State of Plague, Part 3: Disease-Mongering as Militarized Trojan Horse for Globalization and Surveillance
Though jail sounds drastic, it could be the only way to send a strong message about the deadly consequences of failing to vaccinate children. ~Alex Berezow, USA Today
Actually parents don’t own their children. Parents have a responsibility to care for their children; and if they don’t, the state has a right to step in. ~Paul Offit, USA Today
All of the barriers that are meant to protect our children–the government, the lawyers, the regulatory agencies, and the press, the checks and balances in our democratic system that are supposed to stand between corporate power and our little children–have been removed, and there’s only one barrier left, and that’s the parents, and we need to keep that in the equation. ~Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
Postmodern Hysteria—a Political Virus
Part 2 of this series asked whether the merging of public health with military industrial mechanisms— made evident by the use of philanthropic vaccine drives as cover for military operations— also had the reciprocal effect of militarizing domestic public health authority.
If this is the case, if both divisions are swapping spit to put it bluntly, it highlights certain risks. As Susan Stuart of Valparaiso University writes inWar as Metaphor, the “increasing use of militaristic rhetoric by politicians and pundits goes beyond its metaphorical use as a war against an abstraction. Instead, the use of such language is becoming literal, and that rhetorical shift matters. Today’s militaristic rhetoric is increasingly identifying fellow citizens as enemies in a literal war.”
In Stuart’s estimation, a “war on” social problems is a way for a country’s war machinery to come home to roost on its own soil. In a speech in 2013, journalist and activist Chris Hedges explained the military history of the boomerang effect:
What happens with dying empires—Thucydides [Greek commander circa 400 BC, author of History of the Peloponnesian War] wrote about this— is that the techniques of control, which are always about coercion—the only language most people speak in the outer reaches of empire is the language of force—as the impirium is hollowed out, these techniques migrate back into heart of the impirium, which is exactly what is happening. So you have the mercenaries working in Iraq and Afghanistan [Blackwater, DynCorp, Intercon, American Security Group, Blackhawk, Wackenhut and Israel’s Instinctive Shooting International, etc.] suddenly appearing in New Orleans after Katrina…
According to Foucault’s panoptic theory, the advantages of the merger between war and public health machinery—much like the merger between military and domestic disaster relief—in terms of boosting domestic militarization would be obvious: fear of disease makes the surveillance state possible. As public health policy moves from persuasion to discussions of coercion and force, it’s clear the marriage has gone beyond the CDC’s symbolic military rank and uniforms. Both have a lot to trade in becoming “pregnant” with the other’s purpose. Not only practical methods are transferred, which is dangerous enough, but also rationales, PR, ethos and philosophical approaches that are endlessly elastic and can be applied almost anywhere. I think that’s the enduring danger when things that are fundamentally irreconcilable, such as the Hippocratic Oath and rules of engagement, become disturbingly reconcilable. The Frankenstein result is that human beings become the “disease.”
Through a panoptic lens, the surveillance state—the state of plague— is fueled by contagion whether this is an actuality or a conceptual fabrication, such the imagined “virulant” scourges of bad genes or bad ideas that, according to several absurd authoritarian interpretations of evolution, spawn mass political psychopathology. And this is true whether the reigning authoritarian ideology is right, left or the “inverted” variety currently forming in American politics. According to political philosopher Sheldon Wolin who coined “inverted totalitarianism,” in an inversion of Nazi political structure, corporations rule and government is subordinate, the population is demobilized and apathetic and figureheads are interchangable.
But regardless of form, by Foucault’s argument, all totalitarian structures are by definition rooted in a common contagion model and the contagion model in turn is arguably rooted in a cult of science necessary to rationalize the implementation of authoritarian statism on scientific grounds. In the view of French political historian Tzvetan Todorov, a cult implies religion— a sort of theocracy of “scientism.” In his introduction to Hope and Memory, Lessons From the Twentieth Century, Todorov writes,
Totalitarian doctrines are instances of utopianism (the only known instances in the 20th century) and, by the same tolken, variants of millenarism— and that means that they belong, as do all doctrines of salvation, to the field of religion… All the same, the origins of totalitarian utopianism are quite paradoxical for a religion. They lie in a doctrine that was developed before the rise of totalitarian states, before the twentieth century, and which seems at first glance to have absolutely nothing on common with religion. We must turn now to this earlier ideology, which we shall call “scientism.”
Scientism as a doctrine starts with the hypothesis that the real world is an entirely coherent structure. It follows that the world is transparent, that it can be known entirely and without residue by the human mind. The task of acquiring such knowledge is delegated to the requisite praxis, called science. The basic postulate has one obvious consequence … [I]f the transparency of the real includes the human world, then there is nothing to stop us from imagining how to create the “new man,” a human species without the blemishes of the original strain. The logic of livestock breeding ought to work for humankind as well…
The notion that social and individual ideals are the products of science has another important consequence… There is no room for more than one version of scientific truth; errors are many but the truth is one, and so pluralism becomes an irrelevant concept. If the ideal is a result of demonstration and not of opinion, then it has to be accepted without protest.
Scientism derives from the existence of scientific practice, but it is not itself scientific. It’s basic postulate—the complete transparency of the real—cannot be proved; the same is true of its implementation through the construction of ultimate ends through the process of knowledge. From start to finish, the cult of science requires an act of faith (“faith in reason,” in Ernest Renan’s phrase), which is why it belongs not to the family of sciences, but to the family of religions…
It has to be emphasized that scientism is not a science, but a world view that grew, fungus-like, on the trunk of science. That is why totalitarian systems can embrace the cult of science and still not foster the development of scientific research…
The monism of totalitarian regimes comes from the same axiom of the cult of science. Because there is only one rational way of grasping the entire universe, there is no reason to maintain artificial distinctions between different social groups, between the different spheres of individual life (public and private), and between opinions. Truth is one and so should the human world be.
It’s certainly true that research integrity has suffered in the emerging scientific monism, even driving the head of the Office for Research Integrity, David Wright, to resign due to entrenched corruption and obstruction within the department of Health and Human Services, the parent agency to the CDC. The recent disclosure by senior CDC scientist William Thompson that higher ups in the agency repeatedly forced researchers to alter data regarding the relationship between autism and certain vaccines and vaccine components is merely symptomatic.
There are many prevalent theories in science which have been placed protectively behind the absolutist aegis of “official science”—autism being one (officially deemed “largely genetic”), and the “unquestionable safety and effectiveness” of certain drugs and biologics another. Though a considerable amount of peer-reviewed science exists questioning each, we are told that there are not “two sides” to the controversy, a signature PR soundbite of vaccine defenders like Paul Offit, whose Rotarix vaccine co-patent is currently under official review in France for infant deaths. Offit recently repeated the tagline when he backed out of a public debate on learning that the issue of vaccine safety and a pro-choice medical expert would be featured. And he used it as an explanation on Democracy Now for why he refused to be interviewed at the same time as NYU law professor and research scholar Mary Holland, a pro-choice proponent: “I don’t think it’s fair to have a debate where two sides are presented, when only one side is really supported by the science. I think—I’d like to think we’re beyond that.”
Host Amy Goodman’s responded:
Dr. Offit, what I think is important… it’s not only about science. We’re talking about science. We’re talking about the practice of medicine in this country. We’re talking about public policy. I mean, after all, this has now become a presidential campaign issue, with possible presidential candidates taking on the issues. And I want your comment on that. But you’re combining all of this, and it’s important to bring all the various expertise of parents, of lawyers, of doctors together in a conversation on these issues.
Goodman’s reply makes a key point about scientific absolutism—that it pretends not to be political and therefore not in the purview of political discussion. One problem with this is that, even if certain “majority science” theories eventually proved incontestable, the credibility shields under which they’ve been protectively sealed can expand to scare back scrutiny from almost anything that scientific authority deems related—no matter how absurd and no matter how it might open the door to dangerous policy. A prime example of this is the campaign to genetically tie autism to mass killers. Quoting my own 2013 article:
Autism research provides an endless supply of unsubstantiated genetic corollaries which have the distinction of being protected by the state in order to obfuscate the role of government public health agencies in contributing to an epidemic. And, of course, these unsubstantiated genetic corollaries have endless applications for political and industrial exploits…For instance, if a group of researchers needs to prove that pigs fly to serve an industrial sponsor or as part of an exercise in "weaponized anthropology” targeting a strategic or ideological foe, all they need do is link “proofs” of the imaginary flight of pigs to autism to create an automatic credibility shield.
A year after the above was published, yet another awful, sloppy study attempting to tie terrorism to autism through genetics was published and hit headlines, showing that what happens in autism science hardly stays there. It’s as if a black hole has formed around the suppression of environmental autism research creating a time warp that continuously spits out old-timey hypotheses worthy of the eugenics era—autistic school shooters, autistic serial killers (included in the autism-terrorism study), autistic dictators, even an autistic-triggered financial crash.
There are no limits to the application of something that does not exist. No gene or genes for any of these conditions or behaviors have ever been established, even after a century of hunting down genetic markers for violence and criminality, decades of attempting to pin down “autism genes,” and despite yearly headlines hailing every new, unreplicable genetic discovery as the one that proves x or y at last.
Conveniently sewing up all human evil into one inconveniently exploding, incredibly expensive disabled population has the predictable effect of quelling public concern, opening the door to institutional abuse, an echo of racialized criminal research.
The political ramifications should be obvious: the goal is to play genomic Jesus of the scientific Second Coming in order to identify and manage terrorists and assorted other genetic bad seeds from birth. This fits perfectly with Todorov’s description of scientism as part of a “doctrine of salvation” and is the essence of weaponized science—a term used by Stanford anthropologist David Price, author of Weaponizing Anthropology, regarding the militarization of the field and the atrocity-justifying junk science that results.
The impact of any program drawn from weaponized research tends to be squeamishly left for separate discussion, but whatever solution is proposed, particularly if this poses human rights problems (from forced screening and intervention to prophylactic drugging and assaults against entire cultures, or the current FBI trend of luring the disabled into fabricated bomb plots), it only highlights the importance of the public’s right to peer behind credibility shields and take apart the science supporting them.
But in an age when cellular science often dictates domestic and foreign policy, commercial science proponents have essentially forbidden the public from attempting to interpret scientific research. It’s akin to medieval church canons banning the laity from translating or owning scripture as well as an effective means of disenfranchising the public.
We are simply expected to vote, in blind faith, for “science” and whatever is shoved under its banner by political leaders taking unlimited donations from the same corporations which sponsor the science, profit from the campaigns and own the media that peddles it. As Wikileaks documents in its archive of leaked Sony emails disclosing that top Hollywood executives (including James Rupert Murdoch , former director of GlaxoSmithKline and son of Rupert) have been recruited to help the United States produce counter-propaganda “to combat Islamic extremism,” the media isn’t just selling policy, it’s creating it.
In short, “scientific knowledge” has become a brand and legislation is reduced to marketing. It explains why public health avatars and industry defenders like Offit continuously try to steer any discussion of biotech safety into purely scientific rather than ethical, legal or political contexts in the hopes the predominance of industry-funded science—as if no other exists— will bring an advantage. But in the end, the attempt to “scientize” ethical and political considerations is a problem in itself and part of the general trend of dragging all fields of thought under the auspices of scientific “fact.” That brings up the question of who decides these absolutes. Take Google for example—a company that effectively functions as part of the NSA according to British journalist and international security scholar Nafeez Ahmed, and has been repeatedly warned to stop manipulating search rankings of companies it invests in. Google recently announced a plan to inoculate the web against the spread of disinformation by ranking online searches by “facts” as digitally determined by the company’s “Knowledge Vault” (TM?).
What I’m really curious about is what will happen to the search rankings of various political historians and philosophers in the gears of Google’s Knowledge Vault, especially those who argue that the very act of trying to arbitrate ideas— including political thought, philosophy and morality— according to “science” is political and, as Todorov and others contend, also has an ominous history.
For instance, in tackling the origins of 20th century totalitarianism, political philosopher and Holocaust survivor Hannah Arendt argued that what differentiates despotism from totalitarianism is that, in the latter, an individual who becomes a target of the state need not be accused of or have a history of crimes against the state but is regarded “scientifically” as an “objective enemy”— a “carrier of tendencies” as certainly as they would be the “carrier of a disease.” Like Todorov, Arendt viewed this as ideology, not science:
The word "ideology" seems to imply that an idea can become the subject matter of a science just as animals are the subject matter of zoology, and that the suffix -logy in ideology, as in zoology, indicates nothing but the logoi, the scientific statements made on it. If this were true, an ideology would indeed be a pseudoscience and a pseudo-philosophy, transgressing at the same time the limitations of science and the limitations of philosophy.
Political philosopher and the father of the scientific method Karl Raimund Popper traced the roots of the “scientific” terror state to Plato, who based his theory of justice on a mystical metabiological Pythagorean theorem for survival of the species in defense of the supposed inherant purity of the enlightened ruling class from the contagion of supposedly lesser castes. Popper also warns that any attempt to apply herd analogies to society—which he calls the “organic theory” of the state (society as “herd,” “body” or tribe) – “are veiled forms of propaganda for a return to tribalism”—i.e., absolutism, totalitarianism.
Both Popper and Arendt conclude that bastardized genetic theories and racialism in various forms largely drive the machinery of total terror and modern authoritarianism. Popper exposes Plato’s acknowledgement that racialism must be fabricated and artificially sustained to erect state control, calling it the “noble lie” and its enforcement “strong medicine.” According to Arendt, Nazi eugenics was also a consciously cynical construct: “racism was calculated to be a more powerful ally than any paid agent or secret organization of fifth columnists.”
What exactly does totalitarian racialism have to do with current coercive public health campaigns? Enough to make Godwin’s law moot by extending the comparison to every form of totalitarianism and by arguing that the current trend of demonizing and invalidating (or search-engine deoptimizing) those who question the absolutes of official science, to the extent that these groups are attacked and coerced based on political thought, equates to Arendt’s “disease carrier” analogy for political caste.
It’s on this basis that a range of human rights advocates have repeatedly attempted to include politicide within the international definition of genocide, since many modern atrocities have been committed against political groups.
In Redefining Genocide, Dr. Kok Thay-Eng, research director for Documentations Center of Cambodia, an organization that researches genocide, writes
Under the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted in 1948,
genocide was defined in Article 2 as:
...any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such:
(a)Killing members of the group;
(b)Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;
(c)Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part;
(d)Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group;
(e)Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
…It is generally agreed that Convention’s definition includes only four protected groups; political groups, which have been the main victims since World War II, should be included. It seems that the perpetrators of World War II’s genocide, as the French delegates correctly predicted, tried to victimize the four protected groups on political grounds… Many observers have noted that there was an “under-the-table” compromise made during the Convention to exclude political groups. This was done to secure ratification by member states that feared that their internal suppression of dissents might be subject to external interference under the Convention.
To boil it down, the attacks on vaccine safety watchdogs—only one of many similar campaigns against consumer movements— can be interpreted as attacks on political thought in some senses.The very act of questioning a scientific apologia for use of force illustrates very simply the main political stance of medical reform advocacy— the view that scientific authority must be accountable. For lack of a better way frame this while still accounting for reformists’ political diversity (right, left, center, etc.), the position has been tagged a sort of “postmodernism”—both as a criticism of consumers’ insistence on their right to question scientific authority and in support of that right if not total accord with the context.
There are many ways to categorize dissent and the position that authority must account for itself, but the question of whether this qualifies as political is easily answered by industrial PR attempts to brand environmentalists in general as secretly “socialists.” Whether this is true or not, once mass incarceration, professional defrocking and child displacement are proposed to target certain ideas, those policies qualify as politicide under Thay-Eng’s analysis.
But as Thay-Eng also points out, there’s no consensus on what defines politicide. There’s also no racially equivalent definition for “political caste” in terms of dissent from state sanctioned science, though, as history illustrates, there should be. According to Todorov,
[S]cience requires submission to the quest for truth, not submission to dogma. Communists and Nazis thus backed off from the quest for new knowledge: the latter denounced “Jewish science” (and did without Einstein’s theories), and the former repudiated “bourgeois biology” (and jettisoned Mendel’s genetics). Challenging Lyssenko’s biology, Pavlov’s psychology, or Marr’s linguistics in the USSR could take you straight to the gulag.
What telling now is that modern dissent from state science itself, much like the issue of race, is subjected to weaponized forms of sociology, genomic science and psychiatry, arguing that views regarded as “anti-vaccine” relate to religiosity.
The extremist “anti” suffix is applied to any position even reasonably questioning commercial science -- “anti-GMO,” “anti-psychiatry,” etc. -- and this is done without differentiating the grounds by which different individuals dissent—whether they reject the concept of preventive medicine or simply the available corporate renditions of it, whether they see some products as less effective and necessary than others, and whether decisions are made from reading science and interacting within the scientific community, dire personal experience or web rumors, etc. Instead, all are tarred with a superstitious “cognitive bias.” Although the vaccine safety advocacy/autism arena is hugely diverse as far as religious and political orientation, by their own terms, public health and industry defenders have come close to politicizing the attacks through the equivocation. Vaccine industrialist Paul Offit took it a step further by trying to dictate what constitutes “good” and “bad” exercise of faith in his most recent book, Bad Faith: When Religion Undermines Modern Medicine.
Consumer activists who question vaccine safety are also hypothesized to suffer from narcissitic personality disorder. Both speculative diagnoses are characterized as like a “virus,” and both are commonly applied to terrorists—also described as “viral.” These concepts along with genetic theories for religiosity and narcissism have been slapped together to propose that carriers of irrational “anti-science” tendencies are doubly in need of quarantine—both physically as vectors of real disease, and conceptually as vectors of dangerous and contagious views.
And then there’s always misogyny.That’s generally regarded as political. In a speech opposing California’s SB277, which would remove vaccine exemptions for all school children in the state, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. discussed stereotypes typically wielded against consumer advocates:
There’s a kind of Kafkaesque censorship in the news about having a reasonable debate about this issue—a fact-based debate. So instead, we hear a lot of namecalling… Because they can’t debate us on the merits, so they call us “anti-vaccine,” they call us hysterical, they call us conspiracy theorists. And I want people to think when they use that term, “anti-vax parent,” they should be thinking of a parent with a disabled child, because that’s who these people are. And I want to say one other thing, this movement that calls you anti-vax, is the most misogynistic movement that I have seen in my lifetime. It’s a movement that is anti-mother, and it is anti-woman. And the names that I hear coming out of people’s mouths about “hysterics” and “refrigerator moms” and all of this in our major newspapers like the New York Times, is extraordinary.
The accusation of “hysteria,” particularly when leveled by corporate media science writers, is very interesting. An unambiguous reference to the more modern-sounding “conversion” or somatoform disorder, “psychogenic hysteria,” according to law and history professor Barbara Young Welke, author of Recasting American Liberty: Gender, Race, Law, and the Railroad Revolution, was originally conceived as “litigation symptoms” by physicians hired to consult with rail companies in the US and Europe in the early, accident-prone days of train travel. The original “tobacco science” was actually “railroad science.” These medico-legal consultants proposed that the condition was triggered by “fear of technological progress” and the theory was used successfully to beat back a growing number of passenger and crew injury claims for “railway spine,” aka, whiplash, which didn’t exist in clinical literature until the advent of high-speed travel. The condition wasn’t regarded as an overwhelmingly feminine diagnosis until Jean-Martin Charcot, widely regarded as the father of modern neurology and also a consulting physician for the French national railway, blended psychogenic hysteria with a metaphorically Platonic gynecological hypotheses (Plato believed the uterus wandered around women’s bodies, strangling and inhibiting various physical processes). Regarding railway spine, Charcot opined , “a pecular mental condition is often developed which is intimately connected in my judgment with the hypnotic state.”
And medico-legal tort defense seems to be a peculiar condition of paid consultants. Hysteria is also another example of a persistent credibility shield wandering around various clinical fields and strangling advancement. Though evidence of mass mania and imagined symptoms exist in clinical literature (medical students’ disease for example), the diagnosis has also been extended haphazardly to any condition that science could not (or would not) explain even as many past clinical foundations crumble in its wake. And so “hysteria” is continuously reborn as a means of jujitsuing industrial injury claims and retains an overwhelmingly feminine patina. It’s also viewed as “contagious,” “largely genetic” and like a “virus.”
But none of these labels really mean as much as the attempt to define a designated and obviously political target in “objective” scientific terms according to Arendt: “The introduction of the notion of ‘objective enemy’ is much more decisive for the functioning of totalitarian regimes than the ideological definition of the respective categories.”
Conceptualized virulance under Stalin was more dependent on ideological castes than race, taking the form of the Lamarckian genetic view that Todorov refers to and that was favored by the most violent Jacobin factions during the French revolutionary Reign of Terror—the idea that thought and belief become heritable traits that can infect entire clans, classes and ethnic divisions with destructive ideology, warranting collective punishment and mass extermination. 20th century Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s chief psychiatrist Antonio Villejo-Nájera blended Nazi and Lamarckian eugenics and added a Freudian twist proposing that maternal hysteria could optimize and spread the genetic expression of the politically psychopathic “red gene,” a theory used to justify removal of an estimated 300,000 children from suspected Republican sympathizers, bizarre medical experimentation and mass slaughter. The Villejo-Nájera viral genetic ideology model was adopted by various American-sponsored or supported Latin American reigns of terror in the mid to late 20th century, leading to hundreds of thousands of disappearances as well as stolen children.
In When Atheism Becomes Religion: America’s New Fundamentalists, former New York Times journalist Chris Hedges analyzes the pseudo-ideological movement of apologists for atrocity, torture and preemptive war led by Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris—figureheads of the Skeptic corporate PR front organization leading the charge of biotech defense—Hedges frames this viral conception of humanity as the underpinning of violent utopianism: “The belief that we can achieve human perfection, that we can advance morally, is itself an evil. It provides a cover for criminality and abuse, a justification for murder… It reduces human beings to the status of a virus.”
And, again, whenever that happens, it’s political. Probably the best litmus to determine whether a source has a panoptic upshot is how many times the terms “viral” or “contagion” are used as metaphors for human beings or ideas. The orgy of disease themes and metaphors in today’s political rhetoric has the effect of a virtual Ouroborus—a snake swallowing its tail and regurgitating itself in an endless, unstoppable cycle, flipping back and forth between fears of literal and conceptual contagion to rationalize repressive policy. For that purpose, it’s the gift that keeps giving.
Part 4 looks at how literal and abstract contagion models play into military expansionism.
Adriana Gamondes is a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism and one of the blog’s Facebook administrators