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Covid-19 and the Conspiracy Theorists

Covid-19 and the Conspiracy Theorists

Thursday, 9 April, 2020 - 09:45

Even conspiracy theories need to be partly built on facts in order to be plausible enough to market.

It is impossible to convince any sane person with blatant nonsense, or pathological illusions that ignore solid developments, and actions and quotes by authorities with well-known experience in their fields. Indeed, this is exactly what we are witnessing in these exceptional times as Covid-19 sweeps the world, bringing down all barriers.

A few days ago, a friend of mine sent me a recorded interview with a controversial British personality self-regarded as a visionary crusader against forces of global hegemony. This interview almost appeared with two valuable contributions by Jacques Attali, the Algerian-born French economist, thinker and political adviser, and Yuval Noah Harari, the Israeli (of Lebanese origin) historian and professor.

I had followed the career of the British personality since his early days as footballer, and then as a prominent sports journalist. His next step, however, took him to a totally different career; as he became an anti-establishment activist, first becoming an environmentalist with ‘The Greens’, and later a campaigner against political and economic elites, which he doubts and ruthlessly demonizes, and feels that it is his mission to uncover and warn against its evil ‘conspiracies’!

In his interview, the British conspiracy theorist dismisses the Covid-19 virus, and sees it as a new chapter in the ‘global 1% elite’s conspiracy’ designed to strengthen its world domination. This is done – as he claims – by destroying the current world economy’s institutions and rebuild them in a way that further serves their interests.

In his argument, in addition to the global companies, and Davos’ World Economic Forum, he includes the World Health Organization (WHO), among the leading co-conspirators!

Some of the data mentioned by the controversial gentleman is true; more so for any political and economic researcher or expert, who understands the dynamics of the market economy and the role of accumulation, concentration, monopoly and speculation in capitalism.

Furthermore, anybody who has been following the progress of technology through the centuries would know the impact of technologies, from the discovery of the gunpowder and paper, the invention of printing, and recently, the development of the computer, genetic engineering and artificial intelligence (AI).

What I mean to say is that with or without Covid-19 we have been marching towards a new world. The only thing this pandemic has done is merely accelerating this march, and negating all reservations against it.

This is where Harari hits his target. He acknowledges the historical importance of the world crisis we are all facing.

“Humankind is now facing a global crisis”, he says, adding, “perhaps the biggest crisis of our generation. The decisions people and governments take in the next few weeks will probably shape the world for years to come. They will shape not just our healthcare systems but also our economy, politics and culture. We must act quickly and decisively. We should also take into account the long-term consequences of our actions. When choosing between alternatives, we should ask ourselves not only how to overcome the immediate threat, but also what kind of world we will inhabit once the storm passes. Yes, the storm will pass, humankind will survive, most of us will still be alive — but we will live in a different world.”

Harari goes on “many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours. Immature and even dangerous technologies are pressed into service, because the risks of doing nothing are bigger. Entire countries serve as guinea-pigs in large-scale social experiments. What happens when everybody works from home and communicates only at a distance? What happens when entire schools and universities go online? In normal times, governments, businesses and educational boards would never agree to conduct such experiments. But these aren’t normal times. In this time of crisis, we face two particularly important choices. The first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.”

The first choice therefore is between a Chinese model of totalitarian surveillance and the respect of human rights, including personal privacy; and the second is between isolationism and globalization.

Jacques Attali, who was the first head of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in 1991-1993, and a former adviser to ex-French President Francois Mitterrand, seems somehow to agree with Harari on more than one issue. He also believes that great historical disasters caused by various plagues led to profound changes in the political structures of nations, as well as the cultures embodied in those structures.

Talking of the bubonic plague (The Black Death) of the 14th century, which killed almost one third of Europe’s population, Attali says that among its most significant repercussions was ‘the change in the position of the clergy’. The clergy lost out influence to the benefit of the police, which became the only protector of the people after the church’s failure to protect them.

However, as Attali explains, this situation did not last long either; after the real power shifted from the authority of religion as represented by the Church to the authority of enforcement as represented by the police, it shifted again from the authority of enforcement to the authority of the state and the laws.

This point, in particular, will bring us back to ongoing argument about who would be the main beneficiary from the repercussions of Covid-19 in the Arab World. Is it the political and security, which has decisively taken the initiative in confronting the pandemic? Or is it some religious groups which are waiting until the worst passes, and then emerge to say ‘Well, where were your science and scientists when God attempted to test our beliefs?’

Indeed, contradicting theories and arguments about our lives and futures mushroom here and there, as the world, as a whole finds itself fighting against time.

From one side there are voices insisting that the top priority now must be saving lives, as saving the economies can wait, especially, that they are built on lending and debts, and can be rebuilt after recessions. From the opposite direction, many voices argue that life and death are existential facts, and the world must never sacrifice its economic well-being for the many to save the lives of the few.

Personally, I am - without hesitation - with the first opinion.

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