Discover more from Infonomena by Bret Swanson
Elites who aren't elite and technocrats who aren't technically competent want to save our democracy with censorship, secret science, more war, and ESG. Only a comprehensive reboot can save us.
Last Monday, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID) reinstated a funding grant to EcoHealth Alliance, which had been revoked three years ago. EcoHealth, you will recall, is the New York City research outfit which in the twenty-teens proposed the creation of synthetic chimeric viruses – or infectious clones – including the insertion of a highly pathogenic furin cleavage site. It then collaborated with China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology to make it happen.
The SARS2 virus was the likely result of the EcoHealth strategy, backed by hundreds of millions in grants from Dr. Tony Fauci’s NIAID, the State Department’s USAID, and the Pentagon. Now, the U.S. government says it wants more of EcoHealth’s laboratory wonders.1
Peter Daszak, the president of EcoHealth, celebrated the news.
The American people and billions around the world might reasonably ask whether the hasty resumption of dangerous gain-of-function research is a good idea. In recent months, the U.S. Senate and Federal Bureau of Investigation, among other agencies and experts, stamped their agreement on the long-obvious assessment that SARS2 likely emerged from a laboratory. After a global calamity generated by a dangerous man-made virus and a series of disastrous man-made policy responses, one presumes a serious debate about advanced bio-research would be in order.
NIAID, however, can’t be troubled to wait for such an important conversation. Full speed ahead, Dr. Fauci’s successors say.
This all points to a much bigger problem in the way we govern ourselves, or fail to. But first, let’s recap:
NIAID and EcoHealth evaded President Obama’s gain-of-function moratorium by, in part, outsourcing some of its work to China’s WIV. When SARS2 escaped and led to a global pandemic, Drs. Fauci and Daszak and NIH head Francis Collins denied their deep knowledge and covered up strong suspicions by fellow virologists that the virus was “engineered.” They slandered and silenced scientists who sought the truth. When their ruse was finally exposed, instead of apologizing with deepest shame and submitting to a public discussion of fundamental policy questions, they simply resumed their dangerous research.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated scenario. It’s a repeated pattern not just in biological research but across our government and institutions.
Forever Wars, Forever Spending
For nearly 20 years, the U.S. toiled across the Middle East, but to what end? The righteous killing of Osama Bin Laden did not require the spending of $8 trillion and two decades’ worth of lost limbs, lost lives, national distraction, and, at the end, national disgrace. Presidents Obama and Trump both ran against these wars but couldn’t reverse the auto-pilot policy of the Pentagon and permanent foreign policy panjandrums.
Opposition to the trillion or so we spent on TARP and related financial sector bailouts in 2008-09 may have launched the Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party movements, but that sum now seems quaint. The Washington leadership of each party snuffed out Occupy and Tea Party as extremists – and then proceeded over the following decade to add another $10 trillion in debt, backed by the Fed’s zero-interest quantitative easing.
Then came the war against Covid. The experts shut down the economy and social life – and “replaced” productive activity with yet another $6 trillion. We did not get anything for this debt-fueled spending. Lockdowns did not stop the spread; everyone got Covid regardless. Instead, these extraordinarily expensive policies yielded far worse health and the biggest inflation burst in 40 years.
As a result, total federal debt grew from around $6 trillion in 2003 to more than $32 trillion today. Elected officials in Washington blame voters, who they say won’t let them exercise restraint, especially on entitlements. Which is indeed a big part of the equation. Today’s entitlement programs are in fact unsustainable and, just as bad, contort and shackle the largest sector of the economy – healthcare – with infuriating deadweight and dysfunction. The entitlement deflection, however, cannot excuse the extra $20 trillion or so in debt Washington pols added via non-entitlement policy choices. Policy choices which emphatically failed.
Add to this sad two-decade run the most sluggish economic growth outside the Great Depression. Washington continually ignored and trashed by far the most important metric and goal of national health.
Policy By Panic
Terror, banks, Russia-collusion, Covid, disinformation, and now A.I. and China. Experts increasingly hype and leverage these threats – some real, some imagined – to deploy not targeted solutions or thoughtful strategies but extended all-out campaigns of panic and profligacy.
Undergirding all of these is the greatest celebratory panic of all – catastrophic climate change.
Policy by panic depends on rigid enforcement of elaborate narratives, one flowing right into the next. Some call it propaganda. For 30 years, the climate industrial complex has spent hundreds of billions shaping the one true weather narrative, which now dominates the energy and financial sectors, and terrorizes the psyches of tens of millions of young people. The climate complex banished elite scientists, captured the academic journals, bought the legacy media, and browbeat polite society into conformity. Environmental, Social, and Governance investing, or ESG, has overtaken the financial world, replacing democratic capital markets with ideological muscle.
The online world supercharges all these top-down tactics. We now have demonization and indoctrination at scale. And yet, the infoweb allows for a bottom-up counterinsurgency as well.
In other words, the Internet makes narrative control far more effective or ineffective – depending on the audience. Unprecedented volumes of polished publicity flowing at tik-tok speed from legacy know-nothings etch messages on millions of lazy brains. Herds of online trolls defame anyone who strays from the plot.
Meanwhile, however, alternative exafloods of data and truly expert content, evading gatekeepers for the first time on thousands of decentralized channels, enlighten billions of savvy info consumers, who parse and argue and think critically for themselves.
As Martin Gurri explained in The Revolt of the Public, the Internet explosion fundamentally alters the balance of information and thus power itself. Authorities lose their grip on the official story as the public acquires the ability to tell their own stories. They see and critique elite failures. The loss of control terrifies governments, experts, and institutions.
Policy by panic grows more difficult but also more necessary. When the incompetence of the ruling class is exposed and the people lose confidence, the ruling class must construct ever more elaborate and maximal stories to retain and project power. Climate, pandemic, fascism, A.I. apocalypse – these are existential and often exponential threats requiring comprehensive top-down solutions.
The gap between narrative and reality grows into a chasm. Each side thinks the other is mad, as in batty and deranged. No doubt, each side has its loons. But – and here’s a crucial difference – only one side insists on a free flow of data and open discussion. The other side believes more information is a threat to “our democracy” and demands data lockdowns.
Enter censorship. Over the last half-decade, an array of U.S. institutions implemented the broadest and most sophisticated information suppression campaign in American history. Five years ago, a few of us thought the Big Tech social media companies were obnoxiously suspending and shadow-banning people they didn’t like for political or ideological reasons. We called them out, even when friends told us the emerging censorious attitude was no big deal.
It was, in fact, far worse than anyone knew and included deep integration with government authorities. In recent months, Matt Taibbi of Racket.News and Mike Benz of the Foundation for Freedom Online exposed in detail the network we had dubbed the Censorship Industrial Complex. Turns out, this organized, well-funded, and sprawling effort includes more than 50 news outlets, intelligence and law enforcement agencies, Big Tech firms, non-profit and for-profit data police, self-styled “fact checkers,” think tanks, and universities. Writing in Tablet, Jacob Siegel offered a brilliant 13,000-word essay giving these details narrative context.
Whatever this is, it does not look like “our democracy,” the centerpiece of which is supposedly the First Amendment.
The Elites Who Aren’t
The class of experts in and out of government who go to war, cook up viruses, lock down, bail out, censor, and spend money without our consent or even knowledge bears little resemblance to “government of the people, by the people, for the people,” in Abraham Lincoln’s phrase.
There’s a legitimate debate over relative portions of popular rule and technocracy. The Founders knew too much democracy was dangerous, so they gave us a republic, with multiple interconnected webs of adversarial checks and balances – three branches, states, due process, and popular votes leavened by Constitutional rights, such as free speech.
Pure populism is of course destructive. In a modern, technological age, moreover, we want true experts to manage the nation’s finances, courts, laboratories, intelligence apparatus, and nuclear arsenal. But all these crucial functions occur with guardrails provided in statute, Constitution, and norms of civil society.
Our new form of government explodes all these important and nuanced gradations. Most of the adversarial mechanisms, where iron sharpens iron and criticism promotes truth, are gone. Big Media, Big Government, and Big Business merge into a cooperative juggernaut, unrestrained by one another. The Internet is the only counter to this crisis of accountability.
Meanwhile, as elites appropriate ever more power, their quality declines – catastrophically so.
Far too many of our elites are not in fact elite. Neither in expertise nor in character. Our technocrats are not technically competent. Or at least, they pretend not to be.
Among dozens of lethal bungles during Covid, for example, the nation’s top medical experts denied that recovered immunity from infection was a real phenomenon. As Martin Kulldorff reminded us, we’ve known about “natural immunity” since at least the Athenian Plague of 430 B.C. Of course infection provides protection against future disease. This high school biology is the very basis of vaccines, which seek to mimic natural immunity. By far, the most uninformed people on the planet when it came to myriad Covid topics lived in Washington, D.C.
The very same group of foreign policy experts who delivered the $8-trillion Mideast Adventure, meanwhile, wants to spend another trillion or two in Ukraine, driving Russia and China together, and are charting, instead of strategically avoiding, a China clash.
With the erasure of the southern U.S. border, some 6.5 million migrants have entered the country illegally in just the last 28 months. Deadly fentanyl flows in corresponding volumes, vaulting many cartel jefes into the multi-billionaire ranks. Even we longtime advocates of robust legal immigration are left dumbfounded by this abdication of the most basic government responsibility. But it’s worse still. Politicians then beef up E-Verify, which deputizes (and makes liable) American business owners to enforce the immigration labor laws on which the public officials reneged.2
In an astonishing development, we just learned the 51 intelligence officials, including five former CIA directors, who lied about one candidate’s corruption on election-eve 2020 received explicit approval for their deception from the CIA itself. They claimed they were protecting “our democracy.”
We cannot, however, let our civic and business leaders off the hook. When the debauchery of Covid, censorship, and the other counterproductive policies were taking place, instead of pushing back and sticking up for America, most CEOs, university presidents, and scientists applauded. Financial titans, similarly, acquiesced to the ESG revolution in their own industry, until just recently when Vanguard CEO Tim Buckley courageously broke with the crowd.
Politicians in both parties now unite against China and Tik-Tok, lamenting that foreign propaganda is causing a plunge in American patriotism. The bipartisan Tik-Tok freak-out, however, is a mass deflection by our own ruling class from its own grave sins.
No one has propagandized our young people more – via legacy media, social media, and our own schools and institutions – than Americans in leadership positions. Long before Tik-Tok, they called America uniquely evil. They scared our children with climate catastrophism. They drove wedges between children and parents and between every citizen.
Unfortunately, we are governed by pseudo-elites and pseudocrats, both in government and outside of it, both in substance and character. Let’s face it; we live in a Pseudocracy.
And yet, there is hope. The biggest white pill is that we may have hit bottom and survived – barely. When the computer freezes, you reboot. The growing realization of comprehensive pseudo-elite bankruptcy will spur new generations of leaders in and out of government. They will replace the pseudocrats and earnestly recommit to basic American ideals of excellence, honesty, pluralism, and growth. They will launch multiple peaceful revolutions in culture, economics, media, business, science, technology, and foreign policy. If so, our democracy might yet recover and thrive.
Among other limitations, the grant reinstatement supposedly restricts EcoHealth from engaging in “gain-of-function” research, which is less than reassuring because Dr. Fauci repeatedly claimed EcoHealth’s dangerous infectious clone research that likely led to SARS2 was not technically “gain-of-function.” They are expert at evading restrictions, oftentimes by simply defining them away. The point is the dangerous viral research, and how we treat it, not what one calls it.
We unintentionally left out this paragraph in the first version of the article.