List Moderation, Materialism, and COVID-19

Lancement de la campagne de vaccination contre la COVID-19 (Benin)

The Struggle Against COVID, Creative Commons photo from Présidence de la République du Bénin

Matt Meyer

Following a lengthy and sometimes heated movement listserv debate over COVID and related public health measures, Matt Meyer was prompted to write the message below. While Matt's email is addressed to the specific list's subscribers and posters, the debate is of broader interest and playing out on multiple platforms. Matt's email has been lightly edited to remove list-specific references.

From Matt: I write with some concern, not so much for us and this list but for the ways in which I’ve recently seen debates about Covid-19 mandates, varied positions on the vaccine, and related issues divide progressive peoples in ways which seem both unnecessary and manipulated by the right. I think on our part, for this valuable listserv and for the building of movements of movements beyond our circles, it is both important and possible to work within voluntary guidelines which can keep us grounded in the justice-based societies we seek to live in.

First, though there can surely be questions and concerns about the nature of Covid-19 itself, where and how it developed, and especially the opportunistic responses to it by capital which work well as always to turn any crisis towards their intensified profits, the path of Covid-19 denialism, suggesting that the pandemic is nothing more than a social media-driven constructed to contain people seems to me an obvious dead end. Too many millions have died or taken seriously ill to suggest that denialism has any basis in material reality, however one cuts various data or citations of research. Like Holocaust denialism or the denial of the very existence of apartheid as a heinous and debilitating policy in the days before South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Covid-19 denialism must be seen as part of the right-wing and neo-fascist attempts to rewrite history in a manner that favors conspiracies over facts. In the US in the era of Trump, one can proclaim almost anything true or false and find documents backing up one’s assertions. But this listserv among other places should be especially careful about slipping into these counter-productive “rabbit holes.”

Secondly, it is clear that there is a significant and tough-to-resolve disconnect about the efficacies of the various vaccines and the ways in which different countries have used them for various purposes. Again, from a materialist perspective, some things seem clear: 

  1. Both ends of the  extremes of opinions regarding the Covid-19 vaccines are not useful to our discussions about building a better world (on the one hand suggesting that they are the magic wand which will cure Covid and are the answer to all our major health worries, or on the other that they are mainly part of a vast conspiracy to kill people, which now constitutes the greatest example of genocidal policies in the history of humankind).
  2. It seems clear that the pharmaceutical industry, so complicit in heinous practices in the past, is not above those kinds of actions in the present and must be carefully monitored, examined and exposed when wrong doings are evident. That their main objective is profit and not public health is a given, but that does not equate to the idea that all actions they take are 100% anti-health. For the US readers or others aware of the genocidal experiments of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study [link added by S&D], the cautionary directives are clear…but so is the fact that “not everything is Tuskegee.”
  3. It seems clear that various Covid-19-related mandates are appropriately controversial, in that some are mainly implemented to enforce draconian population controls, others are implemented to actually further public safety, and still others are implemented based on a misreading. Like the appropriate diversity of opinion on this listserv regarding the nature of the state, we simply cannot look at mandates with a simple, all-inclusive brush. Some of the early lock-downs in Vietnam, for example, are not the same as lock-downs in other places. The view and practical relationship of the people of Cuba towards health-related government mandates is correctly different from other countries. And in many cases, including the current actions in Canada and elsewhere, there are nuances worth exploring: some righteous indignation about corporate-government collusion intertwined with some obviously right-wing attacks at the very idea of social responsibility. In our [list''s] circles we may be various ideological shades of libertarian and socialist, but hopefully we have basic agreement that we are neither in support of individual-rights-above-all-else in terms of community and collective safety and prosperity, nor are we all for the collective-good-whatever-the-cost to the individual at the grassroots. 

Finally, as has been already written elsewhere, this . . . listserv has always been an unmoderated space for a wide range of progressive opinions and perspectives on a wide range of topics. [Its list admin] has been an extraordinary, gentle, creative and expansive facilitator of this effort, but not a list “moderator” in the classic or technical sense. As one of the recently-freed Black Panther political prisoners here often says, “We are our own liberators,” and in the same spirit we must self-moderate this space such that the downward-spiraling diatribes noted above do not overtake our listserv. I am anxious to hear about the current shifts taking place in Honduras, about the ongoing work of Via Campesina, about the actions from South Africa and elsewhere that our comrade . . . posts, and of course about any updates regarding the World Social Forum, including commentary on the recent statement on the demise of the Forum by the International Renewal Group [link added by S&D].

We look forward to emerging from this moment, to build movements capable of rising forward into the future.

Matt Meyer
Secretary General
International Peace Research Association
[link added by S&D]