When confusion starts killing people, it is long past time to recognize it for what it is

I regret Tom Wolf’s decision to begin relaxing Pennsylvania’s lockdown[1] but, driving for Lyft around Pittsburgh, I’m hearing a lot of bullshit from a lot of passengers. Even self-identifying medical workers advocate quack[2] cures for COVID-19 and I simply have neither the interest nor the time to stay on top of it all. I know that the country isn’t ready for these sorts of moves[3] and, all too well, that neither Pittsburgh[4] nor Pennsylvania are ahead of the country, but frankly, my revulsion rises too quickly to the surface and it is all I can do to suppress it with customers in the car.

It is well known that authoritarian populists distrust mainstream media and have created their own misinformation bubble, first with right-wing talk radio such as my grandfather listened to, next with Faux News, now with social media. It is pernicious and with the novel coronavirus,[5] it will kill people.

There is a profound problem, which anarchists believe undermines the legitimacy of “power over,” an often illegitimate form of power over others that exists in contrast to “power with,” that is, the power to cooperate, and to “power to,” as in ability,[6] in that some people have used their positions of power to exploit others and to preserve their own privileges—these are the functionalist conservatives I described in my dissertation.[7] We see this with government, with the economy, and now with right-wing astroturfing.[8] Now, when authorities need to be trusted, they are distrusted, and only in part because other authorities, as with Donald Trump and the astroturfers,[9] send contradictory messages. I understand that. And so, even as I regret it, I think I understand Wolf’s decision.

What is truly bizarre to me, however, is to see photographs of protesters against measures to protect human life.[10] In these protests, dangerous and delusional raging narcissistic bullshit[11] has become “truth,” dependence upon capitalism has become “independence,” and wage slavery has become “freedom.” Much of this doublethink[12] is, of course, precisely what capitalist libertarians and neoliberals want us to believe.[13] It props up that neoliberal house of cards built on low wages and debt slavery.[14] And I think most people buy into it to some degree with a self-hatred in

[a] core element of the American credo . . . that talent, skill, hard work, and achievement largely determine life chances. We believe that everyone has a fair shot at whatever is valued or prized and that no individual or group is unfairly advantaged or disadvantaged.[15]

But when this confusion means killing people, it is long past time to recognize it for what it is.

  1. [1]Andy Sheehan, “Coronavirus In Pennsylvania: Gov. Tom Wolf Says State Will Start Gradually Reopening On May 8,” KDKA, April 20, 2020, https://pittsburgh.cbslocal.com/2020/04/20/gov-tom-wolf-reopens-pennsylvania-may-8/
  2. [2]Marilynn Marchione, “Heart woes spur partial stop of malaria drug study for virus,” Washington Post, April 13, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/heart-woes-spur-partial-stop-of-malaria-drug-study-for-virus/2020/04/13/c6460050-7db6-11ea-84c2-0792d8591911_story.html; Paul Waldman, “The real reason Trump is obsessed with hydroxychloroquine,” Washington Post, April 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/07/real-reason-trump-is-obsessed-with-hydroxychloroquine/
  3. [3]Ishaan Tharoor, “Trump wants to lift lockdowns. Other countries’ attempts show why the U.S. isn’t ready,” Washington Post, April 21, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/04/21/trump-wants-lift-lockdowns-other-countries-attempts-show-why-us-isnt-ready/
  4. [4]Eric Heyl, “Coronavirus: Allegheny County Deaths Up Signficantly,” Patch, April 21, 2020, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/baldwin-whitehall/s/h38m1/coronavirus-allegheny-county-deaths-up-signficantly
  5. [5]Eric Cortellessa, “US far-right extremists are now calling social distancing a Nazi policy,” Times of Israel, April 17, 2020, https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-far-right-extremists-are-now-calling-social-distancing-a-nazi-policy/; Tony Romm, “Fake cures and other coronavirus conspiracy theories are flooding WhatsApp, leaving governments and users with a ‘sense of panic,’” Washington Post, March 2, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/03/02/whatsapp-coronavirus-misinformation/; Isaac Stanley-Becker and Tony Romm, “Pro-gun activists using Facebook groups to push anti-quarantine protests,” Washington Post, April 19, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/04/19/pro-gun-activists-using-facebook-groups-push-anti-quarantine-protests/
  6. [6]Uri Gordon, Anarchy Alive! (London: Pluto, 2008).
  7. [7]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  8. [8]Isaac Stanley-Becker and Tony Romm, “Pro-gun activists using Facebook groups to push anti-quarantine protests,” Washington Post, April 19, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/04/19/pro-gun-activists-using-facebook-groups-push-anti-quarantine-protests/
  9. [9]Isaac Stanley-Becker and Tony Romm, “Pro-gun activists using Facebook groups to push anti-quarantine protests,” Washington Post, April 19, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2020/04/19/pro-gun-activists-using-facebook-groups-push-anti-quarantine-protests/; Ishaan Tharoor, “Trump wants to lift lockdowns. Other countries’ attempts show why the U.S. isn’t ready,” Washington Post, April 21, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/04/21/trump-wants-lift-lockdowns-other-countries-attempts-show-why-us-isnt-ready/; Paul Waldman, “The real reason Trump is obsessed with hydroxychloroquine,” Washington Post, April 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/07/real-reason-trump-is-obsessed-with-hydroxychloroquine/
  10. [10]Ryan Deto, “Photos: About 120 protest in Downtown Pittsburgh, calling for Pennsylvania to reopen during coronavirus pandemic,” Pittsburgh City Paper, April 20, 2020, https://www.pghcitypaper.com/pittsburgh/photos-about-120-protest-in-downtown-pittsburgh-calling-for-pennsylvania-to-reopen-during-coronavirus-pandemic/Content?oid=17167012; Jamie Martines And Tom Davidson, “Protesters in Pittsburgh demand Gov. Wolf to reopen businesses amid coronavirus pandemic,” Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, April 20, 2020, https://triblive.com/local/pittsburgh-allegheny/protesters-gather-in-pittsburgh-demanding-gov-wolf-reopen-businesses-amid-coronavirus-pandemic/
  11. [11]Marilynn Marchione, “Heart woes spur partial stop of malaria drug study for virus,” Washington Post, April 13, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/heart-woes-spur-partial-stop-of-malaria-drug-study-for-virus/2020/04/13/c6460050-7db6-11ea-84c2-0792d8591911_story.html; Ishaan Tharoor, “Trump wants to lift lockdowns. Other countries’ attempts show why the U.S. isn’t ready,” Washington Post, April 21, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/04/21/trump-wants-lift-lockdowns-other-countries-attempts-show-why-us-isnt-ready/; Paul Waldman, “The real reason Trump is obsessed with hydroxychloroquine,” Washington Post, April 7, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/04/07/real-reason-trump-is-obsessed-with-hydroxychloroquine/
  12. [12]George Orwell, 1984 (New York: Signet, 1977).
  13. [13]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  14. [14]David Benfell, “An impatient capitalist god demands human sacrifice. Now,” Not Housebroken, April 17, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/15/an-impatient-capitalist-god-demands-human-sacrifice-now/
  15. [15]Thomas M. Shapiro, “Introduction,” in Great Divides: Readings in Social Inequality in the United States, ed. Thomas M. Shapiro, 3rd ed. (New York: McGraw Hill, 2005), 3.

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