On Pandemics and Civil Liberties, for Someone Who Should Know Better


The good thing about Covid19 is that it will compel people to start doing what they should have been doing all along, and would have but for the toxic influence of neoliberalism.

I have a subject here which I must lead into delicately. It is in the form of an open letter to one Eva K Bartlett, currently reporting on matters inside Syria, from inside Syria. She has blocked me on Twitter; the first time I have had someone block me. You shall learn why.

What this article is really about is not Eva K Bartlett, or about how it goes in Syria. It is about the Covid19 pandemic. More specifically, about my strong disapproval of those who counsel resisting quarantine or lockdown orders of civil authorities. That I have hitherto much admired Ms. Bartlett’s reporting from Gaza, Syria, and Donbass, makes her engaging in such behaviour quite disappointing to me.

I am not writing this simply to gnaw on Eva’s skull. I really want to discuss my views about the pandemic in general, and to go after the “fight the lockdown” crowd specifically. She has decided to make herself a figurehead of that mentality and injected it into otherwise fairly enlightened forums. Thus what she did is much more damaging than some ‘proud boy’ type from Alabama blowing this stuff out on openly libertarian platforms.

She did create quite a Twitter storm about it, about a month ago now. She started repeating all these tropes about how a lockdown is unnecessary, a violation of people’s civil liberties, people should protest and resist it. It did not seem to go over well with her considerable following.

She had built it up due to her excellent ‘on the ground’ reporting in countries under attack by western imperialism. However, much if not most of this audience did not sympathize with Libertarian and ‘anti-authoritarian’ dogma. She got attacked.

I was not able to read the form and substance of most of these attacks on her. I think a lot of it was ridiculous and coming from the political correctness mentality. However, the basic grievance against Eva was legitimate.

She was quite upset about this. She claimed to have stayed in bed for two days, grieving at being betrayed by friends and followers. I expect that a lot of her income depended on her internet following.

However, if you are going to set yourself up as a public intellectual and independent journalist, you will have to be clueful about the likely effects of your editorializing. I was not impressed by Eva K’s snivels that she just wanted to get a debate started. That is a common reaction of people who have expressed ideas they cannot support and cannot stand by when these ideas create a strong negative reaction.

As I said in my tweet to her, I am a strong opponent of ‘debates’. They are useless. Most normal people are repelled by them. Dialogue is the way to arrive at the truth of a matter, when it is used right. Even if you think a debate ever convinces anyone or reveals truth, that really is not the way to get a debate going. It is how you get a mass hysteria going.

What offended me about Bartlett’s advice to the broad public was the total irresponsibility of it. Indeed, it is a level of irresponsibility below merely “shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded theater.” Libertarians and anti-authoritarians always offend me. They seem to consider themselves to be smarter than everybody else on no factual basis.

I am really fond of government and authority. Some of my acquaintances who see me as a wild radical will be surprised to hear that. I like civilization. I much prefer a peaceful and orderly existence. This is why I turn into a wild radical when I see authority and government being misused.

Thus I am concerned that when the civil authorities declare a quarantine or an emergency, their orders are obeyed. If their management of the situation proves to be inadequate or excessive an any way, or if the preparations for emergent situations were insufficient, you sort it out when the crisis is past.

There is always the problem in a crisis, and especially in super individualist America, and that mentality often spills over into Canada, of some jackasses who think they are the anti authoritarian heroes. “Don’t give in to coercion!” “Don’t let them force you to evacuate the flood plain as the water rises!” “Don’t let them tell you there is a forest fire and you have to leave before you are cut off!”

“Don’t believe anything the government says! The virus is not that serious and all these measures are unnecessary. They are trying to create a dictatorship again.”

Yes, say I, and where did you qualify as an epidemologist? Why should I trust you more than the government? If the government, or those in control of it, are really as powerful as you imagine, they would not need a pandemic as cover to set up a dictatorship: they would just do it.

The most offensive thing about the attempts to create an anti lockdown hysteria is that it is being coordinated by right wing business organizations which do not want a lockdown and resulting slowdown of the economy to slow down their flow of profits. The same people are behind most anti government, anti “socialism” propaganda. Anything to do with “peace, order, and good government” potentially gets in the way of their exploitation of society, and thus threatens them.

By all this I do not mean that I think the pandemic response is being handled brilliantly. It is precisely the disruption of good government by the aforesaid right wing business interests which have caused the sloppy response to quarantine measures in many places. Canada, the mutual homeland of Eva and I, has done relatively well a containing the Big Bug. This is due to a strong residual sense of public order, and still pretty good public services, despite efforts in recent years to turn us into another neoliberal austerian ha-ha land.

I continue to get notices for Eva’s blog so I do not miss anything. She continues to do her walking tours around Syria, which are interesting. Alas, they also give an impression that Syria is largely ignoring the pandemic, taking no measures, and it is not effecting them. Therefore, the whole covid19 thing is another globalist hoax.

Actually, the government of Syria has taken some fairly strict measures to prevent the spread of the virus. These are adapted to Syrian culture and to local conditions. In turn, Syrians have learned in a decade of invasion and blockade to trust and rally behind their government in a crisis.

Syria imposed a dusk to dawn curfew. It halted travel between regions. It ordered people who were likely vectors for the virus to self quarantine. It closed certain businesses and restricted large gatherings.

Syria has been successful in keeping the death rate from Covid19 very low. Its isolation from the world turned out to be an advantage; the virus reached them late and the potential carriers from abroad were few and easy to monitor; like Eva, by the way.

Syria did not have access to high tech solutions like ventilators and testing kits. These were never necessary. The ventilators killed more people than they saved. Tests were not needed were common sense was used. They are generally not very accurate anyway. You just have to isolate people who are likely carriers.

In Canada, The Bug has been partially controlled by common sense measures which should have been being done anyway. There is a tendency in countries under control of capitalism for people to be packed in like cattle. We have crowded public transit, narrow and crowded sidewalks, crowded offices and work sites, crowded restaurants and night clubs, and crowded airliners.

The idiocy of “comparative advantage” and “just in time” logistical systems are becoming apparent. Government has been incapable of getting personal protective equipment manufactured at home. There are no stockpiles of things like aforesaid PPE, which obviously should be stockpiled.

There are no reserves of all sorts of basic items which should be stocked. Neither is there any flex in the money system, and the idiocy of keeping everything exploited to the limit is becoming clear.

A serious resistance movement is now developing in Canada; not against “The Lockdown” but against the mess caused by applied neoliberalism. Governments are being forced to comply with public will. Pedestrians are taking over roadways and government has to put up pylons to protect them. People are refusing to get on crowded street cars. Toronto transit has given up trying to collect fares.

People who are laid off are demanding compensation and refusing to pay their rent. Governments are having to cobble together compensation plans and declare rent moratoriums. From this, huge debts are being created which will eventually have to be written off if the economy is to revive.

In my neighbourhood in Toronto, people are getting into the spirit of epidemic survival fairly well. There has been no heavy handed enforcement of rules. People find it is not that difficult to voluntarily follow basic sanitary rules. People now habitually follow the ‘six feet’ rule, and the ‘one at a time’ rule for elevators. Every evening at 7:30, people come out on their porches and balconies and clash pots and pans to show they are still alive, and to show solidarity with the ‘front line workers’ in the pandemic.

The few idiots around who try to get people to resist quarantine measures are met with quiet contempt. The few who aggressively try to break these rules can be met with fairly aggressive responses; like to weirdo I saw on the bus awhile ago, conspicuously breathing on people, trying to shake their hands, and asking them how they feel about their “loss of civil liberties”.

People are by no means passive about it. There is a lot of anger about the bungling incompetence of much of government’s handling of the crisis. Some rules, like shutting down some parks, are considered excessive and are being reversed.

A consensus is growing that some changes to governments and to the way the economy is organized will have to be carried out when all this is over. This directly refutes the idea that the pandemic is being used to further the installation by stealth of a totalitarian system. If that was the idea it has had the opposite effect. People are being awakened and government is being forced to comply with public demands.

So it is a scary time, but also an exciting time. The impulse of the pandemic is to replace the present all-out capitalist system. People are generally not looking toward some libertarian type, “antiauthoritarian” utopia never seen on earth. They are looking at models of effective government which can deal with situations like a pandemic, including even places like Syria.

So, Eva K, I do not think even most of your Syrian friends will agree with your assessment of the needed response to Covid19. Perhaps you should stick to what you know, and which you are actually pretty good at. If you still want to “debate” about the seriousness of this pandemic, I suggest you first consult some journalists who are good at covering this type of issue, especially in this article from Mercouris in Consortium News; https://consortiumnews.com/2020/05/10/covid-19-2020-year-of-the-virus/

To conclude, I urge all my devoted following to learn the right lessons from the pandemic. Take up or continue common sense personal hygiene measures against disease transmission. Demand that proper public hygiene methods, especially against airborne diseases, be put in place permanently.

Demand that proper levels of funding for the health system, for intensive care facilities, for emergency preparations of all kinds, be maintained permanently. Demand that more ‘shock absorbers’ be built into the economy; rent controls, higher minimum wages and labour standards, unconditional forms of income supplements.

Consider that other airborne viruses can also be deadly to vulnerable people, and that adequate measures have not been taken against them, either. By the way, here we have a great way of turning the “Covid is just a bad flu” riff right side up.

As others have said; neoliberal austerity is the real pandemic. The jackasses pushing the “public health measures interfere with civil liberty” trope are also pushing neoliberal and libertarian hogwash and are thus a cause of the pandemic. It is sad when people who should know better buy into that type of thinking.

If anyone reading this piece is still on tweeting terms with Ms. Bartlett, you may want to direct her to it and suggest she get her nose back into joint. If not, then I have more than I can read coming at me over the net from other useful sources.


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