Anteroom of Our Own Extinction

If you want to deprive citizens of freedom of movement, freedom of assembly and the right to family life, there should be written reasons. They ask the department why they can hardly find such anywhere since the intervention was introduced in March. It is a mystery that hardly any Norwegian journalists have thought of asking this question. { } …that should be every journalist’s first instinct when the government shuts down the country.
— Øyvind Håbrekke (Candidate for Krk in Trondelog, Norway)

I. Decrees the expulsion of Jews from the colony. { }
XXXII. The runaway slave, who shall continue to be so for one month from the day of his being denounced to the officers of justice, shall have his ears cut off, and shall be branded with the flower de luce on the shoulder: and on a second offence of the same nature, persisted in during one month from the day of his being denounced, he shall be hamstrung, and be marked with the flower de luce on the other shoulder. On the third offence, he shall suffer death.
— Louisiana Code Noir, 1724-1803

Any person who wilfully enters or uses any public premises or public vehicle or any portion thereof or any counter, bench, seat or other amenity or contrivance which has in terms of sub-section (1) been set apart or reserved for the exclusive use of persons belonging to a particular race or class, being a race or class to which he does not belong, shall be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding fifty pounds or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding three months, or to both such fine and such imprisonment.
— Reservation of Separate Amenities Act. Parliament of South Africa, 1953

And by doing so, these devices are constantly reinvented as masks: as apparatuses of categorical transformation aimed at allowing humanity to persist at the brink of the end of the world as this is embodied by the spectre of the “next pandemic.” Portrayed as the last barrier between us and the killer virus to come, “plague masks” ultimately transform us into a species inhabiting the anteroom of its own extinction.
— Christos Lynteris (Plague Masks- ‘Medical Anthropology,Cross-Cultural Studies in Health and Illness Volume 37, 2018 – Issue 6’)

One of the most important aspects of aesthetics, of the study of art at all, is that it teaches the viewer or reader how to see and experience more deeply, with more sensitivity, and this in turn (among other things) leads to the ability to recognize the fraudulent. In other words you come to recognize propaganda. It is almost the cultivating of a sub-clinical intuitive skill, a sense when a narrative or an image seem counterfeit.

Along with this comes the ability to, at least partly, resist marketing campaigns and advertisers’ manipulations. I have always felt the reading of the classics serve as a teflon shield for adverstising.

Art and culture have more profound gifts than just a finely tuned ‘bullshit meter’. But given the events of this last week, and of the entire year, as well, the loss of cultural education keeps coming back to me. The least enrolled post-grad program at U.S. universities is the study of the classics. History is very low, too, for any era. Business management is the most popular. I often have thought that the loss of such studies today has had a genuinely deleterious effect. Certainly most big search engines, if you google post-graduate programs in the classics, will return a variety of links about how such a degree has nearly zero economic reward attached.

This is now about a year into the pandemic and there have still been no debates, no public round-tables and no referendums. Nothing. Just decrees by the government. I honestly have given up trying to make sense of statistics, really. But a couple of things have not changed; the fatality rate if you catch Covid-19 is under 1% (and yes, case fatality is different than infectious mortality and that in turn is different from mortality rate). And depending on how it is being counted, it is often a good deal less than that. And yet the entire planet has been subjected to severe restrictions on travel, and coerced to follow pseudo scientific behaviour like mask wearing and social distancing. Today in many places there is what amounts to martial law. Police or national guard patrol the streets after dark. Many countries have banned public events, closed restaurants and nightclubs, and limited any public gatherings. Many schools remain closed or only partially open.

The economic consequences of these non-debated government policies have been catastrophic. In the U.S. something like 60 million jobs have been lost, many never to return. A hundred and fifty thousand restaurants have gone bankrupt. Only one in three museums will ever reopen. In San Francisco they decided NOT to count the numbers of new homeless. No reason was given but one can guess. The homeless situation in the U.S., in big cities in particular, was critical even before the pandemic. Now the numbers are unprecedented. Not even during the ‘Great Depression’ was there anything like the current level of those without basic shelter. Food insecurity is at a crisis level. Feeding America, the largest hunger relief organization in the US, estimates over 50 million people go hungry every night including something close to twenty million children.

Since mid-March 2020, numerous surveys have documented unprecedented levels of food insecurity that eclipse anything seen in recent decades in the United States, including during the Great Recession. Over the past five years, US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates of food insecurity in the United States have hovered around 11% to 12%.

As of March and April 2020, national estimates of food insecurity more than tripled to 38%.3 In a national survey we fielded in March 2020 among adults with incomes less than 250% of the 2020 federal poverty level (based on thresholds from the US Census), 44% of all households were food insecure including 48% of Black households, 52% of Hispanic households, and 54% of households with children.
— American Public Heath Association (Dec 2020)

And yet, Congress just passed another defense budget increase. According to Defense News“the final version of the 2020 defense appropriations bill, part of a broad $1.4 trillion spending deal to finalize federal spending for 2020 and avert a government shutdown. The defense bill would provide $738 billion.”

Almost one in three households suffers hunger, regularly. Almost half of black and hispanic households. Households with children are most vulnerable to the government policies. So half of the kids in the U.S. have inadequate nutrition. Half will suffer long term developmental problems, almost guaranteed.

So, given that there are countless medical professionals around the world who question the effectiveness of Covid policy by government, who question the World Health Organization and CDC, one would think there would be a heated and exhaustive discussion about how to proceed. Once it was clear that this was not a particularly fatal virus, there should have been wide and far-reaching debate. But there was none. And who are the authorities who dictate these policies? This also remains unclear. The head of the WHO is Dr.Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. But the face of the pandemic is Anthony Fauci. Now his role is also a bit unclear. Fauci is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). He has held that position since 1984. It is unclear why he is the official advisor to presidents.

But, the point is that Bill Gates controls forty percent of the WHO. So, take Norway, where I live. Who advises the PM? Or advises her health minister? And it’s worth noting that the health minister is Bent Høie, from the ruling party, a conservative business friendly party. Here is the wiki entry on Mr Høie…“Høie was born in Randaberg. He studied law at University of Bergen in 1991 and also attended the Norwegian School of Hotel Management from 1991-93.” Well, I guess Hotel management is as good a background as any to make life and death decisions about pandemics. One assumes WHO and/or the CDC send advisors to talk to the Minister of Health. But I am only guessing.

My point is that the decision-making process is utterly opaque. Nobody seems to have a clear idea from where, exactly, the policy of lockdown (the quarantining of healthy people is far as I can tell utterly new) originated, or where the marketing and obvious fear mongering came from. For there has been a clear marketing apparatus in play, with all the mask adverts, the social distancing, etc. And worth mentioning is that the eco outcry about plastic straws, a genuine issue, really, suddenly receded and now in the hysteria of mask wearing the environment has had to absorb 9 billion single use cloth and plastic masks.

The entire global economy is teetering on collapse. And this was intentional. This is because of governmental actions, not because of a virus. Of course, western economies has been teetering since 2008, if not before. And I’m not an economist, but this is the point where one must look at “The Great Reset”. Most of you have heard of it, it’s been on the cover of TIME magazine and that photo of Klaus Schwab and his Vulcan unitard suit has cropped up across all social media platforms. The short version (for a long and exhaustive and insightful version see Cory Morningstar here) is that Schwab and his friends at the World Economic Forum have this idea, clothed in perfect green attire, to “reset” the economies of the West (or of the world). The word ‘reset’ is interesting. Who came up with that I wonder? It feels very computer-ish and futuristic, and optimistic!. And while much is made of certain aspects (natural capital, social capital, a new deal for nature, social impact bonds, etc) the reality is that the capitalist system, in the hands of the richest at any given moment, or we can say the ruling class, drive corrections to the market. This helps consolidate wealth at the top, or transfer more to the top. And that is what this is, with the difference being that the plan is more about the destruction of markets, the destruction of competition, and the hyper monopolization of nearly everything. It entails a good deal of AI fantasy, but it also means a digitalization of currency (so no grey economy, no borrowing from friends, no under the table work) and a massive increase in surveillance and tracking. All of this is helped by the lockdown policies, the so called Reset would likely be still born if not for the reaction to Covid.

Allow me to insert here a European Commission statement regarding Covid-19.

Now the new head of the European Commission is Ursula von der Leyen. Remember that much of the Reset is driven by the ruling elite of Europe and North America. And these people share common values and goals. Here is a brief biographical sketch on Ms von der Leyen…

Von der Leyen’s father’s grandparents were the cotton merchant Carl Albrecht (1875–1952) and Mary Ladson Robertson (1883–1960), an American who belonged to a plantation owning family of the southern aristocracy from Charleston, South Carolina. Her American ancestors played a significant role in the British colonization of the Americas, and she descends from many of the first English settlers of Carolina, Virginia, Pennsylvania and Barbados, and from numerous colonial-era governors. Among her ancestors were Carolina governors John Yeamans, James Moore, Robert Gibbes, Thomas Smith and Joseph Blake, Pennsylvania deputy governor Samuel Carpenter, and the American revolutionary and lieutenant governor of South Carolina James Ladson.The Ladson family were large plantation owners and her ancestor James H. Ladson owned over 200 slaves by the time slavery in the United States was abolished; her relatives and ancestors were among the wealthiest in British North America in the 18th century, and she descends from one of the largest British slave traders of the era, Joseph Wragg.

I will return to why this has relevance. But I will only say here that all of the faces fronting for the Green New Deal, and the Reset, are wealthy, from lineages of extreme wealth and position. Today’s theme is ‘class’.

I can tell you only what I think Schwab and his colleagues want from this project. Let’s look at what is not going to return to normal after the lockdown. Commercial airlines are going bust, and those that are still alive have drastically cut routes and have limited their service. The days of cheap flights to warm beaches is gone, I suspect, for good. Vacations will be limited and travel limited (well, unless you are very rich like Gates and Schwab and Ms von der Leyen and Prince Charles and Jeff Bezos et al). There are now sixty million people out of work in the U.S. The inevitability of the Universal Basic Income is pretty clear. The question is how much does one mean by *basic*? Here I think one might do a quick history overview of apartheid South Africa, of the sugar plantations of the 18th century in the Caribbean, or well, the Nazi work camp system. The new capitalism that is imagined (and look, feel free to call it post capitalism, or woke feudalism or whateverthefuckever you want) has more in common with the aforementioned systems of servitude and slavery than it does to anything else. It is class struggle, as Marx emphasized. Jobs won’t be coming back. There will be a gigantic surplus population.

And already one sees the gradually coalescing of a new caste system. People deemed ‘important’ are allowed to go places and few questions are asked if they violate social distancing or mask wearing. The new social apartheid which began as a pseudo scientific method for disease control has now in the brief span of a year, become a defacto class segregation. The rich are exempt. There was one article in the New York Post (August 15th) ..

Meanwhile, billionaire David Geffen has been hanging on his yacht, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson are cruising Greece in another yacht after receiving “honorary” citizenship, Facebook overlord Mark Zuckerberg has been trolling the waters off Hawaii in a $12,000 surfboard, Jeff Bezos and his lady friend have been (multiple) house-hunting, buying up millions of dollars in property in Los Angeles to build a compound while traveling via private jet to several cities around the country, former Mayor Bloomberg splashed out $45 million on a Colorado compound (joining a host of other billionaires buying in that state as well as Montana and Wyoming); and others are spending millions to buy citizenship in “safe” countries like New Zealand.

That compound remark is worth noting. For this is the future for much of America. Gated compounds for the aristos and the dirty squalid infected world for the proles. And look, gated communities with private security have been in existence for forty years. Only now the separation has deeper implications. Of course, football can continue in both the US and UK, though basketball has been more strictly limited (the perception is, of course, that basketball is an urban game and in a league over 70% black). It is amazing how these strictly enforced behavioural rules are relaxed for the amusements of the court. The rich can pretty much do whatever they want. Literally none of the rules apply to them. There is a middle tier of affluent, those deemed necessary, for the moment anyway, who get to move around more easily. For the millions now without income the restrictions will be quite acute.

So, back to the ‘Reset’ for a moment. I keep returning to the slave economies of times past because this is increasingly what capitalism has been trending toward. The sugar plantations of the Caribbean used slave labour. Imported from Africa. They sold that raw product in markets of the metropole to world markets. But on the plantation only master and slave relations existed. And this is, in one sense, what is being normalized today. Slave relations. And like the gulf Monarchies, who use *guest* workers (slaves, literally) Americans are close already to being guest workers in their own country. And like the Apartheid laws in South Africa, certain castes (replacing race in this case) cannot go to the private beach of Mark Zukerberg. Or these days, often, any beach at all. And it’s worth noting that the old 19th century industrialist tycoons eventually become huge philanthropists. Carnegie, Mellon, Peabody, Rockefeller even. They endowed education, built libraries and hospitals. Today’s tycoons create deceptive Green projects that are really just more wealth amassing schemes to displace indigenous people, steal land and property, and help sell and normalize the police state.

Students throughout California are now stuck at home in hot, crowded rooms that occasionally fill with wildfire smoke. 19% of these students are English language learners and almost 13% of them have disabilities. Every day on Zoom they fall more and more behind both academically and socially. In Los Angeles Unified, the state’s largest district, students are receiving 90-170 minutes of daily live instruction (depending on their age), after which they are expected to do independent work. Compared to the traditional six- or seven-hour school day, online education is laughably inadequate. In real time, teachers and families are watching important developmental windows close for vulnerable children. Meanwhile the California Democratic Party and its affiliates tout virtual schooling as a solution for mitigating COVID-19 transmission.
— Alex Gutentag (The Bellows)

Gutentag also notes that the California governor sends his kids to a private school with in-person learning. Caste.

Not to mention that many children in the U.S. now live in highly stressed homes. Over forty million people are at risk of eviction because of unpaid back rent. None of these homes can afford adequate food. They certainly cannot afford health care. What happens when a child gets sick in today’s America? I suspect for hundreds of thousands they will. at best, get inconsistent attention from volunteer medical workers — unless there is a lockdown in effect. Then they get nothing.

But as I say, this brutal reorganization of the economy bears no small similarity to a slave economy — but it is being sold to the public by pretending it is this new technology driven ‘Reset’. (Own nothing and be happy). What exactly does the government plan to do with those sixty million unemployed Americans? What does the UK plan? or Germany or France? Or anywhere? The stimulus package went mostly to big corporations. And media and state propaganda continue to provide endless distractions (see assault on the Capital, and anything to do with Trump).

There is a clear belief in and emphasis on technology in all this. On AI and robotics and transhumanism (sic). And this belief in AI to solve almost everything is reaching levels of delusion that many people, even critics of the Reset, seem to ignore.

So how is it that people have so passively surrendered their rights? The answer is complex. First, the idea of cooperation and grass roots organizing have been relentlessly disparaged in media for decades. When unions were effectively destroyed under Reagan, along with them went the last vestiges of collectivity. Hollywood has always made films about individual triumph, almost never about revolutionary organizing. I think a large number of people today, even those skeptical, suffer from a kind of inertia. And this too has been built into the system. And it may well be an aspect of screen habituation.

But before that, people are afraid. The unseen enemy, the invisible virus, the plague, an enemy that brings fevers and suffering, sickness and death. But that is only a part of the problem.

The Reset is presenting a future of total control for the ruling class. Why would anyone support this madness? Well, first, because they are being sold on the idea that it’s green, and that THEY, themselves, will be in control. Sort of. And second, they have limited options. In a way the long shadow of the Reagan years is evident here. The destruction of unions coupled to the loss of real public education has allowed for the rootless lonely and isolated ‘individual’ of contemporary America. And the utter absence of a real leftist party. But it’s true for much of Europe, too. Here in Norway the wearing of masks is prevalent in ‘high risk’ red zones. And one still can’t drive across the border to Sweden. I see enormous stress indicators in children. Even in my children. And they are young. Nobody feels happy. Isolation does not promote happiness.

Still, how likely is it that this Reset works? I think this is a somewhat ignored question. And I think I need to ask ‘for whom does it work’? There has been enormous amounts of great stuff written about Schwab and the WEF. To digress a moment (though it’s not really a digression, but only appears to be) there is a basic problem with AI, deep learning, and natural language. And while it is about language, it applies to other fields as well. This is the frame problem. And the frame problem is entwined with the problem of time. The frame problem (see a quick summation here) is about relevance, and that the outlier issues, while statistically rare, are actually what distinguishes smart people from not smart people. Machine learning, AI, can do a lot of things, but to over applaud its achievements without admitting the profound limitations, is going to lead to some catastrophic mistakes and, no doubt, human tragedies.

And then there is this.

AI works great in labs, with toys and controlled environments, but a lot less well in the real world.

So far the solution for the new AI cheerleaders is to make the real world like a lab. In one sense, Singapore, with extensive use of AI, via a very authoritarian state apparatus, has already done this. China is a more complex discussion, and wanting to avoid any idea of an ‘Oriental plot’, I’m just going to take a Mulligan. The ruling class anywhere is exempted in all such examples. The majority of humans will be treated as rats in a lab test. Not even rats, but toys. In other words, highly, if not totally, expendable. The problem with the Reset, and with all of the green new deal projects, are that they operate in a computer model based world that is rather significantly divorced from real life, and certainly, intentionally, disregards class (and caste). There are also new ideas like ‘human capital bonds’. It sounds complex but this is just a more draconian loan arrangement where if you default, for example, while going to medical school, even if you graduate you wont be allowed to practice. Everything in this new economy gives people less power and less autonomy.

The issues with all AI and with the advanced technology praised by the Reset is philosophical more than scientific. Part of the problem is that the real world is enormously complex. Like weather prediction, anything more than six or seven days out is all but impossible. There are too many unknown factors and variables. This truth can be extrapolated to just about any real world problem. But for all the growing skepticism about AI, the proponents (who know these problems) continue to propagandize the benefits and the infinite possibilities of an AI dominated future. The most absurd are the transhumanists. Given how little is actually known about consciousness, and considering that all AI is just math, it seems almost infantile to think we are going to learn better with implants, or work more efficiently. Alongside that is this issue of prediction. Perhaps this was built into the Enlightenment, but what Adorno and Horkheimer came to call ‘instrumental thinking’ is now embraced unquestioningly by the new peddlers of AI.

Back to the philosophical issue. Wittgenstein famously said “If a lion could speak, we would not understand it.” Language is part of a shared horizon of the world (as Steven Gambardella put it). Computers can simulate thought, but only up to a point. (See Chinese Box experiment).

The whole modern conception of the world is founded on the illusion that the so-called laws of nature are the explanations of natural phenomena. Thus people today stop at the laws of nature, treating them as something inviolable, just as God and Fate were treated in past ages.
— Ludwig Wittgenstein (Tractatus)

AI is the Alchemy of the 21st century. The new Reset, driven by the high net worth figures from Wall Street, Silicon Valley, or the Royal Houses of Europe, is a fantasy. But a fantasy that is part of a long class struggle. And at a certain point it doesn’t matter, not totally, if AI works. If errors occur in computation, or in facial recognition, or in food allotments to the projected new slave class, the billionaires on their yachts wont mind.

If the implant in my brain crashes during a scheduled update, that’s just one less servant to feed. And there is also a clear de-population agenda at work in all this. Certainly David Attenborough and Baroness Goodall are big on getting rid of the indigenous people in Africa.  Nearly all of the pro Reset leadership believe in depopulation. Prince Charles is another who prefers he keep his privilege. It is not an accident that an Ursula von der Leyen is running point for the EU now. A descendent of the biggest slave trader in Europe at one time. It speaks to exactly why a Hugo Chavez, for example, so offended these people. Or an Evo Morales. Remember it was not so long ago that the U.S. worked to control and neutralize African independence movements. While Cuba and the U.S.S.R. helped to support those movements. Dick Cheney until the 90s called Mandela a terrorist.

This intentional demolition of capitalism as we have come to know it is designed to enclose populations via surveillance, digital tagging, health passports, and no doubt much more. Again, if the digital tag doesn’t work, so what? I happen to think much of this ruling class dream is doomed to fail on the technical level. The problem is that it quite possibly will work on a political and control level.

Depopulation is rebranded eugenics, and nothing else. The royals of Europe have always longed for a return to what, for them, was colonial grandeur. The fantasy future is nostalgia for the ruling class. The dream can be traced back to what the Empire has always done. They destroy anything democratic and/or socialist. They support any dictator at any time because they believe they deserve more and more of what is better. Let them eat cake. They have crushed independence and autonomy for all of the 20th century and now into the 21st. The Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, the assassination of Lumumba, Vietnam, Indonesia and Suharto, El Salvador (U.S. support for Roberto D’Aubuisson, a fervent admirer of Hitler), or Nicaragua, or Chile, the former Yugoslavia. One could go on and on and on. The U.S. support for Papa Doc in Haiti, for Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. Nowhere, at any time, has the Imperialist and colonial loving ruling class EVER supported democracy or equality. Never, nowhere, not once.

The problem is about perception. Take one of the biggest NGOs in the entire New Deal for Nature *Conservation International*. These people work with the WWF, with Club of Rome, and We Mean Business. These are very wealthy business ventures. Now Conservation International also finances the Greta Thunberg films. And here is their board of directors, from their web page:

Perception. But Northrup Grummon… and Riverstone Holdings. The first is a major player in the defense industry, the industry that just got a trillion dollars, give or take, from the U.S. Government. The second is a private equity firm focused on leveraged buy outs. Arnhold LLC is an investment management company. Banco BTG Pactual S/A is an investment management company and consultant to corporate trading. You get the idea. These are the people who have helped further inequality, aided environmental destruction, and helped plunder the assets of countless countries. The cynicism is jaw dropping, but many people just see Greta, see green new deal and assume this NGO is an innocent well intentioned and ‘woke’ eco venture.

WHY would anyone think that suddenly these people are out to save the planet? Well, *they* might think they ARE saving the planet, but not for you and me. For themselves.

John Steppling is an original founding member of the Padua Hills Playwrights Festival, a two-time NEA recipient, Rockefeller Fellow in theatre, and PEN-West winner for playwrighting. He's had plays produced in LA, NYC, SF, Louisville, and at universities across the US, as well in Warsaw, Lodz, Paris, London and Krakow. He has taught screenwriting and curated the cinematheque for five years at the Polish National Film School in Lodz, Poland. Plays include The Shaper, Dream Coast, Standard of the Breed, The Thrill, Wheel of Fortune, Dogmouth, and Phantom Luck, which won the 2010 LA Award for best play. Film credits include 52 Pick-up (directed by John Frankenheimer, 1985) and Animal Factory (directed by Steve Buscemi, 1999). A collection of his plays was published in 1999 by Sun & Moon Press as Sea of Cortez and Other Plays. He lives with wife Gunnhild Skrodal Steppling; they divide their time between Norway and the high desert of southern California. He is artistic director of the theatre collective Gunfighter Nation. Read other articles by John.