As the world prepares to gradually lift the Great Lockdown and confront the economic destruction whose effects will likely remain long after the pandemic, the glaring problems from infrastructural weaknesses that came to light in this crisis demand answers. These problems are not just limited to public health and logistics. They reach the core of our polity, the formulation of public policy, and the extent of citizens’ rights.
From a civic standpoint, the biggest fallout from the crisis is that temporary measures adopted during a state of emergency tend to remain permanent. Recent examples include legislation passed in the wake of 9/11 or memorandum-era measures adopted in Greece. Especially in the latter instance, what is particularly concerning is that these mandates were not actually being debated by elected officials, but rather, imposed by extra-institutional forces, like creditors and informal bodies, thus threatening the legitimacy of democratic institutions.
Developments in this present crisis pose a similar threat, inasmuch as policy is being increasingly influenced by extra-institutional forces that can operate independently of the public mandate and often go unchecked by democratic institutions. Consider the influence being exercised by non-governmental figures who routinely made headlines and are directly influencing the response to the pandemic. For example, the publicity being received by Bill Gates is arguably unprecedented, considering his lack of medical knowledge and institutional office. A self-styled expert, he is being treated as such by many corporate media outlets, which are disseminating and amplifying his vaccine agenda across the globe with surprisingly little, if any, scrutiny.
The fact that Mr. Gates’ foundation has direct financial ties to research, vaccine projects, publicity campaigns, and even some of the models being used to determine the infection rate and fatalities from the coronavirus certainly eliminate any dispassion, impartiality, or other qualities you would expect from institutional leaders. With the aid of his vast wealth and the funding he provides, the case could be made that the billionaire founder behind the notoriously virus-susceptible Windows operating system is exerting an influence far beyond his reach and right in relation to policymaking.
British epidemiologist Neil Ferguson is another figure who became a household name in the peak of the coronavirus outbreak. Although his name has been associated with wildly pessimistic (and just as inaccurate) doomsday predictions before, as in the instances of swine flu and mad cow disease, the man behind the Imperial College model that largely influenced lockdown policies in places like Great Britain and the United States remained unapologetic over his model’s estimates, which were off by orders of magnitude, attributing the vastly lower fatalities almost entirely to “social distancing.” Ironically, after spearheading the charge to curtail basic freedoms (assembly, speech) in order to strictly enforce social distancing through fines and even arrests, he himself had to step down from his governmental post after being caught breaking quarantine rules to engage in amorous pursuits. It appears that the concept of hubris remains timely even today.
Sadly, many mainstream media outlets – including social media – have also shirked their institutional responsibility to check authority and carefully scrutinize those in power by either promoting hysteria to ensure that they have a “captive audience” both figuratively and literally, or filtering information to “advance a narrative.” In some instances, censorship is even taking place – and not just against “conspiracy theorists” supposedly jeopardizing public safety (although, arguably, their freedom of speech rights are still guaranteed by law, unless some citizens will henceforth be “more equal” than others) – but even against licensed medical professionals with dissenting views substantiated by evidence and empirical findings. Facebook and YouTube are the first to cry foul when highhanded governments restrict access to them, but have been shamefully guilty of the same behavior during this crisis.
Perhaps the most disturbing development associated with this crisis has been the rise in absolutism and universal mandates. Before a vaccine has even been discovered or safety tested, there have been widespread calls for mandated universal vaccination programs, with those unwilling to comply being threatened with restrictions on their freedom of movement, or even worse, jail time. Influencers like Mr. Gates have vocally argued for a sustained lockdown that could last months or years until a vaccine is found.
Good investigative reporting should be looking for the money trail unrelentingly, because these interventions become civically, morally, and perhaps even legally questionable in light of some fear mongers’ financial and social ties to the World Health Organization, national health agencies, and key institutional figures.
With contact tracing becoming a mantra for the media and government officials, perhaps the time has come to institute this practice from the top down. Maybe what’s most needed is full transparency revealing contacts between our politicians, leading policymakers (including medical experts on government task forces), and extra-institutional figures like modern-day Croesuses pursuing their own agenda, big pharma, and other special interests.
Perhaps we should also start tracing the contacts of journalists to see if the money trail doesn’t make inroads into media outlets too. After all, it’s important to remember that freedom of the press only exists to defend all those other freedoms that we hold to be self-evident truths. Without the latter, there is no point in defending the former.