Some Virus Did Something

Ah, the war metaphor.

“Front lines.” “Coming ashore” “Hunker down.” “The trenches.” “Under siege.” Such phrases are rampant in the COVID-19 narrative. We are “at war” with a virus. These metaphors are used to anthropomorphize danger. And to manufacture glory.

In war, the soldier is lionized. The hero fighting for your freedom and security. Thank him for his service and sacrifice. He stands on that wall. Better be grateful. Don’t look beyond the soldier in the field to the forces that put him there.

The military-industrial complex needs resources and control over the narrative. Skepticism about the prudence and rightness of military action is shouted down with “Support our troops!” Dissension endangers the order that makes freedom (profits) possible. The soldier cries that the government ties his hands. And sells him short. “Let us fight the war on our terms. You do your part.”

The police borrow the language. “War on crime.” “War on drugs.” “War on cops.” We’re living in the era of the soldier-cop.

In pestilence, the healthcare worker is similarly exalted. Trump is a “war-time president.” Our heroes are on the “front lines” fighting for our health and lives.

The medical-industrial complex needs resources and control over the narrative. Free them to navigate the battlefield on their terms—which means empowering technocrats to govern the population’s movements. Don’t question the judgment of healers and scientists in the service of the “war effort.” Get in line.

Skeptics are heretics, dangers to health and well being. They’re like the peacenik.

The signs of pestilence

Pharmaceutical corporations managing the scenes? What are you? A conspiracy theorist? You fancy this a plot emanating from the Deep State? You really think these brave soldiers would exaggerate a viral threat to sell their tests, their therapies, their vaccines?

Whatever else they do, and their sacrifices are noted (as are those of who die on actual battlefields), they’re fighting for the sake of corporate profits moving under the cover of glory. The medical establishment has its diagnostics and nostrums. Face masks and latex gloves are the flags and ribbons of war. Don them, brave citizen, and proudly show your uncritical support for the “war” against the “invisible enemy.” Share pictures of yourself properly uniformed on Facebook and Instagram so your friends thank you for your patriotism. Tie light blue ribbons around the tree in your neighborhood. Scold those who don’t adhere to doctrine and ritual.

Threat selectivity and fallacious comparisons are signs of propaganda. The capitalist state and the corporate media select the threats “we” fight (the criminals “we” suppress and so on). Propaganda is never an objective assessment. There, the determination of threats is ideological, in line with political-economic need, and without regard to truth. Promoting fear, the moral entrepreneur conditions and induces the public to demand action.

It is much the same with the medical-industrial complex as it is with the military-industrial complex. Medical and pharmaceutical corporations, with the government and the media at their backs—and in tow—select profitable pathogens and raise awareness (hysteria) about them. The formula: manufacture danger and then meet the threat-demand with products and services.

The companies have their vaccines and antivirals for influenza—and profit handsomely from them. The efficacy of these products are questionable, but they have them. By February 2018, a particular bad season for influenza, Sanofi had raked in three-quarters of a billion dollars in profits, and GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccine business had climbed about 76 percent (“U.S. Flu Season Reaches Peak, Vaccine Profits Climb.”). A network of pharmaceutical companies produced 12 different vaccines for the 2017-18 flu season (and vaccines are but a division among divisions that pump out a myriad of chemical preparations every year). The Centers on Disease Control (CDC) dutifully reported (estimates of) tens of millions of flu cases, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and tens of thousands of deaths.

The present pathogen, the novel coronavirus, a member of a family of viruses that are always present in the viral mix every year, represents a great profit potential in vaccines and antivirals. (See “When a Virus Goes Viral.”) Seemingly to aid the manufacture of danger, the typical method of estimation has gone to the wayside, and death rates are calculated from confirmed cases. It’s terrifying.

Rhinoviruses—the other major cause of cold-like illness—are not a profit potential. They are “common.” But it won’t take much going forward to select one them (A, B, or C), reveal it to be the culprit behind pneumonia deaths (which it is is) and “we” can enjoy vaccines and antivirals for that, too.

Product designers: “How will they know they want this?”

CEOs: “We will tell them what they want.”

A recent CNBC headline warned: “Coronavirus could kill more Americans than WWI, Vietnam or Korean wars, White House projection shows.” We are at war. Using CDC’s material, CNBC could have reported that every year pneumonia/influenza kills roughly the same number of Americans who died in the Korean War. During the 2017-18 flu season, nearly as many Americans died from pneumonia/influenza as died in the Vietnam war (CNBC inflates the number of dead Americans from that imperialist adventure). Where are the great flu pandemics on this list? Spanish? Shanghai? Hong Kong?

CNBC’s terrible inaccurate—but more importantly irrelevant graphic

And this headline: “Over 3,000 people have died in US from coronavirus, surpassing 9/11 death toll,” from The New York Post. “COVID-19 [it sounds like a terrorist cell or kick murder squad] has killed at least 3,170 Americans, surpassing the 2,977 victims who were killed in the World Trade Center, Pentagon, and four hijacked planes on September 11.” The article continues: “The 9/11 attacks had been the deadliest event in the continental US since the Japanese killed 2,403 Americans at Pearl Harbor in 1941.”

But viruses don’t mean to kill you. They have no agency. They don’t make war. Doctor are soldiers unless they are “soldier-doctors.”

I will leave you with this bit of wisdom from one of my favorites intellectuals, Douglas Murray.

Some toasters did something

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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