It is hard to keep fact separated from fiction in the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. Many critics of heavy-handed government action are prone to exaggerate their own cases, or fall for outright conspiracy theories. Let’s examine a few.
By treating citizens like naughty children who cannot be trusted with basic hygiene, engaging in random acts of cruelty such as banning tobacco, keeping scientific information and records of National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) deliberations secret, and showing little care for the economic destructiveness of harsh lockdowns, government has done itself no favours.
With good reason, nobody trusts that the NCCC knows what it is doing, is honest about its motives, is honest with the facts, or has the welfare of the people at heart. The handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, in South Africa and worldwide, has been an absolute travesty of incompetent authoritarianism, which will cause far more harm than the virus could ever do.
Government officials, from the president on down, have openly said that the economic destruction of lockdowns offers an ideal opportunity to advance the socialist project, and that ‘command councils’ for economic development are the way to go at local, district, provincial and national levels. The ideological opportunism of government is no secret conspiracy.
Having squandered all goodwill among the people, and having destroyed all trust that people might still have had in its motives, government has created fertile soil for ‘dissenting’ information to flourish. Given how wrong the government has been, it stands to reason that some of this dissenting information is correct. Much of it isn’t, however. Covid-19 misinformation has been woven into many pre-existing ideological beliefs and conspiracy theories, some of which are quite outlandish.
I recently received, via the Zuckerberg fake news machine, the following ‘Covid-19 Roadmap’ which purports to lay bare how the pandemic was created and will be used to impose a ‘New World Order’.
Like any good conspiracy theory, elements of truth and plausibility weave it together. Let’s see how it fares.
First, we go to the source, which is helpfully indicated at the top right. The Dissident Signposts blog does indeed feature a graphic that looks similar, but the eagle-eyed among you will notice a few differences. The original uses the phrase ‘New Normal’, instead of ‘New World Order’, and some of the steps have also been slightly modified in the version that ultimately reached me.
A quick browse of the source website should already raise a few red flags, covering, as it does, 9/11 conspiracy theories, climate denial, anti-vaccine propaganda and ignorant fears about new technologies such as 5G wireless communication, some of which are woven into the Covid-19 conspiracy theory.
Step one suggests that Covid-19 was ‘created’. It is plausible that the pandemic may have had its origins in an accidental release from a laboratory at which zoonotic coronaviruses were being studied. For a brief while, before it got deleted, there was even an academic paper that cast doubt upon the official (and widely supported) story that the pandemic started in a fish market, and strongly suggested that unsafe procedures at one of two nearby laboratories were more likely sources.
Even if this is true, however, it would not imply that the virus was specifically created for the purpose of what could only be called biological warfare. An accident is not a plan.
In any case, it has long been known that certain animal populations are reservoirs of viruses that could jump to humans, and occasional pandemics of zoonotic viruses of varying severity were to be expected.
It would make far more sense to view this pandemic not as planned (as the term ‘plandemic’, which also appears on the Dissident Signpost website, suggests), but as a natural occurrence of which governments opportunistically took advantage.
Oh, and Covid-19 is not just a ‘bad dose of seasonal flu’. Its dangers and death rates were wildly exaggerated, especially early in the pandemic, but it remains several times as deadly, and far more contagious, than an ordinary flu. That doesn’t justify hard lockdowns, but dismissing it as just a bad flu is disingenuous.
Fear, lockdown and exaggeration
Step two is half-true. There was widespread fear-mongering, both by governments and by the media, and this influenced not only the public reaction, but also government policy. However, excessive fear-mongering does not imply there was nothing to be concerned about.
The conspiracy theorists also fall off the rails by claiming, without any evidence, that doctors or scientists were bribed ‘for supporting testing and vaccinations’. There isn’t even a vaccine to support, and nobody in the medical fraternity needed to be bribed to try to diagnose Covid-19.
Were some people or organisations paid to do research, or to conduct testing? Of course they were. That’s how you get anyone to do anything. You don’t work for free, do you? Paying wages or professional fees does not constitute bribery.
Step three is correct. Although different countries have different ideological objectives, that lockdowns were imposed is not in dispute. Fiscal stimulus is also generally pumped into the top of the economy, enabling banks to increase lending, which causes asset price inflation, which is why property and stock markets were flying through the pandemic. That is correctly described as redistribution of wealth from the poor to the rich.
The claim that small businesses were destroyed is also true. Big business is more resilient, and in any case has a supine relationship with government. I argued that the damaging impact on the middle class and small business in South Africa played into the ANC’s ideological hands in May.
Pushing cashless payments is simple common sense during a pandemic. Tapping your phone or card is more hygienic than handling cash that’s been up cocaine fiends’ noses. Paranoia about cashless payments is justified, since it does lend itself to surveillance by banks and governments. The solution is not to return to cash, however, but to switch to trustless, decentralised and anonymous cryptocurrency, and be your own bank.
Step four, exaggerate cases. Again, true. That the projected deaths were wildly overstated was evident early on in the pandemic, and the more we learnt about the epidemiological models, the worse the exaggerations appeared.
The jab at PCR tests is also spot on. Reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) tests are used to detect viral RNA, convert it to DNA, and make copies of the DNA until it can be matched with known patterns. The more copies you make, the easier it is to detect the viral signature you were after.
Typically, the number of amplification cycles needed to detect a pathogen is an indicator of the viral or bacterial load in the test sample.
The concern is that the threshold number of cycles needed for a test before it can be returned as negative is often set too high. This results in positive tests even when people are carrying an insignificant amount of virus, or have already recovered from the disease. This New York Times article explains the controversy.
So, both the number of positive tests, and the projections for future infections and deaths, appear to be exaggerated by varying degrees.
In step five, they rail against face masks, claiming that they are ‘totally ineffective against any virus’. This is simply not true.
The first misconception is that a cloth facemask is intended to protect the wearer. It is not. It is intended to protect other people from the wearer. If you want a mask that protects you, then get an N95 or N100 mask, properly fit it so there are no air gaps, and dispose of it after every interaction with someone else. Good luck.
A second misconception is that because viral particles are smaller than the filter mesh, a filter is useless against a virus. In fact, the filter is intended to stop most of the droplets created by exhalation, talking, sneezing and coughing.
A third misconception is that face masks are somehow unhealthy. The image I received mentions ‘lack of oxygen, breathing in waste air and fungal infections’. The original adds ‘bronchial pneumonia, gum disease and other illnesses’ to the list. All of this is total nonsense.
Doctors, nurses and many professionals working in hazardous circumstances wear face masks all the time. They’re just fine. Face masks do not deprive you of oxygen to any significant degree. They do not impede breathing to any significant degree in otherwise healthy people over the age of two. You can’t get carbon dioxide poisoning resulting from wearing a mask, unless you mask up by putting a plastic bag over your head.
If you’re getting fungal infections, pneumonia or gum disease from wearing a mask, then wash the damn thing and brush your teeth. You can also get fungal infections from wearing the same pair of socks for two weeks. So don’t do that. You’re only giving the government reason to believe that you should be treated like a child who can’t be trusted with their own hygiene.
That face masks are effective at reducing the number of cases in a viral pandemic is not a new claim. It has been demonstrated during previous epidemics that cloth masks do work, and that even if a mask has only limited effectiveness (which it does), this can translate into a significant reduction in the incidence of disease.
Just wear your damn mask. It is polite to others to not subject them to your potentially infected salivary spray. Mask-wearing is not what is destroying the economy or civil liberties. Stop whining.
The same goes for social distancing and avoiding unnecessary gatherings. There are endless stories of people who think they’re better than everyone else, hosting big braais or parties, and ending up spreading Covid-19.
That sort of behaviour is what will get us locked down again. That lockdowns are unjustified is cold comfort to the people who get locked down. Just stop being selfish and reckless, and stop giving government an excuse to crack down.
In step six, our conspiracy theorists fret that contact tracing is normalising surveillance. To some extent, it is. However, their description, ‘Get people to accept having all their personal movements and contact with people tracked, recorded and analysed,’ is overwrought.
Most contract tracing programmes do not monitor everyone all the time. In South Africa, contact tracing largely involves sitting down with a contact tracing team member after you test positive, so you can list your recent close contacts. Those people are then notified that they should self-isolate for a given period of time to avoid spreading the disease further. This is a standard epidemic control procedure.
I do mistrust government contact tracing apps, no matter the guarantees they give about privacy and confidentiality. That’s a level of surveillance I’m not comfortable with.
Step seven worries about ‘health passports’, which could turn into a global identity and tracking system. This is nonsense. You already need a passport to fly. And, in this country at least, you already need an ID for any official business.
Yes, this allows governments to track who you are, where you came from and where you’re going. Having a consistent way to document whether travellers are infected with contagious diseases strikes me as a smart way to combat this pandemic and the inevitable pandemics of the future.
Without a passport, you cannot travel, because you’d be an illegal alien wherever you went outside your home country. A passport is a document from your government requesting another government you grant you free passage. Passports have actually increased your liberties, not taken them away.
Would I prefer a world without passports and identification systems? Sure. But in that world, there would also be no government services of any kind (since they cannot know whether you’re entitled to the service), and there would be no taxation. That’s an anarchist utopia, for sure, but not a very pragmatic vision.
Step eight is tinfoil hat territory, literally. The belief that radio waves are in some way harmful, or could be used to read or control minds, is as old as wireless radio, and a tinfoil hat was the go-to means to defend against it. I’d prefer to wear a stylish mesh Faraday cage, but de gustibus non est disputandum.
Yes, ‘5G networks allow constant gathering of huge amounts of personal data from smartphones and all internet connected devices’.
It is a fifth-generation wireless network technology. Its purpose is to transfer data. Transferring data is how the internet works. Without a means to transfer data, a smartphone would neither be smart, nor be a phone.
Sure, microwaves in the 5G frequency range can cook your brain, but only if you put your brain in a shielded box to be bombarded with 800W of concentrated radiation. Smartphones typically broadcast at most 2W. You’re going to be waiting a long, long time for yummy cooked brains (or gonads) at such a low power level.
The claim that 5G can cause Covid-like symptoms is just absurd. No, it can’t. Besides, most of the world doesn’t even have 5G yet, so why an irrational, ignorant fear of a slight improvement on proven technology is relevant to a global Covid-19 pandemic is beyond me.
That people who worry about radio waves protest against the erection of new cellphone towers serves to demonstrate their ignorance of basic physics. If these waves did cause harm (which they don’t), you’d want to decrease your exposure, right?
Well, because of the inverse-square rule, your exposure to radiation is dominated by your handset, not nearby towers. Your handset, in turn, adjusts its power output depending on the quality of the signal to the tower, so the closer the tower is, the less radiation it will emit. If you think cellphone radiation is harmful, you should be lobbying for more towers, not fewer.
The anti-vax nexus
By step nine, our Covid-19 conspiracy theorists meet the anti-vaxxers.
Vaccines are effective against many diseases. They do not cause significant adverse events in those people who are medically able to receive them. They do, however, prevent serious illnesses that can cause permanent injury, disability and death.
Do pharmaceutical companies make profits from vaccines? Of course they do. Do you work for free? Of course you don’t. Are they indemnified for injuries and deaths? Only if they pass high regulatory barriers for producing safe and effective drugs.
As soon as injuries or deaths begin to mount, a drug is toast. Remember Vioxx? That debacle led to tens of thousands of lawsuits, and cost Merck many billions of dollars. That’s what happens when a drug company produces a drug that poses undisclosed risks to patients.
They claim vaccines destroy natural immunity, which is the opposite of true; they strengthen natural immunity. They claim vaccines increase sterility rates, which is also not true, although some of the diseases they protect against can cause sterility.
They claim vaccines promote ‘global depopulation’, which is a wilful and very ignorant misreading of something Bill Gates once said. Gates reflected upon the fact that high fertility rates are strongly correlated with high infant mortality rates. If global overpopulation is a problem (I don’t agree it is, but many do), then we can reduce birth rates by helping to reduce infant mortality rates. And we can do that by vaccinating children.
This line of reasoning is interpreted by anti-vaxxers to mean that vaccines reduce fertility and are meant to depopulate the planet. That’s not what Gates said. The statistical ‘fertility rate’ in a country has nothing to do with the ‘fertility’ of individual women. It is a measure of how many children they actually end up having.
Choosing to have fewer children because your children are less likely to die young is not a depopulation agenda. It is a mark of civilisation and progress.
But it gets crazier. Besides killing most of the global population, vaccines will turn the rest of us into genetically engineered sterile robot zombies. How a vaccine will decide which of us to kill, and which of us to turn into androids, is left as an exercise for the reader.
Step 10 revisits the cashless economy argument. While it has merits on its own, it really isn’t very relevant to Covid. It’s not like major cash purchases go by undetected, in any case. You can’t buy a house or a car with cash without getting flagged as a likely money-launderer. If you want financial independence from banks and governments, you need to do better than cash. Get good at cryptocurrencies, and convince others to use them. Leave it out of your Covid conspiracy theories.
At step 11 we’re into paranoid schizophrenia territory again. When I was a kid, my Bible teacher at school told us that according to the Book of Revelations, a global government would one day require everyone to be marked with barcodes on their heads and forearms. Hidden within this barcode is the number 666, or the mark of the beast. Without this mark, you won’t be able to buy or sell. To get to heaven, we’d have to resist this evil plot.
That never happened, of course, but the belief seems to have morphed into a similar fantasy about embedded microchips that would serve the same function, and it has spread from apocalyptic Christianity to other millenarian conspiracy theories.
Besides for the fact that the theory has its origins in the visions of a fellow hallucinating on a Greek island 2 000 years ago, what makes this theory implausible is the fact that we already carry, voluntarily, all the tracking and tracing equipment a surveillance state could ever wish to deploy.
There are microchips in our bank cards that wirelessly communicate with payment terminals. Our phones can track us to the nearest metre, can duplicate the functions of payment cards, and know our habits, likes, political beliefs, daily activities and personal connections in fine-grained detail.
Governments merely need to plug into Google or Facebook (and we know they do) to get all the data they could ever want. Why alarm everyone by requiring them to have chips implanted? What benefit would that provide, when everyone already voluntarily exposes themselves to surveillance?
New World Order
Finally, we arrive at the totalitarian ‘New World Order’, or ‘New Normal’, as the original puts it. This is a conspiracy theory that originated among fundamentalist Christians who feared the coming of the Antichrist, and among militant right-wing anarchists.
It is true that pandemics such as Covid-19 are used by opportunistic governments to impose greater control over citizens, and advance socialist agendas. We have seen in South Africa that this isn’t even a secret. The president has said so himself.
It is also true that the United Nations and the World Health Organisation have never seen an authoritarian plan they didn’t like. They were gushing over China’s draconian lockdown in Wuhan, and told everyone to follow in its totalitarian footsteps.
However, that people, organisations or governments are motivated to pursue certain ideological goals does not mean there is a ‘globalist conspiracy’.
It is ironic that those who have the least faith in the ability of governments to do anything efficiently or effectively are the same people who think governments can orchestrate a grand conspiracy that involves global governments, big business around the world, and wealthy elites, and that such a conspiracy can get anything meaningful done without anyone breaking ranks and spilling the beans.
Once you suspend your disbelief and abdicate your critical thinking faculties, it is a short step to believing in global paedophile rings, aliens in government, the Illuminati, Nazi UFOs, occultism, quantum mysticism, Aquarianism, eugenics, mind control and Qanon.
Yes, we should guard against socialist ideology. We should guard against the ever-growing power of governments with their love of surveillance and control. And we should absolutely slap governments down when they exploit pandemics and other disasters in order to expand their powers and infringe on basic human rights and liberties.
But we should also guard against the tendency to accept any ‘dissenting’ view as valid simply because it dissents from the approved orthodoxy.
Gravity is also an orthodox, mainstream theory. Scientists can describe it, but they can’t explain it. That doesn’t mean that it’s radical, liberating and smart to dissent and walk off a cliff.
The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR
If you like what you have just read, support the Daily Friend