they are depicted as more than kings, almost as gods, employing all the rapidly-evolving power of technology, whether that’s computers, robotics, the internet of things, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, nanotechnology, biotechnology, quantum computing or the military hardware they drive. All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace is the title of Curtis’s 3-part film, televised on the BBC in 2011, about the power of computers to create our perception of the world. Second, and as a consequence of this depiction, the rest of us, the masses of Western democracies, are depicted not only as powerless but also as drained by this depiction of any historical agency whatsoever. The spectacle of our own impotence in the face of the depicted nexus of political, military and technological power becomes the object of filmic consumption. And as the German critic, Walter Benjamin, wrote of the spectacle of war under fascism, our alienation from ourselves has reached such a degree that even the depiction of the annihilation of our agency is now experienced as an aesthetic pleasure. Everything is Going According to Plan is the title of Curtis’s 2013 film about how technocrats and global corporations have established an ultraconservative norm behind the fake, enchanting prison of the internet.
This, I believe, is why Curtis’s otherwise so traumatic accounts of our manufactured impotence are so popular, so available for viewing on mainstream media platforms that otherwise refuse to report on what is happening in the world, so readily consumed by a UK public otherwise indifferent to the suffering our Government inflicts on other countries and peoples, and why they have become the primary model by which the world is now explained and understood. In a choice between being told that we are flies to the wanton boys running the world and blank incomprehension at the vast and terrifying complexity of that world, it seems we overwhelmingly prefer the first story for our evening’s television. The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear is the title of another 3-part film, televised on the BBC in 2004, about how the US created a mythical enemy out of Islam in order to drum up global support for its military interventions in the oil-rich Middle East. So what’s wrong with this model of history, and what does it have to tell us about the latest incomprehensible event by which we are being terrorised into apathy and compliance?
Perhaps I should start by saying that I imagine the organisations and individuals named in Curtis’s programmes, like the ones named in the conspiracy theories about COVID-19, do all behave like conspiracists. I haven’t forgotten the distinction made by an unnamed senior adviser in the George W. Bush administration between a ‘reality-based community’ and a ‘faith-based presidency’. This was reported in the New York Times Magazine in October 2004, the same month the Lancet medical journal estimated that 100,000 ‘excess’ Iraqi deaths from all causes had occurred since the U.S. invasion began:
‘The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community”, which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality”. I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore”, he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”’
This is straight out of the dystopian accounts of the power of nightmares to create reality that is the bed and butter of Curtis’s phantasmagoria. And just as the coronavirus crisis has produced a spate of conspiracy theories about its origins, authors and ends, so the threat of their irresistible power has given rise to an opposed phenomenon, which the current crisis has formed into the some of the most bizarre statements to be published in even the UK press. Since this crisis has begun, anyone who attributes any influence or deliberation or intentions to any organisation — whether that’s to previously less well-known organisations like the World Health Organisation, the World Economic Forum or the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, or to organisations that have been at the forefront of recent political debates, like the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund, or indeed the UK Government itself — is immediately denounced as a ‘conspiracy theorist’. Faced with evidence of the power of these organisations to ‘create our own reality’, our first resort, it seems, is to denounce their existence, like children who hope that, by closing their eyes, the monster at the bottom of their bed will disappear.
It’s not as famous or as often quoted as the line about philosophers interpreting the world rather than changing it, but in the same text Marx wrote that ‘all mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of that practice’. So I want to start our awakening from the sleep of reason by looking at the social practices of the coronavirus crisis, and at how this can correct the conspiracy theory of an elite with their hands, like the Wizard of Oz, on the gears of history. Let’s pull back that curtain and look at the machine of history. We all know its name, and despite all the renewed predictions of its death it hasn’t gone away. On the contrary, it’s just going through a revolution — perhaps one worthy of a new prefix — but its name is still the same. Capitalism.
Marx was right. When the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production — in legal terms its property relations — a period of social revolution begins. ‘With the change of the economic foundations’, he wrote, ‘the entire immense superstructure is more or less rapidly transformed.’ The expansion into new markets of the neoliberal capitalism that has dominated Western democracies for the past 40 years no longer has to accommodate liberal democracy. What we are undergoing — what we are colluding in producing — are the new political, legal and social forms for a multinational biosecurity state. And no elite, no matter how powerful, is in control of it, for the simple reason that, despite the proliferation of immensely powerful international organisations increasingly divorced from and opposed to the democratic process, capitalism is a dynamic process that develops by conflict and contradiction.
Capitalism has a grip on the world the like of which it has never had before, and as it faces the long-heralded limits to that expansion it is developing new forms and powers to extend that grip further over the world’s diminishing resources. But there is no single government or corporation ruling the globe, no secret society whose members sit on every cabinet and board. The US Government is the greatest military power the world has ever seen, and the United Nations has long been superseded by far more unaccountable coalitions of state and corporate powers whose activities are largely secret and getting more so. And the power of technology to monitor and control the world’s populations is expanding at an exponential rate in both breadth and depth. But the world is not a single, supra-political block. There is no invisible hand of the market-god ruling over us, for good or for evil; there are only devils competing for his crown. The world undergoing this revolution in capitalism remains a conflict whose battleground, now and for the immediate future, is the coronavirus crisis. What makes that conflict new for Western democracies is that the war being waged is a civil one, of governments against their own people, rather than against other countries. By looking at how this civil war is being waged, therefore, we can begin to understand to what ends it is being fought. And, hopefully, from better understanding the field of battle and our place on it, we can stop being the canon-fodder of dictators both known and unknown, desert the ranks of compliance, and start deciding ourselves what battles we want to fight, how and against whom.