What is the lesson of COVID-19?

The US has been reacting to this public health crisis of COVID-19. But one can’t remain in emergency mode permanently. So, we’ve suddenly switched to the opposite reaction of reopening everything as a free-for-all as if everything is fine and normal again. Then there will likely be a massive upswing again of infections, followed by another period of fearful reaction.

We are stuck in this cycle because we are unprepared, both in terms of public policy and public health. But a major factor is the population is so unhealthy with 88% of Americans being metabolically unfit, not to mention environmental risks to the health of poor communities. Even in the best of times, that would eventually be devastating simply in terms of financial costs. Some predict we might eventually go bankrupt from treating all those sick Americans, along with the increasing costs of sick days, disability pay, etc.

The main thing that COVID-19 is showing us is how weak of a position we are in. It’s multiple factors that are putting us in a difficult bind. And this is a rather minor pandemic. If a truly deadly pandemic hits, which is inevitable, our society is going to be totally crippled and devastated. We barely can manage public health issues and healthcare costs without a pandemic. This situation is only going to get worse, specifically as the rates of metabolic disease continue to rise.

If we don’t become pro-active about dietary policy and healthcare quickly, we could be facing an existential crisis as a society. So, why is no major official or expert talking about public health in terms of factors we can control, specifically comorbidities such as diet-related and pollution-related suppression of the immune system? We can try to control external risk factors through public policies on social gathering and such, but we’d be wiser in the long term to improve public health by improving the metabolic and immunological health of Americans so that we are less susceptible to infections in the first place.

Being unhealthy is not only a threat to the individual. When magnified across an entire society, most of the population being unhealthy is a much greater threat. Every single unhealthy individual is a risk factor, is a threat of infectious spread to their family, friends, neighbors, fellow church congregants, etc. Personal health is a public health issue. But Americans seem only to know how to react to such things, or else scapegoat individuals for failure of public policy. Even those who want to dismiss it all are likewise trapped in an opposite reaction. Both sides have their head in the sand about the most central factor.

Even if the COVID-19 pandemic fizzles out in the end with maybe only a million or so dead in the United States, it doesn’t change the basic public health crisis that will continue to get worse. Imagine when even more people in the United States and worldwide have metabolic diseases, and imagine when an even more virulent infectious disease hits. If we make no changes before then to improve individual and public health, we will be in a worse position than now and we will still be unprepared. Are we going to learn any lesson from this crisis?

None of this is to consider the potential combination of other factors. We are likely entering a period of one crisis after another with each crisis as bad or worse than the one before. Besides pandemics and other public health problems, there will be climate change events with worsening and increasing number of superstorms, along with floods, droughts, wildfires, famines, etc that will lead to refugee crises, social instability, civil wars, political coups, international conflict, fight over resources, and on and on.

That could be on top of the crises of destabilizing inequality, loss of public trust, and weakening political authority; not to mention various backlashes of reactionary politics, authoritarianism, riots, terrorism, and so much else. In the end, worsening health concerns, even pandemics, might be the least of our worries. But certainly a great enough public health crisis alone could unleash a cascade of stresses, conflicts, and failures within American society and across the geopolitical order.

This situation with COVID-19 is a warning we should heed. This could be, as some claim, the new normal. Or else a mere suggestion of the new normal yet to come.

Mental Pandemic and Ideological Lockdown

“Don’t let anyone arguing to “reopen the economy” get away with “we have to let people work to stay alive.” That’s a rhetorical trick aimed at suckering you into accepting their toxic worldview. The real question is this: how did the richest nation in the world get into a mess like this in the first place?”
~Sam Smith, How Many Dollars Is a Life Worth (and Why Did We Choose This)?

If you’re familiar with low-carbohydrate diet debate, you’d know one of the big names is Ivor Cummins, AKA the Fat Emperor. He isn’t a health professional but a chemical engineer by training. For some reason, several engineers and others in technological fields have become major figures in the alternative health community, especially diet and nutrition along with fasting, sometimes in terms of what is called biohacking. They have the skill set to dig into complex data and analyze systems in a way most doctors aren’t able to do. Cummins runs a health podcast, is active on social media, and has a large following. His popularity is well deserved.

He has been on our radar the past couple of years, but recently, along with Dr. Paul Saladino, he has been at the center of contentious debate about COVID-19 and lockdowns. Besides seeing his active Tweeting, we were reminded of him with some commentary by Chuck Pezeshki, another thoughtful guy we respect (see his post, The Curious Case of the Fat Emperor — or How Not Understanding How to Merge Knowledge is Creating a Culture War). Here is Pezeshki’s description of Cummins: “What is most interesting is that he was not only a systems integrator — someone who floats between the different disciplines churning out various subsystems for complex products. He was a “systems system integrator” — where he was in charge of a team of systems integrators. The first-level integration positions are relatively common. Boeing has a whole employment line dedicated to Liaison Engineering, which they pronounce “Lie – a -zon”. The second tier up — not common at all.” So, not an average bloke, by any means.

We agree with Cummins in sharing his views on the importance of diet and metabolic health. Right from the beginning, we had the suspicion that COVID-19 might never have reached pandemic levels if not for the fact that the majority of people in the industrialized world now have metabolic syndrome — in the US, 88% of the population has some combination of major metabolic issues: obesity, diabetes, pre-diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease, liver disease, etc. These conditions are prominently listed as comorbidities of COVID-19, as metabolic health is inseparable from immune system health. Also, we’re in line with his anti-authoritarian attitude. Like Cummins, on principle, we’re certainly not for top-heavy policy measures like lockdowns, unless there is good justification. Yet early on, there was strong justification as a response to emergency conditions and many, including Cummins, initially supported lockdown.

Since then, he has become a strident opponent and, even as his heart seems in the right place, we find his present approach to be grating. He has become ideologically polarized and has fallen into antagonistic behavior, including dismissive name-calling. This doesn’t encourage meaningful public debate. We’re trying to resist being pulled into this polarized mentality in looking at the situation as dispassionately as possible, especially since we have no desire to dismiss Cummins who we otherwise agree with. We’re not even sure we exactly disagree about lockdowns either, as we feel undecided on the issue with a more wait-and-see attitude in anticipating a possible worst second wave if caution is thrown to the wind with a simultaneous ending of lockdown, social distancing, and mask-wearing as is quite likely in the United States. The public attitude tends toward either it’s the Plague or it’s nothing, either everything must be shut down or there should no restrictions at all.

Cummins strength is also his weakness. As an engineer, his focus is on data, not on the messy lived experience of humans. In his recent Tweeting, he is constantly demanding data, but it feels like he is overlooking fundamental issues. Even if there was good enough data available, we only have data for what is measured, not for what is not measured. About lockdowns, the confounding factors in comparing countries are too numerous and there are no controls. But to his engineering mind, data is data and the details of human life that aren’t measured or can’t be measured simply are irrelevant. Engineering is a hard science. But how societies operate as complex systems — that are living and breathing, that have billions of moving parts — can’t be understood the same way as technical systems to be managed in a corporate setting, as is Cummins’ professional expertise. He appears to have no knowledge of sociology, anthropology, psychology, cultural studies, philosophy, history, etc; that is to say he has no larger context in which to place his demands for ‘data’.

The dietitian/nutritionist Adele Hite hit the nail on the head in a response she gave in another Twitter thread: “You know data is never *just* data, right? It comes from somewhere, is collected, displayed & interpreted via some methods & assumptions & not others. […] Take a few science studies courses? maybe some science history? or just read some Bruno Latour & get back to me. It’s not nihilism to recognize that there is no such thing as a “view from nowhere” (the context of her comment, I presume, is here working on a PhD in communication, rhetoric, and digital media that, as she says on her official website’s About page, taught her “to ask questions I couldn’t have even articulated before”). She also points out the importance of listening to scientists and other experts in the specific fields they were educated and trained in, as expertise is not necessarily transferable as demonstrated by the smart idiot effect that disproportionately affects the well-educated.

According to his standard bio found around the web, Cummins “has since spent over 25 years in corporate technical leadership and management positions and was shortlisted in 2015 as one of the top 6 of 500 applicants for “Irish Chartered Engineer of the Year”.” That means he is a guy who was shaped by the corporate world and was highly successful in climbing the corporate career ladder. He then went on to become an entrepreneur as a podcaster, blogger, author, and public speaker. That is to say he is a high-achieving capitalist within the businesses of others and his own business, not to mention an individual having benefited from the status quo of opportunities, privileges and advantages afforded to him. The sticking point with lockdowns is that they don’t fit into the ruling capitalist ideology or at least not its rhetoric, although oligopolistic big biz like Amazon and Walmart does great under lockdown.

Our own biases swing in a different direction. We’ve had working class jobs our entire lives and presently we’re unionized public employees. Opposite of someone like Cummins, we don’t see capitalism as the great salvation of humanity nor do we blame lockdowns for economic decline and failure that preceded the pandemic for generations. All that has changed is that the moral rot and psychopathic depravity of our society has been exposed. That brings us to our main point of contention, that of a typically unquestioned capitalist realism that has been forced to the surface of public awareness with pandemic lockdown, as previously touched upon with the issue of what David Graeber calls bullshit jobs (Bullshit Jobs and Essential Workers).

Though lacking a strong view on lockdowns, we do have a strong view of those with strong views on lockdowns. It is hard to ignore the fact that those who are most vocal about reopening the economy are those whose lives are least at risk, those not working in service jobs (Their Liberty and Your Death). One might note that Cummin’s precise demographic profile (a younger, healthier, wealthier, white Westerner) is the complete opposite of the demographics hardest hit by COVID-19 and problems in general (the elderly, the sick, the poor, and minorities); though to his credit, he has spoken about the importance of protecting vulnerable populations, even if his understanding of vulnerability in our kind of society is ideologically and demographically constrained.

Here is the point. You won’t hear many working poor people, especially disadvantaged minorities, demanding to have the right to risk their lives and their family’s lives to work poverty wages, few benefits, and no affordable healthcare to ensure the capitalist ruling elite maintain their high levels of profits. Imagine how frustrating and disheartening it must be to be poor and/or minority as you listen to wealthy white people who are healthy and have great healthcare discuss lockdowns versus reopenings when the infection and mortality rates in your community is several times worse than in the rest of the country (Jared Dewese, Black people are dying from coronavirus — air pollution is one of the main culprits; Jeffrey Ostler, Disease Has Never Been Just Disease for Native Americans).

Think about this: “black people are more than 3.5 times more likely to die of COVID-19 than white people, and Latino people are nearly twice as likely to die of the virus as white people” (Bill Hathaway, New analysis quantifies risk of COVID-19 to racial, ethnic minorities); now increase that death rate several times higher when comparing poor minorities to wealthier whites, high inequality locations to low inequality locations, et cetera. And it’s even worse for other minorities: “In Arizona, the Indigenous mortality rate is more than five times the rate for all other groups, while in New Mexico, the rate exceeds seven times all other groups” (APM Research Lab, THE COLOR OF CORONAVIRUS: COVID-19 DEATHS BY RACE AND ETHNICITY IN THE U.S.). For those important people on the corporate media or the thought leaders on social media, COVID-19 for their own communities really might not be any worse than the common flu. Meanwhile, for disadvantaged populations, COVID-19 could be described as nothing other than a pandemic in the fullest sense. Yet the fate of these disadvantaged is being decided by the very people disconnected from the reality of those who will be most harmed.

Let’s put this in context of a specific example — in the District of Columbia where so many powerful people, mostly whites, live in determining public policy, blacks are only 44% of the population but 80% of the COVID-19 deaths. Many states show immense disparities: “In Kansas, Black residents are 7 times more likely to die than White residents. In Wisconsin and Washington D.C., the rate among Blacks is 6 times as high as it is for Whites, while in Michigan and Missouri, it is 5 times greater. In Arkansas, Illinois, New York, South Carolina, and Tennessee, Blacks are 3 times more likely to die of the virus than Whites. In many states, the virus is also killing Black residents several multiples more often than Asian and Latino residents” (APM Research Lab).

It’s not only that minorities are more likely to die from COVID-19 but more likely to get infected with SARS-CoV-2 in the first place and so this is another multiplier effect as measured in the total death count. This is exaggerated to an even greater extent with poor brown people in some developing countries where COVID-19 is also killing large numbers of the young (Terrence McCoy & Heloísa Traiano, In the developing world, the coronavirus is killing far more young people; Louise Genot, In Brazil, COVID-19 hitting young people harder). COVID-19 may be a disease of the elderly and sick among well-off white Westerners, but to other demographics the entire population is vulnerable. Furthermore, mostly ignored in Western data are poor whites and rural whites or even middle aged whites — all of which, in the United States, have shown increasing mortality rates in recent years. There is no data, as far as we know, with a demographic breakdown of deaths within racial categories. Then there is the issue of pollution, in how it increases vulnerability and maybe in how it could help spread the virus itself by riding on air pollution particles, and of course pollution is concentrated where poverty is found — keep in mind that pollution alone, without pandemic, is linked to 40% of deaths worldwide (Socialized Medicine & Externalized Costs; & An Invisible Debt Made Visible); combine that with COVID-19, pollution is then linked to 80% of deaths (Damian Carrington, Air pollution may be ‘key contributor’ to Covid-19 deaths – study). [For more resources on the inequities of COVID-19, see ending section of this post.]

By the way, we appreciated that Chuck Pezeshki did touch upon this kind of issue, if only briefly: “The problem is that because COVID-19 is truly novel, ringing that bell, while it may daylight the various ills of society, it also at the same time obscures responsibility for all the various ills society has manifested on all its various members. I have a whole essay, almost written, on the meatpacking plant fiasco, which is really more of a damning indictment of how we treat people at the bottom of the economic ladder than the COVID-19 crisis. For those that want the short version — we keep them trapped in low wage positions with no geographic mobility, with undocumented status, and poor education so they have no choice but to continue their jobs. COVID-19 is just an afterthought.” It’s too bad such understanding hasn’t been included to a greater extent in public debate and news reporting.

This is a situation about which everyone, of course, has an opinion; still, not all opinions come with equal weight of personal experience and implications. Being forced to potentially risk your health and maybe life while on the frontlines of a pandemic creates a different perspective. We are more fortunate than most in having a decent job with good pay and benefits. But similar to so many other working class folk with multigenerational households, if we get infected in our working with the public, we could become a disease vector for others, including maybe bringing the novel coronavirus home to family such as our elderly parents with compromised immune systems. The working poor forced to work out of desperation have no choice to isolate their vulnerable loved ones in distant vacation homes or highly priced and protected long-term care centers.

Meanwhile, some of the well-off white Westerners dominating public debate are acting cavalier in downplaying the concerns of the vulnerable or downplaying how large a number of people are in that vulnerable space. We’ve even seen Ivor Cummins, an otherwise nice guy, mocking people for not embracing reopenings as if they were being irrational and cowardly — with no acknowledgement of the vast disparities of disadvantaged populations. Imagine trying to have a public debate about government policy in a city or state where the poor and minorities are two to seven times more likely to die. Does anyone honestly think the poor and minorities would be heard and their lives considered equally important? Of course, not. No one is that stupid or naive. Now consider that the disparities of wealth, pollution, sickness, and death is even greater at the national level and still greater yet in international comparisons. At the local level, the poor and minorities might hope to get heard, but they are as if invisible or non-existent within the public debate beyond the local.

Still, that isn’t to say we’re arguing for a permanent lockdown even as we do think the lockdown, if only for lack of needed leadership and preparedness, was probably necessary when the crisis began — from the DataInforms Twitter account: “Not saying it’s the right action if you’ve planned for a Pandemic. Saying it’s the inevitable action to minimize risk, when you haven’t planned for a Pandemic. By not paying attention to 2003 outbreak we brought this on ourselves.” Besides being politically paralyzed with corrupt and incompetent leadership, we Americans are an unhealthy population that is ripe for infectious diseases; and one could easily argue that a public health crisis has been developing for centuries, in particularly these past generations (Dr. Catherine Shanahan On Dietary Epigenetics and Mutations, Health From Generation To Generation, Dietary Health Across Generations, Moral Panic and Physical Degeneration, Malnourished Americans, & The Agricultural Mind). The terrain theory of infection proposes that it is the biological conditions of health that primarily determine the chances of infection and hence, in a situation like this, determine how bad it will get as a public health crisis. As we earlier noted, the 1918 flu also began mildly before becoming fully pandemic later in the year with a second wave (Then the second wave of infections hit…), not that I’m arguing about the probability of such an outcome since our present knowledge about pandemics in the modern industrialized world, the West in particular, is only slightly better than full ignorance (Kevin Kavanagh, Viewpoint: COVID-19 Modeling: Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics).

All of this puts us in an odd position. We simultaneously agree and disagree with Cummins and many others who support his view. Our main irritation is how the entire ‘debate’ gets framed, in terms of cartoonish portrayal of libertarianism versus authoritarianism. The frame ends up dominating and shutting down any genuine discussion. We noticed this in how, for all the vociferous opinionating about lockdowns, there is still no agreement even about what is a lockdown. When confronted about this, Cummins has repeatedly refused to define his terms, the most basic first step in attempting to analyze the data, in that one has to know what kind of data one needs in knowing what one is hoping to compare. The haziness of his language and the slipperiness of his rhetoric is remarkable considering engineers like him are usually praised for their precision and held up as exemplars in the alternative health community.

We weren’t the only ones to make this observation — Gorgi Kosev asked, “Did you reply to the people who asked to specify what counts as lockdown vs what counts as distancing?” Cummins responded to many other Tweets in that thread but he did not answer this question and appears to not be interested in such a dialogue. To be fair, I did come across one of his Tweets buried deep in another thread, in response to an inquiry by Gregory Travis, where he vaguely clarified what he meant but still did not operationalize his definition in a way that would help us categorize and measure accordingly. When asked for a specific list of what he considered to be lockdowns and not, he would not specify. In attempting to get at what is the issue at debate, Philippa Antell asked him, “Are you comparing lockdown Vs non lockdown ( in which case define those in detail)? Or sensible Vs non sensible lock down rules (again define)?” Cummins did not further respond. A point we and others made to him is that there has been a wide spectrum of government policies — Toshi Clark said that, “This whole thing seems predicated on making a distinction between distancing and lockdown policies. It’s not a binary thing”; and someone simply named Ed said that, “I think one of the problems Ivor is it doesn’t have to be black and white but shades of grey. Lockdown is a terrible term that is unhelpful as there has never been a full lockdown and no measure of each mitigation.”

Such comments were the opportunity to begin debate, rather than in the way Cummins took them as the end of debate. I get that he is probably frustrated, but he is avoiding the very heart of the issue while continuing to demand ‘data’ as if facts could exist separately from any frame of analysis and interpretation. I’m sure he isn’t actually that naive and so, even if his frustration is understandable, it’s unfortunate he won’t get down to the nitty gritty. As such, others understandably feel frustrated with him as well. One of the main points of frustration, as shown above, is clear and yet remains unresolved. In our own Tweeting activity responding to Cummins, we noted that, “It feels like he is trying to force debate into a polarized black/white frame that turns it into a political football, a symbolic proxy for something else entirely.” At this point, it’s no longer really about the data for it has become an ideological battle verging on a full-on culture war, and one of the first victims is the mental flexibility to shift frames as the polarized opponents become ever more locked into their defensive positions — a lockdown of the mind, as it could be described.

Let’s consider a concrete example to show how the ideological lines get drawn in the ideological mind, as opposed to how fuzzy are those lines in reality. In one of his few responses to my seeking to engage, Cummins shared an earlier Twitter thread of his where he compared the ‘social distancing’ of Sweden and the ‘lockdown’ of New Jersey; a bad comparison on multiple levels. Yet when asked what is a lockdown, he still never offered a definition and, even more interesting, he decidedly emphasized that his priority was not the data itself but his principles, values, and beliefs. He was asked point blank that, “Since I showed that there effectively was no implemented and enforced stay at home full lockdown in even some of the worst hit places like NYC, what are we talking about in terms of a lockdown? What is the real issue of debate?” And his answer was, “Civil Liberties and our future freedoms. Principles. And the Scientific Method being respected.” Those principles seem fine, at least in theory assuming they are part of a genuinely free society that sadly is also theoretical at present. The problem comes with his conflating all of science with his libertarian beliefs taken as ideological realism. His libertarian conviction seems to be both his starting assumption and his ending conclusion. It’s not that the facts don’t matter to him, that he is merely posturing, but it is obvious that the data has become secondary in how the debate is being so narrowly constrained as to predetermine what evidence is being sought and which questions allowed or acknowledged.

Our interest was genuine, in seeking to clarify terms and promote discussion. That is why we pointed to the actual details in how it played out in actual implementation. In New York City, there was a supposed full lockdown with a stay at home order, but that didn’t stop New Yorkers from crowding in public places (Stephen Nessen, More New Yorkers Are Crowding Onto Buses And Subways Despite Stay-At-Home Order) since it’s not like there is a Chinese-style authoritarian government to enforce a Wuhan-style lockdown. That is the problem of comparisons. In terms of effective actions taken, the Swedish example involved more restrictions than did what happened in New Jersey and New York City. That is because the Swedish, in their conformist culture of trust, enforced severe restrictions upon themselves without government order and for all practical purposes the Swedish had implemented a greater lockdown than anything seen in the United States. Unless a police officer or soldier is pointing a gun at their head, many Americans will continue on without wearing masks or social distancing. This is a cultural, not a political, difference.

It is bizarre to see libertarian-minded individuals using the example of the anti-libertarian Swedish society as evidence in defense of greater libertarianism in societies that are completely different from Sweden. These are the same people who would normally criticize what they’d deem an oppressive Scandinavian social democracy under non-pandemic conditions, but all of a sudden Sweden is the best country in the world. If we think the Swedish are so awesome, then let’s imitate their success by having the highest rate of individuals living alone in the world as promoted by government policy, a population that does social distancing by default, a cultural willingness to sacrifice self-interest for the common good, a strong social safety net paid for with high taxes on the rich, and socialist universal healthcare for all (Nordic Theory of Love and Individualism). Once we implement all of those perfect conditions of public preparedness for public health crises in promoting the public good, then and only then can we have a rational and meaningful debate about lockdowns and social distancing.

Otherwise, the critics are being disingenuous or oblivious about the real issues. Such confusion is easy to fall into during an anxiety-inducing crisis as we all struggle to see clearly what is at stake. Cummins is highly intelligent well informed and, most important, he means well. But maybe he has lost his bearings in being pulled into ideological polarization, which is a common malady in Western society even at the best of times — one might call it an ideological pandemic. No one is immune to such ideological mind viruses, which is all the more reason to be highly aware of the risk of memetic contagion and so handle the material with the proper intellectual protective gear, rather than assuming it’s only those other people who are mindless ideologues ignoring the cold hard facts. Obsessing over data can create yet another blindness, specifically when it leads one to seeking the data that confirms what one is looking for. The reality of diverse data, conflicting data, and missing data is far more murky, and the mud really gets stirred up when we are floundering amidst unstated assumptions and undefined terms.

The present debate isn’t really about public response to infectious disease. If it was only about that, we could be more fully on board with Cummins since, in terms of health data, we are in his camp. The other component to the ideological conflict is a failure of public trust in countries like the United states, as opposed to the success of public trust elsewhere. In terms of economics and health, the Swedish had comparably similar results as their Nordic neighbors who followed different government policies, which further demonstrates it’s more about culture than anything else. Lockdowns did cut the number of lives lost in those countries, but the greatest protection appears to have been cultural, which is to say how the population behaves under various government policies. Scandinavians have a culture of trust. The United States does not. I can’t speak for other countries that fared less well such as Italy and Spain, although hard-hit Brazil obviously has some public trust issues. Social distancing without any closures and restrictions probably works great in almost any strong culture of trust, whereas a lack of full lockdown could be a catastrophe where public trust is deficient. That would be a more interesting and meaningful debate.

What is it about American and British society, in particular, that soft issues of society and culture are reduced and rationalized away or dismissed and diminished by putting everything into a frame of economics and politics? It used to be that religion in the form of the Christian church was used as the frame to explain everything. But now capitalist realism, both in economics and politics, is the dominant religion. Notice most of the opponents of lockdowns are doing so in defense of capitalism (liberty), not in defense of democracy (freedom). It’s posing a particular kind of politics in opposition to a particular kind of economics. The idea of a genuinely free society is not in the frame, not part of the debate.

This is part of an old ideological conflict in the Western mind. It erupted more fully when the neoliberals took power, as signaled by former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s declaration that, “there’s no such thing as society.” Karl Polanyi theorized about the rise of a market culture where everything came to be understood through an economic lens. Even politics has been made an extension of capitalist realism. This is more broadly part of a mindset obsessed with numbers. Everything can be measured. Everything can have a price put on it. Not only was religion demoted but all ‘soft’ approaches to understanding humanity and society. This is how we can have a debate in comparing different cultures while few people even bother to mention culture itself, as if culture either does not matter or does not exist. We have no shared frame to understand the deeper crisis we are suffering, of which the perception of pandemic threat and political malaise is merely a symptom.

The sense of conflict we’re experiencing in this pandemic isn’t fundamentally about an infectious virus and governmental response to it. It’s about how many societies, United States most of all, have suffered a crisis in loss of public trust based on destruction of traditional community, authority, self-sacrifice, etc. Libertarianism is inseparable from this cultural failure and simply further exacerbates it. In opposing authoritarianism, libertarianism becomes psychologically and socially dependent on authoritarianism, in the way drug rehab centers are dependent on influx of drug addicts (think of Philip K. Dick’s A Scanner Darkly). What gets lost is radical envisioning of a society free of ideological addiction of divisive polarization that is used for propagandistic social control. Control the public mind with frame of libertarianism versus authoritarianism and the ruling elite can guarantee freedom is suppressed.

We must understand difference between Latin ‘liberty’ and Germanic ‘freedom’. The former originated from the legal status of not being a slave in slave society; whereas the latter as etymologically related to ‘friend’ originally meant being a member of a free society, as being among friends who would put common good over individual interest. Philip K. Dick liked to say that, “The Empire never ended,” in seeing the Roman Empire as fundamentally identical to our own. Well, the Norman Conquest never ended either. Romanized Norman thought and language still rules our public mind and society, economics and politics. That is the sad part. Even the word freedom has become another way to invoke the liberty worldview of a slave society. This is taken as the unquestioned given of capitalist realism. Negative freedom (Latin liberty) almost entirely replaces positive freedom (Germanic freedom). Another difference between Latin is that it was more abstract than German. So liberty as negative freedom is much more of an ideological abstraction. One can have freedom in theory even while being oppressed in lived reality. Liberty ideology can justify lack of freedom.

Interestingly, this brings us back to an important point that Chuck Pezeshki made in his post where he was looking upon Ivor Cummins with more support and sympathy. One of the reasons,” suggested Pezeshki, “I fervently believe our current society in the U.S. is collapsing is the loss of noblesse oblige — the idea that those of us that are better off in some definable way should help those who are less fortunate. I view my role as a full professor as one where I am supposed to think about complex and complicated things for the common good, just like a rich person is supposed to build housing developments for the poor.” Basically, we agree, even if we take a meandering path and throw out a bunch of side commentary along the way. Noblesse oblige, one might note, was a carryover from feudalism. Like the Commons, it was intentionally destroyed in creating our modern world. We have yet to come to terms with the fallout from that mass annihilation of the public good. There has been nothing to replace what was trampled upon and thrown away.

Such loose human realities can neither be counted in profit nor measured in data. Yet they determine what happens in our society, maybe even determining whether an infectious disease is a momentary inconvenience or turns into a deadly pandemic, determining whether it kills high numbers of the vulnerable or not. The terrain in which a virus can gain purchase is not only biological but environmental and economic, political and cultural. We need to talk not only about physical health for a public health crisis is about the health of the entire society and in this age of interconnectivity with mass trade, mass transportation and mass travel that increasingly includes the larger global society. It’s not only about your own health but the health of everyone else as well, the least among us most of all.

* * *

The Coronavirus Class Divide: Space and Privacy
by Jason DeParle

Harvard Researchers Find ‘Inequality On Top Of Inequality’ In COVID-19 Deaths
by James Doubek

No Wealth, Poor Health: COVID-19 Has Exposed the Depth of Inequality For Marginalized Communities
by Shelly M. Wagers

Poverty, Tuberculosis, COVID-19 and the Luxury of Health
by Amy Catania

How The Crisis Is Making Racial Inequality Worse
by Greg Rosalsky

Social distancing in Black and white neighborhoods in Detroit: A data-driven look at vulnerable communities
by Makada Henry-Nickie & John Hudak

Poor New York City Neighborhoods Seeing Deaths From Covid at More Than Twice the Rate of Affluent Areas
by Julia Conley

COVID-19 outbreak exposes generations-old racial and economic divide in New York City
The Bronx is home to 1.5 million New Yorkers, many of them essential workers.
by Juju Chang, Emily Taguchi, Jake Lefferman, Deborah Kim, & Allie Yang

Divergent death tolls in New York’s Rockaways show Covid-19’s uneven reach
by Sally Goldenberg & Michelle Bocanegra

Density, poverty keep L.A. struggling against virus
by Brian Melley

In Mississippi, families of COVID-19 victims say poverty and race determine survival
by Candace Smith, Knez Walker, Fatima Curry, Armando Garcia, Cho Park & Anthony Rivas

Poor Health, Poverty and the Challenges of COVID-19 in Latin America and the Caribbean
by Samuel Berlinski, Jessica Gagete-Miranda, & Marcos Vera-Hernández

India COVID-19: The killer virus is still poverty
by C.P. Surendran

Iran COVID-19 Crisis: Poor People Are Victims of Regime’s Criminal Policy of Forcing People Back to Work
by Sedighe Shahrokhi

‘We’re expendable’: black Americans pay the price as states lift lockdowns
by Kenya Evelyn

How air pollution exacerbates Covid-19
by Isabelle Gerretsen

Air pollution has made the COVID-19 pandemic worse
by Ula Chrobak

Air Pollution May Make COVID-19 Symptoms Worse
by Alex Fox

Are you more likely to die of covid-19 if you live in a polluted area?
by Adam Vaughan

COVID-19 severity and air pollution: exploring the connection
from Healthcare In Europe

Can COVID-19 Spread Through Air Pollution?
from Environmental Technology

Air Pollution Is Found to Be Associated with Vulnerability to COVID-19
by Shuting Pomerleau

Exposure to air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States: A nationwide cross-sectional study
by Xiao Wu, Rachel C. Nethery, Benjamin M. Sabath, Danielle Braun, & Francesca Dominici

Black people are dying from coronavirus — air pollution is one of the main culprits
by Jared Dewese

One reason why coronavirus is hitting black Americans the hardest
by Ranjani Chakraborty

Covid-19 Flares Up in America’s Polluted ‘Sacrifice Zones’
by Sidney Fussell

Study shows how air pollution makes COVID-19 mortality worse for marginalized populations
from News Medical Life Sciences

Air pollution, racial disparities, and COVID-19 mortality
by Eric B. Brandt, Andrew F. Beck, & Tesfaye B. Mersha

Air Pollution and COVID-19 are worsening existing health inequalities
from European Public Health Alliance

In the Shadows of America’s Smokestacks, Virus Is One More Deadly Risk
by Hiroko Tabuchi

‘I’m Scared’: Study Links Cancer Alley Air Pollution to Higher Death Rates From Covid-19
by Yessenia Funes

The Health Emergency That’s Coming to West Louisville
by John Hans Gilderbloom & Gregory D. Squires

COVID-19, pollution and race: new health concerns for Nicetown
by Nydia Han and Heather Grubola

Philadelphia’s coronavirus numbers show stark racial and income disparities
by Yun Choi

Many cities around the globe saw cleaner air after being shut down for COVID-19. But not Chicago.
by Michael Hawthorne

Pollution rollbacks show a ‘callous disregard’ for communities hard hit by COVID-19
by Justine Calma

COVID-19 Is Not a Reasonable Excuse for Continued Pollution
by Janet McCabe

COVID-19 Cannot Be An Excuse For More Toxic Air
by Amy Hall

How Trump’s EPA Is Making Covid-19 More Deadly
by Michael R. Bloomberg and Gina McCarthy

Dirty air, weak enforcement hurt Arizona during COVID-19
by Sandy Bahr

Bullshit Jobs and Essential Workers

“In our society, there seems to be a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it”
~David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs

“Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dockworkers would soon be in trouble…It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEO’s, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish.”
~David Graeber, Bullshit Jobs

States are bailing out privately owned corporations’ #bullshitjobs with public money. No doubt austerity measures down the line will hit the very public sector workers we now call ‘essential’.”
~Tashina Blom

“What if an economy that forces poor people of color to wear diapers all day processing chicken parts during a pandemic isn’t an economy worth saving?”
~love one another

David Graeber: “Will we then pretend that everything was just a dream?”
from Zeit Online

David Graeber: Because the market is not so much based on supply and demand as we are always told – who makes how much is a question of political power. The current crisis makes it even clearer that my wages do not depend on how much my profession is actually used.

ZEIT ONLINE: This is the issue in your current book Bullshit Jobs : Many socially indispensable jobs are poorly paid – while well-paid employees often doubt whether their office work makes any sense at all or whether they are only doing a “bullshit job”.

Graeber: What is important to me: I would never contradict people who feel that they are making an important contribution with their work. For my book, however, I have collected voices from people who do not have exactly this feeling: They are sometimes deeply frustrated because they want to contribute to the good of all of us. But to make enough money for their families, they have to do the jobs that don’t work for anyone. People said to me: I worked as a kindergarten teacher, it was great and fulfilling and important work, but I couldn’t pay my bills anymore. And now I’m working for some subcontractor that provides health insurance with information. I tag some forms all day, no one reads my reports, but I earn twenty times as much.

ZEIT ONLINE: What happens to these office workers who are now doing their bullshit jobs because of the corona virus from their home office?

Graeber: Some people now contact me and say: I always suspected that I could do my job two hours a week, but now I actually know that it is. Because as soon as you do this from home, for example, the meetings that don’t do anything are often dropped.

Coronavirus Unmasks the Lie That You Have to Work in London to Succeed
by Aimee Cliff

Remote working is set to expose more than a few fallacies about our working life. At one end of the spectrum, it might lift the veil on the nature of white-collar work itself. Manual workers and non-office-based professionals are risking the lives of their loved ones to continue working while others – like me – are quickly able to dismantle and digitise our office cultures. As anthropologist David Graeber’s 2018 book Bullshit Jobs pointed out, a huge amount of our economy is predicated on the illusion that many people have to come into an office from 9 AM to 5 PM every day in order to create content, send messages, and schedule social media posts.

Or, as Twitter user @MikiZarzycki put it for the coronavirus era: “Everyone with a fake job gets to stay home and get paid to drop funny GIFs into Slack, everyone with a real job has to be a frontline pandemic worker or get fired.”

Coronavirus – Is telework identifying our Bullshit Jobs?
from GenX @ 50

The epidemic has resulted in statewide lockdowns in more and more states. With schools, businesses, and government offices closing or being limited in their services, people are teleworking if it is possible, being laid off if it is not possible, or still working if they perform an “essential” function. The truly essential jobs – keeping the food supply chain intact, medical work, trash collection, and other life sustaining and disease preventing professions clearly are not bullshit jobs. Other jobs like teaching, restaurant work, or manufacturing, are not bullshit, but can’t be done when under quarantine.

But the Bullshit Jobs associated with Graeber’s categories – flunky, box ticker, taskmaster – are all easily done when working remotely. In fact, if you can do your work remotely, it might be a good sign that you have a Bullshit Job!

I would argue that many of these bullshit jobs add negative value to an organization, creating useless paperwork, internal regulations, and otherwise throwing sand in organizational gears that might otherwise run more smoothly. Having these things not be done might improve overall productivity. Will anyone examine how things worked after the COVID-19 telework is over and decide that many of these administrative jobs were unnecessary? Perhaps it might be worth it to the bottom line to continue to pay some flunkies, goons, box-tickers, and taskmasters to not come in to work when this is over.

The COVID-19-Induced Crisis and Three Inversions of Neoliberalism
by Roderick Condon

If neoliberals truly understood economics they wouldn’t be neoliberals. Against Friedrich Hayek’s assertion that socialists don’t understand economics, Covid-19 exposes the neoliberal location of social value exclusively in the profit-making activities of private enterprise as misapprehending the essential basis of value creating activity in the reproduction of society itself. Suddenly, it is automatically and immediately apparent those services necessary for the continuity of society as a going concern as those, to appropriate a phrase from Louis Althusser, reproducing the conditions of production.

Two insights follow from this. First, the devaluation – in both material and symbolic terms – of use-values by exchange-values under neoliberalism. Financial activity, only barely distinguishable from compulsive gambling, has been elevated to the highest social importance while vital reproductive activity has been, in effect, beaten down, raped and systematically pillaged. Second, David Graeber’s aptly conceptualized ‘bullshit jobs’ are now exposed as the very foundation of a farcical social order in which all activity must constitute itself in exclusively economic terms and measure itself accordingly. The decelerated pace of economic life induced by Covid-19 directly reveals the superfluity of a great deal of what constitutes ‘productivity’ under neoliberalism as in reality socially unnecessary labour-time, to refashion Marx. Furthermore, the forced imposition of such activity by the social order is itself revealed as a type of hidden tax (something the neoliberal economists show a great deal of disdain for) on real, lived life-time; that is, the time available in each individuals’ lifespan for activities that truly matter.

The bullshit economy II: Bullshit-ish jobs and the coronavirus recession
by Andrew Mackay

I will revisit the difference between “the economy” (the method by which people obtain goods and services, through work or a welfare state) and “the Economy” (a reified concept based on a few stock indexes and how well billionaires and their conglomerates are doing) at a later date. I will focus on this post in how much the economy has been stripped down. Finding out which jobs are “essential” (largely the supply chains for food and medical equipment, along with education, though they are full of administrative layers and do-nothing middlemen skimming money off the top) and which are not is instructive. This is a natural experiment to go beyond the Bullshit Jobs framework, which relied on above-mentioned pollinga few hundred people who emailed about the bullshit parts (or wholes) of their jobs, and Graeber’s mastery of theory creation from an anthropological lens.

Landlords? Pure parasites, who get others to pay their mortgages and expansion, avoiding providing services as much as possible, which could be done collectively by tenants anyways.

Office jobs? Bullshit-ish, at the very least, if not total bullshit. The mass movement to working from home and teleconferencing within a couple of weeks indicates what a useless, environmentally-destroying artifice the office is. The office is an instrument of social control, whereby the bosses use the magic of at-will employment to add unneeded stress on people who know how to do their jobs infinitely better than management. With a huge drop in commuting, Los Angeles has some of the cleanest air it has ever had in the automobile era. Millions of hours of commuting and busywork have been cut, and people are able to balance whatever workload they actually have with accomplishing creative pursuits or otherwise having more time in the day. Graeber perceptively points out that many jobs have huge amounts of busywork because some jobs (like system administrators) require people to be on-call for a certain number of hours, but may frequently have no urgent work to do. Management hates to pay people to do nothing of substance, so they use the artifice of the office as a social control mechanism to feel they are getting their money’s worth and justify their existence.

It is clear that many jobs have bullshit-ish aspects to them. Some aspects, like interminable face-to-face meetings that could be sorted out in a ten-minute Slack chat, still persist. The “essential”, who are generally treated like dirt when there isn’t a crisis, show how little match-up there is between pay and social usefulness. A grocery store truck driver has orders of magnitude more importance than his superiors, and they could collectively management the supply chain with their co-workers, having so many years of combined experience on how food goes from farms to shelves. Countries like Denmark are paying a majority of laid-off workers’ salaries, though it should be re-evaluated what these workers should be paid given the social value of their work. 75% of salary seems okay (not ideal, but better than the nothing coming from America), but 75% of what, exactly? Marx’s labor theory of value has come into acute relevance in the past month, as it becomes clear who actually creates value (workers), and who is expendable (administrators, corporate executives, and industries like cruises and shale oil that have no future in a decarbonized economy).

What will the world be like after coronavirus? Four possible futures
by Simon Mair

The key to understanding responses to COVID-19 is the question of what the economy is for. Currently, the primary aim of the global economy is to facilitate exchanges of money. This is what economists call “exchange value”.

The dominant idea of the current system we live in is that exchange value is the same thing as use value. Basically, people will spend money on the things that they want or need, and this act of spending money tells us something about how much they value its “use”. This is why markets are seen as the best way to run society. They allow you to adapt, and are flexible enough to match up productive capacity with use value.

What COVID-19 is throwing into sharp relief is just how false our beliefs about markets are. Around the world, governments fear that critical systems will be disrupted or overloaded: supply chains, social care, but principally healthcare. There are lots of contributing factors to this. But let’s take two.

First, it is quite hard to make money from many of the most essential societal services. This is in part because a major driver of profits is labour productivity growth: doing more with fewer people. People are a big cost factor in many businesses, especially those that rely on personal interactions, like healthcare. Consequently, productivity growth in the healthcare sector tends to be lower than the rest of the economy, so its costs go up faster than average.

Second, jobs in many critical services aren’t those that tend to be highest valued in society. Many of the best paid jobs only exist to facilitate exchanges; to make money. They serve no wider purpose to society: they are what the anthropologist David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs”. Yet because they make lots of money we have lots of consultants, a huge advertising industry and a massive financial sector. Meanwhile, we have a crisis in health and social care, where people are often forced out of useful jobs they enjoy, because these jobs don’t pay them enough to live.

The coronavirus pandemic might have a silver lining. People might wake up to what’s really important.
by Peter Bolton

What jobs are really ‘essential’?

The first big question is: what jobs does society really need? Could it be that some are not only unnecessary but also harmful? And if so, could we just get rid of them? In the US healthcare industry, for example, private health insurance companies have ‘claims teams’ that determine whether the company will cover the cost of treatments for their policyholders. Such workers are even rewarded by their bosses for saving the company money by finding (often spurious) reasons for denying payment. Transitioning to a public system of universal care would eliminate this needless overhead and, in turn, lower healthcare costs.

Many jobs in the finance sector, meanwhile, are equally worthless. The 2007/8 financial crash, for instance, was caused in part by the bundling and trade of ‘subprime mortgage’ debt. And as The Canary has previously argued, financial markets increasingly resemble an imaginary world that bears no relation to actual production. This raises the question of whether jobs such as ‘stockbroker’, ‘currency trader’, or ‘speculator’ could simply be abolished. […]

Who really benefits?

If many jobs are pointless and many goods and services are unnecessary, then that ultimately raises a follow-up question: why do they exist? Scholars across various disciplines have tried to answer this question. In his 2018 book Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, anthropologist David Graeber suggests that the existence of pointless jobs is part of a deliberate strategy by the ruling class to keep the masses occupied so that they won’t have the time or inclination to question (or, worse, organize to dismantle) the power structures of the status quo. He says:

The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger. …

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how he or she could have done a better job. […]

Time to reflect

Ultimately, the coronavirus outbreak has shown that society can continue to function without certain kinds of work being performed – so long as governments intervene to provide for the social good. At the same time, many people in wealthier countries have realized that they can live just fine with less. And on both counts, this is exactly what socialists have been arguing all along.

Bullshit Jobs in an age of Coronavirus
by imothyt

Bullshit jobs have turned into a sort of “workfare” for the educated classes.

That’s a fact that seems inescapable now as the Coronavirus pandemic has deemed essential and non-essential. The essential people are the folks stocking shelves in the supermarket, driving long-haul trucks, delivery drivers, nurses, doctors, people manufacturing essential goods (medical and otherwise), farm workers, and food workers. The rest of us are told to stay at home, shelter in place, and devise new things to do with our time, to prove that we are productive.

The pandemic has forced us all to become task-masters, box-tickers, and duct tapers for the very (probably) bullshit jobs we held before so that we could all continue to exist at a high-level of universal basic income.

I’m not an economist but the whole system always seemed deeply flawed to me. When I was in the Army in the 80’s it was patently obvious that we were all there on a sort of welfare system. And as the military-industrial complex rose and as “pork-barrel” spending increased at the Federal level, I started wondering how many of the jobs which supplied the military and infrastructure projects (the bridge to nowhere) were just versions of workfare? If you build missiles you’re kind of just a Goon, aren’t you? The only reason we need rockets and bombs is because others have rockets and bombs!

And, all of this government “red-tape” that people says kills jobs? In my lifetime it does the exact opposite. It creates jobs! Millions and millions of jobs. Jobs for people to process oversight paperwork, efficiency modeling, insurance claims, and so on. […]

Graeber quotes President Obama after the USA passed the worst healthcare plan ever devised in human history*, “everybody who supports single-payer health care says, ‘Look at all this money we would be saving from insurance and paperwork. That represents one million, two million, three million jobs.” And all politicians know this for a fact. Running for president, Howard Schultz called universal healthcare “not American,” adding, “What industry are we going to abolish next — the coffee industry?” And said that single-payer would “wipe out the insurance industry.”

And not just the insurance industry (which is completely useless, Goon, work) but think about what Medicare for All really means. It says that it will save money – and it would – but it would do so by eliminating millions of jobs in insurance, middle-management, billing departments, claims-negotiators, oversight officials, and so on. All of those people make middle-class incomes which in turn support the people who do that actual work of our society.

That’s why Trump needs so many people to just go back to work and why he literally doesn’t care if we live or die from this virus or really from any of the existential threats we face (global warming, etc.). I’ve long held the sneaking suspicion that most of human endeavor (especially in the West) is a con of some sort. Getting people to do stuff that they probably wouldn’t want to do by tempting them with baubles like Harleys or new cars. The economy relies on people doing all of these bullshit jobs because the economy is bullshit and only functions as long as we are producing bullshit wealth for a bullshit class of top bullshitters!

Coronavirus and the Collapse of Our Imaginations
by Jonathan Carp

Millions of us have what David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs,” jobs that produce nothing, create no wealth, but exist merely to help circulate money so goods can be distributed. Even white-collar workers with real jobs are chained to 19th-century notions of work, with a desk in a building and appointed hours at which they must sit there. We rise to alarm clocks, get into cars, belch carbon into the atmosphere, and alternate between working and goofing off as we wait for the time to pass.

But not under coronavirus. Under coronavirus, we wake with the sun, we take leisurely morning strolls, we fit our work around our children and our spouses. Instead of furtively scrolling Facebook when we get bored working, we play or make love or create. For many of us, coronavirus has been liberating amidst the quarantines. How ghastly that it has taken the threat of a global pandemic for our bosses to take advantage of technology that has existed for twenty years, at least. How cowardly of us not to demand it sooner.

What if we never went back? Imagine roads clear of traffic around the clock. Imagine air cleansed of the emissions of millions of cars. Imagine the demand for gas dropping first the price, then the environmentally devastating production. For my fellow office drones, imagine every morning waking up naturally, not to an alarm clock, and spending each day doing at each moment what you most wanted to do, not whatever would pass the time while waiting for five o’clock. That could be ours, if only we insist on it.

And what more could we imagine? Could we imagine, as my former colleague Kevin Carson has described in his work, a world of decentralized production, where “going to work” is for almost everyone a strange anachronism from a dimly remembered past? Could we imagine a world of automation that serves people rather than displaces them? Or will we be content to fritter with the margins of neoliberal capitalism, pushing for “oversight” on massive giveaways to corporations while villains like Ben Sasse clutch their pearls at the idea of a fast-food worker making more on unemployment than she does flipping burgers?

Adrian Ivakhiv: Pandemic politics, or what a disaster can do for us
by Adrian Ivakhiv

For me, this is in part a reaction against the push for “business as usual” in these strange, new times. “Keeping calm and carrying on” works for some, but easily becomes an excuse for disaster capitalism: if you can’t work normally, we’ll have you work from home. (That your kids are suddenly there with you all day, “zooming” into their classes, and that you’ve just brought your mother-in-law home from her precarious seniors’ community, and that the fridge is getting empty, is all irrelevant.) We’ll have you work harder to learn new tools that we can then require you to use when things have returned to “normal” (and if you don’t, then someone else can fill your shoes).

The other strategy is to stop and ask ourselves what’s really important. What do you need to do to protect your loved ones? Do you even know who your loved ones are? (How wide does that circle extend?) What work will keep you going in a world where business-as-usual has become an unaffordable luxury? When there’s so much to do to be happy and safe, some “bullshit jobs,” as anthropologist David Graeber call them (no mincing words), might start to look expendable.

Taking stock, for me, means asking: how can institutions of higher learning reach out to the communities we serve to help us transition into times of likely scarcity, in which the temptation for hoarding, closing borders, and “disaster capitalizing” — the temptation of the Handmaid’s Tale — will be all too palpable? How do we re-engineer our societies to preserve and enhance democracy, equality, and ecological integration when things get bad, as any good “disaster environmentalist” knows they will? That’s the challenge ahead of us, and COVID-19 is its messenger.

What’s the point?
by Anne-Sophie Moreau

Coronavirus acts like a daunting mirror, reflecting the sheer pointlessness of what we do. It exposes a phenomenon described by anthropologist David Graeber as “bullshit jobs”: most of us, he argues, occupy positions which at best, make no difference to society, and at worst, can be downright harmful. He says the ranks of big firms are filled with minions whose sole purpose is to flatter their boss’ ego, or fill in charts as part of painstaking but ultimately pointless “processes”. That’s when they’re not busy selling goods and services that empty the consumer’s pocket whilst exhausting the planet’s natural resources. In short, entire swaths of professional activity shouldn’t even exist at all! Surely that should put you off organising yet another meeting during the coronavirus crisis. […]

After all, “bullshit jobs” haven’t put an end to “shitty jobs”, Graeber explains. On the contrary – and this is why he thinks our societies are paradoxical –, the more useful we are, the less we’re paid. How many of our government ministers are truly interested in the foot soldiers of our digital platforms? Not many; and when they do speak to them, it’s to tell them to get to work! Bullshit jobs at home, shitty jobs on the front – this is the sad dystopia we’re living in. Not to mention that many service industry jobs will likely be replaced by AI, and that central banks are thinking of showering us with “helicopter money” to avoid a global recession… Will tomorrow’s office workers be forced to stay at home, force-fed with Netflix and free money? […]

Paradoxically, this crisis might help us rediscover the real reasons why we work. By hitting the rock bottom of uselessness, we might find a way to rise back to the surface of our ambitions. And yes, these might indeed seem futile. But even the act of drawing dinosaurs can be useful, Graeber argues. Does this surprise you? “I lean towards Spinoza’s theory of work, where the aim is to increase or preserve other people’s freedom”, he told me, when I expressed my surprise at him classifying entertainment as “useful”. He went on: “The paradigmatic form of freedom is chosen activity – in other words, play. Somewhere Marx wrote that you only attain real freedom when you leave the realm of necessity and work becomes an end in itself. That might be the new paradigm of social value: to care for others, to make sure everyone leads a freer, more leisurely life.”

Notes from a Pandemic
by Tammy Sanders

One refrain I keep hearing from friends with stock portfolios and retirement funds is that we’ve got to reopen the economy. But really, is that the best we can think to do, reopen an economy that typically disenfranchised the most valuable people in it?

Instead of reopening the economy, why not rethink it, rework it, redesign it toward the more ethical, just and sensible society so many of us want to have.

An example: I wonder now that so many men, millions of them, have for the first time in their adult lives spent the majority of their waking hours in the company of their children, could we see a fundamental shift in policy norms and standards around parental leave and flexible work. Conceding that some men cannot wait to get back to being away for 14-hour days, I also wonder how many more will no longer abide prioritizing their professions at the expense of their families.

In his book Bullshit Jobs, David Graeber talks at length about the notion of care-related work, particularly how and why our society devalues that work. Nowadays, we’re honking horns and applauding health care providers and grocery store cashiers as “heros” — but are we willing to insist they be paid a hero’s wage, perhaps 1/16th what an MLB pitcher or NFL quarterback earns?

Might we refuse to send children back to school, or better yet, might kids strike and refuse to go back to school until adults sort out school shootings?

Might we, as Graeber suggests in his book, commit whatever effort we can to stop making so much of what has until now made life unlivable for so many: unbearable traffic, inflexible work, toxic air, a ruthless pursuit of achievement at the expense of connection?

We crafted the world we lived in on 1 March 2020. Then, we stopped that world. If there was ever a time to point the world toward wellness, wholeness, more positivity, less polarization, now is that time.

Their Liberty and Your Death

Why is the ideal of liberty so strongly associated with economics? And why is it used to rationalize oppressive systems of hierarchy? What does it mean to use the language of liberty to favorably frame social Darwinism, plutocracy, and inverted totalitarianism? What kind of liberty is it when the Trump administration pushes for reopening the economy during a pandemic, even early on when potentially millions of deaths were predicted by leading experts around the world? What is this liberty? One thing is clear. Liberty is not freedom. It is about me getting mine; or else someone getting theirs. We must ask ourselves, when the mantra of “liberty or death” is repeated with real or implied threats of violence in watering the tree of liberty, whose death is being offered up on the altar of whose liberty.

Originally, in the Roman Empire, liberty simply meant the legal status of not being a slave while living under the threat and oppression of a slave society, an authoritarian hierarchy that imposed varying degrees of unfreedom. Or if a slave, according to Stoics and early Christians, it was the otherworldly faith that one’s soul was not enslaved even as was one’s body. This etymological and historical context offers a better understanding of what is meant by negative freedom as opposed to positive freedom, a pseudo-freedom of opportunity that rationalizes away the harsh reality of results and consequences. That is to say it’s not freedom at all. Genuine freedom is the complete opposite of such liberty, but the defenders of privileged liberty co-opt the rhetoric of freedom and, in conflating the two, degrade the very meaning of freedom, making it even more difficult to imagine an alternative.

When the American colonists demanded liberty, the context was their situation as imperial subjects in having been treated as second class citizens. A significant number of them were or descended from landless peasants, convicts and indentured servants, often not far above slaves. Earlier in the colonial era, most of the poor sent off to the colonies never lived long enough to know freedom, such as paying off the debt of their indenture; instead, they were typically worked to death. Inequality of wealth and power lessened to some degree by the late 1700s, but it was still quite stark and the majority were treated as cheap and expendable labor. Most of the colonies, after all, were established as for-profit ventures organized under corporate charters and so they were never intended to be free societies, much less democratic self-governing communities. Their only relative freedom came from the indifference of a distant imperial regime, as long as trade continued and profits kept rolling in.

By invoking liberty during the American Revolution, there was no necessarily implied demand of freedom for all, as few could even imagine such a utopian vision. It was the individual’s liberty at hand and only the liberty of particular kinds of individuals — primarily white men of the propertied class and mostly Protestant Christians at that; not women, not blacks, not Native Americans, not the poor, not the landless. Only a few radical rebels were actually demanding a genuinely free society, as an expression of a faint memory of the once independent tribes that formed the British ancestry prior to the Norman conquest. Freedom, as from the Germanic tongue, is etymologically related to friend. To be free means to belong to a free people, to be among friends who would defend one’s rights and fight on one’s behalf. It is the idea that the individual good was identical to or at least inseparable from the common good. In the American tradition, such freedom has always been subjugated to liberty, often by law and violent force. And the legacy of liberty retains its privileged position within the ideological order, what is proclaimed as reality itself.

This ideological realism continues to limit our public imagination. Yet it was always a weak foundation and the cracks have long been apparent, most of all during times of shared crisis. We see that now during this COVID-19 pandemic. The conventional frame of understanding is a conflict of extremes between the perceived authoritarians and the self-identified libertarians, but the social reality is more complex than the ideological rhetoric would allow. “This ambivalence is not a red-blue split. It is internal to both. On the right, laissez-faire economics chafe against Christian cultural intolerance, isolationism against imperialism. On the left, the Stalinists are still at war with the anarchists, the nanny-statists with the hippies, and a taste for utopian direct democracy, as in the Occupy movement, strains against a hunger for big government” (Judith Levine, The Pandemic Brings Out the Authoritarian and the Libertarian in Us All. Can We Meet in the Middle?). It’s a divide in the American soul and it makes our society schizoid.

There is a reason why hyper-individualistic societies that hold up liberty as an ideal so easily turn to authoritarian measures under stress. Even among self-identified libertarians, it is far from unusual for them to make anti-authoritarian arguments for authoritariansim, sometimes related to what some call libertarian paternalism but taking other forms as well, based on the self-serving conviction that most people have to be forced into ‘liberty’ against their will. In practice, this once again means liberty for the supposedly deserving and oppression for those who would threaten the liberty of the deserving — it just so happens that those with the most wealth, power and privilege, those who own the corporations and the government get to determine who is deserving and not. And so, in reality, this reactionary ideology is no different than the privileged elitism of the past, even if proclaiming a slightly different variety of ruling elite — Corey Robin discusses this reactionary mentality in great detail, in how it challenges old hierarchies so as to replace them with other authoritarian regimes.

Theoretical liberty of hypothetical choice, in its lazy slogans of apathetic submission to injustice, easily trumps the demanding awareness of real world harm, the uncomfortable knowledge of how oppression grinds people down and makes them bitter and cynical. And so to speak of freedom for all as a fully functioning social democracy, to speak of not only a government but a society and economy of the people, by the people, for the people gets dismissed as communism or worse. Oppression in society is preceded by an oppression of the mind, of radical imagination. What gets sacrificed is not only the public good but democracy itself, the supposed tyranny of the majority. So, instead, it becomes a contest between one’s preference of which minority should get to control all of society. Right-wing libertarians, like Randian Objectivists and anarcho-capitalists, can find a way to convince themselves that they’d make the best tyrants (The Moral Imagination of Fear, Freedom From Other People’s Freedom, & The Road to Neoliberalism).

Yet we shouldn’t dismiss the fears about authoritarianism. The problem is that there are cynical demagogues who will use those fears of authoritarianism to promote their own brand of authoritarianism. Historically and ideologically, liberty and authoritarianism are two sides of the same coin and it’s vital that we understand this, if we ever hope to build a fully free society. The equal danger is that, in too heavily focusing on the hypocrisy of liberty rhetoric, we open ourselves to the hypocrisy of those who wave away the real concerns about the loss of what freedoms we do have. Both competing groups heard in elite politics and corporate media are too often agreeing to attack freedom but from opposite directions, while the majority is being silenced and excluded from public debate. Being for or against liberty tells us nothing about one’s position on freedom, especially when the two are falsely invoked as the same.

This pandemic has shown the fractures in our society. There wouldn’t be so many worries about the economy if most people hadn’t been experiencing economic problems for about a half century, as markets and governments were taken over by oligarchic plutocracy and neoliberal corporatocracy, friendly fascism and inverted totalitarianism. The United States government has put itself in permanent debt with the military-industrial complex, big biz subsidies and bailouts, and tax cuts for the rich. Then we are told the working class have to go back to work during a pandemic in order to save the economy, er profits. Do the ruling elite of the capitalist class own not only most of the wealth, property and large corporations but also own the entire American economy, labor force, and political system? Do the opinions of most American citizens and workers not matter in political decisions? Shouldn’t they matter? If this were a democracy, they would matter more than anything else.

Dogmatic absolutism is the opposite of helpful. Even during lockdown, 70% of the American economy has remained open and running, and many states didn’t even go that far. Among the informed, contrary to what the ideologues would suggest, reasonable debate was never about either total authoritarian lockdown of all of society or total liberty and death imposed upon the masses. It was declared that we can’t afford to have the economy shut down because so many are out of work and struggling economically. As fake sympathy was offered to the jobless poor, what has gone ignored is the trillions upon trillions of dollars stolen from the public every year, not to mention the trillions of dollars committed to the oppressive and anti-libertarian War On Terror in response to the 9/11 casualties that were lower than a single day of deaths from COVID-19. We can afford all kinds of things when the plutocracy demands it.

As the economy is reopened, who is being put in harm’s way of infectious exposure? Mostly not the politicians, CEOs, upper management, stockholders, bankers, etc; nor the white collar workers and college-educated professionals. It’s the low-paid workers who are forced to deal directly with customers and to work in close contact in crowded workplaces. These working poor also are largely without healthcare and disproportionately minority. Liberty advocates and activists are mostly whites among the comfortable classes, whereas those with higher rates of COVID-19 are non-whites and the poor. Some populations are experiencing infections and fatalities at rates similar to the 1918 Flu pandemic while, for other populations, it’s as if there is no pandemic at all. If the whole country was similarly affected at such high rates, we’d be in the middle of mass panic and all these right-wing whites would now be demanding authoritarian measures to protect their own families and communities.

“As the pandemic became widely recognized,” noted Judith Butler, “some policy-makers seeking to reopen the markets and recover productivity sought recourse to the idea of herd immunity, which presumes that those who are strong enough to endure the virus will develop immunity and they will come to constitute over time a strong population able to work. One can see how the herd immunity thesis works quite well with social Darwinism, the idea that societies tend to evolve in which the most fit survive and the least fit do not. Under conditions of pandemic, it is, of course, black and brown minorities who count as vulnerable or not destined to survive” (Francis Wade, Judith Butler on the Violence of Neglect Amid a Health Crisis).

The plan was to simply to let the pandemic kill off the undesirables, the excess labor force of cheap and expendable lives, as the professional class worked safely from home and the rich isolated themselves far from the dirty and diseased masses. Most Americans, minorities and otherwise, disagree with this plan by the upper classes to sacrifice the poor and working class. But minorities disagree most strongly: “According to a new survey from Pew Research Center, health concerns about COVID-19 are much higher among Hispanics and blacks in the U.S. While 18% of white adults say they’re “very concerned” that they will get COVID-19 and require hospitalization, 43% of Hispanic respondents and 31% of black adults say they’re “very concerned” about that happening” (Allison Aubrey, Who’s Hit Hardest By COVID-19? Why Obesity, Stress And Race All Matter). It turns out that people generally don’t like to forced to die for the benefit of others who make no sacrifices at all. What is being asked of these people is no small risk.

“The health divide is even sharper than the economic one,” writes Jennifer Rubin. “The latest Post-Ipsos poll found that “nearly 6 in 10 Americans who are working outside their homes were concerned that they could be exposed to the virus at work and infect other members of their household. Those concerns were even higher for some: Roughly 7 in 10 black and Hispanic workers said they were worried about getting a household member sick if they are exposed at work.” Even more frightful, a third of those forced to leave the home for work “said they or a household member has a serious chronic illness, and 13 percent said they lack health insurance themselves.” The sick get sicker in this pandemic and in the altered economy it has created. By contrast, half of those employed can work from home — and 90 percent of those are white-collar workers.

“In short, if you are poor, a woman, nonwhite or live paycheck to paycheck in a blue-collar job, you have a greater chance of being unemployed or, if still employed, of getting sick and dying. (We saw this vividly in Georgia, where 80 percent of those hospitalized with the coronavirus were African American.) That is as stark a divide as we have ever seen in this country. The longer the virus rages without a vaccine, the longer the economy will be hobbled. And with that extended economic recession, we will see the gap between rich and poor, already huge, widen still further” (Inequality is now an issue of life and death).

Think about all of the protests and actions that have come from angry whites demanding the liberty to risk the lives of others with their proclamation of liberty or death, including the death of others. Now imagine masses of poor blacks did the same by likewise showing up with guns at state capitals and blocked the entrances to hospitals, and imagine there were numerous cases of poor blacks violently threatening and sometimes attacking workers who asked customers to follow safety measures — if that were to happen, it would not be tolerated so casually nor rationalized away as the necessary resistance to dangerous political power. Think about whose lives are being offered in exchange for liberty, whose liberty is prioritized and privileged. The public, poor minorities most of all, is not being asked to freely and willingly sacrifice their lives for the public good of the national economy but being told that their lives must be sacrificed against their will for the profit of big biz and the capitalist class, to keep the corporate behemoth running smoothly.

With that in mind, one might note that a major part of what is going on is a lack of trust. What is interesting is that it is precisely those who have most benefited from government who now attack it. They have the privilege to attack government with the assumption that government should serve them. Poor minorities have never been able to make that assumption. And so it’s unsurprising that a privileged white elite that has led this attack of public authority in order to promote their own authoritarian authority. It is a crisis of public trust that has built up over generations, beginning with President Ronald Reagan’s attack on public institutions that has continued with every Republican administration (although with no small help from conservative Democrats like Bill Clinton).

Interestingly, for all of this right-wing attack on governmental legitimacy, it is Trump that the American public trusts the least, whereas one of the few areas of majority support is found in the public trust of health officials like Dr. Anthony Fauci. Despite all of the media obsession in reporting that makes the liberty protesters seem more numerous and significant than they are, the general public remains unconvinced that individual liberty should trump public health during a pandemic. Even most Republicans are opposed to a full, quick reopening of the economy. This position being forced upon us by certain elements of middle class activists, plutocratic elite, and corporate media does not indicate any actual public debate going on among most Americans. The average person does not see it as a forced choice between the extremes of liberty and death.

So, if not liberty, what is all of this staged conflict about? It’s not even about the actual mortality rate of COVID-19, in general or among specific demographics. This pandemic might not turn out as bad as expected or it yet might truly become a catastrophe — time will tell (Then the second wave of infections hit…). That isn’t the issue we are facing with an elite that is willing to sacrifice certain elements of society for their own self-interest and so as to maintain the status quo. This elite didn’t wait for the data to come in before deciding how many dead poor people and dead minorities would be the price they were willing to pay for their own continued prosperity, in ensuring their good life could be maintained. What we are dealing with here is ultimately a conflict between those who want freedom and those who don’t, and such freedom is about democracy and not liberty. Now, if well-armed angry white right-wingers were demanding democracy or death, freedom for all or death, then we could take them seriously.

* * *

Yes, the government can restrict your liberty to protect public health
by Erwin Chemerinsky

But this does not mean that the government can do whatever it wants in the name of stopping the spread of a communicable disease. There is always a danger that government might use its power as an excuse for unnecessary restrictions on freedom. This has occurred during our current crisis in countries including Hungary, which canceled elections, and Thailand and Jordan, which have restricted speech critical of the government.

In the United States, a number of states have adopted regulations preventing abortions, including medically induced abortions that involve no surgical procedure at all. It is hard to see how such restrictions have a “real and substantial” relationship to stopping the spread of COVID-19 as opposed to attempts to use the crisis as a pretext for imposing additional limits on abortion.

And courts would probably look skeptically on banning a religious service if it involved people staying in their cars in a parking lot — a drive-in service, as some churches have instituted. Such gatherings present no valid public health threat, since they do not involve interpersonal contact.

Still, most closure orders are clearly constitutional. The right to swing your fist stops at another person’s nose. With coronavirus, your freedom stops when it endangers others by facilitating transmission of a highly communicable disease.

The coronavirus protesters’ false notions of freedom
by Steve Chapman

The rallies don’t represent public opinion. Three out of four Americans prefer to “keep trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus, even if that means keeping many businesses closed,” according to a recent Washington Post-Ipos poll.

The great majority of people understand that limitations that would normally be intolerable are justifiable in an emergency. No one, after all, objects to curfews and National Guard deployments in cities wrecked by hurricanes, floods or earthquakes.

Americans support drastic efforts to stop coronavirus, expect crisis to last for months in Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos poll
by Joel Shannon

Most Americans say saving lives by preventing the spread of COVID-19 should be the top priority for the U.S. government as the global coronavirus pandemic strains the nation’s health care system and social distancing measures ravage the economy, according to a new poll.

The Public Agenda/USA TODAY/Ipsos poll poll released Friday found the nation is becoming more accepting of drastic interventions to stop the virus’ spread, compared with a poll taken March 10 and 11. The increased support for restrictions comes as Americans believe coronavirus effects will be felt for the foreseeable future, the new survey found. […]

About nine out of 10 people now support canceling large-scale events, up from about four in 10 earlier this month. Nearly half of respondents now support grounding all domestic flights, when 22% had supported that measure. […]

Most survey respondents thought the crisis will continue for months, with 66% saying it will last “for a few months” or “at least six months.” Almost as many (55%)said they were prepared to put their normal lives on hold for those lengths of time. […]

among the majority (72%) of respondents who believe the government’s priority should be saving lives by stopping the spread of the virus, as opposed to sparing the economy.

Only about 1 in 5  said the government’s main priority should be saving the economy.

At the same time, the majority also believe the global economy and stock market are at a greater risk than their community or themselves personally.

To balance those concerns, more than 80% of those surveyed said they supported rebooting the economy slowly and carefully to avoid endangering lives.

Americans deeply wary of reopening as White House weighs ending covid-19 task force
by Matt Zapotosky, William Wan, Dan Balz, & Emily Guskin 

Americans remain deeply wary of eating at restaurants, shopping at stores and taking other steps to return to normalcy, a poll shows, even as the White House is contemplating shutting down its coronavirus task force.

With several covid-19 models taking a wrenching turn toward bleaker death forecasts in recent days because of reopening moves in some states, most Americans say they worry about getting the virus themselves and they oppose ending the restrictions meant to slow its spread, according to the Washington Post-University of Maryland poll. […]

Polling suggests that despite the economic turmoil, most Americans are far from ready for a rapid reboot of society.

More than half, 56 percent, say they are comfortable making a trip to the grocery store, something many Americans have continued doing, according to the Post-U. Md. poll. But 67 percent say they would be uncomfortable shopping at a clothing store, and 78 percent would be uneasy at a sit-down restaurant.

People in states with looser restrictions report similar levels of discomfort to those in states with stricter rules. […]

Americans continue to give Trump negative marks for his response to the outbreak, while offering widely positive assessments of their governors, a trend that has been consistent throughout the pandemic, according to the Post-U. Md. poll.

Trump’s ratings are 44 percent positive and 56 percent negative, in line with where he was two weeks ago, while governors earn positive marks from 75 percent of Americans. Partisan differences remain sizable, with nearly 8 in 10 Republicans and about 2 in 10 Democrats rating Trump positively. In contrast, governors earn big positive majorities across party lines. […]

Americans overwhelmingly approve of the way federal public health scientists, including Fauci, have dealt with the challenges from the coronavirus. Fauci’s positive rating stands at 74 percent. Public health scientists in the federal government overall are rated 71 percent positive. […]

Though the moves by some states toward reopening have been gradual, the Post-U. Md. poll indicates many residents oppose them.

The most significant opposition is to reopening movie theaters, with 82 percent of Americans saying they should not be allowed to open up in their state. There is also broad opposition to reopening gyms (78 percent opposed), dine-in restaurants and nail salons (both with 74 percent opposed).

The poll shows that Republicans are far more supportive of opening businesses than Democrats are.

Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents overwhelmingly oppose opening all types of businesses listed, while Republicans and Republican-leaning independents range from mostly in favor of opening (61 percent for golf courses) to mostly opposed (59 percent for dine-in restaurants).

Fear of infection, the poll finds, has not abated at all in recent weeks.

In the survey, 63 percent of Americans say they are either very or somewhat worried about getting the virus and becoming seriously ill, while 36 percent say they are not too worried or not at all worried.

We must prize our right to live over our liberties, for now, as COVID-19 spreads
by Steven Pokorny

[A]mong the three “unalienable rights” enumerated by Jefferson in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, the first right is “life,” not “liberty.” The purpose of government first and foremost is to “secure” the right to “life” of the citizens governed. The rights of “liberty” and “the pursuit of happiness” are rendered meaningless if government abdicates its paramount duty to safeguard the right to “life” and, instead, gives deferential preference to individual personal liberty.

Consistent with this understanding is a variant of a well-known phrase: “Your liberty ends where my life begins.” This expression is relevant and useful in explaining the current imposition by our nation’s governments of closures of non-essential businesses, of restrictions on freedom of movement and association, and of requirements of self-imposed quarantines by citizens who know they may have been exposed to the virus.

Quarantine protesters don’t represent all conservatives. Here’s why.
by Henry Olsen

The Declaration of Independence promised that people can “alter or abolish” their existing form of government to “effect their Safety and Happiness.” What happens when people believe a stronger government that infringes on some liberty is necessary to “effect their safety”? […]

These sentiments have again come to the fore during the covid-19 pandemic. A recent poll shows that 56 percent of Americans are more concerned about the public health impact of the pandemic than the economic impact. A slightly larger share, 60 percent, say that it’s more important for government to control the virus’s spread than to restore the economy. Even among Republicans, only a slight majority — 51 percent — say government policy should focus more on the economy.

This latter figure is consistent with decades of Republican voting preferences. As my co-author, University of New Hampshire professor Dante Scala, and I showed in our book “The Four Faces of the Republican Party,” movement conservatives are not even clearly a majority of the GOP. Other, less doctrinaire conservatives hold the balance of power within the Republican electorate, and they have voted against the movement’s preferred candidate in presidential primaries for decades. Even a majority of Republicans are mainly content with the large modern state.

President Trump must navigate these currents adroitly to avoid being swept out to sea with a movement conservative tide. If he tilts too strongly in favor of lockdowns and public safety, he breaks faith with the GOP’s most dedicated supporters. But if he tilts too much toward them, he risks alienating the larger — and more politically volatile — group of Americans who prioritize safety over liberty in the current crisis. Polls already suggest Trump’s pro-reopening rhetoric is hurting him among seniors, the demographic most at risk in the covid-19 crisis and presumably the ones who most favor safety over liberty. Trump risks throwing away the election by moving too rapidly or openly in favor of the noisy movement conservative minority who value liberty over safety.

They Are Giving You Death and Calling It Liberty
by Jamil Smith

Death overtakes us all at some point. However, we’re now being told to numb ourselves to mass casualties and the increased possibility of our own COVID-19 infections in order help a president win re-election. Or to help some stocks rally, or even save a business from folding. That is what is happening here. “If a majority believe that we got through this, they’re not afraid anymore about their health, the health of their family and they feel like the health of the economy is heading in the right direction, then I think he’s in good shape,” former Wisconsin governor Scott Walker recently told McClatchy. “If they have doubts on either or both of those, then I think it becomes really, really tough.”

The Republican rush to “reopen” is projecting a simulacrum of the American “normal” that existed before the pandemic. The genuine article needed improvement, seeing as the pandemic has revealed the fragility of our systems in health care, education, tech, criminal justice, and throughout our federal government supply infrastructure, just to name a few. And rather than noting how it has sought to unbalance and defund many of the very systems that have proven deficient during this crisis, the GOP has kept behaving as if the coronavirus’ calamities are part of some divine plan. As such, before they ever “reopened” a single state, Republicans were demanding that we willingly embrace a lesser life before we bow out early.

Many cultish movements have deadly culminations, so it only seems natural that some of Trump’s most avid fans might be willing not merely to use the fiction of what they understand as freedom, risking their health for Dear Leader. But whether or not that is true, Republicans offer this fraudulent version of liberty because their true goal, plutocracy, is the diametrical opposite of freedom. It is a life lived to spite other lives, and often take advantage of them. They have profited from the vulnerable, whose literal freedoms are limited in various ways that, at times, overlap: communities of color, incarcerated populations, service workers, the homeless, disabled people, and others for whom liberals regularly advocate.

The right has built a thin veneer that looks like independence and freedom, but the pandemic has stripped away that myth in a matter of weeks. We can love our country enough to want to build it stronger than it was before, not paint some shoddy lacquer over top of it and call it brand new again. Why should we lay our lives down for a system this fragile and rotten, and for people this desperate?

Whose Freedom Counts?
by Dahlia Lithwick

The words freedom and liberty have been invoked breathlessly in recent weeks to bolster the case for “reopening.” Protesters of state public safety measures readily locate in the Bill of Rights the varied and assorted freedom to not be masked, the freedom to have your toenails soaked and buffed, the freedom to open-carry weapons into the state capitol, the freedom to take your children to the polar bear cage, the freedom to worship even if it imperils public safety, and above all, the freedom to shoot the people who attempt to stop you from exercising such unenumerated but essential rights. Beyond a profound misunderstanding of the relationship between broad state police powers and federal constitutional rights in the midst of a deadly pandemic, this definition of freedom is perplexing, chiefly because it seems to assume not simply that other people should die for your individual liberties, but also that you have an affirmative right to harm, threaten, and even kill anyone who stands in the way of your exercising of the freedoms you demand. We tend to forget that even our most prized freedoms have limits, with regard to speech, assembly, or weaponry. Those constraints are not generally something one shoots one’s way out of, even in a pandemic, and simply insisting that your own rights are paramount because you super-duper want them doesn’t usually make it so.

To be sure, a good number of these “protesters” and “pundits” represent fringe groups, financed by other fringe groups and amplified by a press that adores conflict. The data continues to show that the vast majority of Americans are not out on the hustings fighting for the right to infect others for the sake of a McNugget. Also, it is not irrational in the least to fear a tyrannical government capitalizing on a pandemic; it’s happening around the world. But even for those millions of people genuinely suffering hardship and anxiety, it’s simply not the case that all freedoms are the same. And it’s certainly not the case that the federal Constitution protects everything you feel like doing, whenever you feel like doing it.

In a superb essay by Ibram X. Kendi in the Atlantic this week, we’re reminded that there is a long-standing difference between core notions of what he calls freedom to and freedom from. The freedom to harm, he points out, has its lineage in the slaveholder’s constitutional notion of freedom: “Slaveholders disavowed a state that secured any form of communal freedom—the freedom of the community from slavery, from disenfranchisement, from exploitation, from poverty, from all the demeaning and silencing and killing.” Kendi continues by pointing out that these two notions of freedom have long rubbed along uneasily side by side, but that those demanding that states “open up” so they may shop, or visit zoos, are peeling back the tension between the two:

From the beginning of the American project, the powerful individual has been battling for his constitutional freedom to harm, and the vulnerable community has been battling for its constitutional freedom from harm. Both freedoms were inscribed into the U.S. Constitution, into the American psyche. The history of the United States, the history of Americans, is the history of reconciling the unreconcilable: individual freedom and community freedom. There is no way to reconcile the enduring psyche of the slaveholder with the enduring psyche of the enslaved.

[…] We now find ourselves on the precipice of a moment in which Americans must decide whether the price they are willing to pay for the “freedom” of armed protesters, those determined to block hospitals, and pundits who want to visit the zoo, is their own health and safety. Polls show that the majority of Americans are still deeply devoted to the proposition that their government can protect them from a deadly virus, and that they trust their governors and scientists and data far more than they trust the Mission Accomplished Industrial Complex that would have them valuing free-floating ideas about liberty over the health and indeed lives of essential workers, the elderly, and their own well-being, despite the president’s recent insistence that this is what, all of us, as “warriors” must do. As Jamil Smith points out, this cultish view of “liberty” as demanding mass death in exchange for “liberty,” as in “freedom to” is an assembly-line, AstroTurf version of liberty pushed by those who are already very free. “Their true goal, plutocracy, is the diametrical opposite of freedom,” Smith writes. “It is a life lived to spite other lives, and often take advantage of them.”

In the coming weeks, we will see some relatively small portion of Americans with great big megaphones and well-financed backers start to openly attack the selfsame health care workers who were celebrated as heroes just a few weeks ago. We will see attacks on people wearing masks and attacks on people lawfully asking others to wear masks. Some leaders will buckle under the pressure to rescind orders with claims that in choosing between liberty and death, they went with liberty. Others, like Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, will respond by insisting that the brandishing of guns inside the state Capitol is not, in fact, “liberty,” and that if it is liberty and justice, it is hardly liberty and justice for all, but rather for a small minority of people who seek to define freedom as something they will seize and threaten and even kill for. A good rule of thumb for COVID-based discussions about “opening up” is that if someone is demanding it while threatening to hurt or kill you, you are probably not as “free” as they are, and that their project does nothing to increase freedom in America and everything to hoard a twisted idea of freedom for themselves.

When you hear someone demanding inchoate generalized “freedom,” ask whether he cares at all that millions of workers who clean the zoos and buff the nails and intubate the grandmas are not free. These people are cannon fodder for your liberty. The long-standing tension between individual liberty and the collective good is complicated, and as Kendi is quick to point out, the balance often tilts, trade-offs are made, federal and state governments shift clumsily along together, and the balance tilts again. Nobody denies that individual liberty is essential in a democracy, but in addition to parsing whether we as a collective do better in providing the “freedom from” while also offering some “freedom to,” it’s worth asking whether those making zero-sum claims about liberty are willing to sacrifice anything for freedom, or are just happily sacrificing you.

Give Me Liberty — No, Wait, Give Me Death
by Branko Marcetic

It may be hard to remember after the last four years of madness, but over the fifteen years leading up to Trump’s election, American conservatives spearheaded a successful campaign to reorient US domestic and foreign policy around waging a “war on terror.” After the attacks of September 11, 2011 left 2,753 people dead — a horrific number that now makes up just 3.5 percent of the death toll of the coronavirus pandemic so far, and is not much more than the number of Americans dying from the virus every day — the US right proceeded to pour absurd amounts of money and lives into counterproductive wars and various other initiatives aimed at preventing anything similar from happening again, shaming and attacking anyone who dissented as weak and even treasonous.

As the years went by and the nation’s bathtubs remained a bigger threat to American lives than acts of terrorism, the Right remained undeterred. By this point, they’d already erected a sprawling state infrastructure for global spying that more regularly violated the privacy of law-abiding Americans than it actually caught dangerous terrorists. Even so, they maintained, if getting rid of such programs cost even one life, the price wouldn’t be worth it. […]

Two-Party Hypocrisy

It’s hardly news that the Right are shameless hypocrites; they say whatever they need to say to achieve their political goals.

During the Bush era, those included funneling money to military contractors, building a security state to eventually destroy any future left-wing political movement, and beating up on Democrats and liberals as weak and dangerous, so bodily security and saving lives was the issue. Now, those goals have become keeping the wallets of all wealthy industrialists comfortably filled during the pandemic, preventing a sudden, mass contradiction of decades of neoliberal economic nonsense, and beating up on Democrats and liberals as tyrannical and dangerous, so freedom at any price is the issue.

The trouble is that America’s narrow political spectrum is dominated by two sides that flagrantly don’t believe anything they say and make little effort to pretend otherwise. One side spent eight years being the party of centralized government power for the sake of security, before spending eight years caterwauling about government tyranny, and now backs measures to tacitly murder tens of thousands of its own people. The other side spent eight years warning about the imminent, dictatorial danger of a centralized national security state, before quickly adopting and enlarging that same national security state for another eight years. It couldn’t even keep up the pretense that it stood for voting rights and sexual assault survivors for a mere three years before reversing itself on both.

It’s hard to predict where exactly a political system ends up when it’s dominated by cynical actors like these. But history suggests a growing army of people disillusioned and distrustful with an existing political order rarely goes well for the latter.

Liberty or death is a perilous policy for a pandemic
by E.J. Dionne Jr.

Considering this lack of leadership, what would a William James pragmatist do?

Virtually everyone except for Trump and his apologists understands the obvious: Reopening the economy requires, first, a national commitment to a robust testing program fully backed by the federal government. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has proposed $30 billion in new emergency funding for a national testing strategy and called on Trump to use the Defense Production Act if that’s what’s needed to mobilize the private sector to produce the required tests.

Massachusetts’s Republican governor, Charlie Baker, has created an expansive contact tracing program to track the virus’s spread. It could become a national model. In the Journal of the American Medical Association, Howard Bauchner and Joshua Sharfstein suggested giving the nation’s 20,000 incoming medical students a year off, with pay and health benefits, to contribute both to care and testing efforts. The AmeriCorps program could also be mobilized for this labor-intensive work.

What pragmatists know is that railing against formal distancing rules does nothing to solve the underlying problem. As several economist colleagues I contacted noted, the economy will not fully revive until Americans are given good reason to put aside their fears of infection. Yelling at governors won’t get us there.

“Even if the government-imposed social distancing rules are relaxed to encourage economic activity, risk-averse Americans will persist in social distancing, and that behavior, too, will restrain the hoped-for economic rebound,” Gary Burtless, a Brookings Institution economist, wrote me.

“Will customers return in-person to the retail or leisure/hospitality businesses anytime soon?” asked Harry Holzer, an economist at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy. “Not if they feel unsafe, and not if their personal finances have been constricted by the downturn.”

Those who shout for opening the economy in the name of freedom don’t think much about the freedom of workers to protect themselves from a potentially deadly disease. And employers do not want to find themselves facing legal liabilities for infected employees.

If the economy is substantially reopened without adequate testing, said Thea Lee, president of the Economic Policy Institute, the most vulnerable would include “low-wage workers, women, people of color, immigrants, and the elderly.” They are “concentrated in the riskiest jobs, with the least financial cushion, and the least likely to have employer-provided benefits or protections,” she said.

On freedom, face masks, and government
by Scot Lehigh

Sadly, in some quarters, mask requirements are being viewed as an unacceptable infringement on individual liberty. No rights are absolute, however, and personal freedom comes with a well-established philosophical superstructure.

Consider how John Stuart Mill, the preeminent philosopher of liberty, elucidated the idea of individual autonomy — and what he would probably say about face-mask requirements in a time of public health crisis.

Mill was adamant that individuals could do whatever they wanted as long as those actions affected them alone. “Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign,” he wrote.

But even this fervent proponent of individual liberty carved out an exception when one person’s conduct could hurt someone else, writing that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

Where would face-mask requirements, whether imposed by states, cities, or retail businesses, fall? Clearly on the side of justified infringements, since by not wearing a mask, a person can easily spread highly contagious COVID-19 to others. That’s all the more true when you consider that an estimated 56 percent of coronavirus infections come from pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers — and that for some who catch it, the disease will be a death sentence.

Thus the notion that these requirements are unwarranted or illicit or outrageous or unbearable by free people clearly doesn’t pass the test enunciated by the West’s great apostle of individual liberty.

A second great thinker, political philosopher John Rawls, also merits mention here, both for the helpful clarity his reasoning imparts and for a tragic aspect of his biography: When he was a boy, two of his younger brothers perished from diseases (diphtheria and pneumonia) they had contracted from him.

One of Rawls’s signal contributions is the “veil of ignorance,” a way of thinking designed to overcome the bias imparted by one’s own circumstances in life. To wit: As you consider what’s just or fair, assume that you don’t know your own sex, race, socio-economic status, abilities, and so forth.

In the matter of face masks, the veil of ignorance means not knowing whether you hold (or are likely to have) a job that requires you to interact frequently with the public or, say, are in circumstances that require your use of public transportation. Nor do you know whether you face a greater or lesser chance of death should you contract COVID-19.

From behind that veil, ask yourself this question: Do you favor or oppose the wearing of masks by everyone in the public circumstances outlined above?

All of this can be distilled to an exhortation not much more complicated than the Golden Rule. If the case for masks were presented by the president and governors and mayors and religious and community leaders as treating others as we’d like to be treated if in their place, I like to think people would overwhelmingly come to see them as an inconvenience all patriotic Americans can accept in these terrible times.

* * *

Below are some articles on the demographic disparities, socioeconomic divides, and structural prejudices showing those most vulnerable to viral exposure, infections, comorbidities, death, lack of healthcare, and other health factors of concern during the COVID-19 pandemic and in general.

COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups
from CDC

The other COVID-19 risk factors: How race, income, ZIP code can influence life and death
by Liz Szabo & Hannah Recht

13 Investigates: Cellphone data shows one reason why minorities are hit harder by COVID-19
by Ted Oberg and John Kelly, & Sarah Rafique

CT Latinos suffer high COVID-19 infection rates as their jobs force public interaction
by Ana Radelat

Higher COVID-19 fatality rates among urban minorities come down to air pollution
by David VanderGriend

How Poor Air Quality Affects COVID-19 Mortality Rates
by Rachel Fairbank

The coronavirus is amplifying the bias already embedded in our social fabric
by Michele L. Norris

Racism and Covid-19 Are a Lethal Combination
by Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II and William J. Barber III, JD

Racial health disparities already existed in America— the coronavirus just exacerbated them
by Courtney Connley

The covid-19 racial disparities could be even worse than we think
by Ronald J. Daniels & Marc H. Morial

Blacks make up as many as 30% of COVID-19 cases, per early CDC figures
by Mark Osborne, Emily Shapiro, & Ivan Pereira

COVID-19 death rates among blacks reflect structural inequalities
by Alexandra Newman

High rates of coronavirus among African Americans don’t tell the whole story
by Chinyere Osuji

The curious case of Latinos and Covid-19
by Esmy Jimenez

Latin America women, minorities ‘to suffer most’ by COVID-19
from Al Jazeera

‘The virus doesn’t discriminate but governments do’: Latinos disproportionately hit by coronavirus
by Maanvi Singh & Mario Koran

Disease Has Never Been Just Disease for Native Americans
by Jeffrey Ostler

The Coronavirus Makes Trump’s Cruelty Toward Indian Country Even More Deadly
by Zak Cheney-Rice

Native Americans being left out of US coronavirus data and labelled as ‘other’
by Rebecca Nagle

What Coronavirus Exposes About America’s Political Divide
by Ron Elving

Stop saying ‘we’re all in this together.’ You have money. It’s not the same.
by Mya Guarnieri

The Rich and Poor Don’t All Suffer Under the Pandemic Equally
by Shakti Jaising

The rich infected the poor as COVID-19 spread around the world
by Shashank Bengali , Kate Linthicum, & Victoria Kim

Imported by the rich, coronavirus now devastating Brazil’s poor
by Gram Slattery, Stephen Eisenhammer, & Amanda Perobelli

From Black Death to fatal flu, past pandemics show why people on the margins suffer most
by Lizzie Wade

The Black Death Killed Feudalism. What Does COVID-19 Mean for Capitalism?
by John Feffer

How COVID-19’s egregious impact on minorities can trigger change
by Andis Robeznieks

Then the second wave of infections hit…

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The 1918 Flu did not begin as an obvious pandemic and public health catastrophe. When the first cases appeared, experts and officials realized it was worse than the common flu, but it still seemed relatively mild and manageable. Beyond some closings in specific places, few took it seriously.

Besides, some were loudly vocal in their opposition to what they perceived as overreaction in trying to control the viral outbreak. And most leaders wanted to keep the economy going and the keep the factories open, if only for the war effort. A few more deaths of workers was deemed acceptable as sacrifices for the national good, the health of the economy, and whatever other reasons were given.

This allowed infections to spread around the world during the early period. And in spreading, it allowed this influenza virus to further mutate and quickly take hold across the global population. This set the stage for what was to follow when the next flu season came around later that year.

Then the second wave of infections hit with a new strain that was far more deadly. It is that second wave that we now remember as the greatest pandemic of the 20th century. Many millions of Americans died and, at that point, it was too late to have attempted to get it under control. The spread of the infection had to burn its way through the population.

Does the first part of that sound familiar? We now await the second wave of COVID-19 infections. No one knows what will happen. Going by testing data, it appears that only a small portion of the the United States population has been infected so far. One difference to the 1918 Flu is that governments this time around did put control measures into place, but that has only temporarily halted the spread while the virus goes partly dormant with warmer weather.

We will find out what happens this next fall and going into winter. The pandemic might fizzle out with only a few hundred thousands of Americans dead from COVID-19. Or as the leadership pushes to reopen the economy and larger society with few systematic and coordinated protective measures put into place, we might see a repeat of history with millions of American lives sacrificed. It’s a gamble.

* * *

There is nothing wrong with making an informed calculation about public health, but it’s not clear this is what has motivated the present reopening. Few politicians have been transparent about their decision-making and the data it’s based upon. And fewer still, not even in the media’s supposed role of holding officials accountable, are talking about the long term scenario we are facing, a possibility even of a pandemic that lingers for years.

Instead, those in power and influence are acting as if the pandemic is coming to an end, not merely passing through a momentary reprieve. The public is not being prepared, psychologically or practically, for another period of infectious spread. Yet it’s certain that plenty of people in the leadership know about the high probability of an even worse return of the pandemic later this year, but obviously they don’t want the public to know about it or worry about it.

If preparations are being made for what might come, it is being done covertly. That is understandable, in that they might want to avoid further politicization of the situation. And no doubt any officials who spoke of the pandemic not only continuing but getting worse would find themselves a target of the Trump administration and many other powerful interests, a not comfortable or safe position to be in.

The problem is this is yet more paternalistic authoritarianism in shutting down democratic process and public debate. Decisions are being made for us and we are being kept ignorant. We are being treated as children not to be trusted with full knowledge and adult responsibilities, children to be taken care of and told what to do. So, like good worker-citizens, we should return to our proper place within the capitalist hierarchy and, as Bush Jr told us after the 9/11 attack, our patriotic duty is to get back to shopping.

The appearance of normalcy is what has been deemed most important. The status quo is dependent on it, as is the power and profit of those who have most benefited from this entrenched system of neoliberalism. But viruses don’t concern themselves with political priorities, economic demands, and ideological rationalizations. We will never return to normal and this will become ever more apparent as we enter this era of crisis after crisis, no matter what does or does not happen as we move toward the end of the year.

None of this is being discussed, not how this pandemic is probably related to climate change and environmental destruction, not how this pandemic was exacerbated by generations of a public health crisis, not to mention a public trust crisis. Simply put, we’ve been in a crisis for a long time and, pandemic or not, the state of crisis will remain unresolved. Besides, even if this pandemic dwindles away in a less than dramatic fashion, it’s almost guaranteed that we will be facing other pandemics in the near future as the conditions are ripe for the spread of disease, similar to the spread of invasive species we’re also experiencing worldwide.

This is not a time to let down our guard. Then again, those well-informed have known this for decades. So, why do we keep finding ourselves surprised and unprepared when each new crisis appears on the horizon?

* * *

Much of this has to do with our public imagination, what we are collectively capable of thinking about and envisioning. This COVID-19 situation does not fit our perception of how a pandemic is supposed to look. When we have a pandemic in mind, most of us look back to something like the Black Death where so many people died that there weren’t enough people left to keep up with burying the dead.

It doesn’t occur to us that even some of the worst pandemics could begin so unimpressively, as was the case with the 1918 Flu. And since we have no living memory of a pandemic in the Western world, we have no basis to consider even what this pandemic might mean even as we’re in the middle of it. All the average person knows is that governments are reopening their economies and, intentionally or not, that sends a signal that all is well again.

Since there aren’t dead bodies piled in the streets, maybe most people assume that either the pandemic is over or there never really was a pandemic in the first place. The thought that the worst might be yet to come is simply not in public awareness, as it’s not a part of public debate, much less public messaging from officials and experts. And plenty of those seeking to shape the public imagination are happy to keep the public ignorant, so as to suppress fear and anxiety and panic.

Yet public imagination has permanently been impacted by these events. Most Americans still are reluctant about the economy reopening, not supporting the idea of being forced back to work when there is still a chance that they can be infected and die or that they might endanger the lives of loved ones. As increasing number of politicians take measures that indicate everything is winding down and returning to normal, a sense of caution and concern remains in the air. More people than ever are wearing masks, for example.

Despite lacking accurate historical knowledge of other pandemics, maybe on an unconscious level the public does sense that we are far from being in the clear, that the world still is not yet safe. Suppressed though it is, the public imagination is also being informed by the lack of public trust specifically in those trying to manipulate and manage public perception. Whether or not they could consciously articulate it, much of the population likely has a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.

* * *

This brings us back to the precautionary principle. We are entering an era of crises. There is no doubt that governments are preparing for disasters, but the kind of preparation governments tend to make have to do with hurricanes, wars, and such. It seems apparent that the United States government had almost no serious preparation for a pandemic.

A slow-burning pandemic like this simply doesn’t fit into the political imaginary. The weakness of the precautionary principle is that it’s dependent on our ability to imagine possibilities. We need experts who are educated and trained to imagine what others find impossible to imagine, so as to prepare for what otherwise would be unpredictable.

In general, hyperobjects that pose slow violence don’t inspire collective action. They are too hard for most people to comprehend. Examples of this are invisible things like lead toxicity and climate change. We can’t see them happening, can’t see what they are doing to us and the world around us. So, we have no emotional and visceral response to their threat.

Related to COVID-19, another example is that of the chronic diseases that are comorbidities of infectious diseases. These are also referred to as the diseases of civilization, as they appear with the rise of civilization and worsen with the development of civilization, from agriculture to industrialization. How health declines across generations was scientifically studied in the early 1900s by Weston A. Price and Francis M. Pottenger Jr, although observations were made in the century or two prior.

The earlier 1918 flu became a pandemic because of changing conditions. This included the mass urbanization and industrialization that was changing lifestyles and diets, such as creating crowded conditions and malnutrition. Just hitting adulthood was the first generation that was majority urbanites. In the early 1900s, European immigrants were already noticing that American children looked chubbier, an early sign of metabolic disease, although obesity wouldn’t be considered a public health crisis until the 1950s.

The 1918 flu may never have become a pandemic if not for the worsening health in the Western world. The same might be true now for COVID-19. Such conditions of public health could be the decisive factors for which infectious diseases become pandemics.

As a precaution, the best preparation possible for any and all crises is to improve public health. Even preparing for war requires a public healthy enough to serve as soldiers, a problem Western countries faced a century or so ago when much of the population couldn’t serve in the military because of malnutrition and maldevelopment. Obesity has become a problem in the military now.

A pandemic doesn’t come out of nowhere. The conditions for it develop over long periods of time, sometimes over generations. Such conditions might determine if infectious diseases remain a minor concern or run rampant across a population. Other conditions that unleash infectious diseases have to do with environmental destruction that stresses the health of both humans and wild animals.

The precautionary principle suggests we should expect the worst and expect the unexpected. It also suggest we shouldn’t push our luck.

* * *

Relevant articles:

Three potential futures for Covid-19: recurring small outbreaks, a monster wave, or a persistent crisis
by Sharon Begley

Coronavirus may last 2 years, study warns- and its second wave could be worse
by Dennis Wagner

Why a Mayo Clinic expert has concerns about second wave of COVID-19
by DeeDee Stiepan

Harvard epidemiologist: Beware COVID-19’s second wave this fall
by Len Strazewski

Why a Second Wave of Covid-19 Is Already a Worry
by John Lauerman

What If Covid-19 and Flu Both Flare Up This Fall?
by Robert Roy Britt

How will we know whether the coronavirus will come back stronger in the winter?
by Amina Khan

As States Rush to Reopen, Scientists Fear a Coronavirus Comeback
by Donald G. McNeil Jr.

A second wave of COVID-19 is probable, if history tells us anything
by Ashley Wadhwani

‘The 1918 Spanish flu’s second wave was even more devastating’: WHO advises caution to avoid ‘immediate second peak’
by Quentin Fottrell

What a Second Wave of Coronavirus in the Fall Could Look Like
by Heather Grey

Second more deadly wave of coronavirus expected ‘to hit Europe this winter’
by Anne Gulland

Aftershock: If coronavirus swells in a second wave later this year, will the nation be ready?
by Dennis Wagner

Flu and coronavirus will launch dual ‘assault’ on America next winter if we don’t prepare now, CDC chief warns
by Brandon Specktor

CDC director warns second wave of coronavirus is likely to be even more devastating
by Lena H. Sun

COVID-19 Update: US Second Wave May Happen in Fall and Winter; Here’s How to Stop it, Says Fauci
by Jamie P.

Dr. Anthony Fauci on How America Can Avoid a Second Wave of the Coronavirus
by Soo Kim

For historical perspective, see the Twitter feed by John Zahorick:

100 YEAR OLD NEWS is like new news.
October 7, 1918
“Daily influenza reports ordered”
“All churches, fraternal orders, and clubs were requested to remain closed on Sunday.”
“SALOON MEN PROTEST AGAINST CLOSING ORDER”

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October 11, 1918
“Severe Embargo on Schools, Theaters, Churches and All Public Gatherings, Effective Tonight”
“A number of speakers to voice a protest against the closing order as being more drastic than the emergency demands”

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December 17, 1918
“SPANISH INFLUENZA MORE DEADLY THAN WAR”
“More deaths have resulted in a little more than a month from this disease than through our whole 18 months participation in the battles of WW I”

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July 30, 1919
“Congress Urged to Pass Flu Bill”
“The epidemic found the nation unprepared”
“470,000 deaths in America last year, 50,000 this Spring”
“Economic loss in ran into the billions”

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A Pandemic of Ignorance

The main failure in this COVID-19 pandemic has been about knowledge. The United States government was unprepared for dealing with a pandemic, specifically in being unprepared for quickly gathering the data, analyzing it, basing official policies on it, and communicating it to the public. We were blindsided and slow to respond.

We not only have lacked necessary info but, more importantly, lacked leadership in relationship to what we needed to know. Government positions and corporate practices for the most part have not been dependably based on good data nor did those making the decisions emphasize the importance of getting good data. Instead, we’ve too often been handed partisan politics, campaign rhetoric, and slogans.

Unlike in some other countries, US government and major businesses have failed to do mass infection testing, temperature scanning, contact tracing, and app tracking. All of this would’ve offered useful data for controlling the spread of infections and making informed decisions about which actions to take. Compare companies that kept running in the US to some in other countries.

In the US, meatpacking plants that have close working environments weren’t even requiring employees to wear masks and that is insane, as quickly became apparent. A German company, on the other, managed to keep infections down using not only masks but data collection to quickly determine the infected so as to isolate them. The same pattern was seen in how many Asian countries were much more systematic in their control measures. Why did those other places seek out knowledge early on and acted on it while the US decision-makers embraced willful ignorance in hoping everything would be fine?

Even when US leaders had info, they would sometimes keep it a secret, instead of sharing it in a way that could’ve helped. For example, health officials were apparently afraid of their being a run on medical masks and so, instead of being honest with the public, they intentionally lied to us by stating masks offered no protection. This led many to not take the protective gear seriously, including in extended care facilities that weren’t using protective gear.

This lack of transparency and accountability has continued. Governor Reynolds of Iowa has continually repeated that she is basing all her decisions on careful and regular analysis of detailed metrics, but she has never shared any of the supposed data and instead just makes declarations. Or consider how the Trump administration has silenced the CDC by disallowing their official report to go public. Are these officials worried what the public would do or demand if they had full knowledge?

Even now, decisions are being made about reopening businesses, schools, etc without any clear basis on data, at least not data that is being shared with the public. Almost no one in media or government is talking about how the second wave in fall will likely be far worse than anything we’ve seen so far. Many officials are acting like the pandemic is coming to an end and that now it’s time for everything to go back to normal, even as the reality is that waves of infections could continue for years.

Obviously, we still lack the knowledge we need. It’s true we know that COVID-19 isn’t as deadly as first thought, although it still is far more deadly than the common flu. All these months after the pandemic began spreading globally, there is no mass infection testing in the US nor are places of business implementing the basic tools like temperature scans used elsewhere from the beginning.

So, we aren’t sure how many Americans have been infected. On top of that, despite some hoping herd immunity will save us, our knowledge about immunity to this novel coronavirus is next to nothing. There might be some short term immunity, but even then it might not last long enough to prevent the same people getting infected again with the second wave. And no one knows if we will have a vaccine soon or ever.

Why is the US economy being reopened when even the most basic message of mask-wearing hasn’t been consistently and effectively communicated to much of the population? Instead, most of the major leaders are refusing to wear masks while speaking in public and so are modeling to Americans that they shouldn’t wear masks. Are we still at the level of not even agreeing on masks?

What lesson have we Americans learned from our mistakes during this pandemic? Have we learned any lessons? Would our leadership respond differently if the same situation happens again? When this pandemic began, we were in a state of collective ignorance and we were caught without even the capacity to ameliorate our ignorance. So, we acted blindly. In the same state of collective ignorance, we’d be forced to respond in the same way again or something similar.

The worst part is that this demonstrates the culture of ignorance that dominates in the US, as part of a broader failure of democracy. Much of the American leadership is brazen in pushing ignorance and much of the American public is apathetic in accepting it. There has been little political will to pursue data-driven policy and to put respect for knowledge front and center. Sadly, in the understandable mistrust by the public, those officials and experts worthy of trust are equally dismissed as the rest.

Our response in American society has been based primarily on ideology. The related problem in the US is that, in our reactionary hyper-individualism, a large part of the American population is dismissive to the very concept of public health, as if no individual should ever sacrifice the slightest freedom to save the lives of others. No healthy society can function that way.

Some of the most successful methods, besides masks, have been contact tracing and tracking apps. But many Americans would call that authoritarianism. It’s understandable that we should be cautious about what we allow in a society that aspires to democracy (aspires, if rarely succeeds). The problem is when paranoia destroys the culture of trust that is essential to a democracy. By promoting mistrust, the sad result is that authoritarianism becomes inevitable. Truth becomes whatever is declared by those with the most power and influence, by those who control the media and other platforms.

That is exactly what President Donald Trump has taken advantage of, in his own brand of authoritarianism. He loves to play on people’s fears, to scapegoat and attack all sources of authority other than himself so as to muddy the water. In his authoritarian worldview, US workers should be forced to go back to work with nothing in place to protect their lives because to an authoritarian workers are expendable and replaceable. This was his position from the beginning and no new data was ever going to change this position.

Yet most Americans are opposed to fully reopening the economy. That is largely because the top US leadership has utterly failed in the most basic test of human decency, even ignoring all of the deception and demagoguery. Americans don’t trust Trump or many other figures of authority, including the capitalist class asking for Americans to sacrifice their lives for the profit of others, and they aren’t sure who to trust. If some basic protections were put into place as is done in certain other countries, we could begin to rebuild some public trust.

The American public health crisis first and foremost is a public trust crisis. And it is a crisis that has been a long time coming. If not remedied, it could become an existential crisis. And the only remedy would be democratic reform through an informed public. That means the public will have to demand knowledge or, failing that, will have to educate themselves. A functioning democracy with transparency and accountability is the best preparation for any crisis, but that would require nurturing a culture of knowledge and learning, a shared respect for intellect and expertise.

Disaster Capitalism Causes Disasters

Many have wondered why some places have been hit hard by the pandemic (Spain, Italy, New York, etc) whereas others still are barely affected. Some likely factors are public transportation, population density, and multiple generation households. Socioeconomic conditions and probably inequality also is involved, as poverty correlates with higher rates of immunological compromise and dysfunction because of stress, food deserts, parasite load, lack of healthcare, and such.

Air pollution, for example, increases asthma which is a major comorbidity of COVID-19. And, of course, poor areas tend to have far worse air pollution, not to mention heavy metal toxicity from old paint and pipes, toxic soil from old factories, and toxic waste dumps. But it turns out that the virus SARS-CoV-2 can also be carried by air pollution particles: Ron Brackett reports that, “Air samples were collected at two sites in Bergamo province in northern Italy’s Lombardy region, the area of the country hit hardest by the pandemic. Testing found a gene highly specific to COVID-19 in multiple samples from the province, one of the most polluted in Italy” (Researchers Find Coronavirus on Pollution Particles). That might be another explanation for why dense urban areas like New York City could worsen infection and death rates.

Consider the example of Italy (Conn Hallinan, How Austerity and Anti-Immigrant Politics Left Italy Exposed; & John Buell, Disaster Capitalism and the Real Culprit in the Italian Covid-19 Catastrophe). Since the 2008 recession, the number of Italians in extreme poverty has doubled which no puts it at more than 10% of the population (Eva Pastorelli & Andrea Stocchiero, Inequalities in Italy) with another 6.8% barely above poverty (Federico Razetti, Poor, scarcely poor and almost poor: what’s going on in Italy?) — combined together, that equates to around 10 million Italians, which is more than the entire population of New York City. Bergamo province is in northern Italy. Even worst poverty is found further south, the location of 70% of the poor (Michael Huang, 10 Facts About Poverty In Italy That Everyone Should Know).

Two of the countries most devastated by COVID-19 are Italy and Spain, both of which have suffered from high rates of poverty combined with economic austerity. As in the United States, it’s the most impoverished and underprivileged who bear the brunt. Shockingly, in New York City, almost half the population is at or near the poverty level with one in five fully in poverty (NYC Opportunity, Poverty in NYC). Although NYC poverty has dropped slightly, inequality remains as high as ever (Elizabeth Kim, NYC Poverty Level Drops To Record Lows, But Income Inequality Persists). It’s unsurprising that such immense poverty and inequality crippled the public health response in such places and specifically harmed those worse off, such as seen in Spain (Guy Hedgecoe, In Spain, austerity legacy cripples coronavirus fight; Brais Fernandez, Spain’s Hospitals Have Suffered Death by a Thousand Cuts; & Stephen Burgen, Poor and vulnerable hardest hit by pandemic in Spain). Such pandemic inequality has been seen all across the United States with poor minorities hit the hardest.

For a combination of reasons, the poor are hit hardest and specifically where poverty is concentrated and exacerbated by high inequality. And this pandemic will only worsen poverty and inequality, unless we demand reforms that are both democratic and progressive. But if we let disaster capitalism run rampant, it will bring on further disasters.

* * *

Austerity in the Age of COVID-19: A Match Made in Hell?
by Paul Rogers

The Impact of COVID-19 Is All Down to Inequality
by Mariano Aguirre

How austerity measures hurt the COVID-19 response
by Cristina Fominaya

As Coronavirus Deepens Inequality, Inequality Worsens Its Spread
by Max Fisher and Emma Bubola

The coronavirus pandemic is already increasing inequality
by Steve Schifferes

Covid-19 shows why tackling inequality benefits everyone
by Han Fook Kwang

The pandemic strengthens the case for universal basic income
by Ishaan Tharoor

The Pandemic Now And Going Into The Future

“I think people haven’t understood that this isn’t about the next couple of weeks. This is about the next two years.”
~Michael Osterholm, infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota

“Everyone wants to know when this will end. That’s not the right question. The right question is: How do we continue?”
~Devi Sridhar, public-health expert at the University of Edinburgh

A week ago, the highest daily Covid-19 death count for the US was more than 2,000. Now it reached over 4,500 over the past day. That is an expected exponential increase. And that is with strong measures like lockdowns taken place across the country. When doing a recount by adding in all deaths now known, China increased their Wuhan deaths by 50%. That is probably true in many places where hospitals were overwhelmed and many died without medical care.

This isn’t to imply China was necessarily being deceptive in covering up the real numbers. For a while now, medical staff in the US have said the same thing about hospitals here underreporting Covid-19 deaths. Healthcare worker deaths may also be higher. In another article, there was shared the photographs and stories of some of these people who died while helping others. I noticed that all of them looked overweight, indicating metabolic syndrome which is one of the main comorbidities.

By the way, one expert talks about five stages for the pandemic. We are in the second phase which is mitigation following the initial containment. After that will be another period of containment while we wait for a vaccine, other treatments, and improved lab testing. That could take us into next year, but the economy will begin to restart during this time.

As communities begin to open up again, the government will have to become very strict, systematic, and targeted in quarantining the infected. Cleaning and disinfection of public places will become a priority, as will the use of protective gear. The fourth stage comes when we have a vaccine, assuming we get one in the relatively near future. The hope is to be in a more advanced situation of containment before a second wave of infections might hit in the fall.

With everything reasonably under control, we end with the last stage where we assess the situation, determine successes and failures, and then prepare for the next pandemic. That means making pandemic preparation central to national security.

This situation, of course, has long term consequences. Donald Trump being president exacerbates this. Even before the pandemic, his actions as leader were driving a wedge between the US and its allies. Many foreign governments were seeing the US as no longer trustworthy and reliable. Trump’s attacking and defunding the WHO, if somewhat deserved, has further undermined US authority — specifically among the G7. The US might never recover its position in the world. This might be the end of US hegemony.

Now most likely Trump will be re-elected. So four more years of more of the same, precisely at the moment when confidence has been shaken in national leadership and the federal government. The main promise Trump made was that he would make the American economy great again, but now it will be in shambles. All his scapegoating will only go so far. While Americans suffer, people will want actions and reform, not snarky blame games for political gain.

For years and maybe decades to come, we might not only be recovering from the pandemic and all that is related to it but a more general sense of decline and malaise, if not further catastrophes that become existential crises. If we are to enter a re-building phase, it’s going to require entirely new leadership in both of the main parties. We can hope for an era of large-scale reform that will transform our society, but it’s hard to see hope at the moment.

* * *

Some articles of interest:

Some Thoughts On Thinking Critically In Times Of Uncertainty, And The Trap of Lopsided Skepticism: Coronaspiracy Theory Edition
by Denise Minger

In case you didn’t notice, the cyber-world (and its 3D counterpart, I assume, but we’re not allowed to venture there anymore) is currently a hot mess of Who and what do we believe? This is zero percent surprising. Official agencies have handled COVID-19 with the all grace of a three-legged elephant—waffling between the virus being under control/not under control/OMG millions dead/wait no 60,000/let’s pack the churches on Easter!/naw, lockdown-til-August/face masks do nothing/face masks do something, but healthcare workers need them more/FACE MASKS FOR EVERY FACE RIGHT NOW PLEASE AND THANK YOU/oh no a tiger got the ‘rona!; on and on. It’s dizzying. Maddening. The opposite of confidence-instilling. And as a very predictable result, guerrilla journalism has grown to fill the void left by those who’ve failed to tell us, with any believability, what’s going on.

Exercising our investigative rights is usually a good thing. You guys know me. I’m all about questioning established narratives and digging into the forces that crafted them. It’s literally my life. Good things happen when we flex our thinking muscle, and nothing we’re told should be immune to scrutiny.

But there’s a shadow side here, too—what I’ll henceforth refer to as “lopsided skepticism.” This is what happens when we question established narratives… but not the non-established ones. More specifically, when we go so hog wild ripping apart The Official Story that we somehow have no skepticism left over for all the new stuff we’re replacing it with.

And that, my friends, is exactly what’s happening right now.

The dangerous conservative campaign against expertise
by Michael Gerson

Motivated reasoning is usually just tiresome. At its worst, it can be dangerous. Sometimes drawing the wrong lesson badly obscures a right and necessary lesson. Sometimes the interpretation of a crisis is so dramatically mistaken, so ludicrous and imprudent, that it can worsen the crisis itself.

Such is the case with conservatives who look at the coronavirus outbreak and see, of all things, the discrediting of experts and expertise. In this view, the failures of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have brought the whole profession into disrepute. The judgments of health professionals have often been no better than the folk wisdom of the Internet. The pandemic is not only further proof of the fallibility of insiders; it has revealed the inherent inaccessibility of medical truth. All of us, scientists and nonscientists, are walking blindly on the same misty moor and may stumble on medical insights.

This argument assumes an intellectual fog that is just lifting. Though we are still relatively early in the pandemic, this much seems clear: The medical experts recommended aggressive social distancing to bend the curve of infections and deaths downward. Americans generally trusted the experts. By all the evidence, aggressive social distancing is bending the curve of infections and deaths downward. And places that were earliest and most aggressive in this approach have seen the best results.

This outcome doesn’t strike me as murky. It is difficult to see how experts whose advice clearly saved tens of thousands of lives can be called discredited. It is easy, however, to see how making this false claim might undermine public adherence to their advice, which still matters greatly in the crisis.

Our Pandemic Summer
by Ed Yong

If it turns out that, say, 20 percent of the U.S. has been infected, that would mean the coronavirus is more transmissible but less deadly than scientists think. It would also mean that a reasonable proportion of the country has some immunity. If that proportion could be slowly and safely raised to the level necessary for herd immunity—60 to 80 percent, depending on the virus’s transmissibility—the U.S. might not need to wait for a vaccine. However, if just 1 to 5 percent of the population has been infected—the range that many researchers think is likelier—that would mean “this is a truly devastating virus, and we have built up no real population immunity,” said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and immunologist at Harvard. “Then we’re in dire straits in terms of how to move forward.”

Even in the optimistic scenario, a quick and complete return to normalcy would be ill-advised. And even in the pessimistic scenario, controlling future outbreaks should still be possible, but only through an immense public-health effort. Epidemiologists would need to run diagnostic tests on anyone with COVID-19–like symptoms, quarantine infected people, trace everyone those people had contact with in the previous week or so, and either quarantine those contacts or test them too. These are the standard pillars of public health, but they’re complicated by the coronavirus’s ability to spread for days before causing symptoms. Every infected person has a lot of potential contacts, and may have unknowingly infected many of them.

The Pandemic Will Cleave America in Two
by Joe Pinsker

When someone dies, there are three ways to think about what caused it, according to Scott Frank, a professor at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine. The first is the straightforward, “medical” cause of death—diagnosable things like heart disease or cancer. The second is the “actual” cause of death—that is, the habits and behaviors that over time contributed to the medical cause of death, such as smoking cigarettes or being physically inactive. The third is what Frank refers to as the “actual actual” cause of death—the bigger, society-wide forces that shaped those habits and behaviors.

In one analysis of deaths in the U.S. resulting from “social factors” (Frank’s “actual actual” causes), the top culprits were poverty, low levels of education, and racial segregation. “Each of these has been demonstrated to have independent effects on chronic-disease mortality and morbidity,” Frank said. (Morbidity refers to whether someone has a certain disease.) He expects that the same patterns will hold for COVID-19.

To begin with, the physical effects of COVID-19 are far worse for some people than others. There are two traits that seem to matter most. The first is age. Older people are at greater risk of experiencing the more devastating version of the pandemic, in part because the immune system weakens with age. Early data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that, in the U.S., the risk of dying from the disease begins to climb at around age 55, and is especially acute for those 85 and older. “I think the pattern we’re going to see clearly is an age-related pattern” of mortality, Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at UC Irvine, said. (Younger people aren’t invulnerable to the disease, though; the CDC found in mid-March that 20-to-54-year-olds had accounted for almost 40 percent of hospitalizations known to have been caused by the disease.

The second trait that puts someone at increased risk is having a serious health condition such as diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease. These conditions seem to make cases of COVID-19 more likely to be severe or fatal, and the risks rise considerably for older adults who have any of these conditions, Frank told me.

But while everyone ages, rich and poor alike, these health conditions are not evenly distributed throughout the population. They’re more common among people with less education, less money, and less access to health care. “We know these social and economic conditions have a profound effect on chronic disease,” Frank said, “and then chronic disease has a profound effect on the mortality related to COVID.”

Generations and the Post-Pandemic World

In less than three decades, the first wave of Millennials will reach their seventies and the first wave of Gen Z will reach their fifties. That will mean the surviving GenXers will be the wise elders — a scary thought. Time moves on quickly.

Millennials have been part of the adult world for a long time at this point. And Zoomers are heading into adulthood with some of those born after the 9/11 terrorist attack now in college or already out in the workforce. Most of them don’t have any memory of the 2008 recession and those that do only vaguely. This pandemic is the first major event in GenZ life experience.

We are entering the era of the younger generations that are quickly becoming not so young. Millennials and even some older Zoomers are a significant part of young parents right now, beginning to raise the next young generation that will begin to reach teenagehood before long. And the former young generations are quickly becoming a force in politics. The age of rule by Silents and Boomers is coming to an end, if slowly.

It’s still uncertain what role GenXers will play in this transition: X = unknown quantity*. People we know in our generational cohort, GenX, have GenZ kids. One of our nieces is about to enter college and the other is still in young childhood. GenX is well into middle age and more than a few have reached the lower edge of senior citizen status, such as AARP eligibility.

As for Millennials, the first wave has already reached their early forties and will soon follow GenX into middle age. Our culture has been obsessed with Millennials, but GenZ as with their Silent forebears will probably pass into the adult world with little fanfare. It will be a gradual change, until finally the entirety of GenZ is out of high school and then out of college.

All of a sudden, there will be the newest young generation on the scene of youth culture, what a researcher for a marketing firm has called Generation Alpha** — you got to start marketing to them before most of the generation is even born. To these kids, all of the events of these past decades, even this pandemic, will be history as seen in future documentaries and movies.

In the decades to come, the aging GenXers, Millennials and Zoomers will talk about what they were doing during the Great Pandemic of 2020. And they’ll wax nostalgic about the time before it all. Donald Trump could be the last Boomer to be elected president (or is he he first and last Silent to be president?). The tragedy of the Trump administration will forever be conflated with the tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic, the last moment of failure that will forever taint the legacy of the older generations.

This moment we are now living through will be remembered as a turning point, after which nothing was ever the same again. To all the generations following, post-pandemic existence will be the only world they shall know.*** We are entering the new normal.

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* We GenXers are such an unknown quantity that some might question if we exist at all. It’s kind of Taoist to not exist, to not be noticed as significant enough for public acknowledgment. GenX is like an old gnarly tree that is useless and so isn’t worth cutting down.

The Disappearing of Generation X
by Ted Rall (text below from linked article)

Now, the internet is talking about a CBS News infographic that says zero Americans were apparently born between baby boomers and millennials. CBS listed four generations:

— The Silent Generation: Born 1928-1945 (73-90 years old)

— Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964 (54-72 years old)

— Millennials: Born 1981-1996 (23-37 years old)

— Post-Millennials: Born 1997-present (0-21 years old)

(The so-called cusp kids born between 1961 and 1964 are demographically boomers because of high birth years. But culturally, they’re Gen X, as they share cultural touchstones with younger Americans.)

That’s right, Gen Xers: To CBS News, you’re less real and alive and important than someone who is 0 years old. So much for Gen X culture — “Reality Bites,” “Slacker,” “Singles,” “Clerks,” anything by Quentin Tarantino or Richard Linklater, pretty much all indie rock ever, alternative cartooning — oh, and the Douglas Coupland book called, um, “Generation X.” To CBS, that stuff matters less than the pee and poo and puke and drool emanating from a 0 year old.

The disappearing of Gen X is a genuine widespread trend. A New York Times op-ed by David Leonhardt discusses “The Fleecing of Millennials” by Boomers. Leonhardt attributes not only declining living standards but also the “burnout” slur as being brand-new to millennials while, in fact, both of these characterized Gen X first, decades earlier.

When you read it, it’s downright bizarre that the phrase “Generation X” never appears anywhere. Online commenters were baffled.

These days, all the conversation in the media is about the supposed stylistic differences and economic clashes between the baby-boom and millennial generations. Generation X is ignored; we don’t even get caught in the crossfire. In a recent SNL skit called “Millennial Millions,” millennials are offered prizes like free health care if they manage to shut up for 30 seconds while a boomer talks trash about them. The game show host says: “I’m Gen X. I just sit on the sidelines and watch the world burn.” I’m Gen X, so I laughed.

Being deemed irrelevant is bad enough. What will it do to our already close-to-nonexistent self-esteem to realize that everyone else in the country doesn’t even know we’re alive? […]

Anyway, Anna Sofia Martin writes, “a whopping 55 percent of startup founders are part of Gen X.” So much for slacking. Anyway, who can afford to? We Gen Xers, not millennials, were the first generation to get crushed by student loan debt. Even so, we have “31 percent of U.S. income, but just 25 percent of the population.” So latchkey kids really are having a sort of revenge.

“Masters of self-deprecation,” Martin calls us. She’s right. So, when millennials and Baby Boomers insist us on pretending that 66 million people simply don’t exist, we’re like …

What-ever.

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** Generational identities, in a natural sense rather than imposed by marketers, aren’t defined by outwardly observed features and polled opinions. Rather, a generation in a given society is defined by some shared experience, an experience that shaped an entire cohort early in life, that predisposes them to a mindset and pattern of behavior for the rest of their lives.

In this time of rising right-wing authoritarianism, disease pandemic, and worsening climate change, the common experience for the youngest demographic will be crisis and catastrophe. All of the problems will be exacerbated by worsening inequality of wealth, power, and resources leading to corruption and conflict.

We are entering an era of tumultuous and sometimes devastating change, likely resulting in another great depression or world war or both. The disease pandemic is particularly relevant since it is the first truly and fully global event. The youngest generation will grow up in a post-pandemic world.

Maybe they will simply be called ‘Survivors’. Hopefully, they won’t be known as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

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*** How will this affect the youngest?

Generation C Has Nowhere to Turn
by Amanda Mull