The Religion of COVID, Part One: How did we get here, and how are we doing?
“When men are most sure and arrogant, they are commonly most mistaken, giving views to passion without that proper deliberation which alone can secure them from the grossest absurdities.”
Albert Einstein famously said: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” So, as we seem to be trapped in a Fauci-scripted dystopia, as our most visible doctors and scientists warn of impending doom lest we not continue to wear masks and hide get more and more shots and follow their every word, as the Right and Left battle it out in scientific language tinged by political zealotry, how is our nation doing with COVID? Because, let’s face it, the “science” President is telling us to keep doing more of the same and our national policy of masks and social distancing has not budged one bit since Anthony Fauci first elucidated it in April of 2020, so, to borrow Einstein’s phrase, are we doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results, or are we doing the same thing over and over because we are happy with the results?
Here’s the score card, and, as my character Smart Tony would say, “It ain’t pretty.” As demonstrated by the picture at the start of this blog, and elucidated in this article by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the United States Fauci policy has landed us in the global gutter. And not just because we had more COVID deaths than anyone else in the world, but also because we had far more non-COVID excess deaths, especially among our young people who are largely spared by COVID but who we have imprisoned in a COVID purgatory that seems to be killing them far more virulently than COVID ever could.
Then why do we keep doing the same thing over and over again? Are we, as Einstein might say, insane? According to the sciencey pundits and doctors and politicians who monopolize the airways, we’re doing poorly not because of bad policy, but because we’re not following the policy tightly enough. Just the other day someone on twitter proclaimed that if we merely all wore masks every day then the plague would be gone in less than a month. That we’ve been doing just that—wearing masks every day—in long term care since March 2020 and the deaths there keep mounting does not deflect such magical zealotry. And as far as all the excess non-COVID deaths, they have an answer for that too: they’re probably all really COVID deaths that are undocumented. Such is the orthodoxy or our approach. And the results have been disastrous in terms of death from both COVID and from our cure, as well as in the dissolution of our democratic rights that these doctors believe is a small price to pay in the war against our viral enemy. Then are we insane, as Einstein contends? Not quite. As we shall see, by another more insidious barometer, we may be doing very well indeed.
If we are failing through the lens of excess deaths, then who is doing well? Certainly, it can’t be places like Sweden, which has been in the bullseye of our TV doctors and pundits because it pursued a “dangerous/murderous” policy that allowed society to stay open for the most part and didn’t require masking. We’ve been told over and over again that Sweden’s anti-Faucian policy decisions have led to horrid consequences, deaths beyond belief, a total repudiation of human decency, and that it will serve as a reminder of what happens when we don’t take this virus seriously enough. If Sweden did well, then everything we preached would be discredited.
And yet if you look at the bottom of that graph, there is big-bad Sweden. It had far fewer non-COVID deaths than almost any other nation, while its COVID deaths were largely in frail long-term care residents most of whom had less than six months to live under the best circumstances, and even those deaths were similar to ours. Overall, their total excess deaths were less than last year, and far, far, far less than what we experienced. Contrarily, the other nation that did well was Australia, which had a more draconian policy despite the fact that COVID barely touched its shores, but somehow avoided much of the non-COVID horror that struck other nations such as ours. It too has very few excess deaths although, as we will discuss, this came at a huge price that Sweden didn’t have to pay.
To understand why we did so badly in terms of deaths from both disease and quarantine policies, and why we keep sticking to the same policy and shaming all those who stray from it, it is important to ask other questions that are less comfortable. For instance, is this apparently grim outcome somehow beneficial to its architects? Is the dogma sanctified by our scientific and political leaders and our media more important than the numerical outcome itself? The answer is, as Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben has so well elucidated in his masterpiece book Where Are We Now, YES. Agamben discusses both in his book and in a recent article from the book, that in fact our democracy has transformed into a religious totalitarianism within the cloud of COIVD hysteria, a religion in which the preservation of life has become more important than life itself. Escalating death counts, the unending visibility of mask-waring hoards in every crevice of our lives, the incessant injection of fear into our minds; all of this augments our belief in and compliance with the COVID religion, buttressing the authoritative power of the architects of our scientific theocracy.
“There is surely in this, as in any foreboding, a religious element. Health has replaced salvation, biological life has taken the place of eternal life,” Agamben writes. “Experience has in fact shown that, once a threat to health is in place, people are willing to accept limitations on their freedom that they would never theretofore have considered enduring—not even during the two world wars, nor under totalitarian dictatorships.”
What may seem like a bad outcome by the numbers is actually the fodder that keeps this religion alive.
When science becomes religion, then everything that Einstein preached about scientific integrity—free and open discourse, skepticism of prevailing ideology, a willingness to challenge that which does not make sense, an aversion to censorship—evaporates, as has happened in COVID. And also, Einstein’s tocsin about it being insane to except different results from doing the same thing again is not valid unless we know what the desired results actually are. In this case, the result of a submission to religious authority, a near-universal embrace of religious symbols and religious dogma, a willingness to toss out democratic guarantees and accept a science based on gospel and not fact—while believing that such actions are necessary to both democracy and science—is an outcome both desired and achieved under this current state of scientific theocracy.
What we will show in the next three blogs is that, in effect, the religiosity of COVID sprouted from seeds that were planted over a hundred years ago. Our medical system grew from this garden, as did a political state that has convinced people to relinquish their bodies and souls in exchange for the promise of a longer life—a biopolitical state as Michael Foucault and Agamben and others have discussed for the past fifty years—under the guise of democracy, of science, of beneficence, and of necessity.
We have seen, in the course of less than two years, that people who believe deeply in democracy and science have willingly relinquished both of those things in the face of what they perceive to be a threat. They have, in effect, succumbed to a dogmatic religious conviction demanding we must do exactly what the priest-experts say lest we all die. They believe to the point of it being an unassailable truth that we must, as Agamben says, give up our lives to save our lives, give up our freedoms to save our freedoms, give up our souls to save our souls.
And so has our country transitioned into a Theocracy without anyone really noticing.
Well, people do notice, but usually they are marginalized for extirpated. Despite the iron grip that our Faucian religion holds upon the hearts and minds of liberals in this nation, there are alternative voices, scientists and thinkers who deflect the dogmatic religion to which they are told they must comply, most of whom have been viciously attacked by Fauci’s devoted flock. Says Agamben, “The medical religion, like every religion, has its heretics and dissenters, and respected voices coming from many different directions have contested the actuality and gravity of the epidemic—neither of which can be sustained indefinitely through the daily diffusion of numbers that lack scientific consistency.”
One such dissenter is Dr. Jay Bhattacharya from Stanford, who helped write the Great Barrington Declaration, a moderate, sensible, humane, and scientific document—signed by over 850,000 doctors and scientists—that calls for a more focused and nuanced COVID policy aimed at protecting the vulnerable and relaxing restrictions on younger people who are more likely to be harmed by the quarantine than by COVID, which is exactly what we have seen when we tabulate excess deaths. But, a year after the declaration, those who penned it look back and reflect on how voraciously they have been attacked for daring to question Faucist dogma. And this is the crux of the matter, the proof of how COVID has completed the transformation of science into a domineering religion that accepts no dissenters, that demands total adherence to a gospel uttered by self-selected priest experts.
“A society that exists in a perennial state of emergency cannot be free. We live in a society that has sacrificed freedom for so - called ‘security reasons’ and has hence condemned itself to living in a perpetual state of fear and insecurity,” says Agamben. “No doubt someone will retort that the sacrifice, serious as it is, has been made in the name of moral principles. I would remind them that Eichmann never failed to reiterate — apparently in good faith — that he did what he did according to his conscience, in order to obey what he believed were the precepts of Kantian morals. A norm which affirms that we must renounce the good to save the good is as false and contradictory as that which, in order to protect freedom, imposes the renunciation of freedom.”
Eichmann also dutifully followed the law, a law that existed within an extant constitutional democracy, a law built upon the bricks of a widely accepted science—one that was imported from our nation’s most prestigious academic thinkers—that stipulated the need to remove a plague—the Jews in this case—from the body of Germany, a plague that was both insidious and sufficiently severe as to necessitate a state of exception, a dismantling of democratic institutions, a total war. It was this state of exception that justified Eichmann’s barbarity, all couched in terms with which we should all be familiar, terms that far too many Americans now accept, terms couched in the language of religious absolutism.
Only religious conviction explains why sensible, scientific, freedom-loving people are unwilling to listen to other voices; why they turn their backs on the adverse outcomes of their pious acts; why they are willing to discount any fact that disavows their faith; why they insist that shutting down the world, imprisoning people in a never-ending quarantine, depriving kids of their souls and lives, and adhering steadfastly to unscientific rituals even as deaths mount and democracy dies. To them, non-COVID deaths and suffering are of no consequence. The religion of COVID tabulates only deaths from COVID, just like Hitler’s equally devout flock only cared about non-Jewish German lives, and Christians in the past were happy to kill any number of people to save the souls of Christians. As I write in one of my songs for The Great Stupidity (Soldiers of France), “sometimes you have to kill three to save the life of one.” That is a math that drives our COVID policy; the three who die of our cure for the one we save from COIVD are of little concern to the prophets of our new religion, since only COVID is on their radar, and only deaths from COVID are meaningful deaths that must be averted at all costs. Death and sacrifice, then, are requisite prices to pay for life and piety.
One of the most brilliant and influential thinkers of our time—Michael Foucault—predicted this outcome fifty years ago, and Agamben is one of his many disciples. Foucault studied how liberal democracies use seemingly benevolent reforms and intents to, in effect, “normalize” people and thus control them. By normalizing, Foucault suggests that a goal of liberal society is to subtly coerce people to think and act in a certain way that benefits those who control society. Democracy is not a barrier to this process; in fact, it helps to proliferate and justify it. Those who fall outside of the liberal definition of normal are viewed as deviants, as dangerous, as needing to be punished and contained.
“Discipline 'makes' individuals; it is the specific technique of a power that regards individuals both as objects and as instruments of its exercise. It is not a triumphant power...it is a modest, suspicious power, which functions as a calculated, but permanent economy,” writes Foucault. “The judges of normality are present everywhere. We are in the society of the teacher-judge, the doctor-judge, the educator-judge, the social worker-judge; it is on them that the universal reign of the normative is based; and each individual, wherever he may find himself, subjects to it his body, his gestures, his behavior, his aptitudes, his achievements.”
Foucault in his eye-opening books demonstrates how society homogenizes and disciplines people by breaking them down into pieces and putting them back together again in a mold that “normalizes” them, into compliant creatures unwilling to challenge the power of the state or its institutions which they view as benign and progressive and necessary. Tests, protocols, standardization, and watchful eyes help people to become “normal” and conform to the mores that liberal society advocates.
In later writings, Foucault showed that, in addition to stripping from us our individuality and our personal sense of freedom, society has aimed its claws at our lives themselves, seeking to control life for its own benefit. This is what he and Agamben and others call biopolitics, and it is no less religious, no less totalitarian, no less an affront to our freedoms and our own selves than any all-encompassing Theocracy or Fascist/Communist state that its adherents claim to disdain. Biopolitical control flows from a disciplinary society, it is woven into the precepts of liberalism and co-exists with the organs of democracy, and yet it tears liberalism and democracy to shreds even as its adherents believe just the opposite.
Says Foucault: Biopolitics is “a matter of taking control of life and the biological process of us-as-a-species and of assuring that [people] are…regularized,” meaning that all of us follow a regulated medical gospel that is designed to save and “normalize” us, one that preaches that the preservation of life must take precedence over our ability to control our bodies and live as we choose.
We will show how this process has sent the medical profession down a dogmatic road upon which it preys on people’s fears and takes from them their bodies and their faith to buttress its own power. COVID has pushed our already growing religious belief in the primacy of life preservation to another level; while Foucault’s biopolitical views show how such control can impact populations and individuals through the instruments of society, COVID has demonstrated the power of the state—especially during a crisis, a “state of exception” as Agamben labels it—to create a world-wide Theocracy. Agamben’s perspicacity—and where he broke from Foucault—is that while the latter believed that institutions alone were what would strip our bodies and liberties from us in exchange for a pledge of heath and security, Agamben believed that ultimately the state itself—even a democratic state—tightens the leash of power around its subjects as those subjects complacently comply with their kindly master. Centralized control of human life metastasizes into the body politic even as the façade of democracy remains intact.
There is “fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us,” wrote Foucault, describing how we willingly give up our own selves to a “benign” power that we believe will care for us. Says Agamben: “As Foucault showed before me, governments that deploy the security paradigm do not necessarily produce the state of exception, but they exploit and direct it once it occurs.” And he goes on: “Political commentators call it the ‘Security State’ — in other words, a state where ‘for security reasons’ (in this instance for the sake of ‘public health’, a term that recalls the Reign of Terror’s infamous ‘Committee of Public Safety’) there’s no limit to the repression of individual freedoms.”
As to why there is no cogent opposition to the desecration of our freedoms and our bodies, Agamben says that we were already at the point of having sacrificed our bodies to the state. “My hypothesis is that the plague was somehow already present, even if only unconsciously, and that people’s life conditions were such that a sudden sign could make them appear as they really were — which is to say, as no less intolerable than a plague.” Hence, we willingly comply with the religion of COVID to save our lives, since we have already embraced and normalized the religion of health care that has taken our bodies from us in exchange for the same promise.
Dr. Bhattacharya and others reflect on why all common sense, human decency, and scientific integrity have been pulverized under this religious onslaught. “It felt like targeted harassment,” he said. “I think many people who signed the Great Barrington Declaration have lost their jobs or have been silenced or lost opportunities for grants and collaborations.” Most of the authors of the Declaration were either apolitical or politically liberal; they were merely attempting to be humanistic and scientific. But their approach shot an arrow through the religion’s gospels, and thus it had to be suppressed.
My own experience is similar, of course, which I have described in prior blogs. By merely stating a fact—that hundreds of my patients in long term care were infected by someone wearing a mask given the strictly enforced mask mandates in those facilities—I was kicked off a radio show and now my license is being reviewed by the State for possible recrimination. It’s not that I was technically wrong in stating this fact, nor was I accused of disobeying the rules that have been established by our public health priests who now rule our lives. And my intent—to explain the reality of a failed policy so we can find a policy that works—is certainly grounded in the tenants of Einsteinian science. But, like so many others, my words were antithetical to the new religion, to its rituals and gospels, and thus were heresy.
It is frightening that the liberal lovers of democracy and science, those who label Trump an autocrat and consider the events of January 6th the most frightening attack on our democracy in their lives—and who consider themselves pro-choice and humanistic—now embrace censorship, the closure of society, massive restrictions of our freedoms, forcing medical procedures on the unwilling, and an assault on all dissent that verges from the gospel to which they now blindly adhere, all in the name of a biopolitical exigency that promises to save lives in exchange for lives in the wake of a state of exception.
Agamben equates our current state of totalitarian obedience to other epochs in history when people willingly abandoned their rights and their souls to a religiously potent myth that promised them salvation, much like Christians did in the Middle Ages, and Nazis did in the 1930’s.
“The history of the twentieth century — and, in particular, the rise to power of Nazism in Germany — shows clearly that the state of exception is the mechanism by which democracies can transform themselves into totalitarian states,” says Agamben. “Is it really necessary to remind ourselves that the only other place where human beings were kept in a state of pure vegetative life was the Nazi camp?”
By “state of exception” he is referring to a crisis that demands our faith. “A society that exists in a perennial state of emergency cannot be free. We live in a society that has sacrificed freedom for so - called ‘security reasons’ and has hence condemned itself to living in a perpetual state of fear and insecurity,” he continues, reminding us that our current situation, this state of exception, “presents similarities with what happened in Germany in 1933, when the new Chancellor Adolf Hitler, without formally abolishing the Weimar Constitution, declared a state of exception that lasted for twelve years and effectively invalidated the constitutional propositions that were ostensibly still in force.”
Are we allowed to compare COVID to the Nazi state? Certainly, I have done that in Geriatrics Vengeance Club and in my blog Fauci’s Willing Executioners, where I remind readers that the vast majority of Germans believed Hitler to be on the correct path and to be carrying out a scientific crusade (which, by following prevailing American Eugenic scientists, he indeed was), and that it was their explicit and tacit support for him that drove the extermination of the Jews and the second world war, a support fed by their inner bigotries and by their adherence to his religiously-elucidated faith in Germany. Our own blind adherence to the Fauci dogma is really no different, although we like to pretend that it is, and thus we tend to suppress anyone who dares to mention its similarities to Nazi Germany.
Instead, the adherents to the new religion of science have another scapegoat, one who, like communists and Jews under Hitler’s regime, they claim to be the true threat to democracy, thus deflecting any concern over their own dismantling of democracy which is “necessary and lifesaving” according to the words of their priest-experts. Hitler had communists, Faucists have Trump.
Trump was a bumbling idiot and both crude and inappropriate, but, even during the eye of the pandemic storm, he didn’t advocate taking away our rights; in fact, just the opposite. And yet, to those who support our current Medical Religion, he was our Satan and still is. In fact, the raid on the Capital of January 6th may have been wrong and frightening, but it is most similar to the Reichstag fire instigated by communists during Hitler’s early days which he exaggerated as to its impact and threat; both gave a totalitarian regime justification to strip away our rights, a devil to which we could point our finger as the real threat to democracy, the necessary crisis that requires our leaders to take away our democracy in order to save it. Hitler did it brilliantly; he used the communist-instigated fire to take over the nation and transform it into a totalitarian state under the premise of a never-ending threat, even while keeping the constitution intact. Similarly, by pointing our fingers at Trump and the idiots who got into the Capitol but who caused no damage, our religious leaders are telling us that we must further take away people’s rights—as President Trump was taken off social media to the joy of free-speech advocates—to assure that our rights are preserved. The real problem, they insist, is not the dismantling of our democracy during this state of exception—which is both necessary and justifiable—but the Trumpists who have already raided the Capital once and, if we let our guard down, will do it again. We must eliminate our democracy to save it because of them.
To Hitler it was Jews and communists who forced him to suspend the constitution, to our leaders it’s a virus and Trumpists. How are we not allowed to point out that obvious similarity?
Einstein, as I discussed, also brought up the specter of Nazi Germany when he assailed the McCarthy hearings. He had been in Nazi Germany, he was considered an enemy of science by the scientific community of Germany that largely supported Hitler (including virtually all of Germany’s noble prize winners, academic scientists, and doctors who became enthusiastic Nazis), and he watched in horror as a nation of educated people precipitated a witch hunt against a communist ghost and willingly relinquished its liberties and democratic soul and any sense of humanity in the face of that “threat.” I discuss this in an earlier blog. “We’ve come a long way to the establishment of a fascist regime. The similarity of the conditions here to those of Germany in 1932 is quite obvious,” Einstein said at the time. “America is incomparably less endangered by its own communists than by the hysterical hunt for the few communists that are here.”
Comparing current events to the Nazi state is instructive; history is a beacon, a warning, about how what we consider necessary and scientific may well transform into what the Germans of a hundred years ago considered necessary and scientific. Sapiens author Yuval Noah Harari says that "the best reason to learn history: not in order to predict the future, but to free yourself of the past and imagine alternative destinies." As Foucault and Agamben show, fascist tendencies are ingrained into our hearts and minds—we believe that sometimes we have to relinquish our lives and rights for a greater good elucidated by a convincing leader—and thus we easily fall prey to them. Nothing shows that more than how Hitler hypnotized educated Germans into endorsing the worse and most illiberal crusade against humanity that the world has ever seen, all in the name of science, necessity, and humanity.
And yet, to commentator Vinay Prasad, his mere mention of Germany evoked cries ranging from anti-Semitism to calls for his censorship. Dr. Prasad—one of my medical heroes because of his ability to teach us how to evaluate medical studies, something he does brilliantly in his book Ending Medical Reversals—has been a voice of common sense, humanity, and scientific integrity throughout the COVID pandemic. He is apolitical and purely objective, and his weekly columns have looked at facts to ascertain the truth of what is being proclaimed as gospel by one side or the other. But one can sense in him a growing indignation about the medical community’s willingness to distort the truth and to censor anyone who dares to disagree with them. He doesn’t call it a religion, but his words and attitudes demonstrate that an atmosphere of oppressive dogmatism and fearmongering common to theocracies is overtaking science.
When he wrote How Democracy Ends, he sounded a lot like Agamben in demonstrating how biologic emergencies can be used to shut down democratic institutions, stifle scientific discourse, and enable censorship. “The key lesson of the coronavirus pandemic is not that the fall of democracy is inevitable, but rather that our policy preferences, and polarization, have set the stage for a series of events where it is possible democracy falls,” he writes. “When democratically elected systems transform into totalitarian regimes, the transition is subtle, stepwise, and involves a combination of pre-planned as well as serendipitous events. Indeed, this was the case with Germany in the years 1929-1939, where Hitler was given a chance at governing, the president subsequently died, a key general resigned after a scandal and the pathway to the Fuhrer was inevitable.”
After he wrote those words, the apparatus of our religious state converged upon Dr. Prasad like a swarm of killer bees.
“The notion that public health will lead us to fascism due to efforts to control COVID is ludicrous, dangerous, and offensive,” says self-anointed “expert” ethicist Dr. Arthur Caplan of NYU, who claims that he understands the Nazi state and that we are not allowed to compare this to that. “I see no argument made, other than hype by Dr. Vinay Prasad, that would make me worry about Anthony Fauci leading a repressive fascist regime, or the CDC taking over as the Bureau of State Control.”
Another “expert,” Robert Proctor, wrote about Prasad: “Comparing a mask or vaccine mandate to the steps taken by Hitler to restrict liberties in 1930s Germany is a misrepresentation of what went on in the Third Reich.” Others went on to call him inflammatory, an anti-Semite, even attention grabbing.
As we will show, and as Agamben so skillfully proves, “innocuous” and symbolic measures such as masks and forced vaccinations, the ability of the CDC and our medical community to disseminate propaganda and eliminate dissent while it claims to be the singular beacon of scientific truth, and our willingness to give our bodies and our rights to the medical state in the wake of a catastrophic threat to our bodies and rights, exactly parallels what Hitler did. Even as Hitler blamed communists and Jews for infecting the German body and posing a threat to German lives, so do Fausists blame variants and critics and Trumpists for infecting our democracy and threatening our lives. Both offer the same solution: total war against the enemy during this state of exception, a war that strips away democracy and never ends.
But to Caplan and others, who do indeed claim that Trump and all those who question Fauci’s policies are the greatest threats to our world, Prasad has no right to speak his mind. In fact, many like Caplan label those who dare make such comparisons, or who delve into the roots of our war against COVID and ask questions, as conspiracists. Says Agamben: “Defining anyone who seeks to know historical events for what they really are as a ‘conspiracy theorist’, however, is plain defamation.” He explains that what enables people to silence dissenters and convince their flock to listen only to them is the thick haze of fear that our religious leaders have injected into the world. “Since fear precedes and forestalls knowledge and reflection, it is quite useless to try and convince the frightened with rational arguments and evidence; more than anything, fear denies them access to a reasoning process that would preclude fear itself.”
As we will show in these next few blogs, Prasad is absolutely correct to sound the alarm, but he will be fighting against a form of theocratic totalitarianism that will do everything in its power to squelch and marginalize him, frame him as being anti-science and anti-democratic, and make him seem like “the other” in a society that demands compliance to the life-saving and unassailable gospel of COVID. “What is fear, into which people today seem to have fallen so deeply that they have forgotten their ethical, political, and religious beliefs?” asks Agamben.
It is, as we will show, a natural consequence of our new religion of science. When fear becomes that force which drives our lives, and when religious leaders (wearing white coats and sounding authoritative and scientific) offer us simplistic, ritualistic, and seemingly effective means of confronting that fear, then we will comply without a fight. To save our lives we will give away our lives, to save our democracy we will give away our democracy, to enable science we will destroy science. We will tolerate no dissent. We will adhere to the gospel and burn all those at the stake who think otherwise. We will become like the people of Landrew in Star Trek, which I describe in one of my blogs and in my books; people who are absorbed by a scientific faith and who give up their individual souls and lives to become part of the “collective body” of a society that now owns them so as to save them from themselves.
Foucault could not have scripted it better than the writers of Star Trek! To use a colloquialism that may be novel, the self-destructive dialectic of sacrificing our lives to save our lives is all Foucaulted up! Or to create another dialectic opposition, in which freedom and individual worth are pitted against subversion of the individual into an unassailable gospel and the primacy of security over human rights, we have to decide between Foucaulism vs. Faucism. In our current biopolitical state of exception, that is the battle waging across our nation, with the latter side falsely claiming to hold the mantle of science while unconsciously proselytizing the religion of science which is devoid of all scientific integrity and democratic allegiance, and the former fighting this religion while being marginalized by the newly devout liberals who are acting in opposition to their own purported ideals in the wake of born-again religious zealotry.
In an early chapter of Geriatrics Vengeance Club, that I wrote well over a year ago, I discuss a musical written by the main character in which a religion of science emerges from COVID to create a dystopian dictatorship. I have attached it here and above; it’s worth a brief read given its prescience in predicting the emergence of the religion of science. In my book I constantly quote George Orwell, who warned us of such a transformation to a totalitarian symphony orchestrated with the baton of fear by a conductor who promises to be our savior. It is no wonder that the first word of my book is FEAR, and that right from the start the main character—a doctor who dares question Faucism—is being tried by his physician peers who aim to take away his medical license for being a heretic to the medical and COVID religions.
What is a religion? Yuval Noah Harari talks about religion and other religiously-inscribed faiths as a series of myths that, with time and repetition, seem real, sometimes even more real than reality. He writes: “How do you cause people to believe in an imagined order such as Christianity, democracy or capitalism? First, you never admit that the order is imagined.” Anthropologist Clifford Geertz says: “Religion is a system of symbols which acts to [explain] powerful, pervasive, and long tested moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing those conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seems uniquely realistic.” Geertz notes that in some cultures the “word for religion and that for science are the same,” something that makes sense in the era of COVID. The reference to symbols is similarly important in our subsequent discussion of the religion of COVID, which bases much of its power and legitimacy on symbolic gestures, from masks to hand washing to social distancing.
We will see, too, that our medical gospel that promises to fix all ails—a process by which doctors define measurable numbers whose range can rigidly demarcated and then “normalized”—emerged from Eugenic and Germanic thinking in the early 1900’s, the era Foucault says that people’s biology, not just their culture, began to be studied, measured, and controlled. Historian Hayden White says this about “theory,” echoing the fears of Foucault and Agamben: “theory and unthinking commitment to it were what created modern totalitarianism…. Theory is airy and insubstantial; it floats above the real, tending to become an end in itself. Instead of illuminating reality, it turns us was from what is and directs us to a shadow world of concepts and figures.”
Such a shadow world, replete with symbols and rituals, encompasses the reality of COVID, and is central to the scientific religion which has ensnarled our medical society—and now society in general—for these many months and years. As Historian Carlo Ginsberg writes, “The human species tends to represent reality in terms of opposites…operating on the basis of a logic of the type yes/no, everything/nothing.” In other words, putting it in a religious framework, you are either fully with God, or you’re in league with Satan; you’re either an absolutist believer in the Faucist faith, or you’re a dangerous person who needs to be quieted and shamed. Such binary thinking is ingrained in us all; it feeds our religious tendency to be zealous and to desecrate and persecute all those who disagree with what we know to be the gospel of truth. In the next blog we’ll talk about how our own cognitive biases—exploited for centuries by autocrats, religious leaders, and advertising executives—have persuaded us to fall into line with the biopolitical gospel that convinces us that our very lives are contingent upon our faith in the priest-scientists, a faith that we have convinced ourselves is humanistic, scientific, and necessary.
We’ll also talk about Germany and Australia, two societies that have largely remained unscathed from COVID, but at a very high price. While Sweden preserved life and met the wrath of the entire world, even as its outcomes were exemplary, and while we in this country sunk in the mire of both COVID and quarantine mortality that ranked highest in the world even as we prop up our policy as being the only path to truth, Germany and Australia experienced few deaths, but as a price their citizens abdicated human rights and human individuality in exchange for the promise of biologic life. In most cases other than in Sweden, COVID pushed us a step closer to scientific theocracy anchored by the religiosity of health care and our powerful drive to remain living (even if we’re not really alive) at all costs. The result may well be catastrophic; a civil war perhaps, a tyranny of scientists, a purging of those deemed to be unworthy of the new religious faith?
“[T]he dominant powers of today have decided to pitilessly abandon the paradigm of bourgeois democracy — with its rights, its parliaments, and its constitutions — and replace it with new apparatuses whose contours we can barely glimpse. In fact, these contours are probably not entirely clear even to those who are sketching them,” says Agamben. “Bare life, and the fear of losing it, is not something that unites people: rather, it blinds and separates them. Fellow human beings…are now seen only as potential anointers whom we must avoid at all cost, and from whom we should maintain a distance of at least one meter.”
In our quest for life, we have in essence destroyed it.
At the start of the pandemic, Charles Eisenstein wrote an article called Coronation, whose haunting prediction feels even more frightening now, over a year later. He said:
“How much of life do we want to sacrifice at the altar of security? If it keeps us safer, do we want to live in a world where human beings never congregate? Do we want to wear masks in public all the time? Do we want to be medically examined every time we travel, if that will save some number of lives a year? Are we willing to accept the medicalization of life in general, handing over final sovereignty over our bodies to medical authorities (as selected by political ones)? Do we want every event to be a virtual event? How much are we willing to live in fear?
“To reduce the risk of another pandemic, shall we choose to live in a society without hugs, handshakes, and high-fives, forever more? Shall we choose to live in a society where we no longer gather en masse? Shall the concert, the sports competition, and the festival be a thing of the past? Shall children no longer play with other children? Shall all human contact be mediated by computers and masks? No more dance classes, no more karate classes, no more conferences, no more churches? Is death reduction to be the standard by which to measure progress? Does human advancement mean separation? Is this the future?
“America and the modern world in general are facing a health crisis. Is the answer to do what we’ve been doing, only more thoroughly? The response so far to COVID has been to double down on the orthodoxy and sweep unconventional practices and dissenting viewpoints aside.”
This is the world we have ushered in, one of religious fervor, one in which facts and humanity fall prey to dogma and misinformation, one in which we are purporting to preserve lives at the expense of life itself. When Einstein said that insanity is doing the same thing over again and expecting different results, it is crucial to understand what the results are that the architects of our policy have sought to achieve. If we measure our success by how many COVID and quarantine deaths we’ve averted, then, yes, our policies have been utter failures. But if they’re measured in Foucault’s and Agamben’s language, by how much control society has wrested over its citizens with their own consent under the guise of saving their lives, with the willing participation of doctors and scientists who claim to be expert-priests, then the policy has been a tremendous success. The results speak for themselves for, as Agamben says, “what is society that values nothing more than survival?” It is empty and stark. And it is Theocratic.
Now, let’s talk about our health care system, and how it grew into a massive religious enterprise after the publication of Flexner’s report in 1917. Because, let’s face it, that’s all Foucaulted up too!