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The Left’s Covid failure Amplifying the crisis is no way to rebuild trust

Across Europe, Covid restrictions are hitting the unvaccinated. Conor Mccaughley/Anadolu Agency/ Getty

Across Europe, Covid restrictions are hitting the unvaccinated. Conor Mccaughley/Anadolu Agency/ Getty


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November 23, 2021   9 mins
and
November 23, 2021   9 mins

Throughout the various phases of the global pandemic, people’s preferences in terms of epidemiological strategies have tended to overlap closely with their political orientation. Ever since Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro expressed doubts as to the wisdom of a lockdown strategy in March 2020, liberals and those on the Left of the Western political spectrum, including most socialists, have fallen over themselves to adhere in public to the lockdown strategy of pandemic mitigation — and lately to the logic of vaccine passports. Now as countries across Europe experiment with tighter restrictions of the unvaccinated, Left-wing commentators — usually so vocal in the defence of minorities suffering from discrimination — are notable for their silence.

As writers who have always positioned ourselves on the Left, we are disturbed at this turn of events. Is there really no progressive criticism to be made about the quarantining of healthy individuals, when the latest research suggests there is a vanishingly small difference in terms of transmission between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated? The Left’s response to Covid now appears as part of a broader crisis in Left-wing politics and thought — one which has been going on for three decades at least. So it’s important to identify the process through which this has taken shape.

In the first phase of the pandemic — the lockdowns phase — it was those leaning towards the cultural and economic right who were more likely to emphasise the social, economic and psychological damage resulting from lockdowns. Meanwhile, Donald Trump’s initial lockdown scepticism made this position untenable for most of those leaning towards the cultural and economic Left. Social media algorithms then further fuelled this polarisation. Very quickly, therefore, Western leftists embraced lockdown, seen as a “pro-life” and “pro-collective” choice — a policy that, in theory, championed public health or the collective right to health. Meanwhile any criticism of the lockdowns was excoriated as a “right-wing”, “pro-economy” and “pro-individual” approach, accused of prioritising “profit” and “business as usual” over people’s lives.

In sum, decades of political polarisation instantly politicised a public health issue, without allowing any discussion as to what a coherent Left response would be. At the same time, the Left’s position distanced it from any kind of working-class base, since low-income workers were the most severely affected by the socio-economic impacts of continued lockdown policies, and were also those most likely to be out working while the laptop class benefitted from Zoom. These same political fault lines emerged during the vaccine roll-out, and now during the Covid passports phase. Resistance associates with the Right, while those on the mainstream Left are generally supportive of both measures. Opposition is demonised as a confused mixture of anti-science irrationalism and individualistic libertarianism.

But why has the mainstream Left ended up supporting practically all Covid measures? How did such a simplistic view of the relationship between health and the economy emerge, one which makes a mockery of decades of (Left-leaning) social science research showing just how closely wealth and health outcomes are connected? Why did the Left ignore the massive increase in inequalities, the attack on the poor, on poor countries, on women and children, the cruel treatment of the elderly, and the huge increase in wealth for the richest individuals and corporations resulting from these policies? How, in relation to the development and roll-out of vaccines, did the Left end up ridiculing the very notion that, given the money at stake, and when BioNTech, Moderna and Pfizer currently make between them over US$1,000 per second from the Covid vaccines, there might be motivations from the vaccine manufacturers other than “the public good” at play? And how is it possible that the Left, often on the receiving end of state repression, today seems oblivious to the worrying ethical and political implications of Covid passports?

While the Cold War coincided with the era of decolonisation and the rise of a global anti-racist politics, the end of the Cold War – alongside the symbolic triumph of decolonisation politics with the end of apartheid – ushered in an existential crisis for Left-wing politics. The rise of neoliberal economic hegemony, globalisation, and corporate trans-nationalism, have all undermined the Left’s historic view of the state as an engine of redistribution. Combined with this is the realisation that, as the Brazilian theorist Roberto Mangabeira Unger has argued, the Left has always prospered most at times of great crisis — the Russian Revolution benefited from the World War One, and welfare capitalism from the aftermath of the World War Two. This history may partly explain the Left’s positioning today: amplifying the crisis and prolonging it through never-ending restrictions may be seen by some as a way to rebuild Left politics after decades of existential crisis.

The Left’s flawed understanding of the nature of neoliberalism may also have affected its response to the crisis. Most people on the Left believe that neoliberalism has involved a “retreat” or “hollowing out” of the state in favour of the market. Thus, they interpreted government activism throughout the pandemic as a welcome “return of the state”, one potentially capable, in their view, of eventually reversing neoliberalism’s allegedly anti-statist project. The problem with this argument, even accepting its dubious logic, is that neoliberalism hasn’t entailed a withering away of the state. On the contrary, the size of the state as a percentage of GDP has continued to rise throughout the neoliberal era.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Neoliberalism relies on extensive state intervention just as much as “Keynesianism” did, except that the state now intervenes almost exclusively to further the interests of big capital – to police the working classes, bail out large banks and firms that would otherwise go bankrupt, etc. Indeed, in many ways, capital today is more dependent on the state than ever. As Shimshon Bichler and Jonathan Nitzan note: “[A]s capitalism develops, governments and large corporations become increasingly intertwined. … The capitalist mode of power and the dominant-capital coalitions that rule it do not require small governments. In fact, in many respects, they need larger ones”. Neoliberalism today is more akin to a form of state-monopoly capitalism – or corporatocracy – than the kind of small-state free-market capitalism that it often claims to be. This helps explain why it has produced increasingly powerful, interventionist, and even authoritarian state apparatuses.

This in itself makes the Left’s cheering at a non-existent “return of the state” embarrassingly naïve. And the worst part is that it has made this mistake before. Even in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, many on the Left hailed large government deficits as “the return of Keynes” – when, in fact, those measures had very little to do with Keynes, who counselled the use of government spending to reach full employment, and instead were aimed at bolstering the culprits of the crisis, the big banks. They were also followed by an unprecedented attack on welfare systems and workers’ rights across Europe.

Something similar is happening today, as state contracts for Covid tests, PPE, vaccines, and now vaccine passport technologies are parcelled out to transnational corporations (often through shady deals that reek of cronyism). Meanwhile, citizens are having their lives and livelihoods upended by “the new normal”. That the Left seems completely oblivious to this is particularly puzzling. After all, the idea that governments tend to exploit crises to further entrench the neoliberal agenda has been a staple of much recent Left-wing literature. Pierre Dardot and Christian Laval, for example, have argued that under neoliberalism, crisis has become a “method of government”. More famously, in her 2007 book The Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein explored the idea of “disaster capitalism”. Her central thesis is that in moments of public fear and disorientation it is easier to re-engineer societies: dramatic changes to the existing economic order, which would normally be politically impossible, are imposed in rapid-fire succession before the public has had time to understand what is happening.

There’s a similar dynamic at play today. Take, for example, the high-tech surveillance measures, digital IDs, crackdown on public demonstrations and fast-tracking of laws introduced by governments to combat the coronavirus outbreak. If recent history is anything to go by, governments will surely find a way to make many of the emergency rules permanent – just as they did with much post-9/11 anti-terrorist legislation. As Edward Snowden noted: “When we see emergency measures passed, particularly today, they tend to be sticky. The emergency tends to be expanded”. This confirms, too, the ideas on the “state of exception” posited by the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, who has nonetheless been vilified by the mainstream Left for his anti-lockdown position.

Ultimately, any form of government action should be judged for what it actually stands for. We support government intervention if it serves to further the rights of workers and minorities, to create full employment, to provide crucial public services, to rein in corporate power, to correct the dysfunctionalities of markets, to take control of crucial industries in the public interest. But in the past 18 months we have witnessed the exact opposite: an unparalleled strengthening of transnational corporate behemoths and their oligarchs at the expense of workers and local businesses. A report last month based on Forbes data showed that America’s billionaires alone have seen their wealth increase by US$2 trillion during the pandemic.

Another Left-wing fantasy that has been shuttered by reality is the notion that the pandemic would usher in a new sense of collective spirit, capable of overcoming decades of neoliberal individualism. On the contrary, the pandemic has fractured societies even more – between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, between those who can reap the benefits of smart working and those who can’t. Moreover, a demos made up of traumatised individuals, torn apart from their loved ones, made to fear one another as a potential vectors of disease, terrified of physical contact – is hardly a good breeding ground for collective solidarity.

But perhaps the Left’s response can be better understood in individual rather than collective terms. Classic psychoanalytic theory has posited a clear connection between pleasure and authority: the experience of great pleasure (satiating the pleasure principle) can often be followed by a desire for renewed authority and control manifested by the ego or “reality principle”. This can indeed produce a subverted form of pleasure. The last two decades of globalisation have seen a huge expansion of the “pleasure of experience”, as shared by the increasingly transnational global liberal class – many of whom, somewhat curiously in historical terms, identified themselves as on the Left (and indeed increasingly usurped this position from the traditional working-class constituencies of the Left). This mass increase in pleasure and experience among the liberal class went with a growing secularism and lack of any recognised moral constraint or authority. From the perspective of psychoanalysis, the support from this class for “Covid measures” is quite readily explained in these terms: as the desired appearance of a coterie of restrictive and authoritarian measures which can be imposed to curtail pleasure, within the strictures of a moral code which steps in where one had previously been lacking.

Another factor explaining the Left’s embrace of “Covid measures” is its blind faith in “science”. This has its roots in the Left’s traditional faith in rationalism. However, one thing is believing in the undeniable virtues of the scientific method – another is being completely oblivious to the way those in power exploit “science” to further their agenda. Being able to appeal to “hard scientific data” to justify one’s policy choices is an incredibly powerful tool in the hands of governments – it is, in fact, the essence of technocracy. However, this means carefully selecting the “science” that is supportive of your agenda – and aggressively marginalising any alternative views, regardless of their scientific value.

This has been happening for years in the realm of economics. Is it really that hard to believe that such a corporate capture is happening today with regard to medical science? Not according to John P. Ioannidis, professor of medicine and epidemiology at Stanford University. Ioannidis made headlines in early 2021 when he published, with some colleagues of his, a paper claiming that there was no practical difference in epidemiological terms between countries that had locked down and those that hadn’t. The backlash against the paper – and against Ioannidis in particular – was fierce, especially among his fellow scientists.

This explains his recent scathing denunciation of his own profession. In an article entitled “How the Pandemic Is Changing the Norms of Science”, Ioannidis notes that most people – especially on the Left — seem to think that science operates based on “the Mertonian norms of communalism, universalism, disinterestedness, and organized skepticism”. But, alas, that is not how the scientific community actually operates, Ioannidis explains. With the pandemic, conflicts of corporate interest exploded – and yet talking about them became anathema. He continues: “Consultants who made millions of dollars from corporate and government consultation were given prestigious positions, power, and public praise, while unconflicted scientists who worked pro bono but dared to question dominant narratives were smeared as being conflicted. Organized skepticism was seen as a threat to public health. There was a clash between two schools of thought, authoritarian public health versus science – and science lost”.

Ultimately, the Left’s blatant disregard and mockery of people’s legitimate concerns (over lockdowns, vaccines or Covid passports) is shameful. Not only are these concerns rooted in actual hardship but they also stem from an understandable distrust of governments and institutions that have been undeniably captured by corporate interests. Anyone who favours a truly progressive-interventionist state, as we do, needs to address these concerns – not dismiss them.

But where the Left’s response has been found most wanting is on the world stage, in terms of the relationship of Covid restrictions to deepening poverty in the Global South. Has it really nothing to say about the enormous increase in child marriage, the collapse in schooling, and the destruction of formal employment in Nigeria, where the State Statistics agency suggests 20% of people lost their jobs during the lockdowns? What about the reality that the country with the highest Covid mortality figures and excess death rate for 2020 was Peru – which had one of the world’s strictest lockdowns? On all this, it has been virtually silent. This position must be considered in relation to the pre-eminence of nationalist politics on the world stage: the electoral failure of Left internationalists such as Jeremy Corbyn meant that broader global issues had little traction when considering a broader Western Left response to Covid-19.

It is worth mentioning that there have been outliers on the Left – radical-left and socialist movements that have come out against the prevailing management of the pandemic. These include Black Lives Matter in New York, Left Lockdown Sceptics in the UK, the Chilean urban left, Wu Ming in Italy and not least the Social Democrat-Green alliance which currently governs Sweden. But the full spectrum of Left opinion was ignored, partly due to the small number of Left-wing media outlets, but also due to the marginalisation of dissenting opinions first and foremost by the mainstream Left.

Mainly, though, this has been a historic failure from the Left, which will have disastrous consequences. Any form of popular dissent is likely to be hegemonized once again by the (extreme) Right, poleaxing any chance the Left has of winning round the voters it needs to overturn Right-wing hegemony. Meanwhile, the Left holds on to a technocracy of experts severely undermined by what is proving to be a catastrophic handling of the pandemic in terms of social progressivism. As any kind of viable electable Left fades into the past, the discussion and dissent at the heart of any true democratic process is likely to fade with it.

 

Toby Green is a Professor of History at King’s College, London. The updated edition of his book, The Covid Consensus, co-authored with Thomas Fazi, is published by Hurst.

toby00green

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J Bryant
J Bryant
2 years ago

This is a fantastic essay with the exception of the gratuitous swipe at everyone on the right of the political spectrum. Popular dissent regarding how the pandemic has been handled might very well come to be associated primarily with people and parties right of the political center. But why is there such an unhealthy compulsion among left-wing authors to needlessly inject the work ‘extreme’ into any discussion of the right? It reeks of the same pathology that drives some people to compulsively wash their hands or check that doors are locked.

James Joyce
JJ
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Why you ask? Why bother to ask? This is a requirement of left wing “journalism,” which is not journalism at all but advocacy.

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

It’s about policing people on the Right. After all, who wants to be known as ‘extreme’?

Other than that, yes, a great essay.

AC Harper
AC Harper
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

This is a fantastic essay with the exception of the gratuitous swipe at everyone on the right of the political spectrum.

I agree that the essay is fantastic, and well worth thinking about… but it also exposes the weaknesses of viewing world events primarily through a Left/Right lens. Especially when the nature of the ‘lens’ flexes and changes according to factors outside simple politics.
Clearly lots of people (including me) try to squeeze ‘events’ into an understandable box, but life pays no attention to our desires to simplify matters and there are lots of bits left outside that abstract box. The left-overs are then addressed with much vigour to try and ensure that one size will fit all usually with distressing consequences.
There are two types of people in the world… perhaps another more useful divide is between those who believe life is simple and those who think it is complex?

Last edited 2 years ago by AC Harper
jill dowling
JD
jill dowling
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

I so agree with you. Is there no place for pragmatism in politics? Sometimes I agree with the “left” and sometimes I agree with the “right”. Sometimes I even have my own thoughts. For some people -and I would say this particularly applies to the “left” -being a member of the tribe is more important than rational thought.

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

‘There are two types of people in the world…’

Yes, those who think there are two types of people and those who don’t!

Apologies, an old one I know.

Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
2 years ago
Reply to  AC Harper

At the very least nuanced would be welcome.

Bruce Metzger
Bruce Metzger
2 years ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Why you ask is there this compulsion. Because freedom of thought is now from the right or conservative mindset – perhaps it always was.

James Joyce
JJ
James Joyce
2 years ago

The inconceivable as become the inevitable.
Why is this a “left vs. right” debate? It wan’t always this way.  
Let’s go back to the age of AIDS. I was in law school in NYC at the time. Hard, hard left. And remember, Gentle Reader, that at the beginning of the epidemic, no one knew how AIDS was transmitted, and there was no distinction between being HIV + and having full-blown AIDS. Could you get AIDS from shaking hands? Being in the same room with an infected person? Toilet seats? Playing basketball? No one knew.
There was rare, general agreement across the board that “we” would not tolerate a two-tiered society that would include the concept of “health passports.” The idea that we would be required to present our health status to random people—the mall security guard, the restaurant hostess, the towel attendant at the gym—was rejected out of hand. We, as lawyers and future lawyers, were told we must be in the vanguard of protecting these rights, and fight like tigers to prevent a dystopian system to be imposed on society; individual rights must be protected.
Now, as referred to in my introductory quote, the situation has been completely flipped. The hard left is now on side with greater authoritarian measures, and the reason is clear: greater control over every aspect of everyday life. This is the goal of the left: take control of everything, increase reliance on the government, make people understand that they have no rights as individuals, they are cogs in the collective machine.
The Corona pandemic was a great crisis, but never let a crisis go waste. To the left, this crisis was an opportunity, and they had to act fast. Fascists like Andrew Cuomo in New York, Jacinda “Zero Covid” Ardern in New Zealand quickly seized even more power, touted the “crisis,” and told people what to do, with no real understanding of the science, as in the early days of AIDS.
Finally, a word about the polarization of the science. I am an occasional commentator on The BBC on Corona and other matters, likely cancelled now. The “medical experts” have habitually lied, distorting the science as the “global citizens” they are. “No one is safe until everyone is safe.” “Global vaccine equity,” and other lies. The BBC’s so-called experts have tried a two prong approach re guilt: first, people not getting vaccines were irresponsible, putting everyone else at risk. Second, people getting the third jab are also selfish and irresponsible, taking needed vaccines away from the Third World.  
As in many other areas of wokeness, people with real power are often calling the shots, i.e. Samantha Price in a different context, but the point is that these people are truly evil (yes, I stand by this word, cue the downvotes), and the people on BBC and elsewhere constantly banging on about vaccine equity and other positions that are political, not scientific.  They are happiest when telling people what to do, forcing them to do what “they” think is best.
When Neal Fergusson first fabricated his numbers, he and others looked longingly to Asia—seeing the army in the streets and the people imprisoned by armed minders. Wow, wish we could do that! Too bad it would never fly in the West! And then someone said…..well, maybe, if we make the people afraid, really afraid, maybe we can pull it off. Let’s give it a go.
The inconceivable has become the inevitable.  
I first heard that from Freddie on UnHerd.  

Marek Nowicki
MN
Marek Nowicki
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Great comment to the terrific essay. Unfortunately my life experience impressed on me that the “left” was always after the “collective” everything. Remember Majakovski’s poem “”Vladimir Ilyich Lenin”? …. individual-zero, collective – five millions finger fist?

maria vl
maria vl
2 years ago
Reply to  Marek Nowicki

“The hard left is now on side with greater authoritarian measures, and the reason is clear: greater control over every aspect of everyday life”
Well, not so clear: with aids the discrimination target would be gay people, which would be very bad. With covid it is “right-wingers anti-vax”, which is fair and great. That’s the problem (side note: I’m on the left, as the authors)

James Joyce
James Joyce
2 years ago
Reply to  maria vl

And junkies. IV drug users. Your comment a bit cheeky, but fair play. I didn’t need the last bit, I picked up on the clues.
“Fair and great?” You can LET’S GO BIDEN!

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  maria vl

Not all the vaccine hesitant (dialling the gratuitously inflammatory language down) are right wing.

Paul Smithson
Paul Smithson
2 years ago

Most of my Conservative-voting friends are now three shots in and most of the people I know who are playing the waiting game (ie. the unvaxxed) are free-thinking, compassionate libertarians who believe in live and let live and clearly respect other people’s right to choose.

Josh Woods
JW
Josh Woods
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Smithson

Including this left libertarian millennial here who is utterly disgusted by his conformist ex-brethen being hypnotized into supporting this rising techno-authoritarianism!

Iris C
IC
Iris C
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

Does anyone read anything as long as this? You should be able to make your point in 250-300 words. Unherd, please take note!

Paul Smithson
Paul Smithson
2 years ago
Reply to  Iris C

250 is barely more than a sound bite Iris. I like that Unherd gives writers the chance to expand on a thought rather than having to cut of much of the meat so as to appeal to those who don’t want to be fully nourished.

Dennis Boylon
DB
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

I don’t know why you would get downvoted for calling them evil. I mean they literally are using the army to put people into quarantine camps in Australia. I feel this is another WW2 event. A lot of people are going to have to die before a large enough mass of people stand up to this evil.

Lena Bloch
Lena Bloch
2 years ago
Reply to  James Joyce

My question would be – how did it happen that the left became so traumatized that they cannot tolerate a smallest challenge or unpredictability or a smallest unpleasant thing, that they want to subjugate, control, govern, manage everything and everyone, so they have is all exactly as they want? It is an extreme infantilization, extreme immaturity. How come so many people on the left AND on the right have arrived at the point of fierce intolerance of anything unwanted and unpleasant? How come human beings (provided they are still sane) are at the point that they want to control Life and Death? As Illich has noted, each time someone dies, it now means he was LEFT to die. Made to die. That he could have been “saved”. No matter what he died of. Even if it is old age, people scream as though death is a failure of humanity. How did we arrive at this point, that disease and death are seen as a failure?

Colin Quinsey
CQ
Colin Quinsey
2 years ago

I think mainstream left politics and left media outlets are now mostly under the control/influence of the worlds real power elite, resulting in a pseudo left, that has persuaded people who identify with the left that it is kind and communal to surrender to the new normal. Clever manipulation at play.

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin Quinsey
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Colin Quinsey

What a load is silliness the above article is – like some Cult members talking of problems in the Cult positions, but still fervently part of the Cult.

It 100% misses the whole point! The Left is Totalitarian. That is the truth which tells us everything about everything they touch. This is Point #1, and in covid was The Story.

2# The second is that the Neo-liberalism which was pro military-Industrial-Complex, sold out to them totally – now it is Neo-Leftism, which is Plutocratic, Oligarchic, and Corportist, and Fas* ist, and the Medical/Pharma Industrial Complex, and the Social Media/Tech Industrial Complex, and MSM/Entertainment Industrial Complex, are their masters, and the Neo-Lefties serve them, politically and publicly. They obey them, and make them Fantastically rich and powerful,

The Left is Sta* in, Mao, and Pole Pot, but with a smiling Biden/Corbyn face. This is clear from the covid response – which was to destroy the workers, middle class, economy and Freedom wile enriching their masters in the paragraph above – and they WON.

The above article is silly jabbering and merely skirts about the real case.

Alka Hughes-Hallett
AH
Alka Hughes-Hallett
2 years ago

I don’t understand what the left are doing? They seem to be having a crisis of their own. They are depleted of charismatic leaders and deep thinkers. Why are they not attracting new powerful brains? It appears that they are seduced by the new titans of technology and pharma and are being lulled into thinking that with this new found alliance they have the upper hand in the political game. But that’s all they are doing!!!! Playing politics. Is that their goal?
Where is ideology, the logic, the passion to serve, the critical thinking? They have run out of ideas, the pandemic has defeated them. Perhaps they were already in decline but in my eyes this has hallmarks of failure of biblical proportions . If they were truly looking out for REAL global good, they would not have relied on scientists with one sided leaning so heavily. They have been LAZY. This was their opportunity to shine and show what alternatives they had to offer ( policies of the pandemic have hurt the most vulnerable globally anyway). They had none.

Bob Pugh
BP
Bob Pugh
2 years ago

Why are they not attracting new powerful brains?” because the whole lefty premis does not stand up to testing in real world situations, the further left a nation moves from the sweet spot the worse its economy becomes and the more dissatisfied becomes the prolateriat and the more elitist the party officials become untill it becomes a parrody of itself. I suspect most “powerful brains” would have spotted this phenominum.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

The Left appear to be doing nothing but defining themselves as the bringers of egalitarian utopia acting in opposition to ‘the Right’. The Right is evil, therefore we must oppose everything they do or say because if they say it, it must be wrong. No, not just wrong. Evil. They have no nuance, no critical thinking, no individual conscience. They are a hive mind. That’s why many of us left the Left. We have read too much Orwell not to be concerned by the quasi-religious nature of this movement and its penchant for authoritarianism and blind faith.

Raymond Inauen
RI
Raymond Inauen
2 years ago

The one thing this so called end of the world outbreak has done is divid everyone even more. The polarization runs deep splitting friends, family and generations into camps that run so deep it will be a very long process to bring everyone back together. It doesn’t seem to be getting better either only worse. We are almost two years into this and there is no end in sight, only the same repetitive measures that seem to have little effect.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Raymond Inauen

I think that the destruction of national identity and the installation of ‘diversity’ is to blame. If I think about it, nationality can be the most inclusive ‘tribe’. You can be British and gay, black, trans, white, straight whatever. What bonds you is a set of common cultural references, language, the kinship of geography and most of all LOYALTY. It might seem terribly parochial but human beings are hardwired for this. I have noticed on conservative YouTube channels that the ‘white supremacist Trump supporters’ readily embrace people who are gay, black, trans etc because they share a lot of the same views and are proud to be American. That’s the bond that opens the doors. Trump rallies looked much more diverse than the Left liked to paint them. The Left love minorities -unless they are 100% ideologically pure.
They are exactly what they claim to be against. They are just as prejudiced as everyone else is. The reason people are prejudiced is because they are worried that if they let a new person into their tribe their loyalty is uncertain and if their loyalty is elsewhere you have let danger in. Danger to your kin, your blood, your tribe, your way of life. I never underestimate how deeply baked this is into us. The question is what tribes and how dangerous is their culture. We should be looking for the least harmful harnessing of tribalism possible. The atomisation of society by arbitrary characteristic couldn’t be more divisive if it tried and mix that in with mass immigration from cultures that clash with our own, often in deadly ways, is a recipe for disaster.

Last edited 2 years ago by Cheryl Jones
Raymond Inauen
RI
Raymond Inauen
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

The real problem is that the lines between what you are allowed to say, think or do are so blurred today that people take offense at everything you do. That is not healthy, and it has become toxic.

Jonathan Ellman
IS
Jonathan Ellman
2 years ago

A fantastic essay and very informative. I can’t help thinking though, that if this had come sooner: “the increasingly transnational global liberal class – many of whom, somewhat curiously in historical terms, identified themselves as on the Left (and indeed increasingly usurped this position from the traditional working-class constituencies of the Left)”, the authors could have answered some of their own questions: identifying with the left and usurping the traditional working-class left’s power base, does not in fact make these corporatists left wing.
They are not. For all the condemnation of wokism as ‘left’, it is the private schools that most embrace gender ideology, the double-barrelled class that constitutes the foot soldiers of environmentalism, the corporations and big-tech that enforce cancel culture. None of them are left wing either culturally or economically.
This essay discusses the phenomenon: “The biggest problem of our age is the lack of a suitable political lexicon. But if socialism means anything, it is surely the support of labour over capital; of the working classes over the bourgeoisie. If the term ‘left-wing’ is synonymous with socialism, what then are progressivism, identity politics, wokeism and soft-totalitarianism? Are they the same? Are they left-wing?
The answer to the third question is no. However they are defined, they do not support labour over capital” https://www.physicaleconomics.org/soft-totalitarianism

Last edited 2 years ago by Jonathan Ellman
Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

The point of this is that left/right policies, divisions and support have become cloudy. Someone recently posted that left/right has been overtaken by authoritarianism vs libertarianism.

Jonathan Ellman
IS
Jonathan Ellman
2 years ago

Yes, or maybe by collectivism versus individualism.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

Maybe, but I think collectivism is too vanilla…

Jonathan Ellman
IS
Jonathan Ellman
2 years ago

I’ve been trying to understand what the underlying causes for affiliation to either are. It’s a psychological conundrum that is touched on in by Green and Fazi. But I think it needs deeper understanding to create a new terminology to replace the anachronistic ‘left-right’ dichotomy.

Cheryl Jones
CJ
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

It’s tribalism and a game of whack-a-mole.
Nationalism has largely been quashed (in favour of the supranational but they don’t realise it – think how EUphiles talk about the EU and defend it as if it were their nation, and have no problem saying things like ‘it’s bigger, will promote its own interests and leaving is a bad idea because you’ll get punished’). Religion is quashed in the West – but not elsewhere and is asserting itself. Secular versions are on the ascendant, Wokeism is just a new religion with in-groups, heresies, sinners and witch burnings. Every time humans try to quash tribalism it just pops up elsewhere. Humans are tribal. Rubbing the edges off is the best we can hope for. A bit of national football team tribalism is actually a very benign way of channelling it, much as the elites like to look down their noses.

Jonathan Ellman
Jonathan Ellman
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Yes, I think you’re right

Laura Creighton
LC
Laura Creighton
2 years ago

Over here in Sweden, the left press here is forever calling Swedes for being the most individualist people in Europe. Mostly they are critical of this.
https://www.thelocal.se/20160719/sweden-is-the-most-extreme-country-in-the-world/
https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/feb/10/swedish-model-big-society-david-cameron (not Swedish, and not particularly critical, either, but has the virtue of being in English).
Poking around in the data collected by the World Values Survey — which can keep you busy for months — leads me to conclude that dividing things into 2 factions, as we did with left vs right is a big part of the problems.
see: https://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSContents.jsp
There are authoritarians on the left, and on the right, and even those who call themselves libertarians (but want to lock up the trade union organisers).
In the United States where there really only are 2 parties, you end up with the situation where most people can’t find anybody they want to vote for, only a party they hate less than the other party. Trusting in elected officials does not seem to be the American way, and when you look at how they behave, you conclude ‘no wonder’.
I think what we ought to be doing, each in our own way, is to promote a high-trust society, which is the part of Sweden which used to work a lot better than it is now, but still works better here than most places. But you need to be able to see people on more than one axis of values in order to be able to understand why the World Values Survey calls me an extreme in ‘rational/individualism’ — while at the same time I am a vocal opponent of multiculturalism. The individualism I profess doesn’t admit ‘we all get to choose our own moral values’.
Unless you one can put me (and countless others who share my values) on your the political map, it is likely your one’s political division is an oversimplification which in these times is part of the problem we are all having.

Last edited 2 years ago by Laura Creighton
Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

It is not ‘my’ political division, as I commented that I ‘read it here’. It certainly covers your point that for example there are authoritarians on the left and on the right. That is THE point.
Whatever the correct depiction will end up being, the old notions of what Left and Right mean are obsolete.

Laura Creighton
LC
Laura Creighton
2 years ago

Agreed.
And at the end I meant ‘you’ == ‘one’, not you personally …. ooops, I will fix the language. Sorry about that.

Last edited 2 years ago by Laura Creighton
Cheryl Jones
CJ
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

Funny, I always think of the Swedes as being very communitarian in the way they manage themselves. Their welfare state is surely an example of this. Although such a welfare state only functions when there is high trust, stability and a large degree of cultural homogeneity, all of which is being thrown out of the window thanks to an obsession with diversity.

James Joyce
JJ
James Joyce
2 years ago

In the United States where there really only are 2 parties, you end up with the situation where most people can’t find anybody they want to vote for, only a party they hate less than the other party. Trusting in elected officials does not seem to be the American way, and when you look at how they behave, you conclude ‘no wonder’.
Insightful comment from Sweden. Tak samika!
US is a “low trust” society, or in my case, “no trust.” Really. That’s why I like Trump. Yes, he wasn’t always truthful, but in a very different way. I hate the Ds and the Rs, but the Ds hate, hate, hate straight white men, smash the patriarchy, woke religion, etc.
Let’s Go Brandon!

V Solar
VS
V Solar
2 years ago

o

Last edited 2 years ago by V Solar
Linda Hutchinson
LH
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago

The trouble is that to some people (myself included) the term “libertarianism” has very negative overtones too, so I would support neither side in a “fight”.

Laura Creighton
LC
Laura Creighton
2 years ago

Thank you for the link to the essay by Ivan Starrymist, Jonathan, which was a new read for me.

Last edited 2 years ago by Laura Creighton
Jonathan Ellman
IS
Jonathan Ellman
2 years ago

You’re welcome

Martin Bollis
MB
Martin Bollis
2 years ago

Thanks for the link – terrific essay.

Having a couple of family members in the youthful woke, my take on their affiliations is that are driven by intellectual and emotional shallowness.

Despite oxbridge educations, their primary drivers seem to be ‘in-group’ performative virtue signalling, allied with fairly ruthless material ambition. Truly a ‘me’ generation.

Linda Hutchinson
LH
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

Shallowness. Absolutely, you have hit the bulls-eye.

Martin Smith
MS
Martin Smith
2 years ago

Come on mate, what passes for ‘the left’ today is comfortably middle class, academic, publically employed with a nifty final salary pension paid for by the taxes of the less securely employed and harder working, enterprising working class and lower middle class. These latter are stupid Brexit supporting *unt* who know nothing about ‘the science’ or ‘social theory’ and need to do some reading, if only they were up to it. Banning them from public life and taking part in the economy will make it easier to replace them with the deserving poor who have been ferrying their way, one way or another, into this realm for some time now. What a shock our betters will get when they find that this new proletariat hates them and their ‘progressive’ notions with a murderous passion that will make the former locals look tame.

Peter LR
PL
Peter LR
2 years ago

I conclude that socialism is motivated by power-play. It loves bossing people about, forcing ideas on them determining how people should think. Supporting the working-class as a means to political power because they could cripple industry via striking has now become redundant as people are generally richer. The growth of the middle-class means it is less easy to bribe the working-class via handouts. So it turns to the elite class and its tech power to try and gain control as that is where social power seems to be. Of course Brexit was two fingers from ordinary people who now want to think for themselves. I’m not surprised at socialism behaving in an authoritarian way – that’s its nature.

Last edited 2 years ago by Peter LR
Prashant Kotak
PK
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago

So all this begs the question of the authors, as it does of those commited to the old-style left cause: why are you still trying to reach accomodations with the modern progressive left?

It is clear the old-style left has been hacked by these people who are not at all left or liberal in the old sense, but instead are some form of synthetic doppelgangers who have hijacked your movement and all your old labels and nomenclature and repurposed them, because they don’t share any of your values. They don’t, for example, care about the wages of the poor or the economic crunch they are undergoing, it is patently obvious they don’t care about rights and equality for women and girls, they don’t care about old style civil rights, or civil responsibilities which they want to outsource to the state. What they care about is symbols, signals, and a monolithic (in every sense of the word) internationalism.

My advice: either call them out and reclaim the left no matter how vicious and dirty the fight gets, or break with them and recreate a left with it’s old values, front and center. Without that you all face a slow, tortuous dissolution which ends with you leaving in disillusionment anyway, or you converting and conforming.

Last edited 2 years ago by Prashant Kotak
Bashar Mardini
BM
Bashar Mardini
2 years ago

The Left didn’t “fail” at Covid
The Left just fails at everything

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago
Reply to  Bashar Mardini

Amen to that. Can anyone demonstrate one thing leftists have accomplished in the last 100 years that did not result in ruin?

helen godwin
HG
helen godwin
2 years ago
Reply to  Warren T

New labour’s surestart programme was a huge success supporting young families had proper research and a good evidence base for its results. Stopped by the tories….

Chris Holland
CH
Chris Holland
1 year ago
Reply to  helen godwin

War criminal Tony Blair and his glitzy New Labour and its policies weren’t stopped by the Tories, they were sensibly rejected and dismissed by the electorate of the United Kingdom.

Geoffrey Wilson
GW
Geoffrey Wilson
2 years ago

Interesting article, and comments – thanks. The underlying problem as I see it is that the authors assume that being Left is morally good, and that the part of the Left which they feel comfortable in is morally best. Evidence is twisted to fit this basic assumption. For example the odd statement that there are only a “small number of Left wing media outlets!!!! I am afraid I thought instantly WTF even though I dislike that sort of expression. Describing Cuomo and Ardern as fascists says a lot more about the authors than about those two national leaders. I do support the general thrust of the article that the mainstream direction of state surveillance, promotion of fear, globalist profiteering, and politicisation of science is seriously harmful to human happiness and enlightenment. But please can the authors think about whether they are actually rather right-wing, and also think about how that isn’t actually so bad!

Linda Hutchinson
LH
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago

authors assume that being Left is morally good

Those on the right also consider themselves morally right. This is a problem, when we were talking about economic systems it was easier not to think of your opponent as inherently evil, now each plants its flag on the moral high ground – the problem is that they are two entirely different hills.

Geoffrey Wilson
GW
Geoffrey Wilson
2 years ago

I see your point, but disagree that ALL on the left and right think this way. I like to think I don’t, and I seek to discuss the morality, and indeed science, of each proposed policy independent of whether it comes from left or right. To me, the resistance to lockdowns in poor countries is morally right, and authoritarian crackdowns are morally wrong, and I welcome support in saying that from both left and right.

Lesley van Reenen
LV
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago

I was left supporting until last year when I had a great awakening. I definitely and strangely automatically considered myself more ‘moral’ on the left. Let’s say I automatically had the badge. Now I have to explain that right leaning is actually more moral.

Ron Wigley
RW
Ron Wigley
2 years ago

Couldn’t uptick Lesley, Janet Daley had a similar conversion a few years back and her articles can be insightful as a result.

Saul D
SD
Saul D
2 years ago

‘The Left’ has become the party of administrators, not workers…

David Bell
WA
David Bell
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

Always was. Their only motive is social engineering and a pathological urge to boss people around.

Martin Smith
MS
Martin Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  David Bell

Not so, there were many hard working labouring men and women in the Labour Party at all levels. Now very few.

Ian Cooper
IC
Ian Cooper
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

I loathe the Labour Party now but had a lot of respect for it in the past.

Martin Smith
MS
Martin Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Ian Cooper

Ditto

Bob Pugh
BP
Bob Pugh
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

I would edit to : ‘The Left’ has become the party of failed administrators, not workers…

Brian Pottinger
BP
Brian Pottinger
2 years ago

Brilliant article but like many it fails to track the current developed world malaise back to its roots.
Globalisation led to the loss of millions of middle and lower-end jobs in the developed world. To fill the unemployment gaps, governments and the big corporations funded the creation of millions of off-ledger nonsense jobs in the non-governmental, charity, non profit and activist sectors.
There now are an estimated 10 million of these institutions world-wide employing tens of millions of people: one in ten people in the United States are employed in this sector and its world annual turnover is equal to the entire US retail sector.
Many are multi-million dollar transnational organisations structured as if they were private sector corporations and paying their staff appropriately. They have grown exponentially: in the United States by 41 per cent between 2000 and 2010 and during the Great Financial Crisis of 2008/09, when private sector employment plunged eight per cent, jobs in this public interest sector grew threefold.
All good businesses need a product: this one sells fear, guilt and misery and in a highly competitive market it is involved in the constant creation, maintenance and recreation of managed crises.
If we feel we live in a world of constant uncertainty, fear and irresolvable crises, it is no surprise: millions of people’s livelihoods depend on ensuring we feel that way. It is in this context, one needs to understand supercrisis.org and its multitude of sub-franchises in the health, human rights, environmental, gender, identity and justice sectors of which the managed panic of the SARS Cov2 outbreak of 2020 is but one small part, albeit catastrophically damaging.

J S
JS
J S
2 years ago

I’ve had three jabs yet they still make me wear a mask. Why? Do the jabs not work? Someone needs to explain all this or Rotterdam will be the least of it.

rodney foy
RF
rodney foy
2 years ago
Reply to  J S

Maybe they need to give you a passport to prove that you have had 3 jabs? (I’m joking)

David Slade
DS
David Slade
2 years ago

If you still hold on to a romanticised version of the Left as caring for the poor and vulnerable, then you won’t understand their love of lockdown. If you accept that the Left of politics (or any ideology be it secular or religious) merely exists to perpetuate itself and it’s aims of collectivism then it makes perfect sense.

The Left have never cared about the poor really – the poor were a useful catalyst for revolution for a set of upper middle class pseudo intellectuals. They have other levers for their agenda now – intersectional politics; big tech; corporate virtue signalling etc. Consider how little the unions care about the ease with which people can be sacked for saying the wrong thing, for instance

Any love of the common man went a long time ago.

Malcolm Knott
MK
Malcolm Knott
2 years ago

The penultimate paragraph refers to (wait for it) … ‘the small number of Left wing media outlets.’

D Ward
DW
D Ward
2 years ago
Reply to  Malcolm Knott

Lol!!!

Bob Pugh
BP
Bob Pugh
2 years ago

How did such a simplistic view of the relationship between health and the economy emerge” The left always have simplistic and often mistaken views of the economy.

Andrzej Wasniewski
AW
Andrzej Wasniewski
2 years ago

This is indeed a very good read and I, considering myself right wing, were not distracted by the authors positioning themselves on the left. Sure they included a swipe at the “extreme right” but that is a meaningless derogatory term and they know it. Strange as it is, most of the honest journalism these days comes from Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Andrew Sullivan, all on the left of political spectrum.
And here it comes “But why has the mainstream Left ended up supporting practically all Covid measures? ”
I learnt a lot from your essay but that is a silly question. For most of the leftists that was not a strategic error, they supports every form of government control under whatever pretext, no matter how brutal or senseless. Of course provided they like the government in power.
Consider the left overwhelming approval to deny education and meaningful social interaction to children for, in some US states, for almost two years. They do not care, as long as it can bring some political benefits.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrzej Wasniewski
Bernie Wilcox
BW
Bernie Wilcox
2 years ago

As a lifelong left winger, I’m horrified at what the so-called left has become. They all seem to have been mugged by this irrational support for remaining in an undemocratic, neo-liberal, big business club called the EU; support for locking down the population, restricting civil rights whilst sending the poor out to work to deliver goods and services to the middle class WFH crowd; support for irredeemably harming the education of poor kids whilst their privately educated peers don’t even skip a beat and finally, their crazy support for exporting our manufacturing jobs to China’s miles cheaper coal powered electricity supply in the name of preventing global warming.
The left are great at utilising associations.
“What you say is wrong / racist / sexist / transphobic (you name it) because someone (usually Trump, Farage or Boris) says something similar” and yet it is these so-called left wingers that continually line up with the forces of oppression, censorship, big capital and big media.
I’ve tried to discuss this with former comrades but it’s simply impossible
My only explanation is that they themselves have been infiltrated by the forces of big business.
In the seventies, the secret police infiltrated them for intelligence.
Now it would seem that they’ve infiltrated them for control and to turn the narrative thru 180 degrees
You really couldn’t make this nonsense up

Ron Wigley
RW
Ron Wigley
2 years ago
Reply to  Bernie Wilcox

YES! In London the legal profession, Judges, Lawyers and their partnerships are dominated by Labour voters.

jim peden
JP
jim peden
2 years ago

Excellent essay but it seems to me that this whole sorry mess has been a failure of reason itself as opposed to a failure of merely ‘the Left’: a mass psychosis not too different from 1950s America or 1930s Germany but worryingly greater in reach and depth. How tragic that our gains from the Enlightenment have been so easily overthrown. I’ve spoken to left- and right- leaners who were convinced we have been ‘following the science’ even though the science has only recently begun to come through. Science takes time, energy, imagination, patience, diligence and the freedom to think what you like and say what you think. It does seem that the tide is turning and the voices of reason are at last gaining some traction – or maybe that’s just wishful thinking on my part.

Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
AN
Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
2 years ago

” why has the mainstream Left ended up supporting practically all Covid measures.” Because leftists are fat, lazy, controlling busybodies. I was forced to share an office with a morbidly obese member of the Irish Workers Party. This person was so fat it used to get wedged between its desk and its chair. When Covid hit, I heard TenTonTessie on the radio screeching for zero Covid and mandatory vax. That’s the Left. The Left of old is long gone, if it ever existed. Bury it. There is no point whinging and whining about it. It is not as though Leftist support for lockdowns etc came as a surprise to anyone who has observed the left

Covid is a religion for the lumpen bourgeoisie who claim to be atheists. As this para says :” From the perspective of psychoanalysis, the support from this class for “Covid measures” is quite readily explained in these terms: as the desired appearance of a coterie of restrictive and authoritarian measures which can be imposed to curtail pleasure, within the strictures of a moral code which steps in where one had previously been lacking.”

A generation of people destroyed by materialism, with no spiritual connection or meaning in their lives. Fair play to them though for making a religion out of a respiratory virus.

Last edited 2 years ago by Annemarie Ni Dhalaigh
Andrzej Wasniewski
AW
Andrzej Wasniewski
2 years ago

What is so infuriating in the left mindless support for whatever restrictions government imposed, no matter how absurd, is that the left picked the side of the affluent and comfortable. Every day of the pandemic we relied for our survival on the people in low paying jobs who never stopped working, even for one day. But people who either did not have to work or they were working from their homes became obsessed with their safety to complete disregard of everything else. The same people did most of the lying about COVID.

Abi Dee
AD
Abi Dee
2 years ago

YES! Thank you. Why are more not writing like this?

David Bell
WA
David Bell
2 years ago

Still believe in the Left? Give it up guys and smell the coffee.

Andrea X
AA
Andrea X
2 years ago

I am reading this essay, by not one, but two illustrious authors, and get to this point:
“Is there really no progressive criticism to be made about the quarantining of healthy individuals, when the latest research suggests there is a vanishingly small difference in terms of transmission between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated? ”
I think this is quite a claim, so I click on “latest research” to know more. The links takes me to a paywalled Times article on John Sweeney and vaccine passports in Scotland (which I happened to have already read)
If you pardon my saying so, WTF! What am I supposed to do with an article that makes strong claims to make a point, but then fails to back then up? This is lazy writing to the max by a “history professor” and a “writer and translator’ both of whom should know way better.
Given this premise, is there any point in continuing reading?

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrea X
Thomas Fazi
TF
Thomas Fazi
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X
Andrea X
AA
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Thomas Fazi

A Guardian article is not much better (and as far as I can tell ALL your references within the article are to newspapers).
I still need to click there, read it and then click on the study, if available. If this was a school essay it would be marked down because of that.
What is wrong with citing the study/ies straight away?

Besides, of the 5 references you are giving me, the first two are preprints, the last 2 look rather minor and only the third looks worth reading.
My point is, shouldn’t you make your own case and present me the evidence, rather than expect your reader to do all the leg work? Are you just talking to your echo chamber?

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrea X
Allison Barrows
AB
Allison Barrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

They’re just being engines of redistribution.

Martin Bollis
MB
Martin Bollis
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I picked that up as well and it is common in Unherd articles.

If reference is being made to a serious data point, a link to a newspaper as corroboration is just fatuous.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Martin Bollis

I know. Last time I noticed the reference was a tweeter feed.
This time it is an article referring to the Scottish government dodgy dossier on vaccine passports.
Is this the level of scholarship we should expect from Unherd?

Dan Croitoru
DC
Dan Croitoru
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

No, don’t think just ‘click’ and react!

Dennis Boylon
DB
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I didn’t find any fault with it. It was a general analysis and not a research paper. There is a trove of research papers on this topic. Fauci and Wollensky have both discussed it in public so. Israel, UK, Gibraltar, Iceland, etc… the empirical evidence is literally staring you in the face. I am not sure why you would need more evidence unless you haven’t bothered to keep up with this topic. The only lasting immunity appears to be people recovered from infection.

Dennis Boylon
DB
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago

This is an excellent analysis of the state we are in. Well done

Jerry Smith
Jerry Smith
2 years ago

I’ve been waiting two years for this analysis. I wrote in my journal in march 2020 “this not about lives versus the economy. It is about lives lost in one way versus lives lost in others”. I currently live in Sri Lanka where lives have been devastated, utterly devastated by lockdowns. The western left appears not to care. I still count myself as a socialist but an increasingly uneasy one.

Caroline Watson
Caroline Watson
2 years ago

Because the modern liberal left despises the working class and its priorities. Wanting to earn a living and have a good time is despicable in the eyes of people who have never had to go without in their lives but who eschew meat, being warm and taking regular showers for reasons of sanctimony.
I belong to a nostalgic Facebook page for Newcastle upon Tyne. Yesterday someone commented, on a picture of Northumberland Street in the 70s, ‘That was when the city belonged to Geordies. Now it belongs to the Labour Council, the University and the Greens and we are exiles in our own town’.
When it is recognised that the modern Left is not about the working class, everything else falls into place.

Alex Stonor
AS
Alex Stonor
2 years ago

Covid is a class issue

Lloyd Byler
LB
Lloyd Byler
2 years ago

Covid hysteria is the new hypochondria status quo.

Francisco Menezes
FM
Francisco Menezes
2 years ago

Does it really matter? Left or right? What about good or bad? Our mind is inherent dualistic. Accept that, but stay away from modernist slang. Our ancestors have been sluggering for centuries with good and bad. If one cannot solve that one, why bother about left or right?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago

Although I dislike dividing ideologies into left and right, Lifton’s Eight Criteria for Thought Reform aptly describe what’s going on with the ‘left’ and its relationship to Covid and government mandates.
Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism

Last edited 2 years ago by Julian Farrows
Zorro Tomorrow
JK
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago

Commissars were rewarded and thought nothing of using children as informers. Children now not being those of formative years but of ill informed ideas.

robert stowells
robert stowells
2 years ago

The context of the issue of COVID appears flawed in this article and appears to be left/right politics mudslinging or navel gazing when the issues are so much bigger than left/right. The issues are also far wider than being about transmission of vaccinated versus unvaccinated and are actually about the entire justification for the necessity of vaccine and the COVID insane global reaction. So immediately the credibility and worth of this article is undermined. It concentrates too much on the political side at the level of Trump “tweets”. 
Somehow in the maelstrom of politics and press the insane global lockdown reaction to COVID was born and it was a fully global reaction (very possible even planned or orchestrated given its insanity). It does not matter to me now whether in fact the left or right wings in politics can be represented as having played some sort of double bluff or waiting game which somehow allowed the weird global COVID reaction to take root. I am sceptical and just do not care about such excuses as are given in this article.  The insanity has happened all in relation to a moderately severe flu and the result is that pretty much the whole world is in debt to various degrees beyond imaginings (some perhaps the US coming out better and that may be the significance and perhaps the salvation for some). It has certainly opened the doors for totalitarianism to rescue the world from any spiralling ensuing chaos.

Last edited 2 years ago by robert stowells
Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
2 years ago

Let me pose this idea: There is no “left-wing … defence of minorities suffering from discrimination,” because most folks who identify as “left wing” have never been serious about individual rights. And they have never been serious about individual rights, because instituting processes to protect individual rights — the stuff of liberal democracy — frustrates the centralisation of power. And these same people look to centralised authority as the means through which to impose their concept of the common good.
But, what if we can’t collectively agree on what constitutes the common good? The proponents of centralised power never seem to have enough presence of mind to even conceive of such a question.
The COVID experience has merely presented the latest opportunity to centralise power. That’s 90% of the action right there. There’s nothing sophisticated about what is going on. It’s just crude opportunism imposed on the rest of us by cheap appeals to the authority of scientistic “science”.
The people who promote this anti-democratic nonsense now are the same kind of people who praised the Soviets’ First Five Year Plan (1928-1932). Never mind that millions died in the implementation. As Walter Duranty observed, one has to “crack a few eggs in order to make an omelette”. But then the omelette never materialised. The proponents of egg cracking went silent and merely bided their time waiting for the next opportunity to promote their totalitarian dreams. The fighting on the Eastern Front provided that next opportunity.

Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

Social media algorithms.
The new root of all evil.

mike otter
mike otter
2 years ago

For journo-activists who both claim and appear on first glance to be well read in their subject this piece, though interesting, misses a fundamental point: The dichotomy of left and right has meaning in terms of individualists versus collectivists but has no meaning in terms of modern governance, which is about more closed (UK, Saudi, NL, ANZAC) versus more open societies (Sweden, Mexico, US “Red States”). By definition any extreme ideology, be it “lfet” or “right” will favour a closed society, and IMO will operate extractive policies in its economy which will ultimately cause it to fail and be replaced, hopefully with a more open society- like UK was in the 60s/70s

Will R
Will R
2 years ago

“the symbolic triumph of decolonisation politics with….– ushered in an existential crisis ….. The rise of neoliberal economic hegemony, globalisation, and corporate trans-nationalism,” sorry, glazed over at this point. Why is left- leaning journalism in particular full of jargon? . Admittedly I do have the attention span of a goldfish

Colin Elliott
CE
Colin Elliott
2 years ago

Too much ‘left’ and ‘right’ in this article, both terms clearly meaningless except by association, which leaves a lot of subjectivity.
For example “Left has always prospered most at times of great crisis”; one might as well say “Right has always prospered most at times of great crisis”, and then add that both tend to encourage crisis, whereas the majority of people don’t like it at all.

grrhyst
grrhyst
2 years ago

An interesting and astute essay. But rather than allowing the so called Left to get away with that political title far better to call them what they are, and that is pseudo Left, or fey Left, a politics expressing middle class/upper middle class views. Ronnie Corbet’s “I know my place” doesn’t even get a look in.

Bernie Wilcox
BW
Bernie Wilcox
2 years ago
Reply to  grrhyst

Spot on

chuckpezeshki
CP
chuckpezeshki
2 years ago

I think this is an excellent top-level piece. But there are deeper, memetic forces at play here, that don’t involve such in-depth topical information. What we’re seeing is a profound sorting and collision of systems of relational dynamics — one supporting a master/slave system, where we simply don’t have enough slaves to keep the masters happy, and so must be created, or societies working to optimize some modest level of happiness for everyone. The dividing line is empathetic development, that enables more complex societies. Here is a longer version of the argument. https://empathy.guru/2021/10/24/societal-attractors-and-long-term-prosperity/

Lena Bloch
LB
Lena Bloch
2 years ago

How is it possible that a political affiliation should represent the whole person, the whole human being? Since when? Why Trump, following his pandemic advisor, Scott Atlas, and saying that lockdowns are useless and harmful, says it as a “right-wing”? So after Trump, the sane opinion on lockdowns is now branded as a “right wing” opinion? One must distinguish between political opinions and simply common sense opinions, that have nothing to do with politics. Scott Atlas was saying it for months, that lockdowns will cost more lives than the virus, that lockdowns are psychologically torturous, that they do not slow down the virus at all. And – the leftists were accusing him of putting the economy before human lives! When he in fact was doing exactly the opposite! And it is lockdown commanders, lockdown generals, lockdown fanatics who made billions on these lockdowns. So, who is “leftist” there? And what does all that have to do with any left or right? It is astonishing that once a known “right-wing” guy (like Trump) utters something that makes sense, this something immediately becomes a “right-wing opinion”, and so everyone who has common sense, now is “right-wing”! Same is with the vaccines: human rights advocates are screaming that segregation and “vaccine passports” are unacceptable violation of Nuremberg code, Declaration of Human rights, Hippocratic Oath, Magna Carta – and because some right-wing people also have this position, this position is now branded “right-wing antivaxxers”, although it has nothing to do with vaccination. So, in fact, Amnesty International that alerts on human rights abuse by vaccine passports, is right wing?

Neven Curlin
NC
Neven Curlin
2 years ago

This is an excellent article. Thank you, Unherd. The paragraphs that explain the psychology and the dogmatic-naive belief in Science, were especially good.

Drew W
DW
Drew W
2 years ago

Thank you Toby and Thomas, an interesting analysis.

Last edited 2 years ago by Drew W
Bruce Metzger
Bruce Metzger
2 years ago

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Will R
WR
Will R
2 years ago

Yes, i thought the authors’ view that ‘the left’ supported all govt measures was well wide of the mark – see scathing comments on here about lockdowns for example

Rob Britton
RB
Rob Britton
2 years ago

Socialism is all about rich people controlling the lives of the poor. There is no such thing as a poor socialist. The argument that socialism represents the working classes is one that has been comprehensively shot.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

If attitudes to COVID and countermeasures follow political lines, surely the obvious conclusion is that people do not form their attitudes by looking at the facts. People select their facts to fit the attitudes they had already. And the difference is obvious – so that all the psychoanalysis and great historical theories in the essay seem rather unnecessary.

Progressives favour collective solutions, central coordination, action based on scientific evidence – and generally doing something together to solve problems when they come up. (Disclosure: on this, though not in other things, I am in their camp). Right-wingers, apparently, favour purely individual solutions, personal intuition over scientific advice, the economy over health, and refuse on principle anything that interferes with their individual freedom of action. It is not their responsibility to help protect others – it is up to the others to protect themselves.

So, for progressives (and me) face masks, vaccination, social distancing and closing entertainment venues are pretty much no-brainers. We may not know how much those measures will help, exactly, but they surely will not hurt, they push in the right direction, the cost is not excessive, and (even if it turns out it made little difference) doing your best to deal with the problem is simply the right thing to do. As you see, the attitude has its shortcomings.
On the other flank, I suspect that people are not going for ivermectin and vitamins because they are convinced by the evidence that they work better. Rather, they looked for a solution that is contrary to official advice, that is purely individual, and that gives them the feeling of being personally in control.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Saul D
Saul D
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I know where you’re coming from, but it’s interesting how much this has flipped.
Traditionally, Conservatives came from engineering, management and the harder sciences, phalanxed by land and business owners – all about pragmatic solving of problems based on rational thought. Collective actions, but under private control, but also communities – village, church and tradition and international trade.
The left had a reputation for support from the arts, based on the importance of personal feelings and emotional content, in particular the need to avoid risk and a desire for safety. The left was into alternative medicine, homeopathy, and new age teachings and grand theories of elites in control (eg patriachy) and CIA & MI6 plots and infiltrators to undermine the workers or take out the Prime Minister (Harold Wilson plot).
The issue seems to be that in the past the establishment was broadly conservative, and now it is broadly progressive. As the establishment switched sides, so did the anti-establishmentarians…

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

Very interesting point.

BTW, a recent article in the Economist made the point that (in the UK, anyway), there are now basically two establishments – and both feel they are rebels and the others are in charge. On one side you have business, the government, monarchy, army etc. the Tory party, the media companies, with support in the countryside. On the other side you have the universities, the arts, the journalists, the civil service, with support in the the big cities. The problem is that in the past the establishment, stuffy as they may have been, had a feeling of being in charge and so felt responsible for running the country in a sensible manner. Now with two competing sets of self-declared rebels, both sides feel entitled to be irresponsible since it is anyway the other lot that is really in charge.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I read this too, and I think they have got this right. I do often find that The Economist has a reasonable handle on things; although I do not always agree with them at least they put forward a reasoned argument; even when it came to the EU their arguments were worth reading, and helped me formulate my own position. I suppose I like the fact that generally they are left(ish) on social issues, although on trans issues they seem to be more in line with my thinking, and right(ish) on the economy, it helps hone my critical faculties

Laura Creighton
LC
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

No, they are looking at what they believe are the facts. The problem is that the answer to the question ‘what is a fact’ is completely politicised now, which means that things boil down to ‘whom do you trust’? Increasingly, the answer is becoming ‘nobody’, alas.

Rasmus Fogh
RF
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

Of course people believe they are basing their actions on facts. But I submit that many people choose their set of facts to suit the kind of thing they want to do. Policy-based evidence, as they say. A preference for ivermectin and vitamins makes a lot more sense if based on a need to feel individually independent, in control, and safe, rather than a considered judgement about what is most likely to work. I am sure there are left-wing equivalents, btw, but other people are probably better at pointing them out than I am.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I’m finding you really hard to understand. On the one hand, you argue:

So, for progressives (and me) face masks, vaccination, social distancing and closing entertainment venues are pretty much no-brainers. We may not know how much those measures will help, exactly, but they surely will not hurt, they push in the right direction, the cost is not excessive, and (even if it turns out it made little difference) doing your best to deal with the problem is simply the right thing to do.

but when other people argue precisely the same thing about taking vitamin D and having a supply of ivermectin around you are off to find a psychological explanation for their behaviour. Doesn’t the inconsistency grate?

Rasmus Fogh
RF
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

Thanks for putting it so politely – much appreciated.
Not really – I was simply trying to be even-handed (which is why I continued “As you see, the attitude has its shortcomings.”) The quote you give is a case where progressives (and me) are influenced by our psychological and political beliefs in addition to the pure facts. The next part is where the other side does the same – all in aid of the point that there is a much simpler explanation than the OP provides.

There is nothing wrong with trying vitamins if it makes you feel better – it might even work, after all. What I find noticeable is that people go as far as off-label horse-dewormers, and especially that they aggressively claim that their personal regimen is sufficient reason to avoid established treatments like vaccination, or to disregard activities like masking or `social distancing that are officially recommended to protect others.

As for what the facts are, I’d say that vaccinations really are a no-brainer, that the various masks and distancings are bound to help, but it is controversial by how much, and that ivermectin and vitamins fall under placebo. But that is a different discussion. Anyway, the attitude of the ivermectin fans does not suggest they are interested in a dispassionate evaluation of the alternatives.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Before we had covid, we had studies to test the effect of vitamin D supplementaton to prevent acute upper respiratory infections. summary of slected randomised control trials here: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30675873/
Double-blinded studies like those quoted here have here make it unlikely that the placebo effect is involved.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

OK, so there is some evidence, that is more than I knew before. Anyway, taking vitamins is certainly not going to hurt. Still, I am reminded of Thabo Mbeki and his health minister, who denied that HIV caused AIDS, tried to ban antiretroviral drugs as poisons, and promoted herbal remedies and lemon juice as alternatives. Now lemon juice and vitamin D are both good healthy things, but I do not think most people would decide, on a neutral review of the evidence, that either was a more effective remedy than those proposed by more official medicine.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Warren T
Warren T
2 years ago

Social media algorithms are to blame for this. These insidious sites feed us what the algorithm predicts we want to read in order to sell more advertising.

Cheryl Jones
CJ
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

“Progressives favour collective solutions, central coordination, action based on scientific evidence – and generally doing something together to solve problems when they come up. (Disclosure: on this, though not in other things, I am in their camp). Right-wingers, apparently, favour purely individual solutions, personal intuition over scientific advice, the economy over health, and refuse on principle anything that interferes with their individual freedom of action. It is not their responsibility to help protect others – it is up to the others to protect themselves.”

That reads to me like you yourself are looking through a lens that suits you.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Well, we all are. I am trying to be open about it. Do yo disagree with the characterisation?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

“…So, for progressives (and me) face masks, vaccination, social distancing and closing entertainment venues are pretty much no-brainers. We may not know how much those measures will help, exactly, but they surely will not hurt…”

Well, neither would virgin sacrifices in the high temple (humanely carried out of course as I’m sure that progressive left would do). Ok, it might not be so great for the virgins, but look, there’s a ‘needs of the many’ type equation here, because if one sac, on the off chance, keeps ten million people safe from covid, isn’t that a no-brainer too? After all, the principal of favouring anything pushing in the right direction over individual liberty has already been accepted, all we are arguing about is where the boundaries lie?

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

‘Progressives favour action based on scientific evidence’… as though conservatives don’t? Really?
What thinking people object to, is that ‘science’ (as though that is a ‘thing’ and not a process), is being manipulated by people with conflicting interests into one aggressively controlled and censored narrative.