Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Elite Panic and the Pandemic

When working people awaken to an understanding of the position in which they exist, and begin to fight the class war consciously in numbers that seriously count, our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic through the innumerable self-help groups which have arose will be a splendid lesson on the ability of people to manage our own affairs. It will have done its share in “shortening and lessening the birth pangs” of socialism.

Disaster scholars use the term “elite panic” to describe the ways that elites react when they assume that ordinary people will behave badly. When elites describe “panic” and “looting” in the streets, these are usually misnomers for ordinary people doing what they need to do to survive or care for others. Sometimes it’s wise to move rapidly from danger; sometimes it’s altruistic to gather supplies to share. Such elites often prioritise profit and property over human life and community. The same attitude is happening now. A member of the Brazilian opposition said of Brazil’s rightwing president Jair Bolsonaro: “He represents the most perverse economic interests that couldn’t care less about people’s lives. They’re worried about maintaining their profitability.” (Bolsonaro claims he is trying to protect workers and the economy.) The pandemic w is also turning into an opportunity for authoritarian power grabs in the Philippines, Hungary, Israel and the US.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’s police and white vigilantes did the same thing: shooting black people in the name of defending property and their own authority. The local, state and federal government insisted on treating a stranded, mostly poor, mostly black population as dangerous enemies to be contained and controlled, rather than victims of a catastrophe to be aided. The mainstream media colluded in obsessing about looting in the aftermath of Katrina. The stock of mass-manufactured goods in large corporate chain stores seemed to matter more than people needing food and clean water, or old folk left clinging to roofs.
Historically, there have always been titans of industry who prized the lifeless thing that is profit over living beings, who paid bribes in order to operate unhindered, worked children to death or put labourers in mortal danger in sweatshops and coal mines. There were also those who pressed on with fossil fuel extraction and burning despite what they knew, or refused to know, about climate change. One of the primary uses of wealth has always been to buy your way out of the common fate, or, at least, it has come with a belief that you can disassociate from society at large.
The idea that everything is connected is an affront to conservatives. If everything is connected, then the consequences of every choice and act and word have to be examined, which we see as love in action and they see as impingement upon absolute freedom, freedom being another word for absolutely no limits on the pursuit of self-interest. Ultimately, a significant portion of conservatives and corporate leaders regard science as an annoyance that they can refuse to recognise. Some insist they can choose whatever rules and facts they want, as though these too are just free-market commodities to pick and choose from or remake according to one’s whims. “This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis,” wrote the journalist Katherine Stewart in the New York Times. 

The Black Death, which wiped out a third of Europe’s population, caused peasant revolts led to more rights and freedoms for peasants and labourers. The 2008 financial collapse led to 2011’s Occupy Wall Street uprising, which prompted a new reckoning with economic inequality and a new scrutiny.

Patrisse Cullors wrote for Black Lives Matter: “Provide hope and inspiration for collective action to build collective power to achieve collective transformation. Rooted in grief and rage but pointed towards vision and dreams.” 

An apt mission statement for socialists to adopt.

Abridged and adapted from here

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