Pandemic revelations (and confessions)

Stan Goff
61 min readDec 12, 2022


I’ve not posted about Covid for quite some time. This time I’m going into radioactive territory. I’ll start with a confession. I was wrong about some things I thought and said in the early days of the pandemic. Not everything, but some things, and in those some things I got caught up in a guilt-by-association fallacy.

Most of what I’m writing about here is “old news,” meaning news that’s been around for weeks or months instead of hours and days. I’m writing it because, first of all, that’s how I organize my own thinking about complex subjects, and because some of my readers may have — like me — adopted a kind of incurious and somewhat dismissive default position about the pandemic; and I’m inviting them into the same kinds of re-examination.

What provoked this reflection was twofold. First, I came down with a miserable case of Covid-19 (who knows which variant) in September after having been doubly vaccinated and once-boosted. Second, I developed a recent interest in the whole “Wuhan lab leak” issue; and I actually started looking into it instead of mechanically repeating what I heard in echo chambers.

I need to say at the outset, the question of the virus’s origin is separate from the questions surrounding public responses to the virus once it resulted in an epidemic. These two questions have been co-packaged only because they were politicized. They can and should be addressed separately.

Politicizing fallacies

Before we get into the meat of the matter, let’s outline the guilt-by-association fallacy. Most people reading this have some passing familiarity with the menu of logical fallacies, but for those who may not, here’s the definition:

The guilt by association fallacy seeks to discredit an argument or a speaker based on an association with a demonized person or group. As a counterfeit argument, the fallacious debater starts by stating that the vilified group also holds the same belief — which in no way equates to proving the belief or statement wrong.

In a formal sense, of course, fallacies are, as we said above, counterfeit arguments. In a psycho-social sense, the guilt-by-association fallacy is a form of in-group cognitive boundary-policing. It’s closely associated with the “true Scotsman” fallacy, otherwise known as the “purity fallacy.” One is not a true [insert in-group identification here] if he or she believes X. If one believes X, he or she is impure, untouchable . . . has cooties.

In our case today, guilt-by-association is related to politics. In 2016, the American Democratic Party settled on the (shall we say) ill-conceived “pied-piper strategy,” in which they promoted Donald Trump’s candidacy behind the scenes because they thought he’d be the easiest candidate to defeat. Trump was going to be their inflatable bop-bag as they cruised to victory.

The election went badly for the Democrats. The bop bag bopped back. Nonetheless the Democrats have adhered to Trump-hatred as their central organizing strategy ever since.

This strategy was heavily supported by the mainstream media and even gave rise to a kind of YouTube cottage industry of Trump-obsessed podcasts. And so, for the last six-and-a-half tedious years, we’ve seen the politically motivated fraction of the US citizenry largely divided into two camps — each doing its own cognitive boundary policing with its own guilt-by-association fallacies and its own purity tests, manifested as assent to a whole set of inextricably combined propositions.

Any deviation — even on some single proposition — activates a shaming and shunning reflex from one’s own camp. The desire to belong is a particularly commanding facet of human nature; and the mere threat of being shamed and shunned is enough to deter deviation and enforce conformity.

When Trump actually said something that was right, for dogmatic anti-Trumpers it became wrong simply because he said it. Trump was absolutely right about NATO, for example, and if we’d have followed his original impulse to disband this grotesque and dangerous Cold War artifact, there would be no war in Ukraine right now. Hillary Clinton — who attacked Trump’s position on NATO — has a record of supporting illegal wars and occupations and is a fast friend to the military-industrial-complex. But because Trump said it, it has to be wrong; and now Biden — a thoroughly corrupt water-boy for Wall Street and the MIC — is playing chicken with nuclear war in Eastern Europe.

But Trump . . . bad.

Trump disclaimer

For the record, I despise Donald Trump. I’ve despised him for as long as I’ve known about him, not just since he went into politics as Steve Bannon’s meat puppet. Trump is an execrable human being, an arrogant spoiled bully, a hop-headed thief, a compulsive liar, a cheap con-man, a cheat, a sexual predator, a racist, an intellectual ape, and a malignant narcissist. He’s easy to dislike.

His effect on American politics was terrible. He actively promoted xenophobia as a political mobilization strategy and embraced the violent wing-nut fringe that would eventually try to carry out an attempted coup in January 2021 — an attempt (badly) orchestrated by Trump himself. His “macho belligerent” style accelerated America’s moral degradation (who knows where the bottom might be), making politics even more hateful and preposterous than it already was.

I’m actually glad to see Trump get his comeuppance in various investigations and potential indictments. I’m equally glad that — after six-plus exhausting years of his bullshit — he’s finally become toxic to enough of his former supporters that we might be done with his ass before the 2024 election follies.

None of this means that everything he said or supported was or is wrong.

Politicizing a pandemic

Donald Trump politicized the pandemic. That’s because his handlers politicized everything. In particular, Steve Bannon pursued an ideologically-motivated political strategy, for which he saw Trump as his chief useful idiot. Bannon is a devotee of the quasi-mystical/crypto-fascist “fourth turning” ideology of William Strauss and Neil Howe. Trump’s political positions didn’t map well onto the standard conservative-liberal binary, because Bannon’s driving “philosophy” didn’t. Non-interventionism, for example, is generally associated with the left, but Bannon is a non-interventionist. At any rate, Bannon’s goal was a kind of crisis-accelerationism facilitated by the destruction of institutions. Sowing political division was a tactical component of this larger strategy to bring everything crashing down to create a clean slate for the resurgence of an ideologically unified and purposeful culture. The more chaos the better. This idea was and is the basis of much alt-right thinking, which eschews rational and deliberative discourse in favor of incitement. Resolution and stability are not the goals; instrumental “clean the slate” chaos is. If necessary, civil war.

The pandemic just created an opportunity to sow more division and chaos.

Here’s the thing: Democrats, urban liberals, whatever . . . they made it easy. They’ve been making it easy for some time, especially since the Clinton administration, when the DP became a fully-owned subsidiary of finance capital and started selling out and selling off the US working class, especially the rust belt and the rural working class. When 2008 hit, and Democrats bailed out Wall Street, that straw broke the camel’s back. By 2016, after eight hard years of post-crash precarity, a lot of people were ready to “tear it all down.” Then Hillary Clinton referred to those living this precarity as “a basket of deplorables,” and the rest was history. Trump became their “fuck you” to Clinton.

When the pandemic hit, the response of the technocratic authoritarian Democrats was to go directly for bio-political consolidation — the regulation of every aspect of life as if society were a single organism. The philosopher Giorgio Agamben — hardly some right-winger — was vilified by the liberal establishment for pointing out how “states of exception” — suspension of legal liberties, for example — in response to emergencies, like the pandemic, are used to increase population control in ways that persist after the “emergency” is past. We are still living with the heightened “security” of systems that went into place after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Technocratic executive power never returns to pre-emergency defaults. Before 9–11, the mere name Department of Homeland Security would have engendered a generalized dystopian fear of mass surveillance and jackboots.

Now, it’s been normalized. Permanent “state of exception.”

As to the pandemic, there was plenty of hypocrisy on both sides, and the state and federal governments’ responses ranged from inconsistent to incoherent. The truth was, the most vulnerable had the worst time of it, profiteers profited, and the battle lines between Trump-partisans and Trump-haters hardened. This dynamic happened around the world, and in a bizarre paradox, the most libertarian positions viz-a-viz the pandemic were taken up by right-wing authoritarians (for economic motives).

People who refused this civil war by holding nuanced positions, or who tried to discern the truth apart from purity-test propositions, were kind of left out. In part, this was ideological inertia, in a period when the underwriting assumptions of prevailing ideologies were being eroded by new realities. Reality no longer fit either side, but neither side any longer had an interpretive framework that could make sense of that reality. New wine; old wineskins. Ideological leakage.

Conspiracy theory disclaimer

I am a pretty severe critic of conspiracy theorists, with good reasons. When I say “conspiracy theorists,” I mean a mindset that seeks to explain his or her grievances or fears with imaginary plans constructed by some secret centralized power that is nearly omniscient and omnipotent. This mindset imputes to powerful secret cabals the capacity to organize flawless plots at the top and the wherewithal to ensure the success of these plots — without their being revealed — down to an almost granular level. I spent way too much time in highly secretive government organizations not to know that they fuck up far more than they succeed, and they leak like seives.

Accident and contingency play far more powerful roles in history than is often imagined. Which is not to say that powerful actors don’t use the power they have to opportunistically take advantage of a reality that is only fractionally deterministic. That’s not what conspiracy theorists are talking about, and that’s not what I am calling conspiracy theories.

I am not a conspiracy theorist; and at the same time, I abhor the fallacious accusation of “conspiracy theory” as a means of dismissing opposing arguments or facilitating cover-ups.

Conspiracy theorists are gonna conspiracy theorize, no matter what is happening, and even more so when something big and unusual is happening. The pandemic was no exception. During the 1918 flu epidemic — far deadlier in far more age groups that Covid-19 — people surmised it was a German plot carried out through Bayer aspirin, and the flu was given a bogus national identity as the “Spanish flu.” After the 9–11 attacks, there was the “inside job” theory and fantasies about controlled demolition. When a conspiracy theory fits with an ideological predisposition, it gains further traction as an ideological weapon. Nowadays, it achieved a pun-intended virality through both mainstream and social media.

Conversely, the accusation of “conspiracy theory” is enough to shut down certain conversations, especially when the term remains undefined. Guilt by association with the really real nuttery.

The lab-leak hypothesis is not a conspiracy theory; but it’s being portrayed as such by the ideological police of the liberal technocracy in the anti-Trump camp. I myself fell for this, which is my first mea culpa here. Trump’s xenophobic portrayal of the lab-leak hypothesis is suggestive of a racialized conspiracy theory, and it was — of course — taken as such by those so ideologically predisposed.

Just because Trump is a lying, narcissistic asshole doesn’t mean he’s always wrong. In the same way, just because a bunch of conspiracy theorists think the virus escaped from a lab doesn’t mean (1) that it is untrue or (2) that is was a conspiracy. What the circumstantial evidence suggests is that it was a cover-up, or an information-suppression strategy, which are staples of power in its many forms.

Wuhan lab-leak hypothesis

This story doesn’t begin with the Wuhan Institute of Virology (the “Wuhan lab”) but with something called gain-of-function (GOF) research.

GOF with respect to virology — the study of viruses — is intentional genetic modification of an organism to boost certain biological functions. One such function is to increase or decrease its transmissibility; another would be to increase cross-species transmissibility; another would be to increase or decrease the virus’s pathogenesis (ability to cause actual disease). These experiments are conducted routinely in what are called maximum biocontainment laboratories around the world using animals. The intent of boosting transmissibility or pathogenesis is generally justified as research to prepare for pandemics — the “head start” justification.

It’s also generally acknowledged among scientists and regulators that this kind of research carries risks. Many scientists oppose GOF research. For most of us, this acknowledgement of risk is a big “duh.” Making organisms that are more dangerous is risky. “Gain-of-function” suddenly sounds more like the soulless technocratic language used to veil certain realities. I remember in the Army, where we used language like “targets” for human beings we intended to kill and “collateral damage” for non-combatant human beings we knew we would kill in the process. Technocrats associated with this scientific practice call the biological safety risks “dual use research of concern,” or DURC. Did you get that?

While all scientists are not on board with GOF research, or can we say, deliberately producing more dangerous organisms in labs, they’ve lost the policy debate. Which is not to say that there is no oversight. There’s kind of a little.

In the EU, they have the European Academies Science Advisory Council that makes safety recommendations (which have no teeth). In Germany, the German National Ethics Council makes policy recommendations to the government. In the US, we have the National Institutes of Health (NIH) making recommendations to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), which actually has some power if and when it uses it.

In 2014, the Obama DHHS enacted a moratorium on GOF research, but by 2017, that was lifted under Trump. In 2012, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), argued in support of GOF research. I bring up the US, because the US had a major role in what was happening in the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) in 2019 before the pandemic took off.

In an unlikely but conceivable turn of events, what if that scientist becomes infected with the virus, which leads to an outbreak and ultimately triggers a pandemic? Many ask reasonable questions: given the possibility of such a scenario — however remote — should the initial experiments have been performed and/or published in the first place, and what were the processes involved in this decision?

Scientists working in this field might say — as indeed I have said — that the benefits of such experiments and the resulting knowledge outweigh the risks. ( — Fauci, 2012)

Also in 2014, Fauci’s agency gave a multi-million dollar grant to a US non-profit called EcoHealth Alliance (EHA). The grant was to study bat-to-human virus transmission using bats in China at . . . the WIV. The president of EHA was British zoologist Peter Daszak. Daszak had a long standing relation with the WIV dating back to 2005.

In 2020, after the Covid outbreak, the NIH grant to EHA was suspended. For a far more in-depth account of what I’m about to summarize, I point readers to Katherine Eban’s March 2022 investigative piece for Vanity Fair. Her article does not provide a smoking gun for or against the lab-leak hypothesis — that is, that someone in the WIV, which is located eight miles from the wet market where “natural origin” proponents say the pandemic started, was exposed and infected. It does, however, provide substantial and damning evidence of the NIH and EHA circling the wagons against any suggestion that the WIV’s GOF research might have produced the Covid-19 virus, called SARS-CoV-2.

Daszak, a Chinese virologist named Shi Zhengli, and University of North Carolina researcher Ralph Baric, were already doing GOF research — making new viruses together at WIV in 2014 when the moratorium went into effect. They’ve admitted they had already created one that could infect humans. Between the NIH and WIV, EHA was given a loophole in the moratorium to continue their experiments. Other scientists warned that there was a lack of effective oversight in China, and there was no way of preventing the Chinese government from doing whatever the hell it wanted in the lab.

Or the US government.

By 2017, the EHA had to switch funders, and their search led to a semi-willing partner in the US Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), an agency that also saw this as an opportunity to surveil China. In September 2019, EHA submitted a grant proposal to DARPA in which they explicitly stated their intention to study bat viruses with an eye to modifying them to render them capable of infecting humans. Co-authors of that proposal were EHA (Peter Daszak), Shi Zhengli, and UNC’s Ralph Baric.

By then the GOF research moratorium had been lifted and replaced by a more anemic set of DHHS protocols, with the clumsy acronym P3CO (Potential Pandemic Pathogen Care and Oversight). When EHA et al submitted their DARPA proposal, they claimed it was exempt from P3CO. The proposal was so sloppy it provoked a scathing office review ordered by Daszak, and even dropped a few jaws at DARPA. Some at DARPA were sympathetic, while others had serious reservations about the WIV, which wasn’t up to par as a “maximum bio-containment laboratory.”

Specific bat virus research projects, as well as disinfectant protocols had been called into question by US diplomats and scientists in 2018, and observers had noted that employees were worked to error-prone exhaustion. Some were also concerned that this very risky international research would be run by a cheesy little non-profit whose former mission was to protect manatees from boat motors. One virologist would later say that this whole project — which would finally be approved against the more sober interlocutors — “was basically a road map to a SARS-CoV-2-like virus.”

In September 2019, the WIV inexplicably took down its online database, where 22,000 genomic sequences had been published. (Remember this term for the lab’s “products”.)

In December 2019, the first cases of SARS-CoV-2 were traced to the nearby Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market — a place where even employees of WIV likely shopped, and a centralized petri dish for zoonotic pathogens (like SARS-CoV-2) looking for a way to bloom through human populations.

Just after New Years Day 2020, Daszak made his first public remarks on the outbreak, playing down its transmissibility. In fact, the Chinese government was already in crisis-mode, desperately trying to conceal the fact that is was spreading like a wildfire in a drought. Back in the US, there were two simultaneous reactions from public health officials and experts: (1) those who began seriously looking at measures to contain the virus and (2) those who wanted to conceal the role of the US and its researchers in the virus’s possible origins. The latter group found its interests aligned with those of the Chinese government; and included in this group was Anthony Fauci, who had personally written in support of GOF research and whose agency had funded EHA.

None of this is to say that Covid-19 originated in the WIV. For reasons we’ll explain momentarily, we’ve been denied the ability to make the determination by the deletion of pertinent genomic sequence databases. All the evidence remaining on both sides is now circumstantial. For the moment, we need to return to the politicization of the issue . . . and Anthony Fauci.

The Fauci polarization

Fauci is not a demon. Nor is he an angel. He is a bureaucrat, who was caught in the maw of history in 2021.

Let’s back up a bit to recall Trump-whisperer, Steve Bannon and his “fourth turning” crypto-fascist fantasy. One of the fourth-turning’s intermediate objectives is to destroy public faith in existing institutions. In many cases, of course, the institutions themselves can make this easier. Trump’s attacks on numerous government agencies (many with very bad records . . . FBI, CIA, NSA, e.g.) and his constant tin-hat references to “the deep state” were Bannonesque, even though Trump — a clueless self-absorbed moron who couldn’t keep up— often went contradictorily off script.

The NIH and Fauci were ripe for the tactic of institutional confidence erosion, because Fauci was less than transparent about the virus’s possible origins, and because his pronouncements and suggestions, as a presidential advisor, were themselves so ad hoc that they began accumulating confutations.

Trump himself was faced with an emerging and somewhat unpredictable crisis with the hyper-transmissibility of the virus, the way it quickly overwhelmed health care capacities, and the dilemma of containment measures that would inevitably create economic difficulties. Trump’s incoherent and often plainly stupid statements and his lack of a coherent response led him to one of his go-to tactics — scapegoating others.

Trump and Fauci had a tense, on-again-off-again relationship throughout the first months of the pandemic, which was being quickly politicized. One recurrent problem was Trump’s tendency to say off-the-cuff pollyanna nonsense minimizing the pandemic, making thoughtless predictions about when the pandemic would end, and repeating things he’d heard second-hand and knew nothing about with regard to potential treatments. Fauci found himself repeatedly walking back Trump’s twaddle.

Variant public responses to the pandemic began to coalesce into ideological camps. This tendency was exacerbated by highly divergent governmental responses between states. At one extreme were emergency lockdowns, and at the other extreme were highly libertarian responses, often motivated at the top by economic concerns. Debates emerged between these camps, in which — as happens — the combatants were selective in seeking evidence in support of hardening positions, instead of an approach that withheld conclusions until a dispassionate review of evidence and arguments was conducted.

In time, Fauci became the bête noire of the Trump-right, as well as of more ideologically strict libertarians. If Fauci was their demon, then he had to become for the opposing camp its angel. Opposing camps develop their own guilt by association fallacies.

The suppression strategy

This was the backdrop against which both pro-Democratic and pro-Republican forces facilitated the development of two forms of groupthink, neither of which would tolerate dissension in its ranks. This is a sure recipe for compounding errors. And this is where pro-Democratic groupthink went awry on the question of the origin of Covid-19, which has left it vulnerable, in a way that only hard-headedness and enforced groupthink can, to being more generally discredited by the right.

As we noted above, Fauci is a bureaucrat. When things go wrong for bureaucrats, the auto-response is to shut down the flow of information, look for escape hatches, and transition into self-protective legal-speak. Fauci has one weakness in this regard; he is known to relish media exposure and has never met a network camera he didn’t like.

Here’s some of the timeline, for which we can largely thank investigative journalist Emily Kopp, and who bird-dogged most of the FOIA requests related to this issue.

In 2017, the Trump administration lifted the Obama administration’s moratorium on GOF research.

In 2018, US officials and scientists expressed safety concerns about bat virus research at the WIV.

In June 2019, the EHA at the WIV was doing NIH-funded experiments with a chimeric (hybrid) MERS-CoV virus (the “natural” one of which had a thirty-five percent mortality rate among infected humans!) — a continuation of research by UNC’s Baric, who had been playing with MERS-CoV since 2013.

In September 2019, DARPA began funding EHA research at the WIV; and in the same month the WIV took down its genomic sequence online databases. The NIH followed suit.

On January 27, 2021, Fauci was reminded that his own NIAID had funded GOF research by EHA at the WIV.

On January 29, 2021, Scripps Research virologist Kristian Andersen, one of the eventual co-authors of “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2” (make a mental note), reviewed a paper on WIV GOF research.

On January 30, 2021, Andersen called University of Sydney virologist Edward Holmes, another eventual co-author of “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2,” with his concerns (which they had discussed days earlier in a different context), to which Holmes replied, “Fuck, this is bad.”

On January 31, 2021, Andersen and Fauci were in contact, and Andersen said that SAR-CoV-2 appeared to be “inconsistent” with natural origins.

By the end of the day, Jeremy Farrar had weighed in. He sounded a cautionary note about jumping to conclusions, because phylogenetic tracking is a tricky enterprise.

[NOTE: The intent of this article is not to prove or disprove the lab-leak hypothesis, or to support certain conspiracy theories (like the “bio-weapon” bullshit). My intent is to review the evidence that shows there was an effort, coalesced around various and contingent shared interests, to control the narrative about Covid-19’s origins — not so much a “cover-up” (we still don’t know the origin, so what’s to cover?) as a bureaucratic-motivated and politically-accelerated suppression strategy. This in no way proves or disproves the origin of the virus. My own view, based on what I know now — and this is still far less than what I don’t know — is that the probability ratio [lab-natural] is 60–40; and I have no professional qualifications to back that up.]

The paper under review by this assembly showed that Baric and Shi had spliced a spike protein onto a SARS-CoV virus, and this raised concerns (for Andersen, who’d found the paper) that this research was “too risky to pursue.”

On February 1, 2021, Fauci, Andersen, Holmes, and several other biologists held a conference call. The subjects were (1) the virus’s origins, (2) whether NIH grants could be associated with a possible lab-origin, and (3) what agencies in allied foreign governments needed to be alerted. The sub-debate was about gain-of-function research itself; though the meeting was heavily weighted toward GOF advocates.

Perhaps the most important point to take away here is that Andersen’s lab-natural probability guess was 60–70 percent lab, and Holmes’ estimate was 80 percent lab. Mike Farzan (the scientist who discovered the SARS receptor) would weigh in with 60–70 percent lab.

On February 2, Farrar gave it 50–50, and Garry (again, co-author of the future “proximal origin” article denying any likelihood of a lab-origin) wrote on an email:

I really can’t think of a plausible natural scenario where you get from the bat virus or one very similar to it nCoV where you insert exactly four amino acids 12 nucleotide that all have to be added at the exact same time to gain this function — that and you don’t change any other amino acid in S2. I just can’t figure out how this gets accomplished in nature. (emphasis added)

They all had (legitimate, in my view) concerns that indications of a laboratory genesis would become grist for a bevy of wild conspiracy theories. The irony here, if you can call it that, is that the accusation of “conspiracy theory” would be wielded against those who pursued the lines of questioning opened up in these very meetings and communications!

There was also great concern about future cooperation with China and to future GOF research; and, of course, no one likes the narrative that the worst epidemic in the twenty-first century may have been created in a US-government funded laboratory in cooperation with Chinese scientists. This doesn’t just give the US and China black eyes; it calls certain forms of very lucrative scientific research into question (maximum bio-containment labs are ATMs), and knocks the reified and politicized pop-icon of Science (“Believe science!”) off its pedestal.

Interests were converging, and the suppression strategy gave its first kick in the womb.

On February 4, 2021, Fauci and Francis Collins, Director of the NIH, along with a panel of virologists, had a teleconference in which they decided to compose some kind of paper against the lab-leak hypothesis. This paper was to be published the following month.

On February 7, 2021, the NIH held a conference call on the virus’s origins, which included Fauci and Collins, et al. FOIA requests eventually freed the documents, which were still heavily redacted.

In this same month, Facebook and Twitter, begin censoring any posts that raised the possibility that Covid-19 might have a laboratory origin.

This abbreviated timeline and its cast of characters are important because on March 17, 2021, “The proximal origin of SARS-CoV-2,” co-authored by Kristian Andersen, Andrew Rambaut, Ian Lipkin, Edward Holmes, and Robert Garry, was published in NatureMedicine; and it quickly became The go-to MSM reference driving the slander that anyone proposing the lab-leak hypothesis was guilty of promoting “conspiracy theories.”

Lipkin, it must be said, was a former partner with EHA. So we had what became the most influential article in the now polarized environment advocating an absolutist position that they had, privately, only a month earlier, contradicted as well some plain conflict of interest.

This was a tactical article, which I’ll admit (not having the scientific acumen to go any further) may employ sound (if selective!) scientific observations. When I was learning basic tradecraft in my most secretive army days, we were taught that the best cover story is one that’s 99 percent true. By tactical article, I mean it was not meant to inform the public, which reads on average in the US at around a eighth-grade level; but to serve as the once and future core reference for a proliferation of articles written in more popular and accessible language that took the next step.

The next step was to characterize anyone who so much as suggested a laboratory origin for SARS-CoV-2 was trading in “conspiracy theories.” This is a fairly easy tactic to employ, because — as the February 2021 group above noted — this kind of arcane subject — the basis of which is intellectually unavailable to the general public — is fertile ground for people who actually do jump to absurd conclusions (a feature of actual conspiracy theories). The tactic of the article was construction of a guilt-by-association fallacy (association with real crackpots), which would then migrate, with the question’s political polarization, especially with Trump’s know-nothing xenophobic spin, into guilt by association with Trump . . . then guilt by association with “the right wing” — the “left wing” being, in typically fatuous American political discourse, Democrats and their partisans.

This guilt by association gambit was further consolidated by the human-nature couplet of desire-to-belong/fear of exclusion, especially among the culturally influential professional-managerial class, among whom any reference to the lab-leak hypothesis transformed one into an ignorant sheep-shagging hick.

It worked like a charm, and particularly well because social media platforms — which have become the principle means of dissemination for public discourse — turned off the tap for even the most thoughtful and well-informed commentators. This exclusion applied even to very reputable scientists themselves, who weren’t making categorical claims about a lab origin, but simply saying that this was a strong enough possibility to demand further examination.

In May 2021, Zuckerberg must have received the memo, and Facebook reversed its policy after the Wall Street Journal reported that in late 2020, three researchers at the WIV had fallen ill with symptoms very like those later observed among Covid-19 patients. Fauci, who stepped down from his position at the NIH this year, admitted in 2021 that he had — in his role as head of the NIAID — worked with social media platforms in suppressing the lab-leak hypothesis.

In the week in which this is being composed, Fauci was deposed in lawsuits filed by Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt and Louisiana AG Jeff Landry, alleging First Amendment violations based on this collusion between the government and social media platforms.

Is this politically motivated? Probably. Is it a valid allegation? Also probably. Whereas the First Amendment does not (yet) apply to censorship by privately owned media, the government’s coordination of the suppression strategy opened that legal door in this case. I should reiterate that Democrats have consistently given their opponents very big sticks with which to beat them. So, tough shit!

If we’ll recall Donald Trump’s deposition in August this year by the New York Attorney General’s office, he was roundly castigated and ridiculed for “taking the fifth” more than four hundred times. Turnabout being fair play, the right wing press (and credible non-partisan journalists) are taking note that Fauci said, “I can’t recall” 174 times during his deposition. Let’s recall that this lawsuit was filed in May, and it’s now December. Fauci graduated first in his class at Cornell Medical and has accumulated an extremely impressive CV in medical research. The very idea that — with seven months advance notice of this deposition — he would have neglected to even review his and others’ meetings, discussions, decisions, memos, emails, papers, and actions just beggars belief. Any time you want to know when someone this influential has fucked up in a major way, take note when they develop depositional amnesia.

The deleted sequences

Perhaps as egregious as the suppression strategy in which the government and social media platforms colluded was the deletion of sequences. Let me explain.

In June 2021, evolutionary biologist Jesse Bloom sent Fauci a courtesy copy of an unpublished paper (called in the craft, a “preprint”). Fauci was already coming under fire, and actual conspiracy nuts were dogging his footsteps so much that he was given a security detail. The paper basically said that “dogmatic” explanations of the virus’s origins were inadequate:

We should therefore avoid dogmatic arguments about SARSCoV2 origin/early spread, and instead focus on following two questions: (1) How can we get more data? (2) How can we better analyze the data we have?

Bloom would later say:

So many people have agendas and preconceived notions on this topic that if you open your mouth on the topic, someone’s going to take what you’ve said to support or reject some particular narrative. So the choices are either not to say anything at all, which I don’t think is useful or productive, or just to try to draw the conclusions you can and make it as transparent as possible. No matter how much people like [my new study] or don’t like it, or agree with the interpretation or disagree with the interpretation, they can at least go download it and repeat it themselves.

The paper began as an investigation by Bloom after he’d noticed that a number of genetic sequences (DNA maps of organism samples), which had been mentioned in a Chinese research paper he’d read, were missing from WIV’s and NIH’s online databases. By this time, NIH was being pummeled with FOIA requests which it was resisting to the last trench.

Bloom requested a meeting with NIH officials for the sole purpose of asking for help in recovering these databases so he could continue his research. The meeting was conducted on June 20, 2021, with Bloom, Fauci, NIH head Francis Collins, Kristian Andersen (co-author of the “proximal origin” article), Robert Garry (co-author of the “proximal origin” article), genetic biologist Rasmus Nielsen, and evolutionary biologist Sergei Pond.

That meeting devolved into an acrimonious shouting match. Subsequent to the meeting, Andersen started to throw shade on the still-unpublished “preprint”; so Bloom wrote down a detailed record of their interactions (which would later be obtained by Vanity Fair, whose article informed much of what is being written here).

What of these deleted sequences?

Again, one way to trace the evolutionary origin of an organism is to compare these DNA maps in samples taken over time as the organism was developed. The sequences Bloom sought were directly related to the development of SARS-CoV-2. Deletion of sequences is not of itself either unethical or unusual. The sequences, in a sense, belong to the researcher, and researchers routinely delete sequences that are no longer needed or which have led to some dead end.

What raised Bloom’s suspicions was that theses deletions were at the behest of the Chinese government at a time when research into the virus’s origins was neither unnecessary nor dead-ended. In fact, hardly any more crucial genetic genealogy could have been pursued, when the pandemic had already infected around 180 million people and killed around two million.

Yes, the deletions can be spun by conspiracy theorists; but also yes, the Chinese government is not known for its transparency. By all accounts, the NIH deleted its databases at the request of the Chinese government, with whom researchers in the US — in many scientific fields — wanted to preserve their collaborative relations.

There are several possible takeaways from the sequence deletions. One is conspiracy nuttery. Another is circumstantial evidence. Another is routine deletion. Which takeaway one prefers doesn’t change the fact that a real outcome of these deletions is that they’ve rendered any past, present, or future effort to determine Covid-19’s origins more difficult, and perhaps impossible.

Here’s what will happen.

In January 2023, Republicans will seat a majority in the House of Representatives. When they do, they’ll launch multiple investigations, as payback for the legitimate (in my view) “January 6” investigation which probably contributed (along with the Dodd decision) to the lackluster Republican performance in the mid-terms. One of those investigations — the low hanging fruit, so to speak — will be into the suppression of the lab-leak hypothesis (also legitimate, in my view). In this investigation, they will — tactically speaking — hand Democrats their collective ass and re-agitate the polarized hornets’ nests of social media.

When it comes to intellectual and ideological debates, I always go back to what I call the Mencken Principle: if you want to defeat your opponents — who may very well be intellectually bankrupt — don’t fight them when they’re right.

Precautionary principle

On March 11, 2011, a tectonic plate slipped under he Pacific Ocean 45 miles east of the Japanese mainland. It triggered a tsunami that sent a 45-foot wall of saltwater crashing into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Ōkuma-machi, Japan. The water drowned every generator in the plant, including those that circulated cooling water over the reactor and its waste products. The result was three core melts, three hydrogen explosions, three massive releases of radioactive contamination that went into the atmosphere and into the Pacific Ocean to be distributed along its intercontinental currents. It was the worst nuclear accident since the one in Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986.

On April 20, 2010, in an offshore oil rig named Deepwater Horizon located south of Eastern Mississippi and forty-one miles off the Louisiana delta in the Gulf of Mexico, methane from the undersea exploratory well migrated up through a drilling riser and into the rig itself. Some kind of spark then set off an explosion. The explosion killed eleven workers and inaugurated the worst marine oil spill in history. That spill was carried by currents that circulated throughout the Gulf and beyond, devastating marine ecosystems and contaminating beaches and seafood stocks. One response to the disaster was the application of Corexit to “disperse” and sink the oil, which itself had catastrophic effects on the Gulf’s food chain.

No matter how many safety protocols are put into effect, and no matter how stringently they are enforced, there are some practices that are so consequential in the case of a single accident that they need to be prohibited altogether. Gain-of-function research, which intentionally produces new pathogenic viruses, is one such practice. The organism “only has to get lucky once” for the catastrophe to happen.

The precautionary principle is, broadly, a very conservative cautionary approach to innovations in every field of endeavor. The burden of proof, so to speak, is borne by the innovators, and those who are in a position to approve said innovations adopt an attitude of strong skepticism with an eye to any and all foreseeable consequences. As such, this principle is incompatible with things like war and capital accumulation. It is also incompatible with scientific arrogance and grant-lust.

I won’t belabor my conclusions here. They’re pretty simple, perhaps because I am a simple person. Others can draw their own conclusions.

I don’t know where this virus originated, though I do think this is an important question which should have been handled very differently, without the bureaucratic ass-covering and political polarizations. This section of this article is aimed at overcoming these two phenomena, particularly among people who, like me, sort of sleepwalked into an uninformed and well-spun acceptance of what is now revealed to have been a kind of culturally-enforced narrative.

I can say with far less equivocation: “gain-of-function” research should be banned. This is genomic Russian roulette. The precautionary principle in its strongest form should apply.

The bugs only have to get lucky once.

Virilogy, in general — like all scientific research — not only needs more stringent regulation; that regulation should be based on an aggressive interpretation of the precautionary principle.

A lot of people say, “Trust science,” as if “science” were some person instead of an over-generalization. And a lot of people are under the impression that scientists are some mature, highly responsible, hyper-ethical people who are somehow above human frailty.

“Scientists would never do that!” (Yeah, they would, and have.)

This misplaced trust in an over-generalization has nothing to do with science as a practice, or particular scientists as practitioners, but with a naive faith, a post-Enlightenment epistemological standpoint that remains largely unexamined, an artifact of modernity that persists even in the face of serial errors, crimes, and disasters.

In 1952, the Swiss pharmaceutical company Ciba developed an experimental drug called thalidomide. They then dropped the product and sold the formula to Chemie Grünenthal, a German company set up by former Nazi scientist Hermann Wirtz, which employed a cast of Nazi eugenic scientists. Thalidomide was marketed as a sedative and symptomatic reliever of nausea and headaches — common symptoms for pregnant women. In 1957, thalidomide was specifically marketed as a morning sickness drug. By 1960, it was being sold to pregnant women in 46 countries. Safety was it big selling point. Company officials and their ad reps confidently said they “could not find a dose [of thalidomide] high enough to kill a rat.” The drug did alleviate nausea. It also caused more than 10,000 babies to be born without ears, with stumps for limbs, and deformed hands and feet. Trust science.

Now we’ll turn our attention to a different aspect of the pandemic.

The response

Libertarian disclaimer

I was once — during a period of particularly youthful ignorance — a libertarian. The doctrinaire kind, whose one and only rule for everything was, “Anyone can do whatever he or she wants so long as it doesn’t infringe on the rights of others to do likewise.” (Oh, and the weakest link in this notion — an ahistoric entitlement to “property”) For a host of reasons — beginning with human nature — I’ve come to realize just how silly, and often destructive, this is. I won’t detail my arguments here. I’ve written extensively about this elsewhere, and I only mention it now to avoid having my arguments conflated with those of libertarians.

There are plenty of times and places where and when coercion is justifiable, even government coercion. I challenge anyone to raise a kid using libertarian principles. The grand dilemma of liberalism — the parent philosophy of libertarianism (ha!) — has been trying to figure out some universal formula for when and where coercion is justifiable and when it’s not. The reason liberal-liberals and conservative-liberals reject doctrinaire libertarianism (it’s still a very small movement) is because both have identified, with minimum intellectual effort, all the ways in which the core principle doesn’t work.

The reason I bring it up is because one of the multiple politico-philosophical standpoints that underwrote and underwrites various reactions to the Covid-19 pandemic is libertarian. This applies to at least three aspects of the many responses: (1) lockdowns, (2) vaccination, and (3) “free speech.”

I may share some contingent positions with libertarians on these issues, but not because I am a libertarian.

(As the joke goes, “I’m a neo-Platonist, and I vote.”)

Disease Demographics

In 1954, Darrell Huff wrote a book called How to Lie with Statistics. My debate professor at the University of Arkansas in Monticello (circa 1976 during a break in my military career) put this tome right below the Bible and Plato’s Republic on his priority reading list.

Fallacies associated with statistics include cherry-picking the data, data dredging (accidental correlations presented as if they were significant), survivorship bias (concluding from incomplete data because it survived some inadequate criteria), perverse incentive (creating a contrary effect — ex., a bounty on rats to reduce the rat population incentivizes people to breed rats), false causality (conflating correlation with causation), gerrymandering (a well know political practice in which boundary selection creates an unrepresentative result), sampling bias, the gambler’s fallacy (the idea that if something happens more often than usual now, it’s less likely to happen in the future), mean regression (belief that all changes and aberrations will revert to some mean in the future), the Hawthorne effect (concluding something is causal when its an effect of the experiment), Simpson’s paradox (when a trend in one group disappears when combined with another group), McNamara fallacy (when broad statistical metrics obfuscate complexity, like “body counts” did in Vietnam), overfitting (too much data prevents useful generalization), publication bias (data presented because it is more interesting, rather than based on its comparative validity), and summary metrics (being misled by metrics summaries).

If you spend any time mining social media debates, you can find rich veins of pretty much all these statistical fallacies. There are two related fallacies in particular which pertain here, and those are the McNamara fallacy and summary-metrics fallacies (using raw morbidity/mortality statistics). And again, these fallacies were used in many cases for intended political effect.

The use of undifferentiated mobidity/mortality statistics corresponds to Giorgio Agamben’s much vilified (and valid, in my view) reference to “bare life” in his critical remarks on the biopolitics of the pandemic.

“What is a society,” asked Agamben, “that has no value other than survival?”

“Bare life” for Agamben means biological aliveness with every other consideration that relates to the forms of actual lives or the quality of actual lives removed. One is alive (1) or dead (0), a binary statistic.

Other human beings . . . are now seen solely as possible spreaders of the plague whom one must avoid at all costs and from whom one needs to keep oneself at a distance of at least a meter. The dead — our dead — do not have a right to a funeral and it is not clear what will happen to the bodies of our loved ones. Our neighbor has been cancelled and it is curious that churches remain silent on the subject. What do human relationships become in a country that habituates itself to live in this way for who knows how long? And what is a society that has no value other than survival? (Agamben)

His essay was characterized as Covid-denial by technocratic liberal partisans, which was a bald-faced lie designed to steer anyone away from Agamben’s horrifyingly subversive thoughts on the matter.

Perhaps I should begin by pointing out the obvious — we are all going to die. This’s a more palatable truth for Christians like myself, and others who are not dogmatic rationalists, than for the dogmatic rationalists of liberalism. In either case — palatable or unspeakable — it is still obviously true. When death becomes unspeakable — an abysmal no-fly zone — it becomes Death, the enemy. Against which there can be no victory, which is what makes it unspeakable, whereupon we hide inside our metrics and contract our teleological horizon to the mere “preservation of [bare] life.”

I was talking to my doctor once several years back, when she was trying to persuade me to take cardiovascular drugs I’d quit taking because they made me feel like shit.

“I really don’t think,” she said, “you should just reject life-saving drugs.”

My response: “So, if I take these drugs, I won’t die?”

“Well,” she smiled sheepishly and looked at the floor, “of course, we all have expiration dates.”

Raw to differentiated data

As this is being written, recorded US deaths from Covid-19 (all variants) total 1,080,472. Total cases to date number 99,241,649. Just looking at the leftmost integers, we can see that mortality overall runs at about one percent.

When broken down by age, using 18–29 as a baseline reference group, assigned a value of 1, 30–49 year-olds are twice as likely to be hospitalized, whereas 30–39 are 4 times as likely to die and 40–49 are 10 times as likely to die. Death ratios for 50–64, 65–74, 75–84, and 85+ are 25x, 60x, 140x, and 340x respectively. As of this writing, US Covid-19 death totals by age cohort are 1,378 for under 17s, 6,703 for 18–29, 19,166 for 30–39, 44,905 for 40–49, 196,284 for 50–64, 244,086 for 65–74, 279,276 for 75–84, and 284,751 for 85+.

These numbers obviously neglect to say how many people were actually in these age cohorts, so we don’t yet have the morbidity to mortality rates within each cohort. Here is a simple chart with those mortality rates.

As is easy to see, the one-percent raw infection-mortality rate is largely driven by the dramatic jump in those over 80 years of age. Before anyone goes there, I am not saying this is okay, or that “Oh, they’ve lived their lives anyway,” or “Oh, they’re useless eaters,” or any of that. I’m on the fast train to that cohort myself. The point is that responses to viral infection should be targeted, not blanket policies. Now to the next subset of mortality rates.

Obesity was positively correlated to hospitalization and mortality, with obese patients being 48 percent more likely than non-obese patients to die from Covid-19. Many have made a great deal of this statistic, but here we have to be cautious, because obesity itself corresponds to a number of pathologies which are themselves positively correlated to higher Covid-19 mortality rates, i.e., hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Most of these co-morbidities are concentrated in age cohorts over 50 years of age.

Moreover, many of these co-morbidities are environmental, especially in relation to diet and exercise, and many of these socio-cultural phenomena correspond to economic status. The poor always get the nasty end of every stick. In fact, many of the statistics which correlated race with Covid-19 mortality led people to jump to the conclusion that there was a racial component to Covid-19, when in truth all racial identities were roughly equal within the poorest quintile. Further related to infection-mortality in the US, especially with regard to socio-economics, was lack of health insurance and avoidance of medical care based on prohibitive costs.

Poverty was a Covid-19 risk factor.

As to hospitalization rates, the general statistic is about 20 per 100,000, but the rates themselves fluctuated with surges and retreats which roughly corresponded to seasons, summer being the best and winter the worst. And again, age mattered. At its worst peak this year in the week ending January 15, 2022, the 65+ age cohort’s hospitalization rate was 96.7 per 100,000.

Targeted versus blanket response

Agamben began is infamous short essay by saying, “Fear is a poor advisor.” A certain degree of caution, at least, if not abject fear, was appropriate for this highly persistent and transmissible virus; but politicians in particular trade in fear. That other guy or gyne is going to (a) take something away from you or (b) replace you or (c) eat your babies or (d) infect you.

Economic panic and political polarization

Trump, as is well-attested, aimed public fear at foreigners, immigrants, and the vast shadow-army of Antifa. But Trump and many others were faced with one of their own fears as the pandemic marched toward America. This thing was going to wreck the economy. Politicians know well that you can stir up this or that faction for or against you based on “the cultural issues,” but the one thing that everyone worries about — and this had been more true with the prolonged state of precarity following 2008 — is a vague beast called “the economy.” And most of us judge that not by statistics, but by our own lives.

My late brother, Glen, ran a bait camp. For those who don’t know, that’s a one-stop shop with boat access for fishing supplies, especially fresh live bait. My brother’s bait camp — still being run by his widow, Galveston Bait and Tackle — was a seasonal enterprise, and a risky one (he was wiped out three times by hurricanes). But it also depended on how much cash was circulating more generally. During the Clinton administration, there was an economic boom, which was not due solely to Clinton’s other policies, but to an expanding financial bubble. Economic activity is influenced by a host of externalities as well as inertia from the past. Glen didn’t read books. He sold bait, built shit, fished, and fixed boats. He certainly didn’t know about or care about what influences economic activity. He knew that during Clinton’s time in office, a hell of a lot of people were buying bait. He also noticed that when George W. Bush took office, bait sales fell pretty badly. Based purely on these two correlations, he voted Democrat even though many of his cultural views were more aligned with Republicans.

This is how most people judge politicians. Ten percent of Trump voters in 2016 had voted for Obama; but Obama was “there” when 2008 happened (even though the problem had been festering for years), and things didn’t get much better afterward (because Obama chose to bail out Wall Street and abandon Main Street — which is on him).

As obtuse as Trump was and is, he understood this association in the minds of the masses. So Trump did what Trump does when he’s faced with a dilemma like pandemic response versus economy. He began blathering on in his signature stream -of-consciousness style and engaged in a lot of puerile magical thinking. Most people were fairly okay with the state of the economy prior to the pandemic, and he’d profited from that.

Timeline (hat tip to Politifact)

On January 22, 2021, when asked if he was worried about the pandemic, still in its very early stages, he said, “”No. Not at all. And we have it totally under control. It’s one person coming in from China, and we have it under control. It’s — going to be just fine.”

On January 24, he congratulated Xi Jinping on how well China was handling the outbreak.

On January 29, he formed a response task force.

On January 30, the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 to be an international emergency. On that day, Trump banned all flights from China, and went on to a rally and a news interview in which he said, “We pretty much shut it down.”

Throughout February, Trump continued to minimize the threat. On February 24, the Dow lost a thousand points. Trump said the virus was under control and that the stock market looked good to him . . . at the same time asking Congress for $1.25 billion in emergency funds.

On February 26, he again said it was all under control, as the first case was confirmed in California.

By March 4, as the scope of the emergency was becoming more apparent, and the shortage of tests became equally apparent, Trump deflected onto Obama, claiming Obama had somehow degraded the US ability to test for Covid-19. (This was pure bullshit.)

On March 6, a cruise ship with 3,533 passengers arrived at California, with passengers ready to disembark. Some had shown symptoms. Trump made contradictory remarks about whether the passengers should remain quarantined or disembark. (103 cases were eventually confirmed and the whole passenger manifest was quarantined.)

Trump then claimed, falsely, that “anyone who wants a test can get a test.” On the same day, now getting tangled in his own bullshit, he tweeted:

The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat Party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant. Surgeon General, “The risk is low to the average American.”

For the whole timeline, see the above link to Politifact. You get the picture.

By early-March, counties and states were beginning to issue orders for school closures, and even targeting some businesses.

On March 17, he says, “I’ve always known this is a real, this is a pandemic. I’ve felt it was a pandemic long before it was called a pandemic.”

On March 19, California initiated the first statewide lockdown — a shelter-in-place. By April, all but seven US states had some form of lockdown. The seven states that took no lockdown measures were Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming. These states did not together show a strong correlation with higher death rates for a number of reasons (rurality, age demographics, etc.).

Lockdowns were a mix and match of four measures — shelter-in-place, stay-at-home, closure, and shutdown orders. These orders were issued based on declarations of emergency — what Agamben called “states of exception,” where normal practices as well as normal rights are suspended and the state (whether at the “state” or federal level in the US) increases its coercive power.

This didn’t only trigger continental philosophers, it triggered those with strong libertarian impulses and people who stood to lose their livelihoods . . . and a few people who fell into neither category, who were skeptical (for philosophical, political, and-or religious reasons) of the technocratic political class.

This latter group, especially those born before 1980, was comparing the emergent state of exception for Covid-19 with the state of exception after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. What we realized, better perhaps than those who’d lived with the 9–11 sequelae since childhood, was that the state of exception post 9–11 was never lifted. It became — along with a grueling, criminal, and world-destabilizing two-decade war — normalized. With state power, centralization and consolidation doesn’t bind and loosen; it behaves like a ratchet. It tightens then locks against return.

Which is not to say this was not developing into a public health emergency. Reality seldom conforms to principles, ideologies, politics, or ethical predispositions.

People forget now, since the polarization of “Democratic” biopolitical and “Republican” libertarian positions with regard to Covid-19, that one of the most draconian early proposals came from Republican darling Governor Ron DeSantis, who wanted to remove patients from their homes and put them into isolation camps in abandoned conventions centers.

Schizophrenic response

In spite of increasingly strict measure in most places, the US was running into multiple response difficulties, which would lead to overwhelmed hospitals, bodies in cold storage, and other panic-inducing developments.

First and foremost, social media — combined with contradictory and often plainly stupid remarks from the White House and with shifting guidance from public health agencies, the DHS and even DOD— created a chaotic semiosphere of debate, speculation, fear, and (yes) conspiracy theories. These agencies — lacking a coherent chain of command with a semi-intelligent head — began to contradict one another and issue conflicting statements and guidance. Little wonder that the public, captured in its echoing social media silos, began to bicker, too.

By April, we saw the first public reactions against lockdown measures. Here in Michigan, where Sherry and I live now, the libertarian impulse gave rise to protests in the capital, which centered on demonizing the Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer as the new Hitler. And, of course, the gun nuttery fraction showed up in its cosplay commando outfits, armed to the teeth, which counter-triggered the technocratic partisans. Trump, of course, saw an opportunity to deflect and create more chaos, so he became a loudspeaker for Whitmer-hatery which associated him more tightly with anti-lockdown sentiment.

The truth is, given the almost cult-like worship of Trump by a concerningly substantial fraction of the American public, if he had simply made the most basic suggestions — protect the most vulnerable, mask in tight spaces, and avoid super-spreader events — there would have been some general unity of response.

Neither Trumpists nor anti-Trumpists — both caught in the polarization/politicization dynamic — ever appeared to consider a targeted response: (1) stay-at-home measures subsidized by an emergency universal basic income, (2) focus first efforts on protecting the most vulnerable — old infirm people in tight spaces (nursing homes, e.g.), (3) promote voluntary home prophylactic measures in households were these most vulnerable lived, (4) establish a one-line institutional chain-of-command for federal pandemic response, (5) close only enterprises and facilities that had large concentrations of people in close proximity (not small businesses, churches, temples, and mosques), and (6) work cooperatively with every other nation on Covid-19 research and the production of a vaccine.

Then there’s the elephant in the room. US health care is a travesty. We need a single-payer universal health care system. In lieu of that — during the pandemic — one emergency measure should have been to temporarily nationalize the US health care system and suspend all billing (for all reasons) until the pandemic was under control.

The first institutional failure — apart from the US health care system — was based on the ridiculously understaffed CDC Respiratory Virus Diagnostic (RVD) Laboratory responsible for testing (three full-time employees!). Over the years, various presidential administrations, Congress, and the CDC itself (under cost-cutting pressure) had gutted the agency and the RVD. The RVD was made responsible for rapid development of a Covid-19 test, but was unregulated and poorly supervised, which led to a tragicomedy of errors. A Buzzfeed investigation in December 2021 concluded:

Questionable blame. The initial investigation summary criticized the RVD lab for the catastrophic failure of the nation’s first COVID test. But further documents and interviews call its conclusions into question, indicating a larger lab may have been the actual culprit — something HHS investigators failed to find.

Cut corners. In the CDC’s rush to develop a lab test, officials chose to assemble two of its critical parts in the same facility, leading to cross-contamination that compromised the kits sent to state and city health agencies nationwide. This type of contamination happened before, during the 2012 MERS outbreak.

Overconfidence. The CDC did not initially rely on tests already in use in other countries, because officials thought they could build a better one. Agency leaders did not coordinate with outside manufacturers for support, and they never performed any validations of previously developed tests that could have been used as backup.

Systemic failures. The documents also reveal something even more damning: that the failures extended far beyond any one lab. The test’s problems, the documents show, are a symptom of much bigger mistakes — still unexamined — starting with the Trump administration’s lack of a pandemic plan, lack of leadership and coordination at federal public health agencies, and widespread medical misjudgment in the early days of the pandemic that left the CDC holding the bag for everyone else’s failures.

Another big problem was the US medical supply chain. The first thing that’s problematic — for all US supply chains — is that thirty percent of the worlds goods overall are produced by China. In the US, eighteen percent of all manufactured goods are produced in China, ten percent in Japan, and seven percent in Germany. The problem with international supply chains — especially during a pandemic — is that they’re international. When you shut down international freight shipments, including feedstocks for domestic production, and when the domestic workforce is simultaneously curtailed, supply chains don’t just slow down . . . in some cases, they stop. I still remember daily rounds through retail outlets to find flour and toilet paper. Two critical items that went missing in the early stages of the pandemic were hospital gowns and masks.

Apparently, the US was prepared to co-sign gain-of-function research as a “preparedness measure” based on future pandemics, but it wasn’t able fund its public health agencies, streamline emergency lines of communication, or maintain a stockpile of basic pandemic supplies. Priorities, eh?

There was never going to be a perfect response to the pandemic. People were going to get it wrong. The virus was going to do its virus-thing with no concern for humanities’ foibles. As to politics, the liberal epoch that germinated half a millennium ago doesn’t produce political “leaders,” at least not in the sense of leadership as a selfless virtue. As we’ve seen, late capitalist modernity is the plaything of of corporate water carriers, villains, performers, hypocrites, charlatans, and fools. This, too, is a real thing.

People were going to die from the pandemic; and many of them were going to die quite soon had there been no pandemic . . . and we are all going to die. Bare life is not a useful metric, but it’s one that serves power, as the biopolitically fearful know. They have a point — a Foucauldian one — about power. The only reason I can’t count myself among those who fear a dystopian biopolitical machine is because I have an Ozymandian take on power — its ephemeral, always too far ahead and above itself — and because I’m one of those God-bothering loons who believes joy — not death or strife or power — wins in the end.

I said earlier, I am also not a libertarian. In the philosophical sense, as I have written more than once, I think the concept of “rights” is a political fiction which has served power more than it serves the common good. By the same token, however, I’ve also said that power presumes too much — that the greater the scope and scale of power, the more frequently it gets it wrong, the more it tries to make one size fit all.

Treatments and vaccination

Vaccination disclaimer

Before we get into the question of response — there were many different responses around the world — I need to clarify my own position, if we can call it that, on the practice of vaccination.

I spent a career in the US Army between January 1970 and February 1996 (with a couple of brief breaks in service). We were vaccinated. A lot. I received seventeen different shots in two days prior to my first assignment (in Vietnam). I continued to receive vaccinations throughout my career. When I became a Special Forces medic — a job that occasionally called on us to treat not only people but animals — I received extra vaccinations, like rabies. I’ve been vaccinated against everything except death. I didn’t die from being vaccinated. I didn’t become autistic. I didn’t grow a tail. I’m seventy-one now, and I’m in comparatively good health for an old fella — one bout with melanoma (from massive lifelong sun exposure as a white fella) that was solved with surgeries, and one cardiac stent (from a lifetime of eating things that were conducive to atherosclerosis). When the vaccine for Covid-19 came out, I got the two-shot series and the first booster. I’d do it all over again.

Just a while back, the US military dropped its Covid-19 vaccine mandate under political pressure. The old sarge in me says, “That’s fuckin’ stupid!” It’s just a reaction, mind you. Up until 1918, more soldiers in the US military were killed by disease than they were by combat. High on the hit parade were typhoid, malaria (I had a drug-resistant version in 1971, but obviously didn’t die), pneumonia, smallpox, cholera, tuberculosis, and influenza. All these — except malaria — are now prevented through vaccination. Malaria’s prevented with prophylactic drugs taken as needed in-theater.

The military is kind of a special exception. Authoritarian by nature, with lots of people constantly in very close contact, sometimes in less than optimal sanitary conditions, and often physically exhausted. It’s a blue ribbon recipe for contagion. So Old Sarge reacts, knee jerking, with the profoundly Benthemite logic of the military — the goal is to keep the maximum number of troops available for duty, not bow to some socio-political trend. In the Army, they could make us crawl through shit or run through gunfire. What’s a vaccination!?

As we noted in the last section, there are certain enterprises and facilities that are like the military — nursing homes or slaughterhouses, e.g. — that concentrate people in ways where vaccination is more critical.

Long story short, I’m not afraid of vaccinations, but I’m not getting yet another Covid booster and I refuse to denounce people who refuse the vaccination.

Vaccines, skeptics and scolds

I made note above of my military experience and the sound reasons (from a military standpoint) for the mass vaccination of soldiery. There was a context — described above — that’s not the context for everyone.

I’m going to review the more common reasons for refusing the Covid-19 vaccination, and I’m going to attempt to respond to the validity of each concern. Many of the reasons given are not valid, because they’re based on faulty assumptions and fallacious reasoning. I’m going to take a basically “libertarian” position on mandatory or coerced vaccinations, not because I am a libertarian — but because I am not a utilitarian. And I’m going to give space to those who refuse the vaccine for reasons that are neither preposterous nor pig-headed.

Before all that, though, I’m going to roundly denounce the liberal scolds and control-freaks who lump all these people together as “anti-vaxxers,” as if that was a sub-species of humanity that deserves our collective hatred, derision, and exclusion. I will not summarily dismiss, ridicule, or shun (in the US) 21 percent of adults under 30 years of age, 18 percent of all men, 37 percent of agricultural workers, 41 percent of Black adults, etc. etc. etc. That is to say, 31 percent of the adults in the US, which includes every race, gender, age, and political affiliation, albeit not in proportional numbers. In other words, 74.4 million people.

I know people who have refused the vaccine who are Rhodes Scholars; but that’s not why I denounce the denouncers. I do so because “anti-vaxxer” is a blanket denunciation (aNti-vAXxeR — yuck!) that contains within it a heaping helping of totally uncharitable class contempt. Blanket denunciations are always without exception fallacious. And having one foot firmly among those who are the targets of this class contempt, my own most reciprocally-uncharitable first reaction is, “Go shit in your hat!”

Forgive me, Lord! Give me patience, not strength, because if you give me strength, I’ll need bail money.

Let me begin with the most obvious and in my view most valid reason for vaccine skepticism with regard not to vaccines in general, but Covid-19 vaccines. They were a rush order.

Remember thalidomide.

In my view, there were, and by purely utilitarian standards, sound enough reasons for accelerating the development of vaccines for Covid-19. As I said, I’m not a utilitarian with regard to many state mandates or other coercive measures to make people take the vaccine. But in epidemiological terms, this was a race. It probably should have happened, it was surely going to happen. This organism was causing a lot of big problems.

Nonetheless, if I were a pregnant woman, I would not take the vaccine.

The truth is — and anyone who suggests otherwise is pissing on your leg and telling you its raining — we do not and cannot know all the possible the long-term effects of vaccines that have only existed, from initial research to mass vaccinations, for less than three years. Given this fact, a healthy person in a low risk category foregoing the vaccine is perfectly understandable to me, so long as they take sensible precautions, in particular, around the most vulnerable, when they believe they’ve been exposed or infected.

[NOTE: You can’t logically and simultaneously claim the organism is a dangerous man-made creation and then minimize its effects because you oppose the vaccine.]

The vaccines, once developed, were prioritized in a targeted way for distribution. Front line hospital workers, the oldest, and so on. Nonetheless, it was obvious they could not be mandated.

Three things I’ll note with reference to the vaccine before we delve into numbers and such.

One — Trump minimized the pandemic to deflect from his own failures, but took the vaccine (after having contracted Covid-19), then took credit for the vaccines themselves. Put a pin in that.

Two — Pharmaceutical companies were given fast track authority and billions of dollars in public revenue, but they are still allowed to take private profits from the vaccines. Put another pin in that.

Three — the Chinese government has recently been forced to back down — the Chinese government!!! — from its latest vaccine mandate, by popular pressure. Many of the same people who ridiculed and castigated those who refused vaccination in the US are now calling Chinese vaccine-mandate opponents righteous rebels. No pin necessary; we’ve been talking about Democratic/technocratic/PMC hypocrisy throughout, and there’s more to come.

Perhaps the most remarkable vaccine achievement was in Cuba, a small nation of 11 million with a world-class biotech capacity. On its own, Cuba created a vaccine, and vaccinated 90 percent of its people. With respect to both the vaccine and gaining control over the pandemic, Cuba outperformed the richest and most powerful nations in the world. More on that here.

Cuba’s vaccine is a “subunit protein” vaccine, one among four general categories of vaccine. Other categories are RNA/DNA vaccines, Adenovirus vector vaccines, and inactivated virus vaccines. In all, around the world, there are forty vaccines which have received approval from various governments. The three main US vaccines — Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — are RNA/DNA vaccines, more precisely, mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines.

The way mRNA vaccines work is too arcane for this article, but for those who are interested, there’s plenty of information on the web. The short version is that vaccines stimulate antibodies that defend against the virus. The mRNA vaccine inserts a genetically modified antigen transgene — a messenger RNA fragment that’s gobbled up by immune system cells, whereupon the immune system begins producing the antigens and stimulating the production of antibodies. As far as we know — based on less than three years of research and experience — these injections of genetically modified “transgenes” produce tolerable side effects in most people (see below), and they are not expected to produce long term problems.

I referred above to having a very serious case of drug-resistant malaria that I contracted in Vietnam. We took one pill a week of hydroxychlorquine as a prophylaxis against malaria. By the time I went to Vietnam, US troops had been occupying the country for more than six years. Malaria is not a virus, but a protozoal blood parasite; but like a virus, it’s an organism that adapts through a perverse form of natural selection. If you throw a drug at it long enough, without wiping it out, it will adapt itself against that drug. My mosquito carried an adapted protazoa, so the protocol of chloroquine and dapsone used to treat malaria had, in my case, failed (and I became a guinea pig for a time for experimental antimalarials).

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has adapted, too. Adaptations can result in greater or lesser transmissibility, greater or lesser pathogenesis, and-or greater resistance to vaccines and treatments. The virus is just looking to survive and make more copies of itself. Now we have SARS-CoV-2 with variants and sub-variants. We have Ancestral, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta, BA.1/BA.2, and BA.5 variants.

I received the double-shot Pfizer vaccine in early 2022 with one booster, and I was infected with a breakthrough case in September, which I survived with nothing more than symptomatic treatment (it was quite miserable, though, for about six days). I can’t be sure which variant “broke through,” but there have been breakthrough cases with all variants, most significantly with the Beta.

More breakthrough cases occur among the most physically compromised (I think I got mine from a crowded airplane), and so, compared with most social groupings, breakthrough cases have higher than average mortality — only because they concentrate on the weakest. Studies strongly suggest that breakthrough cases are less severe for the vaccinated than for the un-vaccinated. Eighty percent of Covid-19 deaths among the hospitalized are un-vaccinated, and 99 percent of hospitalizations are un-vaccinated.

The efficacy of vaccines vary according to which vaccine and which variant of SARS-CoV-2. I took the Pfizer, and my protection is 95% from the Ancestral, 86% from the Alpha, 84% from the Beta, 84% from the Gamma, 84% from the Delta, 44% from BA.1/BA.2, and 44% from BA.5. Check the link above for yours. For each vaccine, there’s another figure for protection from severe disease (mine is 95%, 95%, 95%, 95%, 95%, 72%, and 72% respectively).

[NOTE: having had Covid-19 does not mean you can’t get it again.]

Vaccines obviously aren’t foolproof, but they are equally obviously beneficial in both the general prevention of infection and the general amelioration of the severity of infection.

The common argument that, because there are breakthrough cases, the vaccines “don’t work,” is fallacious. This false claim usually appears in the form of an anecdote. “I know so-and-so, and she got the vaccine, and she still got Covid.” Most plain people are not familiar with or trained in logic (and our culture is pre-permeated with logical fallacies as our discursive currency). This doesn’t make people stupid or malicious — logic is a specialized academic field. Patient explanation is probably a better form of engagement with these folks than calling them idiots and assholes. Moreover, as we see with the China-rebellion example above, the very people dismissing plain people as stupid when they seize onto a fallacy are not immune to convenient fallacies themselves. (We’ll talk about Russiagate below.)

The vaccine dos not contain microchips. The vaccine dos not “give you Covid-19.” The vaccine does not change your DNA. The government did not exaggerate the Covid-19 casualty numbers (it probably under-counted based on under-reporting).

There were predictable side effects to the vaccine, based on what is called reactogenesis — a common phenomenon with several vaccines (my least fave is typhoid). These Covid-19 vaccine side effects include pain at the injection site (94.2%), swelling (15.05%), itching (14.58%), local rash (14.53%), swollen lymph nodes (4.17%), fatigue (65.74%), headache (59.26%), chills (52.78%), fever 35.65%), sweating (18.52%), dizziness (14.58%), muscle pain (54.17%), joint pain (24.77%), muscle stiffness (11.11%), and nausea (26.62%). In 2.5 out of a million vaccinations, the recipient will have a full-blown allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) requiring an epinephrine shot to reverse it. In one of a thousand cases, facial swelling was reported, especially for those who have had plastic surgery with dermatological fillers (Moderna only). Bell’s palsy — uncontrollable muscles on one side of the face — was 3.5 times more common among those receiving mRNA vaccines (generally affects about 40,000 Americans out of 338,874,118). Studies suggest about a 0.3%–0.5% death rate among elderly hospitalized patients from the vaccines.

Personal testimony: I had the vaccine, and I had breakthrough Covid-19. The disease is a lot worse than the shots. A lot worse.

Drug companies

While the evidence so far is that vaccination is effective and desirable, most people don’t study evidence, lacking the wherewithal, the time, or the inclination. They base their decisions on trust. A lot of people — the author included — don’t trust pharmaceutical companies. Drug companies are a corporate mafia. Their executives don’t belong in in champagne rooms, they belong in super-maxes. They are pure predators.

As noted above, drug companies are exemplary of big capitalists. They socialize their costs and privatize their profits. The take massive taxpayer-funded research grants, then when they produce a saleable drug, they hoard the profits. They take your money, then they charge you exorbitant prices for what they’ve produced with your money.

Not only do they take two bites out of the public, and not only do they indemnify themselves with legions of well-paid lobbyists and rivers of campaign cash, they harm the public again and again. Up to a third of their new drugs, which they fraudulently flog through physician networks, are no more effective than drugs already in circulation (Cialis and Levitra are no different than Viagra, all you limpies). They charge outrageously above the production costs, then claim it’s to offset the research and development costs, which often as not were supplied by tax revenues. Many of their drugs turn out to be ineffective. In the last two decades, this industry has paid out more than $20 billion in fines for drugs that sickened, injured, addicted, and killed patients; and yet they continue to rake in record profits. Their dummied-up internal research has consistently and knowingly downplayed the negative impacts of their drugs. The executives are liars, thieves, con-men, and racketeers.

This does not automatically translate into the vaccines being bad. The mob hires competent lawyers and accountants, and invests in legitimate enterprises. Drug companies hire good scientists and some of their products are useful against real infirmities. That said, no industry, apart from banking and social media, cries out more for mass indictments followed by nationalization.

When the Trump administration coordinated with Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to develop and manufacture Covid-19 vaccines, Trump’s DHHS Director Alex Azar invoked the 2005 Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act, which immunized all three companies from lawsuits for any side effects of the vaccines. This certainly does not inspire confidence in the product. On the other hand, this protection only lasts until 2024, so long-term effects beyond 2024 are not covered by this immunity. Yes, the rush to production “race against time” might be reasonable justification for this immunity; but, again, we’re talking about people’s confidence in the vaccine and in the companies that produced them.

The shift

Around 63 percent of Republicans have been vaccinated. Ninety-one percent of Democrats have been vaccinated. Seventy-three percent of Independents have been vaccinated. Majorities in all categories, but obviously a greater fraction of Republicans have refused vaccination. (It’s important to note here that Democrats who haven’t been vaccinated — over-represented among African-Americans — are people, too, and they can’t be lumped in with Republican “anti-vaxxers.” This epithet is still a bullshit category, as we’ll show below; and, likewise, the fact is that a majority of Republicans also received the vaccination. That said (we’re all about nuance here), 62 percent of those un-vaccinated in the US (who declared a political identity) were Republicans.

In a Reuters survey conducted in 2020, Republicans and Democrats were roughly equal among those who received yearly flu vaccines. Democrats had a slight edge (47/46 percent). In the same survey, when asked if they thought the benefits outweighed the risks for childhood immunization, again it was roughly the same, with Republicans having a slight edge (84–83 percent). When asked whether children should be required to have vaccinations before attending school, Republicans were slightly lower than Democrats (77–82%). So, how did the R/D ratio on Covid-19 vaccines shift to 63/91?

Obviously, this split was not between “anti-vaxxers” and “pro-vaxxers,” but had something to do with the Covid-19 vaccine in particular.

One major factor in the lack of vaccine consensus among Republicans was the Trump-Fox nexus. Fox news had become the go-to cable news network for most Republicans, and Fox news closely tailed Donald Trump. This put Trump behind the wheel, so to speak, and he was driving all over the road.

From day-to-day Trump issued contradictory statements with regard to Covid-19 and vaccinations, and his network tail likewise couldn’t get its story straight. One day, they’d feature stories that suggested the vaccine was killing people; the next day they’d castigate people who hadn’t received it. One day the vaccine worked, the next day it didn’t. Fox commentators did tilt more to the vaccine critical and skeptical. But the Trump-Fox nexus alone wasn’t the only factor.

Based on whatever claim, narrative, hatred, or shortcut thinking was propounded on Fox or its counter-networks (also partisan equine bowels), people then followed the thread through social media. Social media algorithms went into high gear to sort people into echo-chambers where the likelihood of exposure to un-nuanced nonsense, enemy-making, or cultural boundary-policing created its own cognitive epidemics. Social-media addiction combined with this malignant sorting process to create pockets of fanaticism . . . on both sides. This phenomenon took on a life of its own, and at one point, members of Trump’s own base roundly booed him at a rally when he said “get the vaccination” (I invented it, it’s a great vaccine, really beautiful, it’s my beautiful vaccine).

Let’s also factor in a third — the people themselves. The Trump-Fox dialectic was actually a Trump-Fox-public trialectic. Those in the gen-pop who already believed various things about vaccination (some actual conspiracy nuts, e.g.) became more vocal, amplified themselves through social media, and became part of this tidal storm dynamic, feeding into its currents. But again, none of this accounts for the outliers, the unmentioned, who were inconvenient to any of the echo-silo narratives.

Where one study showed that 64 percent of vaccine refusals were based on false information about the vaccine, that leaves 36 percent of the refusals unconnected to false information. Concern about long-term effects, mistrust of drug companies, religious convictions, and plain existential choices are not know-nothing “anti-vaxxers,” nor are they, as many liberal control-monkeys and scolds suggest, sociopaths.

Those who demonized every refusal as “anti-vax” were many of the same people taken in by a partisan narrative about the impossibility of a lab-leak origin. They also tuned in nightly for months to watch Rachel Maddow hyperventilate over the “Trump-Russia conspiracy.” So . . .

The liberal argument that one should take the vaccine because of some utilitarian calculus is one specific philosophical and ethical orientation among several. The argument that people should be coerced and punished until they get vaccinated is a political question, which means it has political consequences (whether we can predict them or not). Opposition to this kind of pressure and coercion is not limited to libertarians, but it contingently aligns some of us with the libertarians on this issue.


I hate face masks. They restrict my air flow, they fog my glasses, and they stink. I hate the way they hide our faces. I want to see you when I talk with you, to read your face and have you read mine, to know how I’m doing and how you’re doing. I want to see the smirk that means your joking and the tightening that tells me you’re distressed. I want to hear you clearly and be heard clearly.

I don’t wear a face mask to go out in public any longer, with a few exceptions. If I go to a medical facility, the mask is required. I’m good with that. Sometimes I go to mass at the regular parish here in town, where most of us don’t mask; but sometimes I go to mass at the Dominican Sisters chapel, adjacent to their nursing home, and where the average age is around 78 — and I mask there. Believing as I do that I was infected with Covid-19 on my last airplane trip (the first air travel in more than a decade), we’ll be masking and sanitizing on the plane later this month when we visit family in Europe. We know the mask only offers limited protection to us, and more to others; but we’ll take that limited protection in a place where a lot of people who are in a lot of contact with a lot of other people from all over the place are touching the same surfaces and touching their faces and spewing micro-droplets into the same air.

It’s all a calculation. I wear a seat-belt in the car (and would even were it not legally required). I wear ear and eye protection when I work with power tools. On the other hand, sometimes I didn’t wear a helmet when I rode a bicycle. I don’t wear protective pants when I use a chain saw. I don’t wear a life jacket when I’m on my 12-foot aluminum ship. When it comes to safety measures to protect others, I’m a little less cavalier.

Masks are not dangerous, contrary to some nonsense circulated by — naturally — social media. They’re just a pain in the ass. As a mandate, they raise several legal, political, and ethical questions. When, where, and under what circumstances. How great a level of coercion or pressure is justifiable from whom, on whom, and for what reason? Masking in a surgical theater is one pretty obvious extreme, and masking while one is fishing alone on a boat is the opposite extreme. Somewhere between these extremities, there is a wide gray area within which there are more nuances than can be covered by as blunt an instrument as legal or executive authority with blanket rules. In this same gray area, there are differing levels of tolerance for laws and mandates and rules and social pressure. Do we go to war with one another to express a view or enforce conformity?

I do not.

Concluding remarks

I’ve gone on for some time now about Covid-19, but here is where I’m with Giorogio Agamben and others who’ve observed not just the epidemiology of the pandemic, but its social sequelae — and not just the sociology of the pandemic, but what it has revealed to us about us, and about our era and its relations of power.

Surrounding the issue of Covid-19, there is a great big world out there with a lot of other things going on with billions of complicated lives. For each life lived, there is more than the integer 1, more than “bare life,” more than not-dead-yet. And for each of those lives there is an expiration date still to be determined — Covid or no Covid.

My objection to vilifying others, to mandates and “vaccine passports,” and the like has nothing to do with some libertarian principle. My objection is to the representation of the pandemic as a state of war — to the state of exception which demands we knuckle under to a vast and impersonal technocracy that has reduced us to bare life. My objection is to technocratic management and “population control,” which seeks to separate the fit “populations” from the unfit “populations,” the clean from the unclean.

It is only immersed in a “population” that a person can become a bare life representable as a statistic. A person’s life, this journey — as opposed to the reified idol Life or the integer-1 of bare life — is already too constrained and coordinated, too digitized and plasticized, too reduced to technocratically-defined needs, too machined and aligned and algorithmically fitted, too counseled and therapeuted, too lawyered and doctored, too expert-led from sperm to worm, too cut off from any sense of surprise or discovery or adventure. I’ll be damned if I reduce my existence and potentiality, or anyone else’s, to life-and-death denying optimization, to cyborg conformity. There’s more at stake here than some disease that may very well have escaped from a lab that was participating in precisely this kind of control-delusion — that we can master nature . . . who always bats last.

No “war.” Common decency, common sense, and a charitable disposition will do.

I fell for some stuff for a time. I was wrong. I’ll be wrong again, hopefully about something else.

Peace. I mean that.



Stan Goff

Author of the books “Hideous Dream,” “Full Spectrum Disorder,” “Borderline,” “Mammon’s Ecology,” and “Tough Gynes.”