One train may hide another…

“There are two ways to slide easily through life; to believe everything or to doubt everything. Both ways save us from thinking.” – Alfred Korzybski

The virus is not all we have to fear in this time – although I do not want to add to the already insane levels of fear-mongering in the media today, I hope to instigate more discussions and deep thought around a few essential questions we should still be asking ourselves (and our “leaders”) in this time!

Waking up in a Police State:

I know all around the world variations on this theme are happening, but here is the Australian version:

Sweeping new laws introduced to slow the number of people infected with the virus have reshaped Australian society in the past fortnight, imposing an unprecedented crackdown on public movement and curtailing civil liberties. But while governments and police agencies say the laws are necessary given the public health emergency caused by the coronavirus, justice advocates warn the laws could have damaging consequences for traditionally over-policed communities. Thanks to a string of public health orders issued by health ministers across Australia, police in most states now have the power to fine or arrest people caught gathering in groups of more than two or for being outside of their homes without a “reasonable excuse”. Breaching the orders is punishable in NSW by fines for individuals of up to $11,000 or six months in prison, or both, and in Victoria by fines of up to $19,800 through courts and $1,652 on the spot” – The Guardian, 3 April, 2020

How insane this all is. Since the “experts” and their modelling have declared only 80% need to stay home in order for the lockdowns to be effective, why is the policing model still aimed at 100% compliance? Because this is about CONTROL. Absolute control. Not rational, reasoned, respectful management of citizens.

In the UK, “Scotland Yard anti-terror chief Neil Basu demanded officers maintain the British tradition of ‘policing by consent’ and said their conduct would be remembered for generations after they were accused of abusing their powers” (Daily Mail)

In a statement released recently, “a group of 13 EU member states have said they are “deeply concerned” about the use of emergency measures to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. It was legitimate to use “extraordinary measures”, they said, but some powers could threaten “democracy and fundamental rights”. Earlier this week Hungary’s parliament granted Prime Minister Viktor Orban sweeping new powers. Other states are considering similar measures.” (BBC)


THE FALLOUT – from the personal to the global

Thousands have already completely lost their jobs and will now have to rely on government hand outs to survive! Still, even these are “Westerners’ problems” –

In India, their sudden and extreme lockdown left millions stranded and hungry – walking (public transport shut down too) hundreds of miles to their original villages because they were not even paid at that point,  most now homeless, unable to buy food and some have already died!!

We simply have no idea of the suffering that has been caused on the other side of the world from us!

Nor does anyone seem to be questioning the dominant narrative, which keeps chanting: “this is the only way, this is the only way…”

While we, the privileged and sheltered wax lyrical about the wonderful opportunity this (just don’t call it a “lockdown”) will be – to catch up on gardening, clean out all our cupboards, do cutesy pie craft with our kiddies or binge watch NUTflix…

In South Africa, millions living in informal settlements were also left without money to stock up on food, and usually live without adequate sanitation anyway (no running water in shacks, hopelessly inadequate numbers of communal toilets)- families crammed into one room shacks… How are they supposed to stay isolated or safe?

What does “safe” even mean – when you don’t know where your next meal will come from, all kinds of abuse are part of your daily life, and police shoot at the understandably angry, fearful and defiant people on the streets of Johannesburg?  (while the rest of the country either ignores or applauds this approach)

Which the usually more socially aware/ responsible BBC then frames as “South Africa’s ruthlessly efficient fight against coronavirus“? I ask you… What sort of world are we living in – when this is the tone of the official discourse? As when the WHO praised China’s draconian measures in attempting to contain the virus (haha)- and repeatedly encouraged other countries to follow their example?!

Thanks, Australian government! And no, this was NOT the only way it could have been done (more about that in the next section)…


Alternative paths- there is always a choice

Did the powers that be, all over the world, along with their “medical experts” (Note: medical. NOT economic or political or social “experts”- a team of which could possibly have planned a less one-dimensional response to this threat?!)  … Did they stop to think of how fundamentally they were about to destroy everybody’s livelihoods, and by extension our lives, even life, as we know it – by calling for these extreme measures?

No, of course not. Or they could not have proceeded. It is a totally insane thing to do. For any reason. And NO, it was not the only way – see Sweden’s approach, for example: Inside Sweden’s Radically Different Approach to the Coronavirus – No lockdown, no quarantines, just voluntary advice and a big dose of hope( Wall Street Journal)

Couldn’t we all do with “a big dose of HOPE” while tackling this threat?? Together?? Instead, our government and media seem hell bent on fear-mongering; dividing us against each other;  and finding scapegoats among sectors of the community to blame for ever increasing measures to control us all. Like children. And like children, most Australians meekly and unquestioningly obey.

Whereas the Swedish model, honouring the social contract (anyone remember that quaint notion in our so-called democracies now?)- calls forth a level of maturity and responsibility from its citizens, by respecting them. Our “nanny state” approach infantilises the populace. No surprise some people act out and the “principle” has to call an assembly to tell us all off and impose punishments/ increased restrictions… Then everyone blames the conveniently named scapegoats, not the government.

Interestingly, there are “significant medical factors that have kept the number of deaths in Germany relatively low, epidemiologists and virologists say, chief among them early and widespread testing and treatment, plenty of intensive care beds and a trusted government whose social distancing guidelines are widely observed(New York Times) – eat your heart out, Australian government!

So WHY is there more trust in their government? “Maybe our biggest strength in Germany,” said Professor Kräusslich, “is the rational decision-making at the highest level of government combined with the trust the government enjoys in the population.” (New York Times)

“Lockdowns” are NOT the ‘be all and end all’! The Germans’ most effective strategy, so missing in Australia and other countries?  “Testing and tracking is the strategy that was successful in South Korea and we have tried to learn from that,” (New York Times)


Financial assistance

Oh, of course now there is much talk of money being thrown around the place to assist… But I think people will realise pretty quickly that it’s about as much help as the recent bush fire grants were supposed to be – and tied up in bureaucracy,  making people jump through endless hoops, delayed for months!

This is how governments work, no?

Anyway, most of the “assistance” is in the form of, no surprise here, “stimulus” injections of tax payer funds into banks and businesses. The big guys. The fat cats. They always look out for each other.

Leaving the rest of us ‘ordinary’ people floundering, reeling, in shock – after pulling the rug of economic independence, democratic rights and basic human freedoms from under our feet – worldwide – in one quick and highly effective move!

Don’t we all remember what happened in 2008? The banks crashed many peoples lives quite comprehensively,  through their bad decisions; then were rewarded with huge bailouts by governments – using our money; while not helping ordinary people at all; in fact, imposing “austerity measures” on their already struggling citizens; and the managers responsible for the whole disaster were then rewarded! They actually skipped off with their huge bonuses in the end!

The same thing is happening again now – the wealthy and powerful will be propped up with public funds, deviously marketed as being in our interests (can’t let the banks fold, can we? Poor vulnerable little banks)!

For example, in the US, “This biggest chunk of spending in this historic bill is reserved for companies and industries: US$500 billion” (from Washington Post) However, that massive 2 trillion dollar package does appear to be aiming at alleviating the economic fallout from lockdowns for a cross-section of Americans, and “includes checks, typically $1,200, for most American adults, and expanded jobless benefits, including payments available to freelancers and gig workers, who ordinarily would not qualify” (New York Times).

In Australia, the “stimulus” package is now about AUS$66 billion – aimed at welfare recipients, small businesses, and of course the large corporations too. For those of us somewhere in the middle though, our only “help” is in the form of permission to access up to $10, 000 of our Super over the next two years.

Thanks again, Australian government, for giving me permission to access SOME of my own money – in other words, to raid my future security in a feeble attempt to shore up the sandcastle today!

Whatever is left of it after this economic freefall the financial world is in, thanks to YOU LOT unpicking the fabric of the socio-economic world – just like that! And anyway much of it was lost previously in the 2008 Global Financial Crisis – in a very similar manner! Yet, still we have no choice in whether or where our hard-earned money is invested (making others rich)!

One notable exception appears to be Germany – where “‘Stress-Free’: Coronavirus Aid Flows Quickly to Berlin’s Self-Employed” (The New York Times) – another reason trust in their leaders is much higher, and social distancing rules are followed happily.


Power behind Discourse

If all I am saying is making you feel terribly uncomfortable, even angry – because “we are doing all this to save lives”, right?! Think again. Please, please, please: think.

When have governments around the world ever cared much for the elderly or otherwise vulnerable members of our communities? Quite the opposite actually – they have followed the heartless neoliberal paradigm only too happily, cutting funding to all of the necessary safety nets and community services that make a difference to people’s lives when and where they need it most! Including, ahem, health care. Now look who’s crying…

No, my dear readers, if you have stuck with me this far – that is NOT why they are forcing us all into lockdown (taking care, here in Australia, not to actually call it that, lest anyone wake from their gentle sleepwalk, and make a small spot of bother over it)!!

So why, then? I don’t think it’s too difficult to reason this out. We have sleep walked into an Orwellian nightmare, my dear readers – where one train may hide another…

I am not even talking about conspiracy theories here – although of course, those are abounding right now… I have spent quite some time researching various theories and concerns out there these days. Some are so outlandish! See this article, “The most common conspiracy theories about coronavirus debunked” for a brief overview (not a particularly good piece of reporting actually, and does not actually ‘debunk’ the theories, as it claims – it simply denies them. Not at all the same thing! But anyway…)

People no longer know how to apply even simple logic or rhetoric to an argument, sigh…

(For a brilliant discussion about logic, rhetoric and the lost tools of learning, see this reading of Dorothy Sayers’ definitive lecture)

But, actually, this is what led me to remember the quote at the start of this article- I think many of these conspiracy theorists unhappily fall into the “doubt everything” way through life. 

And at least they (well, most of them) are actually thinking still – rather than simply ‘drinking the KoolAid’, swallowing the predigested “fact” packages provided daily (or with live updates) via newsfeeds, government briefings and “expert” recommendations… 

Two ways to slide (passively) through life – both avoid actually thinking this all through carefully:

1.Believe all you are told/ read/ hear – as if the government does things out of concern for us, ordinary, obedient little citizens; we can trust them with our lives, even when they unpick the very fabric of civilisation, the economy, life as we know it (just like that!!); because the “experts” said they have to, no choice; so we will obey without question!

“We are in this together”, right? So wrong! The rich and powerful can isolate and stock up far better than any of us, and bounce back from any economic crash so much faster – especially with the help of all those government trillions transferred straight into their greedy hands…

They are not in this with us. Never have been. PLEASE WAKE UP!!

Or, as Percy Bysshe Shelley admonished over 200 years ago –

rise like lions after slumber in unvanquishable number,

shake your chains to earth like dew which in sleep had fallen on you.

Ye are many, they are few”

2.Doubt everything: “there is no pandemic”; “this is just like the usual flu, which kills thousands every year anyway”; and “those were all old, unwell people that died – they would have died anyway”….

Look, I think it is terribly difficult to fake thousands of dead bodies and overrun emergency departments at hospitals… By now, someone  would have noticed the exaggerations, or outright lies – unless we are to believe that every hard-working healthcare worker or investigative journalist has been paid off or fooled too. It’s just too huge and far-reaching a ploy to pull off. Let alone persuading those in the government and banking world to agree to shutting the whole world down. Money to make, people to exploit, right? Seriously. it’s too much. Even for a cynic like me.

Some other theories seem possible, but I am not going to discuss them here. There simply isn’t enough evidence and never will be, if some secret society or malevolent hegemony is behind all of this.

I have no answers, but I can say, we had better keep our eyes and ears wide open…

These are very dangerous times, people – terrifying precedents are being set all over the world concurrently, for the future of our so-called democracies! If extreme measures are needed to contain or slow this threat, still, so are strong safeguards and limits to power! Even now. More than ever now!

Even if you think you are still “free” – have a heart, look around you at how disproportionately this is affecting the poor, the marginalised, the minority groups, the indigenous, the refugees, the voiceless in our world – and this is only the beginning!


“He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth,” – Goethe

What does History teach us? ONE TRAIN MAY HIDE ANOTHER

Remember, we have seen trends like this before in History – people fought and died to ensure the rights we are so happily giving away right now! As a Second World War poet, Martin Niemöller wrote:

First they came for the Jews
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists
and I did not speak out
because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me
and there was no one left
to speak out for me

 

What can we do?  I am not sure. I just know we need to stay wide awake in this time – Think, ask questions, talk to each other, stay connected, speak up!
Do not sleep walk into possible totalitarianism! No one wants to admit this, but we are pretty much there right now already! As rights advocates have warned, this should only be for a “finite” time – yet, no actual date has been set; and the predictions are now moving from a few weeks to 6 months to a year or more!
Indeed, where limits were set, extensions have already occurred or are predicted, e.g. in the UK and Spain, which will “extend its near-total lockdown to 26 April. Police in the country said that they had arrested more than 1,100 people and fined nearly 90,000 since the measures began in mid-March.” (from The Guardian)
So, NOW is already in many ways too late to secure our rights, or ensure they will be returned in the foreseeable future. Where are the “rights watchdogs”? No idea, conspicuous by their absence actually. Where are the “protest marches”? Well, we currently aren’t allowed to meet in groups larger than TWO. So…..
Oh, dear readers… ONE TRAIN MAY HIDE ANOTHER. Sometimes poetry is the best way to express the inexplicable – here, finally, are some pertinent bits from the poem I have taken that refrain from, by Kenneth Koch:

“In a poem, one line may hide another line,
As at a crossing, one train may hide another train.
That is, if you are waiting to cross
The tracks, wait to do it for one moment at
Least after the first train is gone. And so when you read
Wait until you have read the next line
Then it is safe to go on reading.
One dog may conceal another
On a lawn, so if you escape the first one you’re not necessarily safe;
And in the laboratory
One invention may hide another invention,
When you come to something, stop to let it pass
So you can see what else is there. At home, no matter where,
Internal tracks pose dangers, too:
One song hide another song; a pounding upstairs
Hide the beating of drums.
One teacher, One doctor, one ecstasy, one illness, one woman, one man
May hide another. Pause to let the first one pass.
You think, Now it is safe to cross and you are hit by the next one.
It can be important
To have waited at least a moment to see what was already there

 

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