The Covid Cow and Yuval Harari

Perhaps it’s that people have too much time on their hands and are frustrated by the inconvenience of staying inside, but there’s been an inordinate amount of commentary on the global pandemic that is Covid19. This despite the relatively straightforward message that responsible governments have been at pains to convey to their constituents, ‘stay inside and save lives.’

Comparisons to war-time situations that killed large numbers of innocent civilians and threatened still more have been quick to be drawn.  However, such facile comparisons leave survivors of the world wars and the Holocaust unimpressed.  For a majority of the population in the prosperous West, shelter is available, government welfare packages are forthcoming, and everyone is desperately trying to ensure that the economic impact on ordinary folk is bearable.  It goes without saying that the immense goodwill shown by friends and strangers has restored one’s faith in humanity.

Of course, no one is entirely clear how long it will take to bring the pandemic to heel.  Most are now unhopeful that a vaccine will be created any time soon, if at all, and the best we can plan for is a slowing down of the death rate.  Indeed, new evidence that shows a much greater rate of infection than previously realised, suggests that the percentage of deaths to iinfections is actually smaller than first believed.  The likely scenario is that we will be living with a lingering virus that will continue to pick off weaker and more vulnerable members of the population for years to come.

However, the commentators and pet ideologues whose celebrity status has been interrupted by the termination of writers’ festivals and other collective talk fests, have taken to the web to ‘warn’ of the cultural impact of the virus.  It seems that the Covid Cow is worth milking if it can be used as yet another platform for advancing your view of the world. 

Yuval Harari is one such author of the bestselling Sapiens whose advocacy of a world without religion is twinned with his prediction that technology will make humans as we know them obsolete.  Ironically, given Harari’s Nietzschean outlook, he has become the go-to commentator on everything ‘human.’

 In his own words:  

"I think that Homo sapiens as we know them will probably disappear within a century or so, not destroyed by killer robots or things like that, but changed and upgraded with biotechnology and artificial intelligence into something else, into something different."

Nonetheless, Harari’s views on the response to Covid19 are so sought after that The Financial Times has made his article available free on its website:  “The World After Coronavirus”.

Perhaps it is the libertarian in him, but Harari regards Israel’s use of the mobile app to track people with Covid19, which has been successfully used to contain the infection rate in Asia, as a sinister grab for power by the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu.  The voluntary app has been taken up by 1.5 million Israelis, but this hasn’t stopped Harari from making the baseless and tendentious comparison to Israel’s Security Agency deploying surveillance technology to battle terrorists. 

Harari goes on to opine “Instead of building a surveillance regime, it is not too late to rebuild people’s trust in science, in public authorities and in the media.”  What proof does Harari have of a decrease in trust in any and all of these? In reality, the people’s voluntary adoption of a tracking app for Covid19 signals not only their trust in science and technology, but also in the public authorities and the media, which have kept them informed of the pandemic’s progress. 

Harari is concerned, he says, that “that data not be used to create an all-powerful government.”  But what indicators does he have that this is the aim? Democracies are, if anything, the most vulnerable they have ever been to attack from invisible sources, be they hacking on the dark web or infection by an invisible, deadly virus. Harari’s obsession with all powerful governments need look no further than China, which is lying about its rates of infection, punishes those who disclose it, and has no intention of allowing individuals to make “informed personal choices” if they do not conform to the PRC’s dogma.  

Since Harari is addressing responses to Covid19, and particularly those that rely on medieval conspiracies, I wonder why he did not use his considerable influence to write about the official position of the Palestinian Authority, which has trumpeted on its TV station and newspapers, that the Covid19 virus is perpetrated by Israel.  

Moreover, Harari’s disdain for anything that could be accused of prioritizing national interests, compels him to sound a false warning of the impact of Covid19: “The second important choice we confront is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity.” 

Harari seems unaware that the conversation has moved on from the ‘one world’ fantasy of either left wing ideologues or right wing economic rationalists.   He cannot accept the obvious fact that ‘global solidarity’ is a chimera, and that certain aspects of economic globalism have landed all the nations that sold out to China in the extremely vulnerable position they are now in.  It is a false dichotomy once again that Harari uses to oppose national interests to global ones.  They are not necessarily antithetical, they can and do work together, but they are not the same.

However, it is this line in Harari’s Financial Times article that beggars belief:  “China can teach the US many valuable lessons about coronavirus and how to deal with it.”  Oh really? China with its despicable practices in wild animal markets has caused Covid19 just as it caused SARS.   It re-opened those filthy and cruel markets, with the approval of WHO’s director, whose native country, Ethiopia, is indebted to China to the tune of multi billions of dollars.  

Only now that the largest contributor to WHO, the U.S., is pulling the plug, has the director mumbled pathetic promises to change his position on China’s so-called ‘wet markets.’  The chastisement probably won’t amount to much, just as the closure of those markets after SARS was only temporary.  I’m glad that our Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, has raised this matter with China very publicly.  

China’s welding shut the doors of apartment buildings in Wuhan (and who knows where else in the dozen other Chinese cities in lockdown) to keep people inside is hardly the kind of lesson any country that respects individual civil rights and the dignity of human life needs to learn.  Moreover, China’s under-reporting of cases is a well-known fact, and it is doubtful we will ever know the full scale of Covid19 deaths in the PRC.

What we do know is that the failure of the UN and WHO in so many human rights issues around the world was never more evident than when, in 2017, the current head of WHO, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said he was “honoured to announce that President Mugabe has agreed to serve as a goodwill ambassador placing universal health coverage and health promotion at the center of its policies to provide health care.”  Robert Mugabe, the ruthless Dictator of Zimbabwe, was responsible for the destruction of a once prosperous country, crushing its democracy and brutalizing its human rights activists.  If Mugabe (d 2019), whose racism and cruelty were legion, was the poster boy of globalism as represented by WHO and its parent organization, the UN, then it is time to ditch those once honourable organizations that have turned into their opposite, and imagine a new way forward for the world.  That way forward is not likely to be illuminated by the sloppy thinking of Yuval Harari and the lessons he draws from Covid19.