Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Criminal negligence and national deception: marking the UK Covid-19 death toll

As the official UK Covid-19 death toll surges past 20,000, the true number over double that, it's important just to stop and really think about the staggering scale of avoidable losses and suffering, how such an extensive calamity could occur in this rich and 'resourceful' country, the negation of every key scientific and authoritative warning, the elementary precautions abandoned, 'test, trace, screen, isolate, contain' treated like some kind of fanciful outlier, the disgraceful absence of key medical stockpiles and proper protective equipment, the gross failure to close and contain borders, the continued 'open door' neoliberal policies that let capital and the virus fly freely, the calculated disregard for human beings, our elderly, our vulnerable, our very community, the wilful lies, evasions, deceptions and mendacity of this government, the peddled illusion that 'we're all in it together', the government's and media's patronising promotion of people on the streets clapping for our nurses, doctors and vital workers while they're still being denied the most basic protections and worthy wages, the state indulgence, meanwhile, of corporate thieves like Richard Branson despite his privatised plundering of the NHS, the groaning strains of 'national treasure' Sir Elton, tax-havened Gary Barlow, posturing Chancellor Rishi Sunak, and our royal 'leading the nation' family with their whitewash telethon charade for the NHS and other 'good causes', services that are ours to be funded by right, not cringing charity, a national deceit amplified by a keep-us-all-dutifully-distracted, 'go easy on ministers' BBC and other service 'journalism' which still won't headline the dark extent of mass deaths or dare put a seriously damning question to those so blatantly responsible, the passive acceptance of these daily numbers, the effective normalisation of state killing, our very own locked-down readiness to comprehend such, the ways in which all our very real feelings and acts of social care and generosity are, perversely, helping to mask government culpability, all part of a system of conformity, acquiescence and control so deeply entrenched we barely even begin to think of it...

As the song has it:

Oh, that's life
Left dripping down the walls
Of a dream that cannot breathe
In this harsh reality
Mass confusion spoon fed to the blind
Serves now to define our cold society

And yet the kindness and concern for others we're seeing amid this crisis shows that we do still have the capacity for transcending that cold 'normality', that it's still within our collective power to demand a new compassionate normal that puts people and social health before mercenary politics and profit-driven economics.

In respectful memory of all the souls lost to the criminal negligence of this self-serving elite and failed system. May we use this terrible landmark moment to honour them by rising above the mass deception and working to realise the truly caring society.

Saturday, 11 April 2020

Tackling the pandemic and climate crises means containing capitalism and putting the neoliberal state in permanent lockdown

If this is a time for staying home and considerate distancing, it's also an opportunity for serious reflection on how we might ever move forward.
Will we return, in whatever 'post-lockdown' scenario, to the same business as usual model, driven by an urge for 'normality' and pent-up consumer appetites? 
Or will we see this as a truly cathartic moment, compelling us to re-evaluate the very fundamentals of our economic, political and social organisation?
As we've seen, coronavirus can lock-on to any human host, rich or poor, famous or unknown, powerful or powerless. 
But it's a gross falsehood to say that all will suffer the pandemic equally, that it's a 'great leveller'. As with any war, conflict or natural catastrophe, the poorest and most vulnerable will be the most widely and harshly affected. 
Nor should any compassionate thoughts for the recovery of Boris Johnson, human being, detract from the rightful indictment he, his ministers and dark advisors must face for leading us so neglectfully into this crisis.
Beyond the lofty government praise for our medical staff, there will surely be a day of reckoning for those who have systematically starved the NHS, disregarded key workers and placed us all in much avoidable danger.
Johnson's hospitalisation shows that no one can truly escape the perennial threat or wider consequences of such events. 
He will surely thank the very NHS he has helped run down for so dutifully helping him come back up.
But this leaves us with little assurance that key lessons have been learned, or that elite exposure to such events promises any serious change of direction.
And this has much wider implications for how we contemplate the very challenges of real human, rather than nakedly political, governance.

This could be a watershed moment for all humanity in how we see any serious future for ourselves on this planet.

For, terrible as this pandemic is, it's really just a prelude to the looming chaos and catastrophic destruction of climate change.

Yet, the pandemic and climate emergencies are part of the very same problem, requiring the same basic understanding of causes, priorities and possible solutions.

This could be a last saving call to recognise what really matters: life, good health, mutual wellbeing and protection of the truly bountiful resources and precious species this world has bestowed on us.

The capacity for care and compassion people have shown in these current circumstances reminds us that what we really need in life is not relentless consumer gratification, but basic social and emotional enrichment.

Even amid this crisis, indeed because of it, new green-shoot thinking is emerging about how we can now act in taking those core principles forward.
Any such action requires a level of thinking so massively beyond our currently constrained understandings of 'change' and 'reform' that even contemplating it can feel almost heretical. 
But this only serves to show just how deeply conditioned and subordinated we are to dominant narratives and ideological dogma on what's really 'permissible' and 'attainable'.
Capitalist control depends on the enduring maintenance of fear and conformity, pacifying and nullifying even our most basic inclinations towards alternative thoughts, hopes and actions.
But it's not just regular citizens residing in such deeply-conditioned states. It applies in even more insidious forms to our ruling elite. 
Consider not only this government's disastrous response to the pandemic but it's very comprehension of the problem. 
These are people, institutions, class forces, who understand the world and it's functioning essentially as a business process, and society as a base set of market relations, with commercial imperatives underpinning every outlook, reaction and 'solution'. 
So it was terrifyingly fitting that the government should place its 'instinctive' faith in the notion of 'herd immunity', reflecting the same belief in exposing human beings to the ruthless vagaries of the market, a survival of the fittest experiment.
It's not just that all of the global, peer-aligned science was wilfully skirted or ignored. It's that these people, so conditioned by their internal worldview, were locked in their very own state of denial, cognitively unable or unwilling to comprehend and confront the actual realities, or consider actions that disrupted their business-first mindset.
And, indeed, following mass public rejection of that brutal model, it was the same sobering political-business calculus that forced them into an eventual 'face-saving' u-turn.
Likewise, ensuing calls for firms to start producing ventilators and other emergency equipment looked more like a 'gap in the market' pitch to the Dragons Den than any kind of concerted state action or emergency requisitioning of industry.
Recovered and sane societies may one day look back in sad disbelief at these vacuous responses and the kind of risible appeals to 'enterprise culture' on which they depended.
Applauding the Tory 'crisis package' and marvelling at such 'socialist-minded' intervention is also to misread its key intentions.
The package is primarily a lifeline to business rather than people. It's about protecting capitalism rather than community. It's about safeguarding corporate and private wealth, ensuring that, beyond even any mass economic downturn, we all return as passive citizens and active consumers to the same set of market rules and practices.
It's also a way of showing the still heavily-boundaried nature of the interventionist state. 
Yes, it's saying, we will spend in emergency ways to prop-up the system, but don't think this signals any kind of ongoing, radical shift. 
Yet, as other historical upheavals suggest, this is precisely the moment to push for such radical change. 
It's not just that the state has to expand in massive and unprecedented ways, it's that people's true ownership and control of it has to.
It's not even enough to award frontline nurses immediate wage rises. We need a much more fundamental acknowledgement of the true value and worth of such people in our society, from our bin collectors and postal workers to our shop assistants and bus drivers. 
We can easily imagine a world without city bankers, speculators and other wealthy parasites, but not a viable society without all those vital people, so many of them struggling along on a comparative pittance.
So we need a whole new form of social economy built on valued people and universal wellbeing.
We need, as an elementary statement of such, the introduction of a basic income for all, every individual, every family. 
We need that to be coupled with the most radical limits on super earnings and constraints on wealth holding ever seen. Not just voluntary, but mandatory.
We need real public ownership and cooperative stakeholding in almost every economic and social sector, from utilities to transport, banks to supermarkets, media platforms to football clubs.
Above all, we need a state which encompasses all these key economic rights and social benefits into a primary policy vision for the environment, an entirely new kind of communal-minded state that prohibits wasteful consumption and wanton damage to the planet.
In advocating and organising for this mass paradigm shift, we need to be very clear about the bigger emergency context of crisis capitalism.
As a system of economic deliverance, social need and human security, capitalism is nothing short of a death spiral.
This is a system that can find multi-billions and technological fixes for nuclear bombs, giant warships and other useless militarism, yet cannot produce and deliver sufficient ventilators and basic protection kit for hospital staff.
There's no big profit motive in surgical masks and antibacterial gel - not until it becomes apparent just how much economic activity is affected by the absence of such 'insignificant' items. 
As Chomsky notes, many more labs around the world could have been working to develop greater protection for coming pandemics:
"Why didn't they do it? The market signals were wrong...We have handed over our fate to private tyrannies called corporations, which are unaccountable to the public, in this case, Big Pharma. And for them, making new body creams is more profitable than finding a vaccine that will protect people from total destruction."
This signifies the gross failure of capitalism not only as a system of mass inequality but of basic human delivery. 
Besides ignoring the urgent message to "test, test, test", where was the actual pre-planned capacity to do so?
As the crisis has so graphically shown, this is a system based on the perilous notion of 'just in time' supply and demand rather than comprehensive forward planning and ready resources.
And like capitalist responses to market crises, policy responses have been woefully reactive rather than readily proactive.
It's not that neoliberal capitalism won't work for the common good, it's that, driven by the core pursuit of profit rather than protection of people and planet, it definitively can't. It's simply unfit for service.
Which, again, reflects the primary role and priorities of the neoliberal state. 
The government may have finally 'found' the big state money tree, but the idea of any continuous public harvest from that orchard of wealth misunderstands its main purpose: defending capitalism.
Indeed, this seeming Tory largesse may be a just a taster of the kind of mass New Deal/Marshall Plan-type spending needed to get the system 'functioning' again. 
Just as in those moments of economic depression and wartime reconstruction, so too will mass interventions be required to save and rebuild capitalism.
But while those past efforts to rescue capitalism were largely underwritten by nascent Keynesian logic, current neoliberal orthodoxy suggests a much more predatory environment. 
This is not the era of FDR or Attlee. It's the crucible of big corporate power and deeply-privatised wealth, all more protected than ever by political classes wedded to the idea of 'neoliberal reality' and the continued management, even crisis management, of that sovereign system.
That dismal continuity of political service is no more evident than in the establishment breaking of Corbyn's proto-progressive project and Labour's return to Blairite centrism under the same establishment-approved 'Sir Keir'.
It's also now, with tragic predictability, manifest in the collapsed Sanders effort to take on not just the corporate villainy of Trump, but the complicit, power-serving core of his own Democrat party, leaving US citizens and the world at large with the disaster of political incompetent and seasoned warmonger Joe Biden as 'serious contender'.
As history shows, the potential turn to even more right-wing politics and fascistic controls looms large in such landscapes.
Yet the coming depression, stark failures of the political class and final exposure of insatiable neoliberalism could also see rising disenchantment, civil mobilisation and a mood for change similar to the 1930s and post-WW2. 
Just like then, any advancements will have to be fought for tooth and nail.
Perhaps, within that dark but dynamic process, a new human politics can finally emerge. A politics born of utter necessity, which truly comprehends the urgent challenges of human survival, communal wellbeing and protection of the planet.
As we sit out the lockdown in prudent safety, in responsible concern for others and in thankful admiration of all those medical and key workers, let us also look with hopeful resolution to what we most value and to what we can all help realise from these crisis times.