As the province of Ontario and most of North America are poised to yet again enter into a new phase of lockdowns, it is important to look at alternative policies. The Great Barrington Declaration is such policy. While I am not an immunologist, I did sign the declaration as a concerned citizen. What is the The Great Barrington Declaration. ?
The Great Barrington Declaration
As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists we have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies, and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection.
Coming from both the left and right, and around the world, we have devoted our careers to protecting people. Current lockdown policies are producing devastating effects on short and long-term public health. The results (to name a few) include lower childhood vaccination rates, worsening cardiovascular disease outcomes, fewer cancer screenings and deteriorating mental health – leading to greater excess mortality in years to come, with the working class and younger members of society carrying the heaviest burden. Keeping students out of school is a grave injustice. ...
The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection. ...
Those who are not vulnerable should immediately be allowed to resume life as normal. Simple hygiene measures, such as hand washing and staying home when sick should be practiced by everyone to reduce the herd immunity threshold. Schools and universities should be open for in-person teaching. Extracurricular activities, such as sports, should be resumed. Young low-risk adults should work normally, rather than from home. Restaurants and other businesses should open. Arts, music, sport and other cultural activities should resume. People who are more at risk may participate if they wish, while society as a whole enjoys the protection conferred upon the vulnerable by those who have built up herd immunity.
This strikes me as reasonable, moderate, and appropriate. But don't take my word for it, view the debate and come to your own decisions and if you support it, sign the declaration and inform your local representative of it.
With the rise of Brexit, the yellow vests, Trump, and various other disparate movements around the globe, commentators are once again coming to grips with the phenomenon of populism. Axel Mueller has an interesting paper in Philosophy and Social Criticism that is useful. While I do not agree with his conclusions and distinctions, he does a very methodical and clear job of laying out the contours of what is broadly known as populism. Mueller writes, The term ‘populism’ is agreed among journalists, theoreticians and participants in contemporary political discourse to stand for a kind of platform or politician who engages in confrontational anti-establishment politics aimed at displacing the governing elites in representative liberal constitutional democracies and everything that politically enabled them. In this generic sense, populism is a particular phenomenon, a stance exercised towards liberal democracy and not merely an anomaly – like a transitory anti-system protest vote intended to shake traditional parties up – owed to special circumstances. Instead, it is a sort of permanent possibility in liberal representative democratic politics, like ‘democracy’s shadow’.
This is a good working definition although Mueller, in the rest of the piece, as evidenced by even his footnotes in the section above seems to be arguing from a conclusion instead of to a conclusion (HT Viva Frei). The conclusion he arguing from is that populism is, described by him in Jungian terms, the shadow side of democracies. Actually the trajectory of the argument would lead him to exactly the opposite conclusion. Populism is, in fact, the very genesis and beginning of democracy. Afterall, the rise of the nation-state in Europe was the dawn of the Enlightenment period. Accompanying the Enlightenment was the rise of democratic political institutions. But, it was the force of populism that broke down monarchies, inherited aristocracies, and even eventually displaced Christendom as the operative political paradigm for Western Europe.
I see liberal capitalism and the rise of neo-feudalism and all manner of elitism in banking, media, the military industrial complex and big tech as the shadow side of democracy and not the other way around! Consolidation and centralization of power is the opposite of democracy and popular rule. The movement to de-centralize and diffuse economic and political power has been part and parcel of the populist enterprise since the dawn of Western democracy.
As far as his criticism that populism engenders xenophobia and the tyranny of the majority, such problems were anticipated by Locke which is specifically why he placed strict limitations on the force of government power, ensuring that civil liberties were protected. Shortly after Locke's writings, the UK passed the Bill of Rights in 1689 and Locke's ideas clearly inspired the US Bill of Rights in 1789, Granted, social inequities and racial discrimination existed. Colonialism and slavery were both still practiced. But even in these instances, it was largely populist movements that encouraged abolitionist movements as well as eventually universal suffrage.
In the modern era, government and centralized power has been interpreted as an impediment to human flourishing. Anticipating contemporary theorizing on the force of governmentality, also referred to in the literature as bio-politics, the French anarchist Proudhon wrote that to be governed means to be “noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished .... repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed ... mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonoured”. HT Ferretti in Beyond Electoralism: Reflections on anarchy, populism, and the crisis of electoral politics
The political problem that exists is in our world is the problem of governmentally - how we are to be governed. This was precisely the issue Foucault was grappling with before his death and it remains the key problem today. Framing the problem as populism obscures the entire problem - namely how will we be governed? That means asking critical questions of who governs us how are we being governed? The answer to that question, for me, leads to an analytics of what is called "Neo-feudalism". Populism is one tool to deconstruct the feudal edifice - both historically and presently.
There can be no central program or party of populism since, by definition, populism is diverse. Diverse forms emerge in response to unique circumstances facing a particular community. These communities simply require spaces to organize and develop in order to ensure that the constituents can flourish. Growth is bottom up and not top down. But we have learned in our human evolution that discrimination and colonialism are each negative movements - human rights instruments protects the former and populism guards against the latter (colonialism of all types and descriptions).
By ensuring that we have robust international human rights protections, the tyranny of the majority can be avoided through the development of republican forms of convivial democratic communities akin to what the US founders envisioned (although what they envisioned does not even closely resemble the lived experience of most Americans today). The shadow side of the rise of populist democracy is precisely what is broadly referred to and Neo-feudalism and not the other way around.
I have written before about the rise of what is termed neo-feudalism and this review by Jodi Dean in the Los Angeles Review of Books does an effective job of outlining the contours of it. I am not so allergic to the concept of capitalism as many progressives. I interpret capitalism as simply an economic theory of how the market functions within a given collective creating a fair exchange between goods and services. It is still worthwhile to read Adam Smith in this regard. Capitalism, however, does not have a governing philosophy and when it fuses with the state, it becomes problematic and morphs into neo-feudalism.
Communism has fallen as a competitor to counter this dynamic. That does not mean some of the economic and political theories associated with Communism are wrong. Historically, though, the most successful political competitor to feudalism was populism. Populism emerged at the end of the dark ages (which was feudal) and with it came the Modern system of democracy and human rights (think John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and the Dutch republicans). Theories undergirding human rights and popular democratic rule drove populist movements against the ruling feudal/aristocratic/monarchal class. Obviously, there were excesses such as those seen in the French revolution but overall populist movements predicated on democracy thrived.
Now, however, gaining ground as the dominant political paradigm is neo-feudalism and this is precisely where Jodi Dean shines.
She writes that: Over the past decade, “neofeudalism” has emerged to name tendencies associated with extreme inequality, generalized precarity, monopoly power, and changes at the level of the state. Drawing from libertarian economist Tyler Cowen’s emphasis on the permanence of extreme inequality in the global, automated economy, the conservative geographer Joel Kotkin envisions the US future as mass serfdom. A property-less underclass will survive by servicing the needs of high earners as personal assistants, trainers, child-minders, cooks, cleaners, et cetera. The only way to avoid this neofeudal nightmare is by subsidizing and deregulating the high-employment industries that make the American lifestyle of suburban home ownership and the open road possible — construction and real estate; oil, gas, and automobiles; and corporate agribusiness. Unlike the specter of serfdom haunting Friedrich Hayek’s attack on socialism, Kotkin locates the adversary within capitalism. High tech, finance, and globalization are creating “a new social order that in some ways more closely resembles feudal structure — with its often unassailable”
She references that “Albert-László Barabási explained the processes underpinning such a neofeudalism in his analysis of the structure of complex networks, that is, networks characterized by free choice, growth, and preferential attachment. These are networks where people voluntarily make links or choices.”
Neo—feudalism does not emerge by design but is an organic evolutionary movement which inevitably centralizes and turns power into a hierarchy. With the popular developments of the seventeenth century came such concepts as separations of power, limited government, and free people gathering to create their own political orders but with deliberate checks on the growth of those orders. The United States was an experiment in this form of government and it worked for about sixty years in the early nineteenth century before eventually giving way to forces of centralized consolidation. Now with big media, globalized free trade, and high tech, we are seeing neo-feudalism as a form of political organization and with it a particular style of governmentality referred to by Foucault and other as bio-power. The model of governmentality in the feudal system is phrased succinctly by the French anarchist, Proudhon. Proudhon writes that to be governed means to be “noted, registered, enrolled, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished .... repressed, fined, despised, harassed, tracked, abused, clubbed, disarmed, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed ... mocked, ridiculed, outraged, dishonoured” H/T: Beyond electoralism: reflections on anarchy, populism, and the crisis of electoral politics
But knee-jerk populism from the right (e.g. Trump) is not the most effective vehicle to thwart this dynamic. A clear, more progressive, less bellicose, and more progressive philosophical development needs to be articulated and that is among my new year’s resolutions. Still, an informed citizenry and commitment to democratic and human rights principles is going to be essential. I mentioned before that in the US the deplorables are going to have to find common cause with the Bernie bros, Yang gang, and yellow vests in carving out a new populism to address the new feudalism.
The title of this blog is an allusion to the famous work of Blaise Pascal. This blog represents the variety of my interests and thoughts on any given day and are strung together, like Pascal's Pensees, in no particular order. I work in the field of mental health, education, and human rights. I write and am a human rights advocate. I enjoy poetry, jazz, spirituality, politics and a potpourri of other interests that you will see reflected in this blog.