The ‘meme-politics of lockdown and vaccine mandates’ may be fading, but the inflation meme and the economic aftermath meme has only just begun.
Fifteen years ago, a man who was head of the GW Bush White House bio-terrorism study group, and a special adviser to the President, unexpectedly found himself propelled into becoming the ‘father’ of pandemic planning, after Bush had come to his bioterrorism people to demand some huge plan to deal with some imagined calamity. “We need a whole-of-society plan. What are you going to do about foreign borders? And travel? And commerce?”. From his perch of influence – serving an apocalyptic president — Dr Venkayya became the driving force for a dramatic change in U.S. policy during pandemics.
The then White House guidelines (born out of a bio-terrorism context), allowed the government to put Americans in quarantine while closing their schools, businesses, and with churches shuttered, all in the name of disease containment. It seemed so simple; “Why didn’t these epidemiologists figure it out?”: A model of disease control, based on stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, business closures, and forced human separation.
Well, from there, the “founding father of lockdowns” (not unnaturally) became successively head of pandemic policy at the Gates Foundation, and then President of Global Vaccine Business Unit. However, as U.S. commentator Jeffrey Tucker observes, the policy models developed by this White House study group “kept spitting out a conclusion that shutting down schools would drop virus transmission by 80%. I’ve read his memos from this period — some of them still not public — and what you observe is not science, but ideological fanaticism in play”.
Whatever its parentage, the lockdown movement that this adviser authored is global, ferocious, and, as a fully credentialised meme (bio-war parentage, White House and Gates), is almost irrepressible. It is the same in today’s euphoric stock markets: everyone gets caught up in the dance … chasing credentialised stock narratives to the point of irrationality. Who cares about the fundamentals, contra-indications, or even warnings from financial or medical experts. This pandemic policy approach has evolved into a form of contagion, in itself.
As in markets, so in politics: Memes, however well-credentialised, shift. The global political meme since early 2020 of lockdown and vaccine pandemic control – that became a quasi-hegemony – now is being overtaken by a fresh meme, and a new rising phase of politics: the politics of inflation.
Hot inflation figures are already defining the debate on the Biden agenda, the broader economy, and spooking the White House. Prices rose in the U.S. 0.9% from last month, for an annual inflation rate of 6.2% (the biggest inflation spike in 30 years).
This spike in inflation may sink Biden’s Build Back Better agenda (BBB), potentially killing a quick deal on the $1.75 trillion package. Many Americans are unsettled, finding themselves inhabiting this ‘weird pandemic economy’. Shelves are empty. Wages are up, but so are prices (by more than official figures suggest), on almost anything you want to buy. The stock market soars, on the conviction that the Fed can never allow ‘the market’ to fall more than 10%. The economy is adding jobs, albeit mainly low quality ones. But ports are backlogged. ‘For hire’ signs are plentiful. Yet businesses report difficulty recruiting workers. And no one knows when things are going to straighten out, or even if they will straighten out.
Republicans have been ramming home the message that the inflation spike effectively, is a covert government ‘tax’, and they blame Biden’s ‘Big Spend’ for the inflation demon’s frightening apparition. Some ‘up’ the anxiety further, reminding Americans that the global ‘Davos’ élite have been openly telling us that one day we will own nothing; have no privacy, and will be happy. And the way they will make it happen, it is said, is through destroying the value of money.
It seems that the ‘politics of fear’ may be ‘crossing the aisle’. But, in this shift, Big Tech cannot ride so easily to the Establishment’s rescue. With the vaccine meme, it has been relatively routine for the Tech social media to censor and delete all contrarian opinion, whether credentialed or not; but when it comes to inflation, ‘fact-checking’ becomes not just redundant, but counter-productive, for the ‘facts’ are visible with every purchase made. And every consumer can attest that prices are rising well above 6.2%.
Inflation will become the hottest political issue as we head toward 2022. Two ex-Federal Reserve members say the Fed should raise rates to “at least 3%,” and maybe 4%. And two current Fed Presidents warn that the Treasury market is “not as resilient” as it should be, and that even modest stress could break it.
The former Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers, says that if the Fed doesn’t deal with inflation, then it “could result in the re-election of Donald Trump”. The Fed however, is locked tight in a corner of its own making: it has to finance Biden’s big BBB spend – and this implies keeping interest rates low (to keep Federal interest expenditure from ballooning). To ‘Go Big’ with fiscal spending will just accelerate inflation, yet this what the White House wants to do, when it says that spending will win the voters hearts, and that Biden too, very much shares Americans’ worries about inflation, and the prospect of rising mortgage payments. It is a plain non-sequitur.
Another ‘fully credentialised’ meme, chased to the point of exuberance, has been the ‘re-opening’ and return of ‘normal’ meme – if only (and when) vaccination rates were to reach 70% (a rate recently upped to 90%). But there is no normal. We’re living in a new post-pandemic world. The ever more complex, network, economic system is experiencing breakages at key points.
The notion that the economy could be locked down for two years, and then simply would ‘rebound’ just as ‘it was’, entirely intact, was always magical thinking, (and yet was widely embraced on Wall Street). The more complex the system, the greater the risk of systemic instability, as cascades start to slide away.
And human psychology and social culture is yet another complex networked system. The pandemic has made us question the ‘way we were’, and to rethink our life-balance. The behavioural changes induced by the Great Depression, for instance, did not fade until 30 years after the Depression was over. Such is the staying power of social trauma – whether it be war, depression or pandemic. Accordingly, we will not likely recover from this pandemic according to the logic embraced by the ‘bounce back’ meme.
On the whole, the ‘meme-politics of lockdown and vaccine mandates’ may be fading, but the inflation meme and the economic aftermath meme has only just begun.
Digging down deeper, we find that all this furious meme-chasing does have a common thread. Tucker observed that that the original pandemic planning was deeply ‘ideological’. How so? It may have become political-ideological since 2020, but the planning was years earlier. The link perhaps is expressed in the career progression of the ‘father of lockdown’ (as Tucker calls him): aide to the U.S. President, head of pandemic policy with the Gates Foundation and President of the Global Vaccine Business Unit.
The link would seem to be the commingling of Big Tech (Silicon Valley), Defence Tech, Big Business (Davos) and Big Pharma – giving birth to the technocratic managerialist mindset. (The managerial technocratic approach which so spectacularly blew-up, with the U.S. rout in Afghanistan, leaving in its wake only systemic human instability seeping across the nation).
Tucker gives us this thought about the ‘ideology’ underlying so many of these seemingly credentialised memes:
“In a surprising interview, Bill Gates said the following: “We didn’t have vaccines that block transmission. We got vaccines that help you with your health, but they only slightly reduce the transmission. We need new ways of doing vaccines.”
“What can we make of Gates’s passing statement: “We need a new way of doing vaccines”?”, Tucker asks. “Let’s travel back in time to examine his career at Microsoft and his shepherding into existence the Windows operating system. By the early 1990s, it was being billed as the essential brain of the personal computer. Security considerations against viruses were not part of its design, however, simply because not that many people were using the internet …
“The neglect of this consideration turned into a disaster. By the early 2000s, there were thousands of versions of malware (also called bugs) floating around the internet, and infecting computers running Windows worldwide … The problem of malware was dubbed ‘viruses’. It was a metaphor. Not real”.
It’s not clear that Gates ever really understood that. Computer viruses aren’t anything like biological viruses. To maintain a clean and functioning hard drive, you want to avoid and block a computer virus at all costs, explains Tucker. Any exposure is bad exposure. The fix is always avoidance until eradication.
“With biological viruses, we have evolved to confront them through exposure, and let our immune system develop to take them on. A body that blocks all pathogens without immunity, is a weak one that will die at the first exposure, which will certainly come at some point in a modern society. An immune system that confronts most viruses and recovers, grows stronger. That’s a gigantic difference that Gates never understood.
“In short, keeping viruses out of computers constitutes the single biggest professional struggle in Gates’ life. The lesson he learned was that pathogen blocking and eradication was always the path forward. What he never really understood is that the word virus was merely a metaphor for unwanted and unwelcome computer code. The analogy breaks down in real life.
“After finally stepping back from Microsoft’s operations, Gates started dabbling in other areas, as newly rich people tend to do. They often imagine themselves especially competent at taking on challenges that others have failed at simply because of their professional successes … And what subject did he pounce on? He would do to the world of pathogens what he did at Microsoft: he would stamp them out! He began with malaria and other issues and eventually decided to take on them all. And what was his solution? Of course: antivirus software. What is that? It is vaccines. Your body is the hard drive that he would save with his software-style solution.”
In parenthesis, we should note that dualism in ratiocination has be-devilled western thinking since the outset: First, the divine sphere of perfection redeeming the corrupted sinful sphere of humanity. And in its secularised form: Science redeeming wayward humanity towards universal utopias. And in our Tech age, AI ‘software’ correcting and ‘improving’ human hardware.
Here is the point; and here the thread: All our seemingly credentialised memes are hollow, in the same way Gates’ understanding of biology is. “Early on in the pandemic, to get a sense of Gates’s views”, Tucker says, “I watched his TED talks. I began to realize something astonishing. He knew much less than anyone could discover by reading a book on cell biology from Amazon. He couldn’t even give a basic 9th-grade-level explanation of viruses and their interaction with the human body. And yet here he was, lecturing the world about the coming pathogen and what should be done about it. His answer is always the same: more surveillance, more control, more technology”.
Let’s not pin this all onto Gates however – this dualistic way of ratiocination runs through all of western modernity. Tech vaccines are the solution to the Covid virus. And, forced (human) separation is good for placing the malware into quarantine. The real-economy is the hardware that Central Bank ‘software’ will protect against recessionary pathogens. The Davos’ Re-Set will upload new global software for a ‘fairer, greener future’. A fourth Industrial Revolution is the digital technological management that will clean out Climate malware. Etc, etc.
In reality, all these are highly complex network systems, not susceptible to dualistic intervention. They work – if they work – as organic wholes. At best, we face systemic instability, as a result of these naïve ‘software’ interventions. At worst, systemic collapse.
Alastair Crooke is a former British diplomat, founder and director of the Beirut-based Conflicts Forum.