Even before COVID-19 arrived in the United States, it was apparent that in deploying the virus as a propagandistic parry against China, conservatives and liberals alike would make matters worse by imposing an opportunity cost. By crowding the social space with saber-rattling, the United States would fail to take notes about the outbreak and China’s responses pro and con—so as to make adequate and internationally teamed preparations.
Certainly it’s a bipartisan miscalculation borne more out of structural decay than mere hubris or bad data, but the problem extends across the sweep of respectable politics. These broader cultural pathologies, entwined into the literal pathologies of the pandemic, are on full digital peacock display beyond Chang and his ilk. The near entirety of the chatter sphere manifests a primal incapacity to adapt a holistic social and ecological perspective. Little subtle, flexible, and capacious thought—capable of encapsulating both the technical-policy-public health sphere of prevention and prophylaxis and the social-ecological-civilizational domain of responding to the problem from the bottom up—is on offer. No one is caught dead taking the lead of the world’s most affected dispossessed, who might know something about such thinking.
One instead traces a long arc of incompetence, reductionism, social triage, capitalist Mad Hatter logic, technicist tomfoolery, and rank opportunism. From the privatized right to the public left, influencers political and academic have been studiously incapable of responding to the crisis. Against all notions of political ecology, the pandemic is a “Chinese virus” on the right wing or an “act of God” on the left, removing off the board any notion of refounding our agrarian practices or the other modes of social reproduction that together drove the emergence of COVID-19.