What Lies Behind the Mask? Technocratic Desire

The Conversation is a product of the Scientific-Industrial Complex. In its own words it “arose out of deep-seated concerns for the fading quality of our public discourse—and recognition of the vital role that academic experts can play in the public arena.” That state alone telegraphs its gatekeeping function.

On May 14, The Conversation published Masks help stop the spread of coronavirus—the science is simple and I’m one of 100 experts urging governors to require public mask-wearing, by Jeremy Howard. Howard is listed as a data analyst from the University of San Fransisco. Digging around one discovers that he is indeed an instructor at USF. He is also an entrepreneur, business strategist, and product developer.

Howard is also a scary man. More scary is the fact that he is not alone. There is an army of Howards out there. The claims Howard makes in this article are not about dealing with an emergency situation in which some rights have to be temporarily limited. The desire expressed is nothing short of changing the way we live our daily lives—and, not surprisingly, in the direction of serving the interests of corporate power. What he puts in this article represents a terrifyingly positive regard for the use of state power, an exemplar of authoritarian technocratic desire.

The article starts from a bad premise: it assumes that we want to slow the spread of the virus. But if we want to build herd immunity, and masks prevent that, then we don’t want people to wear masks. We want healthy people to get out there and get the virus, as they have done in Sweden. (See Who’s Safer? and Hunkering Down for No Reason.)

The corporate media tells us that we can learn a lot from China. China is learning a lot about the consequence of aggressively slowing the spread of the virus. According to Business Insider, “China could be hit with a second wave of the coronavirus because of a lack of immunity among residents.”

“Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a leading Chinese epidemiologist and the country’s senior medical adviser, told CNN Saturday that a lack of immunity among Chinese residents could be a cause for concern in spurring another wave of infections.”

In other words, China was so good at locking everything down—because that’s the promise of totalitarianism we should all envy—that the Chinese population lacks the antibodies to protect them from the next wave of SARS-CoV-2.

“A new study found that 99.8% of recovered coronavirus patients that were studied tested positive for antibodies, suggesting that those who have recovered are immune to reinfection.” Remember when Dr. Anthony Fauci said in early April that recovered coronavirus patients will likely be immune to a second wave of infections that’s likely to spread in the early fall? That’s the logic of the Swedish strategy.

So open up and let healthy people get it. Vulnerable populations will be protected when the numbers of people with whom they will interact have immunity from this disease. Yet the science-as-religion folks are rewriting the history of the science of immunology (see Science and Conspiracy: COVID-19 and the New Religion). They are rejecting natural history. Why would they do this?

More on that in a second. But I want to dwell for a moment on the absurdity of all this from a rational standpoint. If we accept the Howard’s premise, then we must also accept an argument that we must wear masks to prevent the spread of influenza viruses and rhinoviruses. After all, these viruses kill people, too. Influenza vaccines are notoriously ineffective. At best they are not very effective. And we don’t have vaccines for rhinoviruses at all. So we must wear masks. We should have been wearing masks all along.

What does natural history tell us? If people contract rhinoviruses and influenza viruses (as well as coronaviruses) healthy immune systems will respond and protect the body. On the other hand, if people are not exposed to these pathogens then their immune systems won’t develop and they will be susceptible to disease. Our immune systems are like our speech and visual systems. They need activity and stimulation to develop properly. Without the necessary inputs, they are undeveloped and we personal health care system is impoverished. Relatively harmless viruses will become deleterious. And up go the demands for more vaccines—because only corporations can save us.

Why would we work against the body in this way? It is almost as if we are to become dependent on corporations for our health rather than on healthy bodies. There might be some money in that. For his part, Howard assumes that we need to stop the spread of the virus until a vaccine is developed. Of course he does.

Reading this stuff one cannot avoid feeling that what influences the choice of premise is the convenient belief that vaccines are the appropriate method for dealing with viruses. I am not suggesting that a SARS virus broke out of a US-funded lab in Wuhan, China working on a vaccine for SARS in order to create a market for a vaccine that looks set to appear in record time. What I am arguing it that we need to fear viruses until there are vaccines for them. In the meantime wear masks and stay home. The mask and your unfreedom will be a reminder that we need a vaccine, that other humans are disease vectors, and that corporations are friend. The world is perilous, but corporations and technocrats will keep your safe. But you have to follow orders and not question authority.

How did humans live for those tens of thousands of years—possibly several hundreds of thousands of years—without masks and vaccines? This is not science. It’s religion; its doctrine is the profit motive. 

What about those people who don’t wear masks? What if they cannot be shamed into wearing them. There will be laws mandating it and police officers to enforce it. Howard brags that he and one hundred other experts called on state governments in an open letter to compel people to wear masks. If there is ever a vaccine, Howard and his ilk will write an open letter calling on state governments to compel that, too. People will be dragged into rooms and jabbed against their will. And the injuries will be rationalized in the light of the common good. They already are.

The experts of the scientific-industrial complex have authoritarian minds. This is clear now. This is the social logic of state corporate totalitarianism.

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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