by Crow Qu’appelle
(Originally published on Montreal Counter-Info)
It has now been more than one year since the world that we have known all of our lives came screeching to a halt. And what a year’s it’s been. The collective unconscious roils in the throes of a bad acid trip, the realization seeps slow in the mind that the crisis is here to stay, and we are all along for the ride, tossed about by uncontrollable forces like a ship in a storm, trying to maintain some grace amidst all the fear and the confusion and the doubt.
Amidst it all, we have struggled to find solid ground. How are we to organize in the midst of a global pandemic? What is even going on? What threats should we be preparing for? How can we make sure that our loved ones are safe? What do other people think is going on?
This piece is a response to a critique entitled “Anarchy, Lock-down, and Crypto-Eugenics”, which is a critique of “On the Anarchist Response to the Global Pandemic”, published on Montreal Counter-Info, as well as It’s Going Down, North Shore Counter-Info, and quite a few other anarchist websites. I am not the author of that piece, however the author is a comrade with whom I have been working closely, and they encouraged me to respond, as they are currently too busy.
“On the Anarchist Response to the Global Pandemic was certainly not the first anarchist critique of lock-downs, or to suggest that the ruling class is manipulating the public for its own gain under the guise of Public Health. In fact, there are numerous anarchist voices coming out of the U.K. that have informed our critique. Some of the most notable would include Architects for Social Housing, the South Essex Heckler, Estuary Stirrings, Winter Oak, and the Acorn. We would encourage people to check out these websites if they are interested in developing their analysis in regards to the current crisis.
In any case, we are flattered that our piece is attracting international attention! Not only has it been translated into French, it has also been re-posted on anarchist websites from around the world, including Germany and the U.K., and it has a generated quite a bit of positive feedback.
It was our intention to kickstart discussion and debate around the subject of COVID-19, lock-downs, and related subjects, so we welcome the criticism of the British writer, though in all honesty we question whether it is made in good faith.
It has gotten increasingly difficult to have respectful debate these days, a phenomenon for which social media echo chambers are partly to blame, as well as the general deterioration of political discourse across the political spectrum. Often, debates about controversial subjects devolve into name-calling, guilt by association and whataboutism.
Whataboutism, for those who are unfamiliar with the term, is a logical fallacy that attempts to discredit an opponent’s position by charging them with hypocrisy without directly refuting or disproving their argument. This tactic, which was common in Soviet propaganda, was popularized by Donald Trump, and it is unfortunate to see it rear its ugly head in anarchist discourse.
The critic attempts to portray our piece as an example of “crypto-eugenics”. This is frankly absurd. Eugenics is an ideology which promotes coercive intervention in human reproduction, and nothing that we say in the piece has anything to do with reproduction whatsoever. If the response to a critique is to accuse the critic of secretly harbouring heretical views, we are in a time period analogous to the Inquisition. Furthermore, eugenics is an ideology promoting coercive intervention in natural human behaviour. We are advocating for the exact opposite.
Nevertheless, we will address some of the issues raised. In all honesty, the criticisms of the piece are mostly addressed within the original piece, and so we encourage folks to read (or re-read it), because it is fairly self-evident that the British critic misconstrues the arguments contained therein.
Firstly, the piece is primarily an appeal to anarchist values. It is clearly illogical to desire the abolition of the state and also uncritically support the expansion of state powers. The critic does not really address the question of values, and it is unclear which anarchist tendency they represent. In fact, when the critic says “As anarchists we affirm the violence of liberation” one is reminded more of Italian futurism (a proto-fascist ideology that flirted with anarchism) than contemporary anarchist discourse. But perhaps this is due to regional differences as to which theories are fashionable. All this to say: I can’t really identify any genuine anarchist sentiment in the critique.
Secondly, on the question of lock-downs: we maintain that it is an untenable position for an anarchist to support either lock-downs or curfews. Both of these interventions require the use of coercive force; that is to say, policing. We are not at all opposed to any public health recommendations, so long as they are voluntary.
We would do well to remember that the term lock-down comes from the prison system, and lock-downs are usually put into place in that context when authorities perceive there to be an increased risk of revolt.
All this to say that we believe that anarchism and any ideology promoting the implementation of draconian measures such as lock-downs and curfews are mutually exclusive, and that this should be self-evident. How can one both be against the state and in favour of state control? Ideology aside, studies have shown that lock-downs are not effective in reducing mortality. According to a recently published study in the journal Nature, “using this methodology and current data, in ~ 98% of the comparisons using 87 different regions of the world we found no evidence that the number of deaths/million is reduced by staying at home”.
Third, there is the very important question of the lethality of COVID-19. The critic clearly takes issue with us for “minimizing” the severity of the pandemic, but they do not refute a central claim, which is that COVID-19 has proven to be far less deadly than was originally believed. On this, the scientific consensus is overwhelming. The disease was originally believed to have a fatality rate of 1% or more. A year later, we know that this is not even close to being true. There are many studies done on this subject, and we encourage people to do their own research, but we will quote one study authored by Stanford’s John P. Ioannidis.
“Infection fatality rate in different locations can be inferred from seroprevalence studies. While these studies have caveats, they show IFR ranging from 0.00% to 1.54% across 82 study estimates. Median IFR across 51 locations is 0.23% for the overall population and 0.05% for people <70 years old. IFR is larger in locations with higher overall fatalities. Given that these 82 studies are predominantly from hard‐hit epicenters, IFR on a global level may be modestly lower. Average values of 0.15%‐0.20% for the whole global population and 0.03%‐0.04% for people <70 years old as of October 2020 are plausible. These values agree also with the WHO estimate of 10% global infection rate (hence, IFR ~ 0.15%) as of early October 2020.”
Some of the confusion regarding the lethality of COVID-19 results from people confusing IFR with CFR (Case Fatality Rate). Dr Richard Schabas, Ontario’s former Chief Medical Officer, has critiqued the Ontario government’s emphasis on using the CFR statistic, saying “Every knowledgeable observer of COVID understands that CFR is in itself an irrelevant number… CFR’s only ‘virtue’ is its ability to frighten by overstating the real risk of dying from a COVID infection.”
Despite this, many people are under the impression that COVID-19 is much more lethal than it really is. This is clearly because of media fear-mongering, and yes, there are clearly financial interests at play, not those of Big Pharma, but also companies such as Amazon, Walmart, and many others who benefited from rampant stimulus spending. For some reason, Leftists have been shy to criticize the blatant greed of major corporations who are making a killing in the context of the current crisis. The Left readily decries the profiteering of both the military-industrial complex and the prison-industrial complex, however, criticism of the medical-industrial complex has become increasingly rare in anti-capitalist circles. Because trusting that pharmaceutical companies have the best interests of the public at heart, one would do well to remember the particularly blatant example of how drug manufacturers fuelled the opiate crisis by heavily promoting drugs such as OxyContin. In developing our analysis of the current moment, it behooves us to take matters into consideration such as whether or not given politicians and other public officials have conflicts of interests. Until recently, this would not have been an even remotely controversial statement. It is a sad state of affairs when supposed anti-capitalists rush to the defence of Big Pharma!
So, thank you to British critic for giving us the opportunity to clarify our position. Again, our intention was to kickstart discussion and debate about how to organize in the current political climate, and so we welcome the criticism and encourage others to join the conversation. We would simply make two requests, in the spirit of having the most constructive debate possible. First, we would ask that critics engage with the actual content of what we have said, rather that resorting to whataboutism, and secondly, that if refuting any of our claims, reference is made to the best available data, that is, peer-reviewed studies from respected medical or scientific journals.
We can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. We encourage people to reach out for any reason, either to send us supportive messages or to accuse us of blasphemy, conspiring with the Devil, and/or crypto-eugenics.