Why Progressives Must Safeguard Our Government, Our Constitutional Rights and our Scientific and Public Health Institutions
We are entering the Post-COVID world. And the role of liberals and progressives (as well as libertarians and champions of constitutional rights) is far more significant now than we realize.
COVID-19 has brought on many changes in society. As COVID numbers diminish, there is a renewed euphoria in progressive circles in the wake of the pandemic concomitant with a Democrat presidential victory and an unprecedented awareness of gender and racial inequalities. While there is much to be excited about for progressives, warning flags have appeared that raise questions about whether our future direction is genuinely one of greater equality.
The COVID pandemic has shown all of us the power of government public health institutions in mobilizing and transforming society to deal with a pandemic threat. Yet, at the same time, public health policy, supported by the overwhelming majority of progressives, has become a paternalist force that has used its authority to control, manipulate, and divide the body politic, marginalizing or censoring public voices—investigative, scientific, and medical—that deviate from the “official story” of COVID-19.
Just like in the Vietnam War, when the government failed to heed the people's growing dissatisfaction with its protracted war, there is the same growing resentment amongst the populace as an increasingly unaccountable public health elite, backed by Silicon Valley, Big Pharma and what has come to be known as the Deep State, wages a prolonged battle against an invisible enemy. This biomedical-powered elite demands more and more sacrifices from the people while silencing criticism with fear-based propaganda, censorship (done under "fact-checks" purported to deal with misinformation), and appeals-to-community that ignore the legitimate concerns of those harmed by pandemic responses.
The critical question is this: Has our government, both Democrats and Republicans, indeed served the people during the pandemic, or has it become an oppressive force that exemplifies the existing power inequalities between ordinary people, corporate America, and the billionaires and oligarchs who claim to rule in the public interest?
In dealing with matters we do not understand, it can become easy for progressives and indeed everyone to defer our thinking to authorities. "Let them handle it," we say while we focus on the things we do know about, such as the decades-long fight for gender and racial equality, or healthy food and a clean environment. But, as we will see, ignoring the areas beyond our normal concerns allows powerful vested interests to expand their power and control at the expense of informed public debate and participatory democracy.
The role of science and technology, in particular, shown by the dominance of Big Tech in our lives, means that progressives and concerned citizens cannot ignore these matters. While the scientists and technocrats make discoveries and build on human knowledge, it is up to progressives and justice-minded people to ensure that new knowledge is used fairly and equitably.
We need a reinvigoration of the progressive function and a return to asking our society's most challenging questions. And there is a possibility now to do so in the Post-COVID world that wasn't present before.
Science - A Liberating or Controlling Force?
Nowadays, there is a euphoria regarding science and its ability to deal with the problems of humanity. Originally, science was a core principle of progressivism - it was a tool to free the people from inequality's strictures. A deeper examination reveals science has become weaponized as a tool of control by corporations.
As philosopher Paul Feyerabend sounded this warning in his essay "How to Defend Society Against Science": "Science, surely, was always in the forefront of the fight against authoritarianism and superstition. It is to science that we owe our increased intellectual freedom vis-a-vis religious beliefs; it is to science that we owe the liberation of mankind from ancient and rigid forms of thought. Today these forms of thought are nothing but bad dreams - and this we learned from science."
Feyerabend warns, however, of the danger of science degenerating into scientific dogmatism, stifling individual thought and creativity: "I have said that science has become rigid, that it has ceased to be an instrument of change and liberation, without adding that it has found the truth or a large part thereof — considering this additional fact we realize, so the objection goes, that the rigidity of science is not due to human willfulness. It lies in the nature of things. For once, we have discovered the truth -what else can we do but follow it?"
The appeal-to-science argument is a powerful one. After all, who cannot be for the use of reason and logic, and the scientific methodology? But what if the powerful gatekeepers of society get to decide what constitutes science for their agendas?
Inevitably, those with monetary and commercial interests have an incentive to take over science and use it to advance their agendas - enter the corporate intrusion into science. This fact was a concern even before COVID. In 2019, the Union of Concerned Scientists lamented about corporate intrusion into climate change research: "Cases of such corporate intrusions have been observed in a variety of places where science is used to inform federal policy. They range, for example, from interference in the Food and Drug Administration's approval of medical devices to the blocking of a national ground-level ozone standard proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And increasingly, climate science is being used as a political football, with companies and their allies creating confusion around the science in an attempt to delay regulatory action."
Corporate intrusion is the "worst enemy of science." As reported by Discover Magazine: "the biggest threat to science has been quietly occurring under the radar, even though it may be changing the very foundation of American innovation. The threat is money—specifically, the decline of government support for science and the growing dominance of private spending over American research."
What happens when profit-making incentives and corporate partnerships begin to dominate academic institutions, research priorities, scientific journals, and public health policies? Discover magazine stated that much of the problems of corporate intrusion into science began with the Bayh-Dole Act: "Passed in 1980, the act granted universities and their professors the automatic rights to own and commercialize federally funded research. The goal was to unlock financial incentives that would speed the pace of American scientific innovation. Overnight, many of the cultural taboos associated with overt commercial profiteering on campus began to evaporate."
For too long, progressives have blindly accepted science's role in humanity's progress without ascertaining whether the state of science is fair, unbiased, and serving the public good. Today's progressives need to call out corporate interference and the profiteering under scientific and public health organizations, as well as risky scientific experimentation such as “gain-of-function” research that uses genetic engineering and synthetic biology to make viruses more virulent and infective.
Have We Acquiesced to Corporate Power?
Our society has made incredible advances in bringing awareness to gender, racial, and environmental issues and bringing attention to the dangers of global warming and climate change. However, we have obviously failed to address a significant source of inequality in our society: corporate power dominance over public policy.
Who has the power in the United States? Political scientist G. William Domhoff answered the question in 2005: "Those who have the money -- or more specifically, who own income-producing land and businesses -- have the power. In this day and age, this means that banks, corporations, agribusinesses, and big real estate developers, working separately on most policy issues, but in combination on important general issues -- such as taxes, opposition to labor unions, and trade agreements with other countries -- set the rules within which policy battles are waged."
Domhoff's words equally apply to our Post-COVID world, but the industries have changed. Now we have the specters of Big Tech, Big Food, Big Agriculture, Big Energy, Big Pharma, the CIA and the military-industrial complex that call the shots in the government-political-economic sphere. They utilize many of the same tactics and dirty tricks as before, but have gotten even more sophisticated by presenting their goods and services and policies as essential to society. They paint their goods and services, no matter how anti-democratic and authoritarian, as serving the good of humanity, thus hiding their political machinations behind seemingly emotional feel-good messaging.
It's no secret that inequality in the United States has been rising over decades. Progressives historically have played an essential role in checking corporate power and the economic royalty’s dominant influence on society. A focus on eliminating racism and gender equality without addressing political power inequity, however, has become self-defeating for progressives.
Do Our Institutions Represent Us or the Corporations?
Progressives have long relied upon the government and its institutions to ensure the equitable distribution of resources throughout society. But we have missed a very logical and powerful move by the corporatists to control the regulatory institutions themselves, such as the Food and Drug Administration, the US Department of Agriculture, and the Departments of Defense and Energy. The economic and corporate elite have basically deployed a successful strategy that has captured the regulators.
The power of government is vast, but obviously it can function as a double-edged sword. People can use the government to create a fairer system for all or use it as a tyrannical rule-enforcer to protect the dominant interests of those who hold power.
How can we distinguish the two scenarios? Enter the progressive. It is up to the progressives and all concerned citizens to monitor our institutions' behavior and judge whether they are rightfully serving the public.
In order to do this, we need to be constantly vigilant. We need to be aware and vocal, calling attention to the mechanisms by which corporations can unduly influence the government process. G. William Domhoff summarized these mechanisms nicely in his article "The Class-Domination Theory of Power":
1. The special-interest process, through which specific families, corporations, and industrial sectors can realize their narrow and short-run interests on taxes, subsidies, and regulation in their dealings with congressional committees, regulatory bodies, and executive departments;
2. The policy-making process, through which the policies developed in the policy-planning network described earlier are brought to the White House and Congress;
3. The candidate selection process, through which members of the power elite influence electoral campaigns using campaign donations to political candidates.
As evident from the Powell Memorandum during the 1970s, we can expect that corporations will try to control political systems to use them to their advantage. The critical thing we must watch out for are conflicts of interest and the placement of people in power who have financial ties with the industries they are supposed to regulate. An example of this would be the criticism directed at former President Trump for staffing the Environmental Protection Agency with former industry insiders, or President Biden appointing a proponent of GMOs, factory farms, and industrial agriculture, Tom Vilsack to be Secretary of Agriculture.
During our COVID era, no institutions are more important to look at for fairness than our public health institutions who have wielded unprecedented power. Even before COVID, conflicts of interests have been a pervasive problem within public health - there is a massive revolving door between the Big Pharma, government regulators and self-appointed Health Czars like Bill Gates.
And during this time, when there is a social mandate to deal with the pandemic, progressives should be particularly aware of the conflicts of interests between industry and public health.
COVID and Conflicts of Interests
During the time of COVID, much criticism was directed at Bill Gates over his enormous influence over public health by donating over $600 million to the World Health Organization (WHO) and an investment of over a billion dollars into vaccines done through the Global Alliance for Vaccines Initiative (GAVI).
Even if ostensibly done in the name of the public good, progressives should be aware of the accumulation of power and undue influence over public institutions by men such as Bill Gates. A deeper examination of Bill Gates' initiatives reveals a disturbing relationship with Big Pharma.
As the public interest group GRAIN has reported: "Consider the revolving door between the Gates Foundation and Big Pharma. Former director of vaccine development at the foundation and current CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Medical Research Institute, Penny Heaton, hails from drug kingpins Merck and Novartis. The foundation's president of global health, Trevor Mundel, served in Novartis and Pfizer's leadership positions. His predecessor, Tachi Yamada, was previously a top executive at GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Kate James worked at GSK for almost ten years, then became the foundation's chief communications officer. The examples are almost endless."
While dealing with the pandemic is essential, it raises concerns when Bill Gates, one of the world's richest and powerful men and a non-elected person, influences public health agencies and their recommended responses. Moreover, it is questionable when that same man has conflicts of interest with powerful corporate partners, who can benefit from the enormous monies allocated from public funds to deal with COVID.
It is equally disturbing when men like Bill Gates and Anthony Fauci have financial ties to the Moderna vaccine, which the government is pushing. As Jeremy R Hammond reported, there is evidence that government scientists under Fauci's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases helped develop the Moderna vaccine. Additionally, the Gates Foundation helped fund Moderna vaccine trials.
Conflicts of interest play an insidious role in undermining institutional trust. As discussed in Scientific American, conflicts of interests can work on a subconscious level, slowly affecting the judgment professionals and policy-makers as they slowly place their financial interests over the public's good.
It is the progressive's role to dig deeper behind the media headlines and identify conflicts of interest and other inappropriate uses of power to influence our institutions. It is up to us to make sure that institutions serve us instead of a few influential individuals' plans.
Propaganda in the Name of "Science"
Who gets to say what counts as "science" and what doesn't? It's a critical question as dialogue regarding what constitutes science greatly influences public policy.
It is no wonder that corporations themselves get to decide what gets reported in the media as legitimate science. According to Gaia, six corporations control the bulk of what scientific research gets published in the media: "Despite their exorbitant profits, these publishers don't provide much in the way of standards or scrutiny in the peer-review process. There have been numerous instances of research with shoddy methods and inaccurate results that have been published in some of the more astute journals."
During this time of COVID, powerful men like Bill Gates, acting through the Gates Foundation, and Mark Zuckerberg, working through Facebook fact-checking, can unduly influence the state of the reported science.
In an expose regarding Bill Gates' influence over the press, Columbia Journalism Review wrote: "From virtually any of Gates's good deeds, reporters can also find problems with the foundation's outsize power if they choose to look. But readers don't hear these critical voices in the news as often or as loudly as Bill and Melinda's. News about Gates these days is often filtered through the perspectives of the many academics, nonprofits, and think tanks that Gates funds. Sometimes it is delivered to readers by newsrooms with financial ties to the foundation."
Similarly, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, while ostensibly standing for progressive ideals, raises concerns for control over public sentiment via Facebook fact-checking. Fast Company reported on Facebook's ability to pressure its fact-checkers and raises questions of fact-checker objectivity. While increasing truthfulness in social media is a worthy goal, Facebook has self-appointed itself as the arbiter of truth regarding COVID misinformation.
It is doubtful whether Facebook can remain objective regarding what constitutes good science while pursuing increasing pharmaceutical ad revenue and while Zuckerberg is materially involved in driving scientific research and investment through the Chan-Zuckerberg Institute.
The power to influence what science gets reported has profound consequences during the COVID pandemic - it has allowed corporations to benefit from the COVID response at the public's expense. Termed the Great Reset, powerful corporate forces are colluding to advance their economic interests in the Post-COVID world.
Transparency and truthfulness in reporting are of the utmost importance. Powerful interests use the ability to control information and media reporting for their advantage. Knowledge asymmetries in society are a fundamental inequality in society that keeps specific populace segments from acting in their best interests. It is up to progressives and all concerned citizens to make sure there is transparency in media reporting and make sure the public, not elite individuals, is the final decider of information.
The Progressive Imperative - Safeguarding the Individual and Democracy
We now enter the Post-COVID time when there is an increasing questioning of our institutions and how they should be functioning in order to serve the public good. Our desire to make the world a better place for the people is more important than ever, and we can play an essential role in re-defining the world for the betterment of society.
Unfortunately, many of these crucial conversations occur between the corporations and elite individuals like Bill Gates without input from the greater public, which those institutions are purported to serve.
Progressives, given their historical concerns, have a special mission here - making sure the people have a direct role in our institutions' design, ensuring they are fully transparent in their actions, and making sure they are ultimately accountable to the people.
COVID has shown us that the world is far more interconnected and complex than we initially imagined. Given this, it is easy to become discouraged by the complexity and defer our thinking to experts or scientists. We might say, "let's focus on things we understand like gender and racial equality," but to do so would be a mistake - the development of the future lies with all of us, not just a few experts.
In a complex world, in a genuine democracy, we need lively and free debate, we need all viewpoints to be heard. We can no longer let experts decide what constitutes the greater good while leaving a minority of people to be harmed. It is the role of the progressive to ensure that equality is upheld and the minority is protected.
Long-time activist and head of the Organic Consumers Association, Ronnie Cummins, states the challenge nicely: "We will never make a revolution, head off the Great Reset, nor survive the climate crisis, without overcoming racism, classism, and sexism. But neither can we make a revolution without confronting corporate power and uniting constituencies and nations that are now in conflict."
The Post-Covid world will see a new renaissance in progressive thinking and a resurgence of the progressive function. We cannot assume that science by itself will lead to a better world, but it is up to us, the progressives, to ensure this is so.
We all have significant roles in the Post-COVID world. Let's get to work.