Article: Enough with the ‘saving lives’ lie

Originally posted to Thoughtleader.co.za on 15 May 2020: LINK

During his reading of a speech to the people of South Africa on Wednesday May 13, President Cyril Ramaphosa referred again to the idea of saving lives. He has done so in every one of the addresses to the nation since the start of the Covid-19 fiasco. This is how it was worded on May 13: “By answering the call to stay at home and stay safe, you, the people of South Africa, have helped us to save many lives.”

First, it’s not a call to stay at home, it’s a command, and in many places in South Africa, the command is being enforced by the police, the army and even by civilians. I live in a semi-rural area on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth and every day the cops pull people over at the T-junction where our gravel road meets a provincial road. The freeway route into PE is also throttled by a nearly permanent roadblock. On Sunday, I was confronted by an officious man for daring to venture out beyond the nonsensical exercise times mandated by the government.

Second, it is unclear if one-size-fits-all, authoritarian lockdowns prevent the overall number of lives lost to a deadly virus compared with the numerous other options that are available for responding to a pandemic. The approaches of Sweden, Taiwan and South Korea are a few instances of what may be referred to as lenient responses to dealing with the spread of the virus. In various other countries, for example the United Kingdom, lockdowns are not enforced in any serious manner. There is no consensus among experts if lockdowns are the preferred route – see, for examples, the commentary provided by Professor Johan Giesecke, Nobel Prize winner Professor Michael Levitt, Professor John Ioannidis, Professor Sucharit Bhakdi, Professor Knut Wittkowski, and Professor David Katz.

In response to my second point, I have often been told that South Africa is different and needs a heavy-handed approach. The reasoning here is that South Africans are, for various reasons, more likely to ignore the health and safety guidelines, so a heavy-handed enforced lockdown is the only option. The irony is that it is impossible to lock down a township. So proponents of the heavy-handed approach are really defending the ideal of a full lockdown. The reality is quite different. This is very difficult to stomach when being stopped by a cop who invariably and disrespectfully grunts, “Where is your permit?”

Third, as should be well known by now, it is unclear if the deaths allegedly from Covid-19 will outweigh the long-term deaths caused by the lockdown.

I say allegedly not because I think the virus is harmless, but because — and this is point number four — in most instances of death there are either one or more underlying conditions that classify the victim as at-risk from dying with any additional illness, or they are well over the age of 60. This is not to devalue the lives of sick and older people. Rather, it is to highlight the importance of a political response that is proportionate to the risks posed by a threat. With most men in South Africa dying before the age of 60 in pre-Covid-19 conditions, and with only 3% of the population being over the age of 65, it is unclear if the ridiculously draconian lockdown was or is proportionate to the threat.

Fifth, the numbers. I have taken issue with reliance on “meaningless” numbers before, and the speech that Ramaphosa read on May 13 is another instance of relying on the numbers. In all the speeches, he has stated the alleged deaths from the virus (see point 3, above), he has stated the number of people who have been tested positive for the virus, and he has stated the total number of people tested. As John Ioannidis has stated, specifically in the context of the unknown extent of the real threat posed by the virus, the numbers are “meaningless” and “cause chaos”.

The number of positive tests divided by the total number of tests conducted does not provide an accurate death rate — only antibodies testing can provide a clearer picture of this. Testing statistics can only show if the virus is present in a given location, and overall results compared over time can provide some indication of whether the spread of the virus is accelerating or slowing. Nobody knows how many people have or have had the virus in South Africa. So Ramaphosa compared “meaningless” numbers with another “meaningless” number when he read the following: the “best current estimate is that, without the lockdown and the other measures we have taken, at least 80 000 South Africans could have been infected by now”.

Sixth, lockdowns may buy some time for hospitals to prepare for the worst-case scenario (even if it doesn’t occur), for extra emergency hospital centres to be organised and for a nationwide increase in hygiene measures to unroll. That’s why many of us thought we were going into lockdown in the first place: to buy time. It turns out that Ramaphosa agrees, but went an extra step towards the impossible: “We should never forget that the purpose of the lockdown was to delay the spread of the virus and prevent a huge surge of infections.” Does he really think that there will not be a surge of infections as the lockdown is lifted? If he were to believe this, he would be taking a different stance to Salim Abdool Karim, the public face of the Covid-19 scientific team, who “insists repeatedly that this country cannot avoid a ‘severe’ outbreak.”

Ramaphosa said in his May 13 speech that without “the lockdown the number of coronavirus infections would have soared uncontrollably, our health facilities would have been overwhelmed and many thousands more South Africans would have died”. This statement is full of half-truths, if not outright lies. Sure, without some kind of concerted action, infections would have soared, perhaps uncontrollably, but perhaps not. Concerted efforts did not have to entail one-size-fits-all lockdowns of any kind. It is unknown that health facilities would have been overwhelmed, because such a scenario only manifested in a few cities globally, largely because no action was taken before it was too late.

It is unknown if, under a more lenient national response to the virus, “many thousands more South Africans would have died”. Various countries where lenient measures were taken (and where the population is much older than in South Africa) saw no such increase in deaths in comparison to various other countries where harder lockdowns occurred (but not as hard as in South Africa). Even if early death rates are different between countries, longer-term death rates may show a balancing-out effect. To speak early of the success of the lockdown for saving lives is misleading.

Ramaphosa said that “from the very beginning, our response has been guided by advice from world-leading experts from our own country and across the globe”. Obviously the list of experts excludes those who cautioned against locking down — those who pointed out that the long-term costs of lock-down would outweigh its benefits, who pointed out that outbreaks cannot be prevented, and who spoke of early herd immunity being a more realistic route. Ramaphosa stated further that, “We have also benefited from the guidance from the World Health Organisation [WHO].” This should raise the alarm bells, because the WHO used the “meaningless” death-rate of 3.4% when it declared a pandemic at the end of January, and was also found guilty of several major misdemeanours by a European Council in its attempt to declare a pandemic in 2009.

Ramaphosa said the “experiences that other nations have been through have also given us invaluable insights”. Which other nations? What insights? What experiences? Are the experiences relevant for the South African context? Are they exceptions to the rule? Does Ramaphosa mean experiences of other nations as depicted in the mainstream news media? Is this reference to other nations a tactic that conjures in the minds of people who hear it a picture of the worst of the worst, like the exceptions to the rule that occurred in Italy and New York City?

After Ramaphosa read the half-truths, lies, and other rhetorical niceties fitting for a paternalistic authoritarian, he then read a major truth: “We have introduced several vital measures to support the companies, workers and households that have been severely affected by the lockdown.” Spot-on, Mr President. The mess was not created by a virus, but by various government responses to a virus. The responses were not guided by pandemic rules written in stone, waiting to be dragged out for when a pandemic hits. They were created, announced and enforced by powerful political entities that clearly have no problem in telling lies and half-truths to the public they control with increasing levels of intervention, interference and force.

Article: Coronovirus, meaningless numbers, disaster capitalism: Oligarchy’s dream come true

Originally published on 11 May 2020 at Thoughtleader.co.za: LINK

Have you wondered about the relevance of coronavirus test results? If you did, you would have been thinking similarly to the esteemed Stanford professor, John Ioannidis. He wrote an article with a title worth a thousand words: “A fiasco in the making? As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold, we are making decisions without reliable data”. In the article, Ioannidis states that reported “case fatality rates, like the official 3.4% rate from the World Health Organisation [WHO], cause horror — and are meaningless”.

One of the reasons Ioannidis takes issue with reported case fatality rates is that many of the numbers in the mainstream media provide information that is only relevant in the context of the total number of tests carried out. The total number of people who actually have the virus will certainly be much bigger than the number confirmed by testing. As Ioannidis states, “We don’t know if we are failing to capture infections by a factor of three or 300.” One can only claim a death rate if one knows exactly how many people in a population have the virus. Nobody knows the overall number, but early antibodies testing suggests that it is considerably large — much larger than the numbers arrived at from counting RT-PCR tests.

Despite the limitations of the numbers, various sources such as mainstream news channels, government announcements, several prominent universities and the WHO constantly highlight the number of people who have tested positive for the virus, and the number of people who have (allegedly) died from the virus. Deaths from the virus is a contentious topic, but to grasp why it is potentially misleading to claim total deaths from the virus rather than deaths with the virus, I would recommend reading a BBC article called Cornonavirus: How to understand the death toll.

Constant reporting and reliance on the number of positive test results seems to carry with it the implication that the number of positives is important. It is of course important to be able to test if a person has the virus. Testing can also confirm if the virus is present in a given location, and overall results compared over time can provide some indication of whether the spread of the virus is accelerating or slowing. This is all important information.

But the information ascertained from testing is not inherently meaningful. Different responses to the pandemic by different governments show that information is used differently in different decision-making processes. The leaders of Sweden went one direction while South Africa’s leaders chose very differently. In South Africa, lockdown measures have been lowered to level 4, despite the number of reported positive cases being higher than during lock-down level 5. Considering the complicated socio-political and economic contexts in which leaders must make difficult decisions, it is appropriate that the types of numbers to which I have referred are only one component of the decision-making process.

But here’s the thing. What if you knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the government of the world’s most influential and powerful nation is guilty of what Naomi Klein calls disaster capitalism? Guilty of applying what Klein calls a shock doctrine to advance ever-increasing concentrations of power for the USA’s oligarchy? Consider the following from Klein:

“As I dug deeper into the history of how this [“free trade and democracy”] market model had swept the globe, […] I discovered that the idea of exploiting crisis and disaster has been the modus operandi of Milton Friedman’s movement from the very beginning – this fundamentalist form of capitalism has always needed disasters to advance. It was certainly the case that the facilitating disasters were getting bigger and more shocking, but what was happening in Iraq and New Orleans was not a new, post-September 11 invention. Rather, these bold experiments in crisis exploitation were the culmination of three decades of strict adherence to the shock doctrine.”

Klein explores the history to which she refers in great detail in her 2007 book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. In a testament to the accuracy of her observations, the 2008-2009 financial crisis was pounced on by the US government as a disaster that warranted the creation of $700-billion of bailout funds. Bank executives, who were among the people who should have been preventing toxic loans from being issued in the first place, received get-out-of-jail-free cards and walked away smiling, while the nation’s debt rose dramatically in an instant — a perfect example of privatising profits and socialising risks. Government was seen to be legitimised by solving a problem, and then got to oversee the bailout funds orchestrated during dealings with the ultimate private entity, the Federal Reserve Bank. Looking back, the pandemic bailout funds make the 2008-2009 financial crisis bailout funds look like petty cash.

Furthermore, what if you knew that this most powerful neoliberal government has revolving doors between itself and various corporate entities? What if you knew that private interests do influence the decisions made at government level due to lobbying, aka legal bribery? What if you knew that the participants of Event 201 in October 2019, a pandemic simulation event hosted by Johns Hopkins University and involving the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, concluded in part that “collaboration between governments, international organisations, and the private sector” is necessary in a pandemic scenario. What if you knew that increasing private influence in the supposedly public political realm of government is antithetical to a real democracy, and has been among the core goals of neoliberal business-politics? What if you knew that consent is manufactured largely through mainstream media sources?

What if you knew that the WHO tried to declare a pandemic in 2009, and was later found by a European Council committee to be guilty of several misdemeanours, including issues such as “the possible influence of the pharmaceutical industry on some of the major decisions relating to the pandemic”? What if you knew that some of the same organisations (here and here) that participated in Event 201 were instrumental in influencing the context in which the US government (and other governments) made decisions during the pandemic? What if you knew that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has vested economic interests in punting a global vaccine, and that they have been pushing this agenda for many years despite serious, mostly under-publicised, criticism? What if you knew that the same organisation’s so-called philanthropic endeavours to spread genetically modified seeds in Africa involves a highly problematic monopoly of agriculture featuring patented seeds that destroy farmer sovereignty, and that the monopoly model is championed by the US government, an entity that has played no small role in shaping various nations’ responses to, and narratives about, the pandemic?

What if you knew all of the above and more? Maybe you would think twice about believing what seems to be the mainstream narrative, that governments are simply doing what they must do to deal with the spread of a deadly virus because, hey presto, look at the numbers! Most governments can perhaps be given the benefit of the doubt, but not the US government. When that country’s leaders closed its borders, others more or less had to follow suit, and the economic domino effect continues to take its toll. The actions taken by the US government in response to the pandemic cannot be considered in a vacuum: the country’s neoliberal leadership has for decades been doing what it can to increase its oligarchical powers, actions that benefit the few and hurt the many.

This is not to deny that there is a dangerous virus out there, one that has contributed to the loss of life and has seriously affected some health-care systems in some places. But let us not forget that we have been fed “meaningless” numbers that “cause chaos”, and thanks partly to the chaos, various governments, mainly the US’s, have leapt at the opportunity to create more national debt, channel relief funds wherever they choose (often to well connected individuals), control citizens beyond anything seen since World War II, wax lyrical about an invisible enemy that must be fought at all costs, and more. The writing is on the wall, and if one bothers to learn to read it, the message is clear: the global masters have tightened the shackles on their slaves to near choking point.

Our world is now one that the Oligarchs can control more easily than ever before, simply by pointing to numbers that mean whatever governments want them to mean; numbers that will somehow magically justify all sorts of authoritarian government interventions and mandatory civilian compliances. These are aspects of a developing narrative that must be questioned, challenged and dismissed if the evidence points to foul play — and this is not the same thing as dismissing the real threats of the virus. The only way to find real evidence is to look for it in earnest, which requires going much deeper than official death rates, testing results, and sensationalised mainstream news reporting.

Podcast #19: Sharon Rudman on Ideology, Discourse and Identity in Post-apartheid South Africa

When you encounter real beauty it’s almost as if it picks you up, and it brings you down in another space so that you see the world in a completely new way.

When we realise the common humanity that we share, and how this incredible connection that we can make can so enhance our lives and our experience of one another, that can drive us forward to a really unified society.

Contact Sharon: [email protected]

Podcast #18 – Lloyd Edwards from Raggy Charters

Lloyd kindly agreed to chat about Raggy Charters, his marine eco-tour company that receives consistently great reviews over at tripadvisor. We venture into various thematic territory: welcoming the whales, shark cage diving, difficulties in the war against plastic, a tree society, Lloyd’s time in the police, and more.

Contact Lloyd and Co. over at www.raggycharters.co.za

Podcast #17 – Mark Marshall on Snakes, Snake Handling, Conservation (and more!)

“If you enjoy something, and you’re passionate about it, you’re going to make something happen with it”.

“If you break the wall of ignorance, then interest kicks in. And when interest kicks in, conservation kicks in.”

Mark Marshall is known in Port Elizabeth as the local snake handler, and he kindly agreed to have a chat with me in which he reveals a bit about what makes him tick.

Topics include:

A little bit about Mark, the PE snake park, Bayworld and dolphins, on Mark’s fascination with snakes, Sandula Conservation, development, the relocation of sensitive fauna and flora due to the construction of the Bay West mall, conservation education, legislation and EIA, wind farms, Mark’s time as a River Control Officer and thereafter as an Environmental Consultant, Sandula Conservation’s Facebook page, the impact of fires on habitat, a glimpse at the Sandula Snake Handling course, a Rinkals story, other close shaves, what to do if bitten, on Mark not having a favourite snake, snake symbolism, Sandula donations, children’s conservation books coming in 2020 (illustrators needed).

Contact mark via Whatsapp: +27 82 261 9280

Sandula Conservation: https://www.facebook.com/groups/178406597459/

Support the podcast in one of four ways: 1) Share links to episodes on your social media. 2) Become a patron over at patreon.com. 3) Visit www.perspectiveproject.co.za/consulting/ and see if a philosophical consultation could benefit you, and send the link to someone you think the process could benefit. 4) Record a short cell-phone audio recordings (1 minute to 1 min 30 seconds) where you speak about a perspective-broadening experience or topic. What happened (or what is the topic about), and how did it have an impact on your thinking? Send these to [email protected] and they may be incorporated into the start of future episodes.

Podcast #16 – Kevin Abraham on music and business successes

“Gimme whiskey, gimme jamming, gimme blues.”

“It’s very cliched, but it’s just so true: if you have a passion for what you’re doing, it changes everything.”

Kevin Abraham joined me on the podcast to chat about his approaches to his music and business, arenas in which he has had commendable success.

We talk about: Guiding principles derived from martial arts, Karate ‘then and now’, A martial art as a way of life versus its (mostly) presently popular competitive and sporting focus, Key ingredients in Kevin’s successful music career, the music scene ‘back then’, having a plan, the broad characteristics or features of a good plan, the virtue and origins of very structured approaches, uncertainty, yachting to and performing in Europe and ending up in Israel (where Kevin met his wife), the vibrancy of the music scene in Israel, barefooting it, managing uncertainty, marketing as a key consideration in performance strategy, lyrical content, Kevin’s relationship with Johnny Clegg, big data and autonomy, big data and consumerism, some of Kevin’s experiences elsewhere in Africa, and his move to Cypress.

Opening song by Kevin’s most recent music project, Folkify.

Podcast #15 – Karen and Corné du Plessis on Food and Nihilism (and much more!)

…it’s a very good idea to look at the idea of nihilism; and questioning values, I think, because that is at the core of what nihilism is about – re-evaluating our values and asking, what are the values that we want, are the values that we hold ideals that exist in some utopian realm or some transcendent realm that can never be realised, or are they things that we can realise. And then I think production will also work differently, because at the moment it’s definitely focused on comfort. Most of it is about comfort and volume…

Quantity! Quantity as opposed to quality. …I believe that if you do start questioning the values, and you start questioning this idea of comfort and how important [comfort] should be, you won’t necessarily be focused on [producing] as much red meat as you can. You will maybe start to think of the quality, and so on.

Another one:

[Play] is a vehicle to becoming. …If you pick up a new form of play, or if you engage in any kind of play, you generally change your life, and who you are, how you think. You gain certain capacities; you might lose others! But the idea is that you change.

Karen and Corné du Plessis kindly joined me on the podcast to chat about food and nihilism. Sub-topics include: What nihilism is, types of nihilism, Nietzsche, Deleuze, vegetarianism and veganism, food production, comfort and discomfort, the questioning of values, ART, art as an uncomfortable experience and the role this plays, art and the making of new connections, the phenomenon of picky eaters in a context of endless food choices, Play as a vehicle to Becoming,Heston Blumenthal, mock turtle soup, the philosophy of play, the riddle of the utopian society, the limitations of utility thinking, difference and individuality, the impossibility of knowing what the greatest good is, assemblages, soilents, the Tibetan practice of removing dead bodies to the outskirts of the city to be eaten by wolves, a reference to nutrition being today where surgery was 200 years ago, the Spinozean notion that nobody knows what a body can do, why experiment with diet, health as stasis, Nietzsche’s illness, and acting the reactive.

If you liked this episode, link a friend or foe to it!

Podcast #14 – Jonathan Silverman on art (and much more!)

Jonathan and I met in his art studio and spoke about a lot! Electric peanuts, India, Temples, Shifting focus from bodies to nature, What is art?, The making of art and the appreciation of art, Psychedelic aesthetic as induced by non-psychedelic experience,  The places Jonathan lived and worked, Art and the blurry distinction between individual and social endeavours, Identity, Performance art, Art as a career, And that’s where I’ll stop!

Check out Jonathan’s work at www.jonathansilverman.info. His art needs to be seen in real-space-and-time too though, so contact him through his site to arrange a visit to his studio.

An exhibition show-casing Jonathan’s work, opening in Cape Town in January 2020: www.99loop.co.za/events/jonathan-silverman 

Support this podcast by taking a click around at this site, taking me up on one of my offerings here, or sending appropriate links to friends or colleagues. 

Quick request: I’m looking for short cell-phone audio recordings (1 minute to 1 min 30 seconds) where you speak about your perspective-broadening experiences. What happened, and how did it broaden your perspective? Send these to [email protected] and they may be incorporated into the start of the podcasts.   

Rocket stove oven (pics + video)

A few pics and a video of my latest rocket stove project:

(Better versions of these pics at the google photos album https://photos.app.goo.gl/JSyey4pJbw415hgw7)

Podcast #11 – Ian Buchanan on Assemblage Theory (Deleuze), Control Society, and More

Prof. Ian Buchanan is, among other things, a leading Deleuze scholar, and he kindly joined me to discuss various aspects of assemblage theory. Our conversation branches off towards various other (sub-)topics such as: political action versus individual action, cycling, mountain climbing, a housing project in Australia a few years ago, and more. The public lecture that Ian delivered at Nelson Mandela University on 5 November 2019 follows after our discussion – the lecture begins at approx. 1 hour 25 minutes. 

Support the podcast by visiting www.perspectiveproject.co.za, having a click around, taking me up on one of my offerings there, or sending appropriate links to friends or colleagues. 

Quick request: I’m looking for short cell-phone audio recordings (1 minute to 1 min 30 seconds) where you speak about your perspective-broadening stories. What happened, and how did it broaden your perspective? Send these to [email protected] and they may be incorporated into the start of the podcasts.     

More about Ian from https://www.uow.edu.au/law-humanities-the-arts/schools-entities/hsi/our-people/Ian Buchanan joined the University of Wollongong in 2011. His previous position was Professor of Critical and Cultural Theory at the Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory at Cardiff University. Ian Buchanan has published on a wide variety of subjects across a range of disciplines, including literary studies, cultural studies, communications studies and philosophy. He has published on film, literature, music, space, the internet and war as well a number of other subjects. He is the author of the Oxford Dictionary of Critical Theory and the founding editor of the international journal Deleuze Studies. He is also the editor of four book series: Deleuze Connections (EUP), Critical ConnectionsPlateaus (EUP) and Deleuze Encounters (Continuum).