Nobody (as far as I know) has commented on how hard this year of lockdowns has been on university professors. That’s good: nobody should. Many millions of workers at home and abroad, and those who have lost employment, or their health, have had a far worse time. In part because of COVID-19, and in even larger part because of the disproportional political responses that were rooted in neither science nor logic, but rather an effort to criminalize and distract populations, the world has experienced an infernal year. It is not yet over, even as a couple of countries in the Centre/the First World/the Global North begin to reopen. In most other countries, the situation remains dire, and in quite a few it is even worsening. New states of emergency, new curfews, and some particularly virulent strains of the virus (particularly the Brazilian and Indian mutations), combined with porous borders and inept state management, result in Year Two of misery. If one has faith in the efficacy and safety of mRNA treatments called vaccines, then one should note how uneven and unequal the global distribution of these products has been, a fact that brings back to life what never really went away: a worldwide division between Centre and Periphery. “The coming year could be a story of two worlds undermining each other,” as explained in an article in The Atlantic. It will be 2022 already when vaccines will become available to more than just 20% of the world’s population, and in the meantime populations in most of the world are dealing with sometimes monstrous mutations.
Trinidad & Tobago, now under a state of emergency, is one such state in the Periphery, in a region witnessing a strong surge of the virus. Trinidad is where I also lived, studied, conducted my field research, and have a large number of in-laws and friends. Already, several family members in different parts of the world (including Trinidad), have recently suffered from COVID-19, or one of its variants. Some have suffered badly. Trinidad has barely received any vaccines, at a time when it has been swept by the Brazilian variant, which badly afflicts even much younger and healthier people compared to those suffering the worst in places like Canada. This is not to excuse the gratuitous punishments and reckless endangerment practiced by the Trinidadian government: shutting down beaches and exercise in public (when outdoor transmission has been proven to be a minimal threat, at worst); banning restaurants from delivering meals (how many people were infected that way?); and never once recommending sunshine and emphasizing the importance of taking vitamin D. “The science” in Trinidad seems to be even more medieval than “the science” of Faucian control freaks in the Global North. Like in Quebec, where I live under nightly curfews, the state has decided that enhanced police powers will address the root problems of this crisis—when they are the crisis. Both Quebec and Trinidad have nightly curfews right now, despite the existence of zero scientific evidence to support the notion that curfews have any significant impact on limiting infections.
Trinidad thus struggles, and yet continues to receive refugees from Venezuela who are likely the prime carriers of the potent Brazilian variant. Geopolitics, never out of the picture, re-imposes itself more forcefully: a refugee crisis, whose origins are political and economic, and in large part shaped by the extreme collective punishment (sanctions) imposed by the US on Venezuela, is added to the pressure placed on countries such as Trinidad to take in refugees even when a large mass of the population is suffering from new unemployment, drastically reduced incomes, and new illness. What a disaster.
The crush of events, the confusion, the contradictory arguments, and the vastly increased workload combined, in my case, to produce silence. Never have I seen, or imagined possible, the amount of work that I have done in this past year. It was extreme: almost nine full months of working, on average, 11 hours per day, seven days a week. Even with sleep drastically reduced, I was always behind schedule. I had to effectively subsidize the cost of my own courses, since none of the “compensation” (whether by the state or the employer) was sufficient, and I thus experienced a net reduction in income. However I again need to stress that this is not a cry of self-pity, but just an explanation of the constraints that worked to keep me offline. Hundreds of millions worldwide, however, lost their jobs outright—and in many cases their homes, their marriages, their physical or mental health—so I am far from being in the worst groups of victims of the endlessly stretched lockdowns.
Zero Anthropology has been put on pause before, but never for so long nor so continuously (in the past, I might have paused writing here but continued writing and publishing elsewhere). As of the day this essay was started, I had spent 425 days in a state of lockdown, as the university shut its doors on March 13, 2020. Apart from a series articles about the COVID-19 crisis (or “Corona-crisis” as I called it) that appeared on ZA around this time last year, I have been totally absent from online publishing. That in itself is not so bad.
Writing, Stress, and Silence
What was bad for me was the absence from writing. Writing is such a critical part of my learning experience, that being taken away from the practice inevitably did some damage. For me, as for many others, writing is my number one method of learning, even when (or especially when) I make (big) mistakes. Far more than reading, writing teaches me what I do not know, and ought to know. Whole courses of mine have been spun out of my writing. A year without writing has not been a year without learning so much, but it felt like that.
On the other hand, not writing but still reading vast amounts and listening to others can make up for the damage. At the very least, absence from writing can help one to avoid the embarrassment of producing articles about the corona virus, like mine from a year ago—so steeped in a fear that I refused to recognize. What has stuck with me for all this time, was one comment in particular in response to one of those articles last year—a comment from “Brad”. Brad is apparently one of those few people with rare wisdom: he saw through my articles what I myself ought to have seen, but could not. Since then, Brad’s observations about overwrought fear have only snowballed, accumulating almost countless new layers of events, evidence, analysis, interpretations, and real outcomes. Brad should do more to take credit for his insights, and post using his full name. In the meantime, many thanks to you Brad.
I have now had to post disclaimers at the top of each of those articles from last year, about COVID-19, something which I have never felt the need to do before. While it is true that I have taken almost every possible position on the “pandemic,” at one point or another, I still feel that there has been a sea-change in my thinking about the so-called pandemic compared to a year ago. I say “so-called” pandemic because what we have been dealing with is not exactly or even mostly an epidemiological problem, but a political-social-economic problem. I prefer to say “lockdown” rather than pandemic, not to disproportionately medicalize and naturalize what we continue to live through/under. I will have more to say about this in upcoming articles.
It’s now more than three years since I withdrew from both Twitter and Facebook, and it was first sparked precisely by censorship which has now become the norm on both platforms, rendering them utterly useless, irrelevant, and therefore uninteresting. Yet, even while I do not even slightly miss my time in Twitter and Facebook, what I did appreciate was how both forced me to learn to write succinctly (not apparent on ZA). That also taught me to find ways to speak succinctly and get straight to the point, an ability which also translated into improved teaching techniques.
Thus I consider all forms of writing to be beneficial, given my line of work. While I cannot promise more than an article per week (if that much) in the coming months, I am glad to be writing again and to renew my learning.
What Comes Next?
Rest assured, I have been paying very close attention all year: whether it was about rising unemployment in Canada; the undermining of social institutions in Canada and elsewhere; rising poverty, in Canada and internationally; the dramatic upgrade of the authoritarian powers of the corporate-oligarchic imperial state; George Floyd; Black Lives Matter protests; riots, looting, and burning; Donald Trump’s unforgettable COVID press briefings; the US election and its aftermaths; the Gamestop rebellion; the unrelenting persecution and torture of Julian Assange; “withdrawal” from Afghanistan; the militarization of domestic politics and the full-blown coming to life of precisely the kind of domestic counterinsurgency we warned about here and elsewhere for many years; (social) media censorship and surveillance; the accelerating suppression of academic freedom; “cancel culture”; the expediency and instrumentality of “identity politics”; the imperial, neoliberal, and corporate entanglements of “woke culture”; “intersectional” imperialism; Canadian dependency expressed through importation and imitation of every one of the latest woke trends in the US; China’s attempts to ascend and secure its status as a global state-capitalist hegemon; anti-lockdown protests and riots; real questions and concerns about “science,” about “vaccines” and “vaccine passports,” and about the origins of a virus-induced meltdown; obsessions about “conspiracy theories”; the hacking of a key pipeline; the deliberate rupture of a border, while elsewhere all travel is banned—I have been doing my best at keeping abreast.
What struck me is how all of these were bits and pieces that ultimately were interconnected, and formed a larger pattern. It is not about fanning the flames of “conspiracy theory”—which originally, and at Mae Brussell’s time, was a badge of distinction for an investigative journalist who poked holes in official explanations by uncovering suppressed evidence, i.e., a critical thinker—it is about avoiding something far, far worse than what people call conspiracy theory. It is about avoiding absolutely idiotic “coincidence theory” which posits a world where people never meet, never interact, have no intentions, and share no common interests, and where everything always happens by accident, i.e., fatalism. Conspiracy theory involves questions about a world that might exist; coincidence theory is about a world that never existed.
While liberalism has well and truly died, and it was a miserable death involving self-mutilation until the result was a post-liberal or illiberal corpse barely recognizable for all its decomposition, and unbearable for its stench, we now see what flew in to start picking at the corpse. The vulture, posing as interim leader, was born of an ultra-authoritarian association or convergence of giant corporations, supporting states, the establishment media, academia, and in Anglophone North America, “the left”. Neoliberalism has been curbed, by necessity, but also because it has been an utter failure even on its own terms. In its place: an uber-progressivism that has erased social reform and planted “social justice” in its place, but catering only to the smallest groups possible (less expensive), and calling it “equity”. The result has not been a correction of past or current wrongs, but rather hypercorrection, mostly limited to surface appearances and the creation of a new bureaucratic bourgeoisie. What follows is the production of new wrongs, born of extreme positions, that generate the kind of backlash that will eventually dominate.
As if living in a planned experiment, elites praised us repeatedly for our “resilience”—where resilience apparently means the ability to suffer endless bullshit, corruption, and cheating, and just carry on. At the worst heights of the so-called pandemic, instead of the mutual support and solidarity promised by Justin Trudeau’s repeated slogan “we’re all in this together,” what we saw instead of unity was the rabid and calculated deployment of divide and rule tactics under the umbrella of “equity, diversity, and inclusivity”. It was deliberate rule by division and subtraction, by a system ruled by a tiny minority, and ostensibly catering to (minor fractions of) minorities.
Elitism and minoritarianism have replaced democratic majoritarianism (rule by addition if not multiplication)—and it is the form that an assault on the working class majority can be expected to take. The hope was that the mass would resign to being distracted, distraught, drugged, dumb, and divided—the reality has been tenacious resistance. The “new normal” is a fear-based political economy of mass exclusion, and resistance to it. It’s not that new, and probably should not be called normal.
Curfews and outright states of emergency were declared in many countries, or parts of countries, for obvious reasons. One of them being that the rulers feared that otherwise we might rise up and kill them, as one student put it to me in class.
Quebec boasted a massive budget surplus just a few years ago. Where did it go? Where did the massive amounts of tax money paid by all Canadians for healthcare go? Why were hospitals so badly neglected and underfunded, that emergency rooms operated far above capacity well before the “pandemic”? Why were those who paid taxes covering healthcare, suddenly denied the right to access healthcare unless sick with COVID-19? What happened to their human rights? The answer: curfews, and even banning protests.
What has been a major source of relief is seeing how much has been written this year that is truly excellent. Everything I would have said, or wanted to say, was said abundantly and perfectly well by others. Links to their works will be featured regularly in upcoming articles on ZA.
Admittedly, it was a relief not to feel compelled to churn out an endless number of words about everything—that will not change. Times when the world seems to be burning more hotly, things here will seem cool and serene by contrast—or vice versa. I cannot and will not write about everything of interest or relevance to this project: I simply lack the time, resources, and energy. In any case, I have no faith in the belief that ideas and words produce change.
In that frame of mind, here is the plan for the coming weeks and months. I will start with two documentary reviews, while they are still of greatest relevance, dealing with the World Health Organization, and another dealing with COVID-19. I will then focus on the disproportional responses to the virus, done in the name of saving lives (a familiar refrain), such that the world as a whole has been abducted by a humanitarian dictatorship—and as readers will know, for numerous years now “abduction” has been one of my key concepts. This will move to review and analysis of domestic counterinsurgency, militarization, and the everyday enculturation of “security”. Inevitably there will also have to be an assessment of US populist nationalism after Trump, looking ahead at 2022 and 2024. And then, because this is essential and it is just too inexcusable that so many people are carrying on without taking notice—we must ask questions and discuss the officially documented appearances of ostensibly extraterrestrial vessels and their behaviours.
This is probably why, aside from news reports and a few interviews, there is a shocking lack of the transformative eruption that, in the past, we all thought would happen once intelligent alien life had either been confirmed or appeared too probable to dismiss. Whole paradigms would collapse, we were told. Faith in social, religious, and political institutions would be shaken, we were told. Authority might be threatened, was an especially welcome promise. The reality is that people have instead fussed over “what Trump said” and grew outraged at some imagined “microaggression” by a celebrity, or some unknown worker in a pizza joint, to even bother. It is astounding to see how profoundly and fundamentally conservative are the vast majority of people everywhere, persisting in carrying on as normal, even when confronted head on by a UFO. Something must really be in the water.
In the coming weeks, and certainly during this summer, ZA will feature an open-ended series of ongoing articles and discussions about leaked and declassified reports and video documentation of what are—for lack of any plausible alternative explanation—numerous and different UFOs. The main point of the exercise will be to ask questions, and to come up with a range of plausible speculations about what we are witnessing.
What is needed is that anthropologists start to engage in at least informed speculation about the behaviours, motives, and possible outcomes of documented alien engagements. One has to also wonder if our responses and reactions are being catalogued and analyzed, right now, by alien anthropologists. What conclusions are they reaching? What do the patterns of behaviour of their vessels suggest about what they are studying, how they study it, and why they are studying it?
Remember, anyone speaking of seeing UFOs in the past, even recently, was immediately treated as “crazy” or dismissed as a “conspiracy theorist”. Lo and behold, there was a substantial amount of evidence to support their claims, and it has been known for decades. If it is still “crazy” to discuss UFOs, then Zero Anthropology will have to invent a new variation to suit the facts: crazy anthropology. In any event, I would still be happier to be called “crazy” because your “normal” frankly scares me.