Our Western leadership has failed miserably at managing the risks of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Not one government in Europe or the Americas can claim a single success in protecting their populations not only from the pandemic but also from the consequences of their botched lockdown measures. The bumbling, stumbling farce that has become our government reactions could be likened to the Keystone Kops: falling all over themselves, frenetically failing and getting up to trip once again. For my 2020 year-end review, I am cataloguing many of the KeystoneCorona crises caused by the failure of our authorities to implement basic risk management tools.
Part 9 of this series looks at how the Docilian fear of the future, of change and uncertainty and how these actors have set the cultural narrative for a nostalgic yearning for the past. Western societies have stumbled for almost a year trying to bring their populations back to some ideal of “normal”. Industry leaders are innovating and developing technologies to lead us out of the chaos of corona; meanwhile our “leaders” are trying to delegitimise them – “normal” is in some mythical past and it seems the only way to get there is to denormalise the innovators.
Normal is good … I don’t like change. We need to go back. This is the Docilian mantra that has embraced the precautionary principle and dismissed innovations and uncertain disruptive technologies for the last 20 years. The COVID-19 pandemic has left this population helpless and terrified. And Western leaders have promised them everything would soon be back to normal. Really?
There is a dominant cultural narrative in most European and North American societies that abhors change and reverts to the mean. Any innovative solution needs a certain adaptive stage, often slow and not linear … and quite often interfered by the gravitational pull of normal. Disruption is often painful to the risk averse and is confronted by the force of conservatism and nostalgia. When the COVID-19 coronavirus disrupted Europe, the first question was: When can we get back to normal?
Normal is in the Past Perfect
The Western precautionary narrative has another concept of normal: the time before technologies destroyed the world with their pollution, carbon dioxide, waste, over-population, depletion of the soil and biodiversity losses. For these neo-Malthusians, science and technology, the industrial revolution, agri-technology and development have led to climate change, over-population, destruction of the planet and mass extinction. And now this innovatech exploitation of the planet has led to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is time for a “reset” back in time.
These are dark times to be a Risk-Monger.
It was quite expected that the precautionistas would use the coronavirus to attempt to ban any technologies and practices they hated (never let a good crisis go to waste). Early on in the lockdowns all sorts of roaches were coming out of the woodwork claiming COVID-19 was caused by climate change, intensive farming, 5G, GMO animal feed, Bill Gates, deforestation, livestock farming, and my favourite, glyphosate. Yes… Stephanie Seneff found a locality in the US where glyphosate was used and where there was a high level of COVID-19 infections so there was only one solution to save humanity… And if you find the lockdowns unpleasant, then the solution of course is to ban these technologies and go back to simpler times (or you’ll be locked down again).
Since the time of Chicken Little, there have always been irrational scaremongers, but now we find Western governments at best tolerating their claims and at worst, joining in on the blame-game. The UN even got involved in the game. The US government, for a time, was putting forward the conspiracy theory that the coronavirus was created in a Chinese lab to destroy the West. Rather than promoting the achievements of science (and the remarkable advances of virology), we see European regulators attacking and bullying pharmaceutical companies. At a time of economic crisis, we see our leaders putting forward Green Deals that will encumber our ability to survive. The New Normal is a longing to return to the old ways.
Adapt or go Extinct
My previous article presented the world as a polar dichotomy of wolves and sheep. Wolves manage risks, innovate and seek to solve problems. Sheep run from uncertainty and apply precaution to prevent technologies that may cause harm from developing. The shepherds (government) give the sheep what they believe they want and attack the wolves.
Risk management finds means to adapt to uncertainties, reduce exposures to potential harm while enjoying the benefits innovative technologies may bring. It is built on the premise that advancement and progress, although not perfect, are what has given humanity its greatest achievements but along the way we need to adapt, continuously improving our systems and correcting any failures. It is how a child learns to walk, how any skill is learnt, how any marriage survives. This mentality allows humanity to solve problems like food security, provide affordable low carbon energy or safety from the elements. It is this spirit that brought forward innovative vaccines in record time using synthetic biology to manage a pandemic.
In contrast to this, the docilian mindset looks to the past, seeking to remove any uncertainties and return to the past, known and idealised. It is built on the precautionary principle that prevents any technologies that involve uncertainties from being allowed to be exposed to humans or the environment. If you cannot prove that something is 100% safe and risk-free, precautionary measures must be applied to stop the technology, products or practices. This mindset rests on a Romantic philosophy that the past is better than the future and in order to get to this elevated state, we need to remove any disruptions that had generated uncertainty. Remove nuclear energy. Remove chemicals and pesticides. Remove cars, meat and plastic packaging.
Once removed, we can go back to previous times before the curse of abnormality disrupted all that was perceived as good. Remove pesticides and restore farming to the pre-industrial (Steinerian) time. Remove plastics and we’ll go back to wood and paper. We need to denormalise the oil industry in order to pursue a renewable energy strategy. The chemical industry has been denormalised in the EU to the point that any chemical innovation will never pass the regulatory minefields established by the hazard-based legislation. Seed breeding? No thank you. We prefer the heirloom seeds our grandparents grew.
Worse is how infectious the precaution disease is. There is a belief in many Western countries that change only comes when dominant narratives can be delegitimised (removed from accepted social norms – hence denormalised). Scientists and innovators are looked on not only with suspicion, but also contempt. When a new technology or process that provides enormous societal benefits also provides significant wealth for the inventors and entrepreneurs, the docilian disgust against any good fortune goes beyond jealous animosity. The Western cultural narrative is moving against capitalism, against globalism and against technology (while still enjoying the benefits). Even the World Economic Forum is talking about a Great Capitalist Reset, but that is because some bean counters spotted an opportunity.
This social justice open-minded revolution relies on a narrow-minded definition of empowerment which involves disempowering those who have succeeded (see an earlier article). Their cancel culture is bent on cancelling out our industrial icons. Bill Gates is vilified for funding research in plant genetics and vaccines. I was horrified to read the invectives against Jeff Bezos trending on twitter on the day he announced he was stepping down as Amazon CEO. The man who revolutionised logistics and allowed small businesses to reemerge from the ashes of big-box retail is detested for creating a more efficient retail system. The hypocrisy here is stunning. At a time when Bezos and Gates’ inventions and philanthropy (through vaccines and logistics) are doing more to protect Western economies than any government, the docilian mob is hammering their humanitarianism with their hatred. And these two are now concentrating an immense part of their wealth on climate solutions. How dare they!
Keystone Kops to the Rescue?
It’s a good thing our KeystoneCorona authorities are standing up to the public outrage, defending these inventors and the technologies while recognising their service in preventing mass chaos caused by their lockdowns.
Well, … No!
The increasing number of anti-capitalist witch-hunts sanctioned by Western governments over the last few years have been alarming. Our authorities are in fact leading the delegitimation of innovators, inventors and industry leaders. Going back to normal for them implies denormalising those finding solutions and creating opportunities that veer from this nostalgic ideal. Take for example:
- Ursula’s Green Death. The present European Commission cabinet is obsessed with its Green Deal strategy that it hopes will reframe innovation and industry toward expensive environmental totems. Industry is expected to only use “non-toxic chemicals” (…?) and food production needs to be organic This is a clear condemnation of the last 70 years of industrial innovation and progress. At a time when the coronavirus has decimated European economies and imposed true hardship upon its citizens, shouldn’t our authorities focus on unleashing the innovative capacity of technology leaders rather than handcuffing them with luxury demands from the affluent ideologues? Not if the goal of our leadership is to delegitimise industry.
- Joe Biden’s planned shutdown of the fossil fuel industry. Most of US President Biden’s first executive orders have been to hit back at industry. While this earns him a superficial favour with the left wing of his party, any transition will take time he pretends we don’t have. Biden should be focusing on how energy is being consumed, by whom and at what cost rather than hurting companies integral to the transition (like BP and Enbridge) and supporting idealistic white elephants that may never contribute to our carbon reduction challenges.
- Jeff Bezos’ retirement as CEO from Amazon. Despite the innovations and benefits from rationalising the supply chain, despite lowering costs and increasing choice to consumers, despite the unique products and inventions used daily by billions and despite enabling global populations to survive during a year of lockdowns, Jeff Bezos has become a character much reviled by activists and authorities. Many speculate that Bezos’ decision to step down at this moment in time has been influenced by the prospect of having to attend useless government hearings and committees with regulators in Brussels and Washington trying to score points with the precautionista mob. It is no surprise Jeff would rather spend his time inventing than preventing a breakup of his company.
- Breaking up BigTech. Bezos is not alone in his disdain towards the great unwashed challenging the innovative culture of technology firms. Regulators from Washington to Brussels to Beijing have begun acting against BigTech, threatening to break some of the firms up, not because of monopolistic practices, but because their innovations and technologies have become too popular and profitable. With the ability to manipulate the media today, activists are easily dictating policy (it is morbidly ironic that social media companies have provided the tools for campaigns to dismantle social media companies). And the activist stories are about as nonsensical as they are unethical. Take for example the recent article by agroecologist activists that BigTech is working with BigAg and BigChem to destroy the little farmer. Complete nonsense, but … “The bigger the lie…“.
- EU attacks on AstraZeneca. European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, lost any last shred of credibility with the botched threats against the COVID-19 vaccine producer for not providing more vaccines. But the EU were incapable of signing procurement contracts in time, incapable to approve the AstraZeneca vaccine in a timely manner and unable to understand the Brexit agreement they had just signed with the United Kingdom. As many are starting to notice, this mismanagement has become an embarrassing fiasco. To hide their incompetence, the European Commission thought they could browbeat industry into submission. AstraZeneca, whose innovations and production capacity should have been commended, were polite to the EU’s baseless bully attempts. (Not that anyone in Brussels has thought to mention but the company is producing and distributing hundreds of millions of vaccines at cost.)
- EU policy of refusing to meet with industry. The AstraZeneca fiasco could have been avoided if the two parties had simply consulted each other. I have been informed that the von der Leyen Commission has a new policy of forbidding its civil servants from meeting directly with industry actors (except via trade associations). The absurdity of this policy is that industry trade associations represent the consensus – the lowest common denominator. If Commission officials have been barred from meeting with the industry leaders they now have no means to directly be aware of their solutions. I suspect this delegitimation policy toward the innovators and inventors does not apply to other stakeholders (those who lobbied for this exclusion). Companies and entrepreneurs who can solve important problems, provide technologies to benefit and transform society have been made into pariahs, denormalised, deplatformed and literally cancelled by European authorities.
- European Parliament Monsanto hearing. When Monsanto decided not to participate in an activist-staged show trial during the glyphosate reauthorisation process, the European Parliament voted to deny the company the right to participate in the European consultative process. This was a shameful early exhibition of anti-industry cancel culture, a censorship (sorry: “deplatforming”) performed not by some activist shills but by elected EU authorities.
- The European Union proudly funds NGOs who attack industry. The Risk-Monger has highlighted how millions of European taxpayer euros have been given away without scrutiny, transparency or justification to anti-innovation, anti-trade technophobic NGOs like Friends of the Earth, HEAL, the Transnational Institute and EPHA. That these single-minded zealots then turn around and secretly give this money to even less transparent feral NGOs like GMWatch or Corporate Europe Observatory beggars belief. If one wonders where the small minority of precautionista fear-mongering, chemophobia and naturopathy comes from, one need only look to the European Commission irresponsibly funding groups that obstruct innovation, trade and development.
There is good reason that the Risk-Monger’s logo is a witch holding a test-tube in Salem, Massachusetts. In reality that witch is in Brussels, Paris, London or Washington and the hunt is on. But here is the question: Is this outrage against industry led by Western governments or is it in response to very loud social media campaigns by cunning activist groups (… paid by these governments)? In any case, the authorities are showing poor judgement, poor risk management capacity and poor leadership.
The Promise of Normal
If we are looking for normal, normal ain’t coming back. But our KeystoneCorona governments are promising just that to their frightened populations. Meanwhile, innovators, scientists and entrepreneurs are busy solving problems, looking to adapt to the evolutions a future post-corona world will bring; moving forward, not backward to some naturopathic nostalgia. The stock prices of these innovative companies is going up (and the sheep are even angrier).
While this “return to normal” may reassure those suffering with the belief that the ‘good ol days’ will come back, it does not inspire. Western countries have governments led by bookkeepers and consensus wonks, lacking the courage to take hard decisions and the leadership skills to inspire. Sheep don’t follow shepherds but are herded together out of fear. A leader sets a goal, ideal or objective to aim for. So where are our leaders? Read Jeff Bezos’ letter to his Amazonians on the day he stepped down as CEO – pure inspiration, insight and leadership. Western authorities and activists have contempt for such vision, for such hunger to invent and innovate. For them the future is to march backwards … to some mythical “normal”.
I would love to live in a country that offered our most ingenious innovators the opportunity to invent and disrupt, to unleash the creativity and technology humanity has been known for to create a better society. I would love to live in a country where governments trusted their people to find solutions and rightfully reward them. I would love to live in a country where no one would tolerate the attacks of an angry mob on innovators and inventors who have provided us with such incredible social benefits. I would love to live in a country with the capacity to manage risks rather than manage away the solutions we desperately need.
I’m afraid I won’t find that in any Western countries, fast becoming docilian paradises powered by past-yearning precautionistas.