Assorted Thoughts on COVID-19, Part I

Y’know, it’s… tough. On the one hand, and to state the obvious, for the last few months it’s been hard to think or converse about anything but Coronavirus. Yet, now that I sit down at the keyboard, I also can’t help but feel like it’s difficult to know what to actually say about it.

Sure, it would be easy to just vent the swirling anxiety word-vomit we’re all feeling, but trying to figure out some intelligent comment to offer is a very different matter. Don’t let this elbow-patched lab-coat fool you; I’m not an epidemiologist, nor do I possess expertise in any other relevant field; I just found this rather confused garment in a thrift store. Even though I try my best to look at the data and listen to what the experts are saying, there’s a complexity to the whole thing which is just mind-boggling in the truest sense. I mean, I wonder if I’m alone in struggling to overcome the instinct to just mutely point at this insane situation we, as a species, find ourselves in. To jab a finger at it with mouth agape and eyes wide, just mouthing the words “holy fuck, not good, holy fuck, not good” over and over.

And yet, well, I’m not sure just uploading a JPEG of me doing that (or maybe even a GIF — by the way, hard-gee pronunciation, heathens — so that you can lip-read my silent exclamations) is a blog post unto itself. So I’d better come up with something vaguely coherent to say. And fast. Because this cruise-ship internet café I find myself toiling away in has electrified seats which activate once your time is up. I even had to sign a waiver confirming that I don’t have a pacemaker, which an errant jolt might disrupt. Joke’s on them though. I do have a pacemaker. Suckers.

Besides, you maybe already know my dumb shtick by now: I do a little bit of hand-wringing because I surely haven’t got much to say, then I give you 8000 words. I doubt this piece will be that long but you get my point. (Hmm, am I jinxing myself there?…)

[*record scratch* NARRATOR: “He was.”
RYAN FROM THE FUTURE: “The piece ended up being more than double that. And was groaning beneath its own weight so much that it had to be cleaved into two parts. I make no apologies. I really just never know how many things are gonna pop into my head to comment on until I actually sit down and pull open that word-hole incision on my forehead with both hands.”]

Anyhow, with my accustomed throat-clearing out of the way, let’s get into it.

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Assorted Thoughts on COVID-19, Part II

COVID-19 has killed countless thousands. It will undoubtedly go on to kill many more. It is a horrifying scourge, impassively ripping family members and friends away and roughly depositing them in the quiet of the grave.

But it has also granted us a range of crucial insights. It is not insensitive to those who have perished to heed these. In fact, it would be downright disrespectful (not to mention foolish) to ignore them, given the suffering and loss which were viciously inflicted as their cost.

Yes, COVID-19 is not just a vile fiend, it is also a brutal teacher. It has lifted the veil on so many things. It has disabused us of cherished illusions.

Some Revelations

One such illusion is that our governments know what they are doing, that they are competent and well-prepared for anything, that they will put the welfare of their people above all else. I mean, if you still believe this now, I can’t imagine what would disprove it for you. It must be some kind of treasured, unfalsifiable ‘axiom’, placed deep in the foundation of your mind when the concrete was first being poured, which helps you sleep at night. (Personally, I think you should brave being a little insomnious if it means seeing what’s actually happening around you. Just a thought.)

There is a temptation to think of the pandemic as an unmalleable ‘act of god’. To take refuge in the excuse that “well, gee, I don’t know, it was always going to be bad no matter what.” (Which, admittedly, there is perhaps a grain of truth to. But just a grain.) Do not be duped by this line of thinking. It is an evasion of responsibility. It is a shirking of the proper, crucial allocation of blame. Make no mistake, what was coming one way or another was intensified manyfold by the bumbling governmental response to it.

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Jewish Britons planning to “flee the country” if Labour wins are, alas, hysterical fantasists

Recently I have encountered, several times, the claim that a certain number of jewish people believe with utmost sincerity that if Labour wins this next general election, they must take flight from Britain for their own safety. And in many cases they have even devised a concrete plan for how they intend to do so. Now, this claim was put forth by ostensibly credible figures, and I have not seen it disputed. So I am inclined to take it at face value for argument’s sake.

I don’t mind telling you that I do not follow British politics exceptionally closely. I just don’t find it very interesting. But, given that I do happen to live on this unhappy little island, its relevance is rather inescapable. As such, I try to at least keep up with it from a bird’s-eye-view. The broad strokes of what the hell is going on at any given time, and then a heightened focus during the lead-up to an election. That kind of thing. So when I hear that there are members of a marginalized group who are literally planning to run for their lives if one of the two major parties – and the left-leaning one, at that – takes power, my ears do perk up just a little bit, it must be said. I think to myself: ‘boy, I must have missed something pretty fucking big!’ For such an incredible claim to be true, there must be some crucial gap in my knowledge you could drive a busload of frightened émigrés through…

Because as far as I personally have ever seen reported – and one imagines such a news story would not be little-covered – the Labour party itself does not officially have any antisemitic ideological positions or policy proposals, and Jeremy Corbyn also has not espoused antisemitic beliefs.

So why then is the prospect of a mini-exodus of self-preservation hanging over this election?…

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On ‘Milkshaking’, the latest form of funny, trivialized Political Violence

I freely and unequivocally admit that figures like Nigel Farage and Tommy Robinson are difficult – or perhaps impossible – to extend any sympathy or compassion to. It would require something approaching a herculean effort to make one’s heart hurt when hearing about their misfortunes. I imagine that would hold true even for a Buddhist who had spent a lifetime practicing the form of mediation meant to cultivate a deep sense of indiscriminate loving-kindness. Everything has limits, after all.

So I wouldn’t dream of appealing to your sense of pity here. Nor am I going to waste your time by issuing the (implicitly mandated) lengthy, perfunctory disclaimer about how vile I find the above-named figures. I’m long-winded at the best of times, so I’d probably just end up writing a few thousand extra words eviscerating them and the seething bigotries they represent. But you already know all the things I would say, don’t you? You’ve heard them a million times before. (A rare repetitiveness I’m actually glad of.) Besides, the reasons why they and their ilk are so morally repulsive also happen to be elementary. We ought to have taken them in with our mother’s milk. So if you’ll just lend me the small assumption of basic decency and sanity, we can skip straight to the point, y’know? I’m sure you have other things you’d like to do today, and I mean to respect your time.

I’m simply going to tell you why even if you (understandably) despise them and their crypto-racist anti-immigration politics you should still be appalled by the ‘milkshaking’ trend. Not to mention, appalled that the attacks are being glibly cheered on by so many dolts. Because these were acts of violence intended to punish people for their political stances and forcibly disrupt their ability to campaign for elected office. That is just about as fundamentally anti-democratic as can be.

I’d like to get one thing straight right off the bat. Physically assaulting someone in any way is not a legitimate form of protest whatsoever. It just isn’t. In a civilised society, protesting should be purely about communicating an idea or message. Via words. Not fists or improvised projectiles. And I don’t care how loudly or crudely or vitriolically you choose to express yourself, go nuts. I would defend, to the hilt, your right to scream and shout and march and wave flags and brandish inflammatory placades concerning any subject you happen to be passionate about. No matter how much I disagreed with you on it. Because that’s the cornerstone of any free, pluralist country. It’s something that was hard-won. And it’s something that we should be proud of and protect.

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The imminent gun ban in New Zealand is Foolish Practically and Wrong Ethically

In the aftermath of the recent Mosque killing spree, the New Zealand government have announced that they will be banning “military-style semi-automatic” guns (which, despite the oh-so-scary buzzwords in apposition, evidently just denotes most modern firearms under NZ law). The intention being to prevent further such attacks.

I’ll put it bluntly. This plan is remarkable for being both stupid and immoral.

To explain why that is, allow me to delineate a crucial distinction.

I vehemently despise and oppose the wide-ranging firearm prohibition here in the UK. It is disgusting. It is an utter disgrace. I’m appalled and disheartened that there is not public outcry about it every day. And I have felt this way for a long time. It’s one of the very first political commitments I remember becoming passionate about.

However, I will concede something important. When someone argues for maintaining (or even intensifying) the strict gun control here, that is – at the very least – not an infeasible proposition. On the face of it anyway. For there are relatively few legally-owned guns in the UK. I have read estimates that there are a little over 1 million shotguns as well as half a million ‘other’ firearms in private hands. And, yes, that’s unquestionably far more than most people would ever guess. But you also have to keep in mind three counter-balancing facts. Firstly, those figures apply to a country of nearly 70 million people. Secondly, because individual gun-owners often have multiple (or even very many) guns, they constitute a much smaller group than those figures suggest. Thirdly, there is a de facto national registry of every single legally-owned firearm. And so, advocating that guns continue to be tightly regulated and largely kept out of the hands of the populace is – sadly – achievable. It can, therefore, simply be debated in terms of whether it is right or wrong.

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Y’know, I think you may miss the Social Media Monopolies if they’re Dismantled…

Elizabeth Warren recently pledged to break up tech and online companies which have a monopolistic chokehold on their particular space. (She named Facebook, Amazon, Google and, later, Apple as some examples.) I read the written version of her proposal, which is much more detailed than the talk she gave at SXSW.

I have three comments I want to get out of the way initially:

Firstly, I was kinda surprised by it. In a positive way, I mean. I expected that it would probably just be a salad of lazy populist-fawning and empty stick-it-to-the-data-barons grandstanding. [Look, hyphens were on sale at the punctuation store. What am I supposed to do? Not buy in bulk?!] And… sure… there are a few requisite sprinkles of both. Politics is still politics after all. And cheap emotive rhetoric remains the gold standard. But those exceptions notwithstanding, I found it to be a fairly substantive, soberly-written proposal with, regardless of my opinion on them, some well-considered points. It shows a certain respect for the reader (i.e. the potential voter) which I think is creditable. In relative terms at least. Most politicians – by which I of course mean their speechwriters – talk to their audiences as though they’re drooling simpletons who will likely need painstaking instruction on how to insert the ballot into the ballot-box. This causes any discourse which dares to rise above a third-grade reading level to suddenly seem like fucking ‘War and Peace’. Go figure.

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Thoughts on the Jussie Smollett fiasco

Let me just say a few things up front. Before this whole scandal unfolded, I did not know who the actor Jussie Smollett was. And, moreover, I obviously do not know whether he truly did fake the assault upon himself. I have not seen the evidence amassed against him. So I will be talking from the hermetically-sealed chamber of hypotheticals at various points throughout this post. (Shit. I hope I remembered to turn on the oxygen valve in there.)

To be completely honest, I must admit that when I first heard the lurid details of the attack, there was just something about them which did strike me as… well, I’m not sure quite how to articulate it. A little too on the nose? A little too perfectly despicable? A little too… theatrical? (I know I am far from the only person to feel that.) But, of course, I also knew that faint hint of weirdness doesn’t mean anything at all really. It was certainly no reason to doubt it genuinely happened. I mean, so what if it seemed oddly theatrical? When deranged individuals decide to attack celebrities, they do sometimes plan it out for quite a while beforehand, sweating the little details. Trying to get everything just right to convey the intended message, to achieve the intended emotional effect. Because they’re hoping to get into the news, to spawn eye-catchingly fucked-up headlines. They’re hoping to make some kind of disturbing statement with the nature of the act itself. In that sense, the attack itself almost becomes half violence, half utterly depraved spectacle.

However, now that Smollett has been charged with making a false police report – a felony – it’s officially alleged by prosecutors that this event was just a twisted attention-seeking performance. On the one hand, I believe wholeheartedly in the virtue of the presumption of innocence (and not just in the stuffy confines of a court of law either.) And it must be noted that Smollett is still insisting that he is not guilty. But on the other hand, if the prosecutors do indeed have the wide range of conclusive evidence they claim to have, I’ve got to imagine that this will be an open-and-shut trial in their favour. Like, we’re talking a total cakewalk here. Don’t even bother showing up, defense attorneys. Treat yourself to a vacation.

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The Labour MPs who just left their Party should not retain their seats in Parliament

So, seven eight MPs – this updated count may well be added to further in the coming weeks – have just made a big grandstanding to-do about leaving the Labour Party. Whether their stated motivations for doing so are valid is an interesting question, but I’m going to put that to one side for now.

Because I just find it absolutely astonishing that they presume they ought to still keep their elected office.

Now, lest you think that this reaction is merely a partisan tantrum – as though I might just be a rabid Labour and/or Jeremy Corbyn devotee who’s feeling wounded by this ‘betrayal’ – I’ll preface with a few things. I do not support any political party, nor any political figure, and never have done. Yet it goes far, far deeper than that. Let me put my cards on the table. In point of fact, I deeply abhor the entire system of representative democracy itself. Even in theory. It is a fundamentally and profoundly and irredeemably flawed setup. Its chief effect is to placate people with the illusion of control whilst distancing them from any power to directly alter the way in which they are governed. (If you care to, you can hear me talk about my reasoning for this stance at greater length here.)

That being said, I also think that given that representative democracy is the system which happens to be in place, the people should at least get what little it’s supposed to grant them. Which is the right to choose who represents them in Parliament, based on that person’s political affiliation and stated intentions.

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