In April I wrote a postscript to my critique of the ‘unofficial left’ (David Graeber, Noam Chomsky, Media Lens, etc.) criticising their non-response to the already highly suspicious coronavirus narrative. Things have moved on — now into the past tense — so here is the same summary, now updated and revised.
A deadly pandemic, we are told, swept across the planet, forcing governments to massively enhance state and police power, lock everyone up in their homes and bork the economy. National governments, transnational institutions and all media outlets were of one voice. Panic. We just had to put millions and millions of people out of work then shut them up in a heavily policed panic room. Anyone unable to perceive the foundations of the unofficial left might imagine that they would have interrogated this extraordinary situation, that they would have critically appraised official accounts of the severity of the ‘pandemic’, that they would have asked themselves what the likely effects might be of putting so many people out of work; or that it would have been the perfect time for ‘radicals’ to seriously question the functioning of the system, to explore wider questions about its stability and to critically investigate vested interests; perhaps also take a look at the universal denial of death and how easily people can be manipulated by playing on their fears, or even explore the possibilities for genuine revolt as the economy contracted. They would have been disappointed.
What was the response of the unofficial socialists mentioned in the original article? Did they criticise the official story? Did they ask if anything else might have been motivating their leaders than altruistic concern for human life? Did they question the extraordinarily repressive measures governments have taken to contain the problem? Did they question official figures (or even looked at them — many were surprisingly frank)? Did they take a second look at other epidemics and pandemics (such as the flu pandemics of 57 and 68: each of which were twice as deadly as C-19), or at deaths from influenza under normal conditions (around half a million a year — about the same as C-19), or at deaths from other similar illnesses, like pneumonia? Did they sound any alarm bells about rather suspicious proposed solutions such as an express vaccine, contact-tracing and so forth? Did any of these people ask any seriously critical, or even very interesting, questions? The answer to all of these questions was an almost entirely predictable no. Every man jack of them fell straight into line. Jonathan Cook peeped his head about the parapet for a split-second, spiritual astronaut Caitlin Johnstone asked one or two questions on peripheral matters before concluding that she finds ‘the whole thing ultimately irrelevant and boring’1, XR started rubbing their hands, Afshin Rattansi vaguely gestured towards a few sceptical RT pieces and Paul Kingsnorth sat in a barley field and stared majestically into the sunset. But that was pretty much it.
I say ‘almost’ predictable because even I was surprised at how uniformly subservient all these people turned out to be. That, with a handful of noble exceptions — OffGuardian, Neil Clark, Piers Robinson and Tim Hayward — the entire left-wing, official and unofficial, were instantly, totally, unquestioningly behind the crime of the century was, I admit, something of a surprise. So total and unanimous was it that — and I’m probably not alone here — I’ve more than once had to look at the entire matter again from the start to check, ‘yes Darren, you’re not mad. It really has happened this way.’
It is now clear — and was evident in April — that the coronavirus wasn’t anything like as bad as it has been presented (it was downgraded by the British government long ago from the most serious category of illness), that survival rates were, for everywhere that had a functioning health system, over 99% (see here), that the vast majority of deaths were the very old (over sixty five) and infirm (with pre-existing conditions), that it was and is almost completely harmless to people under 50 (it’s effectively impossible2 for a child to get it), that it didn’t have an unprecedented supertragic impact on ICUs around the world (Spanish hospitals are regularly overburdened in flu season), that masks don’t appear to be particularly effective3 and neither does the two-meter rule (essentially made up), that official figures — particularly in those countries most desirous of becoming entirely autocratic — were inflated by including people dying with the virus rather than merely dying of it (along with, it seems likely, other statistical shenanigans4), that those countries which didn’t lockdown — such as Sweden and Japan — did absolutely fine (while New Zealand — a more isolated country on earth you cannot find — would have done fine, but chose instead to push 70,000 children into poverty), that the wealthiest people in the world became much, much richer, that we’ve taken a massive lurch towards a techno-dystopian world controlled by an ever shrinking cartel of IT companies and that lockdown has destroyed and will continue to destroy the lives of millions upon millions of poor people (the UN predicts a ‘biblical famine,’ possibly as many as 300,000 deaths a day), all for no good reason.
Not that I care about ‘the economy’, nor about some of the wonderful freedoms that have been lost (oh gosh, no football, no theatre,5 no pubs,6 no protests, woe), nor do I think the world has, as so many are now lamenting, ‘become’ dystopian — it has actually just, as I have already predicted, ditched a Huxleyan dystopia for an Orwellian one. The point is ‘the wrecked economy’ refers to the bottom 80% of economic activity — and if that is obliterated, what is going to take its place? Will the system just let everyone see to their own well-being, handing out no-strings-attached UBI to do so? Unlikely. It’s the same with losing our freedom to assemble — if that is lost, what will we have instead? Greater freedom? Really? In fact, it’s the same with the other big issue of the day, defunding the police — great, but do you think that the system will just let anything go? Or will it replace the police with private security forces, automatic surveillance and punishment and state-approved ‘community policing‘ (i.e. woke militia)?
Lockdown enthusiasts and supporters, implicit or otherwise, of the coronavirus story are keen to dismiss scepticism as a form of ‘conspiracy theory’ citing as evidence the beliefs of those most vehemently anti-mask, anti-lockdown and anti-forced-vaccine, which range from reasonable doubts about the motives of Bill Gates, the WHO, the WEF and so on to climate-change denial, flat-earth theories and the cosmic dance of David Icke’s lizard-people. This is of course one of the oldest tricks in the book; dismiss an idea by citing the unrelated attitudes and actions of its most extreme adherents. ‘Look how crazy / evil / stupid these people are — here is an example of one of them saying something completely crazy / evil / stupid!’ (Lockdown sceptics do the same thing; ‘Look how mad they are; they want us to have sex through glory holes!’) Speaking for myself I don’t have much interest in theorising about, for example, this document, currently doing the rounds which is said to be a ‘blueprint’ for the new world order we are entering; a cashless society, lived almost entirely online, under constant bio-surveillance; an updated version of China’s horrifying social credit system, in which discipline and punishment are practically automatic. The reason being that such medial agents of social change are a) debatable and b) secondary. It is the distal process that we are embedded in, the entire context, the entire system (see my account, here) and the proximal ego which created and maintains it which much be understood and dismantled, not this or that cartel or cabal, secret or otherwise. It is the system as a whole which results in the new world order. That those the system rewards, promotes, places and keeps in power are halfmen hell-bent on turning reality into an earth-munching pleasure machine is not a cause of our ills, but a consequence. What’s more, speculation about such details actually only ends up serving power, which is why power has always sought to incite such debate and limit access to deeper and more distant comprehension. I’m not dismissing enquiry into the functioning of international elite planning, which interests me as much as it should anyone else, but the point is that the final and most appalling stages of the dystopian nightmare we’ve been living for millennia is no more the result of this or that Betelgeusian Reptoid than depression is the result of the boss, or impotence is the result of the wife, or boredom is the result of having nothing to do. Focusing on the boss, the wife or the broken playstation is to enter a debate which is as futile and pointless as ‘do masks work?’
For further information, here is my account at the time, here is a good overview by Dmitri Orlov, here is another good account (update here) and here another, here are OffGuardian’s resources, here is a thorough up to date summary by the ‘SPR’ (whoever they are), here is Charles Eisenstein’s typically fair (and typically sugary) assessment, here is a good assessment from back in March of what lockdown would lead to and here is an excellent and very thorough (socialist!7) critique of the left’s response to the coronavirus. OffGuardian and the SPR seem to make a few unproven claims and cite some questionable sources, and they do somewhat tend towards the conspiracy-theory end of the speculative spectrum; but so what? The same criticism can be made of many critical voices. I’m always interested to hear about errors in such accounts, but what matters is what they are saying as a whole. Most of the figures they quote are official statistics; in many cases the facts are now in plain view. According to the NHS and ONS in the UK, for example, a tiny number have died in the UK of the coronavirus, the vast majority of which were over 65. Facts about Sweden8 and Japan are equally transparent, as are facts about how many people usually die of flu, which has been suspiciously quiet this year, or of similar diseases, such as TB, which nobody is power has ever given a toss about, certainly not now that an increase in TB deaths is due to lockdown.
But this is actually besides the point here. Even if it turns out that c-19 is uniquely dangerous, that it really has killed more people than any other flu since the second world war, that it really did require a world-wide poor-destroying lockdown, that a dangerous vaccine really is necessary, as is more invasive state-corporate surveillance and face-masks and all the rest of it, or that, most fancifully of all, that all the governments of the world really do suddenly care about our health. Even if all this and more turns out to be true — and there is a faaaaar-distant chance that it might9 — that still doesn’t excuse complete acceptance of the official narrative by those people who are supposed to question it. Imagine if the government said ‘Quick! The Russians are attacking!’ The job of radicals, outsiders and so on is to investigate that claim, to check whether it is true, to doubt — even if the Russians actually are coming!
Media Lens, George Galloway, Jonathan Cook, Glenn Greenwald, Afshin Rattansi, The Canary, Moon of Alabama, Aaron Bastani, Ran Prieur, Noam Chomsky and many, many others — even John Pilger and John Zerzan, neither of whom I’d have guessed to fold10 — just let the lock down happen, cheered for it, pushed for stricter controls. The question I asked about Media Lens here — what were they prepared to allow in order to feel safe — certainly found an answer. No ‘hang-on a moment’, no ‘do we really need the state and the police and the tech companies of the world to be immensely more powerful, no ‘but what might all this lead to?’ no ‘buts’ at all! They all entirely accepted the situation as it was officially presented and ignored all counter-evidence. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that they are all quite happy for us all to live in a far more authoritarian state to deal with a virus that may well have killed a microscopic percentage of the world’s population but will very likely kill millions of people as a result. Again, hard to be 100 per cent certain, but even if there’s a tiny chance that C-19 is no worse than seasonal flu and that lock down will result in oceans of avoidable misery, it’s the radical left that should be spearheading the criticism.
But no. They have no interest in or any kind of lived experience of poor and working class realities, or they have a visceral fear of disorder, impurity and death which motivates their stunning insensitivity to such matters, or they are cynical opportunists ever-ready to leap on a moral-panic bandwagon, or they are members of the professional class worshipping at the alter of management (which you are now a murderer if you disobey), or they are more interested in identity politics and Eckhart Tolle, or they are too proud to admit they were wrong, or they are straight cowards. A blend of all of them I think, but whatever the reason they support the civilised system at the most fundamental level. As William Morris observed, although the middle-class is comprised of lovely, lovely individuals, it is from left to right, ‘a most terrible and implacable force’.
I was asked on Twitter what should be done with the left. Surely they just need to be safely shown the facts of the situation and be gently led round to seeing things as they are, or at least to question how things appear to be, try to persuade them they’re wrong. I don’t agree. Argument isn’t ever totally useless, for reasons I’ve explained elsewhere, but debate hasn’t worked because it can’t work. As with all matters of real importance, this goes much deeper than the facts — which is why they’re all of one voice. The only appropriate response to the socialist left is the same as that to the capitalist right; ignore them, expose them and resist them. As time goes on this will become clearer and clearer.
(18.08.20 A brief coda)
This piece was published by OffGuardian, under which were quite a few comments about the left not really existing, about left being right, and so on, some of which I agree with, but which were rather besides the point for the simple reason that language is not a collection of dictionary definitions — it responds to context. In one context left and right (like, say, theism and atheism, or idealism and realism) describe certain people, those I list here for example (who, in this context, are different to right wing journalists at the Telegraph) and has use (as, for example, the focus of my criticism here, which doesn’t include Telegraph journalists) while in another, more profound context, yes, the terms are illusory (left and right are both civilised, relativist, technophilic, democratic, etc, etc).
Generally when talking with a friend, there is leeway with this kind of thing. When disputing with someone on the internet a vast amount of unnecessary effort has to go into clarifying terms which, within the context they are presented, make perfect sense.
(01.09.20 Johnstone responds)
A few months back Caitlin Johnstone wrote this;
She’s always complaining about being ‘misrepresented’ by her critics and later complained that quoting this tweet was taking it out of context as, in the next few tweets, she points out she has criticised how governments have taken advantage of the pandemic. No criticism of the fundamental point though; the ‘whole thing’. She finds that, as you can see, ultimately ‘boring’.
I quoted this tweet with a sarcastic comment mocking her spirituality. She is, after all, an ‘anarcho’ journalist who has the gall to give herself mystic airs and dispense spiritual advice, then declares having an opinion about the lockdown, and all the horror and misery it is has caused, particularly in her own native Australia… irrelevant and boring! Imagine if one of the persecutors of Julian Assange said he was ‘bored’ of the case, of if Benjamin Netanyahu said that all this talk about Palestinians was ‘boring’.
My sarcasm (I called her an ‘anarcho-yogini’) was taken as justification for not debating with me, and for blocking me on Twitter. Fair enough, but she then proceeded to heap scorn on those who criticised her silence (and silence it is, on the essential, principle point) and expressing exasperation at their ‘extremely bad’ arguments. Again, fair enough — some arguments are weak — but it’s a bit hard to defend them when you’re blocked.
As for sarcasm, obviously I have no problem with that. I’m English. What is at issue is the quality and accuracy of the mockery. Johnstone’s witless scorn borders on the puerile. Her Twitter feed is jammed full of teenage insults and schoolyard put-downs. As I have noted, the quality of her writing — the cheesy metaphors, the self-help yarbles, the emphasis on baddies, the peculiar emphasis on ‘being herself’ — is at or around that of a sixth-former who’s taken acid and read a book about Buddhism. Take this:
It’s not weird at all. Many teenagers have this wish.
A few days later she wrote an apologia, in which again, rather than address the essence of the matter — the fake pandemic11, the obliteration of the poor, the nightmare of the lockdown, the horrendous future opening up before us — she points to a few tame side questions she asked in April about ‘government response,’ then dismisses her critics because they focus on masks and because they ‘bully her’ into being ‘something that she is not’, or into writing about what other ‘indie’ commentators are writing about. This is of course a distraction. She refuses to address the principle point and so sends up a smoke screen of victimisation — common amongst leftists, although Johnstone is at least smart enough to not play the misogynist card12 — and the usual side-show of conspiracy theories; a red-herring (why did it happen) which unfortunately most people who debate with her fall for, giving her ample justification for ignoring the central what.
She also, again, plays down the horror of the lockdown (just as governments around the world are doing), as she has done several times before.
You see? It’s all been a hissy-fit by people who can’t cook properly. Her ‘role’ (a superb choice of word) is, by implication, to focus on grander matters.
Finally, she defends the police state in Victoria (where she lives!) because, individual acts of brutality notwithstanding, it is supported by the residents (that’s okay then!) before telling us again that she is ‘waiting until the facts are in’ before she gives what her readers really want — Caitlin being herself, which probably is, to be fair, exactly what anyone who reads that article, and cannot see the dishonesty, cowardliness and subservience in it, does want.
(02.09.20 Zerzan responds)
John Zerzan is an influence of mine. I’ve read most of his stuff and learnt a lot from it. I consider myself, like him, to be an anarcho-primitivist, an ‘anti-civ’ anarchist (outlined here13). In the piece above I expressed surprise that even Zerzan had folded, a comment which somehow found its way to him as, in his most recent radio show, he decided to review this essay. In the brief section (starts 8 mins in) he 1) twice characterises me as ‘very upset’, then 2) points out he had criticised various responses to the coronavirus, then 3) suggests that I am positing a kind of conspiracy theory, then finally 4) asks ‘what is your point? Is it phoney? It’s not phoney.’
I wrote to Zerzan 1) asking him what my ‘being upset’ had to do with what I was actually saying (I pointed out that emotionalising an argument is a bit of a cheap opening gambit), 2) acknowledging what criticisms he had indeed made, but pointing out that they were all second order effects. No questioning of the lockdown itself. 3) I also explained how nowhere in this piece or in any other had I ever posited a conspiracy theory and had even wrote an article explicitly condemning them, and that 4) I didn’t think the disease was ‘phoney’, just that the lockdown was unnecessary and that it’s outrageous that nobody on the left questioned it.
Zerzan wrote back, a short email, saying that pandemics are more likely now, in late civilisation, because of over-crowding and high-density cities. He said that Sweden fared very badly compared to Norway. I said that comparing Sweden to Norway is absurd (why not compare it to the rest of Europe, or to New York?) and that he was avoiding the central points — why lockdown and why no leftwing criticism. He said, ‘so WHY (his caps) did this happen?’ I again linked to my essay about conspiracy theories and told him that, although I had my ideas, based I think on reasonable speculation, WHY was ultimately besides the point. His reply to this was that a random accident ‘makes no sense’, that I ‘seem desperate to avoid the conspiracy theory label’, that he is ‘EXTREMELY’ (his caps) disappointed in me14 and that it is ‘you who’s ditched an anti-civ perspective. This is an age of pandemics, a function of civ. Not some mystery to fuck with people.’
I told him that I had nowhere declared C-19 and lockdown to be ‘a random accident’ (don’t know where he got that idea) and that I couldn’t see how opposing a mindblowing expansion of state, tech and corporate power, all for no reason, is abandoning an anti-civ perspective. I explained to him how his ‘density argument’ is besides the point; although densely packed areas of the world which didn’t lockdown did okay, and there were no significant spikes after people conglomerated despite lockdown (e.g. during the BLM protests), even if there had been it wouldn’t justify wiping out the poor and what little remained of society, nor would it justify a massive, massive expansion of the technocratic state.
Zerzan replied to this, again very briefly, by telling me that cases were rising in India and that over 180,000 in the US had died. He told me to ‘wake the fuck up’.
At this point I had to remind myself I was talking to an anti-civilisation anarchist, renowned dissident intellectual and something of a hero of mine. I summarised his argument so far: ‘You are saying that opposing international lockdowns, which have caused so much devastation and will cause so much more, that have enhanced the power and extent of the technocratic state-corporate system so dramatically, creating police-states around the world and unrolling new, nightmarish forms of techno-totalitaria, and that were clearly unnecessary or at least questionable (the US national health protection agency, the CDC, now lists 6% of all COVID-19 deaths as of COVID-19, with multiple serious comorbidities for the other 94%, most of whom were over 75: source)… you’re saying all this is ‘abandoning an anti-civ perspective’ because… civilisations cause viruses through over-crowding. This is your case, supported by ignoring my central argument and by imputing plots, hoaxes and conspiracy theories to it which you cannot actually quote, because they are not there.’
In his next show he said he was exhausted dealing with ‘these non-thinking people like Darren Allen’ (I wonder why?), reiterated the points above (high density civilisations lead to pandemics, cases rising in India), and again suggested I am a ‘conspiracy theorist’ like James Corbett (or perhaps like one of the million people ‘right-wing’ people demonstrating in Germany — basically an extremely unhelpful ‘if you’re not with us you’re against us’ attitude) without, again, paying attention to my response. He finished by asking what people like me (non-thinking fruitcakes, wackjobs, etc) are going to do when the next pandemic comes around? Believe that that is a conspiracy theory (etc, etc)?
My final mail to John Zerzan:
One thing is for sure, one of us is going to come out of this with egg on our faces. But I don’t mind if that’s me. I’ve been dead wrong about a lot in the past (I remember stocking up for Y2K!) and I’ll admit I’ve made a terrible mistake here too. I’m just asking questions — and as yet, nobody has provided any other convincing answers. I’m sure you’ll agree that, no matter how sure you are of something, it’s worth questioning and questioning again what it is you think you know.
In answer to your question about what I’ll do when another pandemic strikes: I’ll judge it on its own merits. If it’s a real pandemic — I mean one where everyone knows someone who has died, that has a survival rate under 99.9%, where celebrities start dying (amazingly resilient they turned out to be with this one) and perhaps even one which you don’t need to be tested to know you have it — then I’ll support restrictive measures to contain it. As it is, doubt remains the better choice I think, and certainly one which, as a critic of the system, I should take.
And, I’d say, at the very least, so should he.
Read the original article — an anarchist critique of ‘unofficial socialists’ (such as Noam Chomsky, David Graeber and Mark Fisher) here.
See also the latter chapters of my free guide to the unworld, 33 MYTHS OF THE SYSTEM for more critique of the reformist left and its systemic priorities.
- As mentioned here.
- By which I mean — perhaps misleadingly, although following the OED — practically impossible, virtually impossible. Not completely impossible though. It does happen.
- Although note the hot topic of the day, endlessly ‘investigated’ by Media Lens and company — should we wear masks? — is the very essence of a loaded question, like ‘should we beat our children with slippers or canes?’ or ‘should we defend ourselves from devils with moral purity or charms?’
- Now admitted by the British government
- Meaning no anaemic middle-class theatre of course, as it almost entirely is.
- No fan of pubs, me; but I do recognise that their original function, as a public house, is occasionally served to men and women in need of same.
- What this corona-event has shown is that left and right have nothing to do with a certain kind of independent thought. When John Pilger is retweeting Piers Morgan and Peter Hitchens is retweeting me clearly another quality is revealing itself. Not sanity or intelligence (decent people can be fooled, for example, and ‘independent’ nutbags reflexively blame ‘them’) but still one of importance. Regardless of whether C-19 is a fraud or not, those who default to suspicion are eo ipso more independently minded than those who default to acceptance and these two qualities naturally cut across the fake left-right divide.
- Routinely compared, by lockdown supporters, to neighbouring scando-countries, rather than to other European countries, and without taking into account that Sweden were, apparently, a bit lax with their care-home policy. Care-homes like geriatric wards should, of course, have been taken care of during this crisis, as they should be during any flu season.
- I’d have egg on my face, but I’d be quite happy to admit I was wrong as I have been many times before.
- Pilger is fine with this happening in his native land. I emailed to question him about it, but he didn’t reply.
- In the sense that it wasn’t a pandemic, not that it wasn’t an illness.
- At least not overtly. It does often seem to be men that have a problem with her for some reason.
- Here’s a good piece countering common objections to primitivism.
- Kinda flattering that, I confess.