The Nation (Nigeria)

The anti-vax death cult in America: the latest terminal crisis of capitalism in this epoch?

- •Biodun Jeyifo bjeyifo@fas.harvard.edu

IN the still evolving encounter of the world with the traumas and tragedies of Covid-19, one thing makes the United States rather unique among all the nations of the world and it is this: America is the only country in the world that has an over-supply of vaccines that have proved effective against the virus that causes and spreads the pandemic across the globe. Permit me to slightly rephrase this fact: the vaccines have proved to be hugely, hugely effective against Covid-19 and America has produced the vaccines in quantities far beyond what the population of 330 million needs for complete and effective vaccinatio­n of everybody. However, millions of Americans are refusing to be vaccinated. Indeed, from what was previously called “vaccine hesitancy”, millions of Americans have moved to complete “vaccine rejectioni­sm”. This is why what I am calling an “anti-vax death cult” has appeared, again so far only in America. Right now, as I write these words, a solid 95% of all deaths from Covid-19 in the country are made up of

unvaccinat­ed Americans. This is why I call it a “death cult”: people are aware of this fact that being unvaccinat­ed could lead to death, but they are supremely indifferen­t to the specter of the death that haunts them if they remain unvaccinat­ed.

In this piece, I will be arguing that this “anti-vax death cult” marks what might eventually prove to be a terminal crisis of global capitalism in America, its heartland and center of gravity. This is not yet an evident or palpable historical fact at this point in time. As a matter of fact, global capitalism has gone through at least about three crises in the past one hundred and fifty years that seemed “terminal”, only for global capitalism to reemerge and reconstitu­te itself. For this reason, in this piece, I will be somewhat circumspec­t and rather provisiona­l in my exploratio­n of the idea that the move from “vaccine hesitancy” to “vaccine rejectioni­sm”, together with the emergence of the “antivax death cult”, marks the beginning of a terminal crisis of global capitalism. For this reason, before I get to this central argument, I find it useful to make some general but cogent observatio­ns concerning both the politics and the

economics of anti-covid-19 vaccine production and use in America and the world.

At the most elementary level, the outstandin­g economic fact of antipandem­ic vaccine production in the world is over-supply in America and drastic, desperate shortages and undersuppl­y in virtually all the other parts of the world, including some of the richest countries in the world like France and Japan, to cite only two examples. Is America that much richer than all other countries of the world that it can produce far more than its population needs while the rest of the world, with perhaps the exception of Israel, is wallowing in under-supply and shortages? The answer is, No, America is not that much, much wealthier than every other country in the world. What America has that most of the other countries do not have is a capacity for

deficit spending far beyond the capacity of every other country in the world. In other words, this humungous capacity for deficit spending is what gave America the means to produce so much anti-pandemic vaccines that millions of its peoples can afford the “luxury” to refuse to be vaccinated while billions of people around the world are desperatel­y clamoring for the selfsame “oversupple­d” vaccines. In Africa especially, what wouldn’t we give to have access to the vaccines that Americans in their millions are rejecting? Please, remember that this is, literally, a matter of life and death.

That, in a nutshell, is the economics of the global structure of anti-pandemic vaccine production and use. But what of the politics? In plain language, what kind of politics is it that neutralize­s the

economic capacity – through deficit spending – to produce vaccines on a colossal scale only to be followed by people moving from “vaccine hesitancy” to complete “vaccine rejectioni­sm”? It is a politics of a negativity that is so extreme that millions of people are willing to pay the ultimate price of their own deaths. For this much is as stark as it is immensely confoundin­g in the politics of the “antivax death cult” in America: all the states, municipali­ties and rural communitie­s in the country that are in the throes of “vaccine rejectioni­sm” are Republican controlled and dominated. Indeed, most of them are in the Southern and Midwestern heartlands that constitute the base of the American “Trumpworld” – Alabama, Mississipp­i, Tennessee, Idaho, South Dakota, Missouri, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, etc., etc.

“I Reject Injection Mandates!”, so screams the poster of a protesting vaccine rejectioni­st in Oklahoma. Fox News has relentless­ly and loudly waged a war of attrition against Democrats and Republican­s who are campaignin­g against vaccine hesitancy and rejectioni­sm. Indeed, in some states, public health officials who have been zealous in trying to make their people take the vaccine have been fired from their jobs unceremoni­ously. Compatriot­s, did you hear of this one in which lotteries were floated to lure people into being vaccinated by the hope of winning jackpots like a million-dollar cash bonanza, full and free tuition for a four-year college education, and a fully paid vacation trip to Disneyworl­d? These gambits worked for a while and there was hope that gradually but eventually, the whole adult population of the country would be vaccinated. But then it began to dawn on the section of the American public that was not against vaccinatio­n, that had in fact been already vaccinated, it began to dawn on them that even the specter of their own deaths was not enough for the vaccine rejectioni­sts to relent in their ultra-radical refusal of vaccinatio­n. On this note, let us now go back to the main subject of this piece, this being “the antireject­ionists vax death cult” as a symptom of a terminal crisis of global capitalism in the present epoch.

To choose death when there is every possibilit­y, every hope that it can be avoided is an act of existentia­l insurrecti­on, perhaps the most insurrecti­onary act in individual and collective human existence. It is a clear and unambiguou­s declaratio­n that given this life, this particular kind or mode of life, one would rather die than live - if it comes to choosing between them. Of course, in a literal sense, it is not the case that everyone who contacts Covid-19 dies. As a matter of fact, more than 97% survive, though in varying degrees of lingering or lasting comorbidit­y. All the same, about 95% of those who die from the coronaviru­s pandemic now in America are unvaccinat­ed people. This means that of those who will unfortunat­ely die from infection by the virus, now and in the future, the overwhelmi­ng majority are and will be the unvaccinat­ed. This means that to continue to stay unvaccinat­ed in America where there is an over-supply of vaccines is to choose, willingly choose, the possibilit­y of death, that is to say, choose death over the present mode of the organizati­on of collective life. If this is the case, the crucial question is this: what is it about the present organizati­on of collective life in America that is making millions all over the country to choose probable death from the coronaviru­s pandemic over life? And why is this a symptom of a terminal crisis in global capitalism?

As I stated earlier in this discussion, my response to these questions will be provisiona­l, tentative. There is the economics of the vast over-supply of the vaccines, far in excess of all the other countries of the world. And then, there is the politics of the millions of rejectioni­sts of the vaccines, this in a global context in which, as a mater of fact, there is an under-production and under-supply of vaccines for the pandemic for the rest of the world. Note please, that the politics is extraordin­arily militant and insurrecti­onary: the refuseniks and are not merely voicing their rebellion, they are shouting it from the rooftops, they are marching in the streets, they are demonstrat­ing in townhalls, county headquarte­rs and municipal capitols. They are making it absolutely clear that their refusal, their rejection of vaccines is part and parcel of rejection of what the Democrats are doing to America, what liberal democracy itself is doing to their country and the rest of the world. In their thinking which, by the way, is very loudly shouted to the whole world, the Democrats and liberal democracy are no longer working for them; and the future that both the Democrats and liberal democracy are building will relegate them, the Republican “nation”, to the margins of society and even existence itself. Their response to this threat, this nightmaris­h fear and dread is - we must get rid of the Democrats and liberal democracy!

Tentativel­y and provisiona­lly, I am suggesting that on at least one count, the “anti-vax death cult” of the Republican formation of contempora­ry American politics is absolutely correct, even if it is also a profoundly neofascist movement: at this moment in world history, the Democratic Party of the US is the last stronghold of the survival of liberal democracy as the ultimate guarantor of the durability of global capitalism. It is fighting, fighting desperatel­y for massive economic redistribu­tion of wealth and resources in America; and it is fighting, fighting day and night to save the electoral system by maintainin­g and expanding voting rights for everybody, especially the most deprived and excluded members of the society and polity. Incidental­ly, these struggles are not merely symptomati­c, as I am primarily insisting in this discussion; they are also concrete and urgent. Indeed, in less than three months from now, we will be in a position to be witnesses to either the success or failure of the first series of massive redistribu­tion of wealth and resources that the Democrats are attempting. This is because, as I write these words, Congress is about to vote on two bills that are bigger than any other legislatio­n in American legislativ­e and political history in benefits to the working class and the poor. And in about slightly over a year from now, the first of the electoral cycles that will enable us to know whether or not liberal democracy will survive in America will take place.

But I still maintain that it is as the symptom of a terminal crisis of global capitalism that we can most productive­ly see the anti-vax death cult that is keeping millions of Americans from getting vaccinated against the coronaviru­s. Mass hunger, poverty, and insecurity, all causing the deaths of millions have been around now for at least the five decades of neoliberal­ism, but they did not produce a cult of death in any country in the world, least of all the United States. Super hurricanes, floods, forest fires and tsunamis, all products of global warming caused by over-exploitati­on of nature and the environmen­t, these have been around now for almost a half century and still no death cults have arisen in their wake. And there is also this hugely significan­t historical fact of contempora­ry global politics: authoritar­ian political and cultural movements are no longer confined to the developing world of the global South; for many decades now, they have appeared and flourished in virtually all parts of the world. In this general context, the appearance of a global pandemic with a death cult in the heartland of global capitalism marks a symptom that we cannot ignore. For in the end, it is not only the possibilit­y of their own deaths that the vaccine rejectioni­sts of America are indifferen­t to; they are alo indifferen­t to the deaths of millions of others, in America itself and across the whole globe. Isn’t this symptomati­c of a terminal crisis of global capitalism itself?

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 ??  ?? •A group of American Anti-vax protestors
•A group of American Anti-vax protestors

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