Random Retweets: Pandemic mitigation.

datePosted on 14:35, November 15th, 2021 by Pablo

Introduction.

I have recently seen a trend whereby people turn their twitter ruminations into op eds and even semi-scholarly essays such as those featured on Spinoff, Patreon or The Conversation. It makes sense to develop ideas from threads and maximise publication opportunities in the process, especially for academics operating in a clickbait environment that has now crept into scholarly journals. I am not immune from the thread-to-essay temptation, although I have tended to do that on my work page and stick to subjects more pertinent to my work because the twitter account I use is a business rather than personal one.

With that in mind and because I have not posted here for a while, I thought it opportune to edit and repurpose some twitter thoughts that I have shared on the subject of what might be called the security politics of Covid mitigation in New Zealand. Below I have selected, cut and pasted some salient edited tweets along that analytic line.

Security aspects of pandemic politics.

There are traditional national security threats like armed physical attack by external/internal enemies. There are non-traditional national security threats like rising sea levels and disasters. Anti-vaxxers are a non-traditional national security threat that must be confronted.

Social media is where state and non-state actors (criminal organisations, extremist groups) link with local agitators in order to combine resources for common purpose. Viral dis-/misinformation and influence campaigns designed to socially destabilise and politically undermine public faith in and support for liberal democracies like NZ are an example of such hand-in-glove collaboration. If left unchecked it can lead to mass public disorder even when seemingly disorganised (e.g. by using “leaderless resistance” tactics). This growing “intermestic” or “glocal” threat needs to be prioritised by the NZ intel community because otherwise social cohesion is at risk. On-line seditious saboteurs must be identified, uncovered and confronted ASAP. That includes “outing” the foreign-local nexus, to include state and non-state actor connections.

If people are going to complain about Chinese influence operations in NZ, then they would do good to complain about US alt-Right/QAnon influence operations in NZ as well. Especially when the latter is manifested in the streets as anti-vac/anti-mask protests. The difference between them? PRC influence operations attempt to alter the NZ political system from within. US alt-Right/QAnon influence operations seek to subvert it from without. Both are authoritarian threats to NZ’s liberal democracy.

In the war against a mutating virus initially of foreign origin NZ has a 5th column: anti-vax/maskers, religious charlatans, Deep State and other conspiracy theorists, economic maximisers, venal/opportunistic politicians, disinformation peddlers and various selfish/stupid jerks. Their subversion of a remarkably effective pandemic mitigation effort should be repudiated and sanctioned as strongly as the law permits. Zero tolerance of what are basically traitors to the community is now a practical necessity (along with a 90% vaccination rate). Plus, as a US-NZ dual citizen who had his NZ citizenship application opposed by some hater, I would like to know who let in the rightwing Yank nutters now fomenting unrest over masks/vaxes/lockdowns/mandates etc. They clearly do not meet the good character test.

A counter-terrorism axiom is that the more remote the chances of achieving an ideological goal, the more heinous will be the terrorist act. Anti-vax and conspiracy theorists using Nazi/holocaust analogies to subvert democratic pandemic mitigation strategies are akin to that.

Long-term community well-being requires commitment to collective responsibility and acceptance of individual inconvenience in the face of a serious public health threat. It is part of the democratic social contract and should not be usurped for partisan or personal gain. Elephant in the room: when cultural mores contradict and undermine public health scientific advice but for political reasons cannot be identified as such. If true, partisan-focused approaches to Covid is not just an Opposition sin. The virus does not see culture or tradition. Anti-vax/mask views are no excuse to violate public health orders. Likewise economic interest, leisure pursuits, religious or secular beliefs no matter how deeply held. Ergo, cultural practice cannot override the public good. Collective responsibility is a democratic obligation.

Those that set the terms of debate tend to win the debate. In politics, those that frame the narrative on a subject, tend to win the debates about it. By announcing a “Freedom Day” the govt has conceded the debate about pandemic mitigation. The issue is not about human freedom. It is about managing public health risk in pursuit of the common good. Using “freedom” rhetoric injects ideology into what should be an objective debate about prudent lockdown levels given uneven vaccination rates, compliance concerns, mental health and economic issues. Bad move.

14 Responses to “Random Retweets: Pandemic mitigation.”

  1. Pablo on December 15th, 2020 at 15:59

    Thanks Jim.
    Good point about PRC versus US-originated influence campaigns. I would note one thing and add another. 1) The US version no longer originates from the top of the USG but it did until Biden was inaugurated. And people in Trump circles like Bannon are directly linked to NZ agitators via Counterspin and other disinformation outlets. Factor in the pernicious influence of US rightwing media on NZ media (as well as Murdoch outlets in OZ and the UK) and audience perceptions, and the “cultural” impact is significant. 2) I hinted at the Russian connection with my allusions to state/non-state actor linkages. Think “Cozy Bear,” one of the GRU units who operate in the disinformation/psyops space.

    PRC influence efforts are directed at its own expats and dissidents, placing individuals in strategically high value positions, controlling Mandarin language media and shaping the narrative about the PRC in NZ as a whole. In contrast and as is to be expected from a CCP United Front operation, it is very top-down in focus, whereas the US-based subversion effort is more focused on fomenting bottom-up social unrest and turning civil disobedience into civil resistance. As per the Bannon playbook.

    On the clickbait-in-academia issue, do you know about the scandal at Third World Quarterly over the “colonialism was good” article? It got published in spite of serious methodological, theoretical and argumentative flaws that some referees noted as grounds for rejection but was published anyway because the editor knew that a controversial piece like that would drive more clicks to the journal site. He succeeded (it is one of the most viewed on-line “scholarly” articles of all time), but he destroyed the journal’s reputation in doing so and saw a significant number of its Editorial Board and many referees resign in protest. That Editor is gone but the drive to attract on-line clicks is now endemic in NZ academic publishing (to say nothing of the impact of PBRF and other funding schemes on local academic clickbait publication trends) and, with notable exceptions like World Politics and International Security, elsewhere as well. Heck, I still get job requests from people who cite things like “The Journal of Subaltern Studies” and “Autoethnographic Review” as part of their CVs!

  2. Jim Rolfe on November 15th, 2021 at 15:27

    Good points.
    1.I’m amazed that very few of the full time scholarships I know seem to be working on refereed journal articles or books. But they mostly seem to have time for instant analysis op eds and blogs.
    2. I guess the other difference between Chinese and US derived influence operations is that the Chinese ones are from the CCP (if we are to believe the commentators) whereas the Q Anon/alt right are from popular culture. And perhaps more insidious as a result.

  3. Edward Main on November 15th, 2021 at 16:19

    Hola Pablo

    In the above post, would you please consider replacing the general term ” Anti-vaxer ” with a more specific description ” anti COVID vaxer?”

    This seems quite a heavy post for you!

  4. Pablo on November 15th, 2021 at 16:19

    Thanks Jim.
    Good point about PRC versus US-originated influence campaigns. I would note one thing and add another. 1) The US version no longer originates from the top of the USG but it did until Biden was inaugurated. And people in Trump circles like Bannon are directly linked to NZ agitators via Counterspin and other disinformation outlets. Factor in the pernicious influence of US rightwing media on NZ media (as well as Murdoch outlets in OZ and the UK) and audience perceptions, and the “cultural” impact is significant. 2) I hinted at the Russian connection with my allusions to state/non-state actor linkages. Think “Cozy Bear,” one of the GRU units who operate in the disinformation/psyops space.

    PRC influence efforts are directed at its own expats and dissidents, placing individuals in strategically high value positions, controlling Mandarin language media and shaping the narrative about the PRC in NZ as a whole. In contrast and as is to be expected from a CCP United Front operation, it is very top-down in focus, whereas the US-based subversion effort is more focused on fomenting bottom-up social unrest and turning civil disobedience into civil resistance. As per the Bannon playbook.

    On the clickbait-in-academia issue, do you know about the scandal at Third World Quarterly over the “colonialism was good” article? It got published in spite of serious methodological, theoretical and argumentative flaws that some referees noted as grounds for rejection but was published anyway because the editor knew that a controversial piece like that would drive more clicks to the journal site. He succeeded (it is one of the most viewed on-line “scholarly” articles of all time), but he destroyed the journal’s reputation in doing so and saw a significant number of its Editorial Board and many referees resign in protest. That Editor is gone but the drive to attract on-line clicks is now endemic in NZ academic publishing (to say nothing of the impact of PBRF and other funding schemes on local academic clickbait publication trends) and, with notable exceptions like World Politics and International Security, elsewhere as well. Heck, I still get job requests from people who cite things like “The Journal of Subaltern Studies” and “Autoethnographic Review” as part of their CVs!

  5. Pablo on November 15th, 2021 at 18:58

    Edward:

    Sorry, but respectfully no. I will not be drawn into a tree/forest issue that both confuses and hijacks the thrust of the post.

  6. Di Trower on November 16th, 2021 at 08:01

    A good analysis of the situation here in NA at present, Pablo – thank you. It’s heartening to to see the people at the centre of all of the unrest, and who they are associated with, being called out prominently at last. I fear it has come too late and much damage has been done that won’t be able to be undone. I do wonder if that is why there has been such an abrupt change to the Govt’s management of the pandemic as they realised the fake news had leaked out into the community and has become entrenched in certain communities – most of whom are the most vulnerable of succumbing to the virus. The disinformation seems to be everywhere and people who have “gone down the rabbit hole” so to speak, are full of righteous fervour and do not believe that there are former Neo-Nazis and others receiving funding support through the likes of Steve Bannon & Guo Wengui.
    On another note, I’ve been enjoying some of the creative ways people have been calling out the disinformation – this one to do with anti-vaxxers claiming that what is happening to them is akin to the Holocaust: https://www.theshovel.com.au/2021/10/14/anti-vaxxers-holocaust-guide/

  7. Edward Main on November 16th, 2021 at 09:04

    Hello Pablo. Thanks for your reply.

    Another line of thought is required.
    I have still yet to get my head around the context of this post.

  8. Pablo on November 16th, 2021 at 10:32

    Edward.

    I much appreciate your support for this blog so do not take the decision to deny your request lightly. I just do not want to get into discussion about finding the elm trees in a pine forest and then having things deteriorate from there. The post was about the security concerns about the resistance to the pandemic and the notion of collective responsibilities versus individual rights in liberal democracies when confronted with a national emergency. The tweets are rooted in my long history of reading and writing about democratic theory, authoritarianism, terrorism and intelligence matters as well as my concern that coverage of the seditious behaviour of the anti-mitigation crowd is shallow and incomplete.

    The context of the post was twofold: my noticing that we increasingly see “expert” commentary on security and other issues starting out as twitter threads and migrating into media outlets and quasi-academic online journals; and my posting on the business twitter account several tweets about the pandemic in light of public debates about the subject. I decided to follow the trend and put some collated and edited tweets on the pandemic into a KP blog post (rather than the more pretentious effort to get the cut and pastes into more “scholarly” publications). I left them more or less as is and in rough chronological order, hence some grammatical quirks and disjointedness owing to my having compiled a short essay out of several 140 character blurbs.

  9. James Green on November 16th, 2021 at 11:40

    I don’t see these issues as related, anti-vaxxers (I prefer a broader term: deniers) do not fall into the realm of a security issue. The analogy I would draw is with gun control in the US: lots of people needlessly die because gun control is very lax there, but that is less a security issue than a political rights issue.

    For deniers I see it as another political rights/freedoms issue. It’s about how much freedom of speech is tolerated, or rather freedom to lie and foment conspiracy. Personally I’d be for a bit more consequences on what people say, but I’m doubtful the majority of the country would agree with me on that so we carry on with the system we’ve got.

    An example: there was a recent study that tracked down 12 people as the most prolific denialist organisers, I think these are the types of people that should be in jail. There need to be consequences for this sort of behaviour, that wont change in the current liberal paradigm.

    In encountering the internet liberalism in general seems to be running up against its limits, new ways of thinking need to be developed.

    The 12: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/17/covid-misinformation-conspiracy-theories-ccdh-report

  10. Pablo on November 16th, 2021 at 11:55

    James:

    My concern is that foreign actors are linking up with domestic extremists under the guise of free speech and other supposed “absolute” rights afforded in liberal democracies with the purpose of undermining and subverting the social and political bases of that regime type. This is a stated goal of the Russians, who see liberal democracies as weak and corrupt, and is the implicit goal of the PRC, with its attempts to manipulate democratic societies via its influence campaigns. The goal is to use democratic freedoms against democracies themselves in order to shatter the social-political consensus on governance that is the foundation of that political form.

    It is now clear that Steve Bannon has his hooks into the anti-vax/mask/lockdown movement in Aotearoa. Perhaps Alex Jones does as well. In turn Bannon has direct links to the PRC and Russia and in fact receives funding and some degree of protection from them. Your parallel of the gun lobby fits well in that the Russians infiltrated the NRA on a political level along with assorted gun manufacturers, who then use the NRA as a front to scaremonger along racial, ethnic and other demographic and cultural fault lines in pursuit of weapons sales. Doing so has helped the polarisation of US society, undermine confidence in the political process, and thus subvert it from within.

    That is a security issue.

  11. Edward Main on November 17th, 2021 at 07:26

    I think of the security threats in terms of the mathematical Bell Curve.
    That is 66% of the general populace are within controllable norms so it is the 17.5% either side that are the extremists

    So does the NZ security apparatus have the resources to monitor these groups and what strategies ae in place to act decisively if and when required.
    Pablo… given your concerns about the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre royal commission.. perhaps not!

    Another angle is thought is one thing.. independent coherent thought is a quality to be admired whereas
    social agitation is NOW something else. Social media has given rise to the idea that everybody is allowed to say something .. that is a bad move

  12. Barbara Matthews on November 18th, 2021 at 10:45

    Yes, as the Guardian’s London based editor says it leads to “the stupidification of the public discourse.” We have too many, unqualified columnists and opinion writers spouting forth at the moment and being given column inches. It’s not just the great unwashed, it’s the irresponsible, “experts” on everything.

  13. Pablo on November 18th, 2021 at 16:01

    Barbara:

    All too often the media will uncritically take talking points from self-proclaimed experts or even completely unqualified people and make the basis for questioning government policy decisions. This has been very evident with the pandemic and the controversies surrounding what otherwise should be seen as a very successful public health campaign in the face of dangerous and highly infectious epidemic. It is disheartening to see bogus claims and hysterical critiques repeated on mainstream news. The op ed section of the Herald is a glaring case in point, but television and radio news are infected (pun intended) by this syndrome.
    Part of that is due to the clickbait syndrome and an obsession with generating controversy in order to attract more interest rather than a concern with reporting objective facts.

    Another contributing factor is that the media are cheapskates the it comes to paying for expert views. They think that people should be happy to have their mugs on TV, voices on radio or writings in newspapers because it gives them “brand exposure.” When experts ask for compensation for the time and effort put into preparing for interviews or writing editorials, they are often refused. As a result many stop doing interviews or writing Op Eds, which leaves the field open to self-promoting charlatans and unqualified opportunists who will talk for free about anything without having a true understanding of what they are talking about. But they get their faces, voices and writing in the media and therefore enhance their “brand.” Let’s just say that the coverage of terrorism in NZ media often suffers from this syndrome, but it extends to coverage of other subjects as well.

  14. Barbara Matthews on November 18th, 2021 at 16:46

    Pablo, I agree most heartily. More people need to call out stuff for what it actually is, social agitation, and disruption. It is calculated to destabilise and often poses as “I’m just giving you my innocent and honest opinion.” (That’s BS). Another strategy that can work is to make fun of such brokers. Unfortunately they have pretty thick skins.

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