Ethics, Propaganda and Civilization Part 1

    1. Taking Stock of Harm During Covid-19

    If civilizations were given scorecards to rate them comparatively on ethics, ours right now would rate very low in the justice scales of history—quite possibly among the worst. In the name of a virus whose lethality is orders of magnitude below that claimed by government and health authorities, civil liberties around the world are being rolled back decades. Whatever one might think about the true nature of the threat posed by this virus, this should surely raise red flags. British Columbia since June 2020 has been under rule by executive order thanks to Bill-19, which has the capacity to extend emergency powers indefinitely. That means the Premier and Cabinet can issue orders through the Lieutenant-Governor that have the force of law but with no constitutional checks or balances. The BC Ombudsperson has already issued a report on the Bill stating that, “It is important to note that the issue here is not whether the content of any particular order is wise or unwise,” observes the report. “Without legal authority to amend a statute, the minister cannot legitimately exercise that role, no matter how noble the purpose.”[1]

    Reports released by IDEA detail global abuses of democracy and human rights since the Covid lockdown. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

    As early as July 2020 a coalition of 11 pro-democracy groups released an alarming report, with 100 organizations as signatories, stating: “Some weak democracies and autocracies have suffered a particularly serious lurch towards more centralised power and repression.”[2] In its accompanying statement, “A Call to Defend Democracy,” the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) elaborated: “…even some democratically elected governments are fighting the pandemic by amassing emergency powers that restrict human rights and enhance state surveillance without regard to legal constraints, parliamentary oversight, or timeframes for the restoration of constitutional order. Parliaments are being sidelined, journalists are being arrested and harassed, minorities are being scapegoated…” etc.[3] Another IDEA report issued in December 2020 noted: “The COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to some of the processes of democratic reform observed before the pandemic, while entrenching or accelerating processes of democratic backsliding and deepening autocratization.”[4] This isn’t just a travesty given the sacrifices made by men and women of conscience in the past to safeguard democratic freedoms. It’s also a huge irony, considering all the attention paid to “social justice” in recent years—a time when identity politics has seen a boom period for the rights of formerly marginalized groups.

    The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom report on Covid lockdowns in Canada lists a litany of harms from government regulations. Image JCCF website.

    Every major study to date has concluded that lockdowns cause far more harm—and more deaths—than good.[5] As noted in Flying Blind, the report issued by the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedom, “On September 1, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published a study estimating that by June 13, Ontario alone had accumulated a backlog of 148,000 procedures that would take 84 weeks (7 years) to clear.” And that’s just the figures for a single province in Canada. The JCCF report adds: “…it is entirely reasonable to assume that 500,000 or more Canadians did not receive timely diagnostic procedures.”[6] Many will die waiting.

    This is before you consider the harm done by driving thousands of businesses into bankruptcy. Sociological studies of economic recessions demonstrate that the addiction and suicide rates rise sharply during such periods. In Canada, “lockdown measures introduced in March of 2020 increased unemployment from 5.6% in February to 13.7% by May, putting 2.7 million Canadians out of work.”[7] An economic impact report released in September 2020 by Yelp estimated that 163,735 US businesses had closed their doors by August 31, 2020. Of those, 60% — a total of 97,966 businesses — were permanent closures.[8] As quoted in the JCCF report, in a pre-COVID study at the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, Professor Ron Kneebone explained: “‘A one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate increases the suicide rate by 2.1 percent.’ The 8.1% increase in Canada’s unemployment rate, multiplied by 2.1, means a 17% increase in the suicide rate.”[9] In British Columbia the rate of opioid overdose increased by 52% over the same period in 2019, a loss of 1,068 lives between January 1 and August 31, 2020. “Meanwhile, only 208 British Columbians died with COVID-19 during this eight-month period, less than one fifth of the number of opioid deaths.”[10] The director of the US Centers for Disease Control, Robert Redfield, admitted in July 2020: “We’re seeing, sadly, far greater suicides now than we are deaths from Covid. We’re seeing far greater deaths from drug overdose, that are above excess, than we had as background, than we are seeing deaths from Covid.”[11] Yet this had zero impact on US government Covid policies, nor of Canada’s.

    Consequently, leading physicians, scientists, economists and infectious disease specialists have been calling for an end to lockdowns. David R. Henderson, an economist with the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, argued to “end lockdowns now” as early as May 2020.[12] While other experts may disagree, it’s hard to argue with the tidal wave of misery that lockdown policies have unleashed around the globe. No one is saying that Covid deaths aren’t equally tragic, merely that they do not represent truly pandemic scale mortality. To cause more harm in order to combat a virus with a 0.26% Infection Fatality Rate is unconscionable.

    So how on Earth did we end up in such a state? And is there a way back to sanity?

    1. Propaganda in the 21st Century

    Canadian author John Ralston Saul, whose book Voltaire’s Bastards is a must read. Image courtesy author website.

    “It is hardly surprising that those who hold power should attempt to control the words and language people use. Determining how individuals communicate is the best chance rulers have to control what they think. Clumsy men try to do this through violence and fear. Heavy-handed men running heavy-handed systems attempt the same thing through police-enforced censorship. The more sophisticated the elites, the more they concentrate on creating integrated intellectual systems which control expression through the communications structures.” —John Ralston Saul[13]

    As Carl Jung pointed out, every aspect of human nature has its shadow side. The emergence of repressive “cancel culture” in the “woke” movement has made this painfully clear, with social justice warriors turning from peaceful advocates to angry storm troopers hell-bent on retribution. Buddhist teacher Roshi Joan Halifax has coined the term “pathological altruism” to describe this kind of runaway activist syndrome.[14] It’s that point where activists become so obsessed with their cause they lose their balance, their spiritual grounding, and begin harming first themselves and then others. This has gone hand in hand with an intensification of the use of propaganda in media on a scale that almost makes Orwell’s 1984 look tame by comparison. If we’re to have any hope of preserving the hard-won gains of our civil rights and freedoms into the future, we need to examine both the state of our ethics and our capacity for critical thinking. Fortunately, great thinkers have gone before us to illuminate principles that will aid us in both endeavours.

    Philosopher Socrates defined the process of intellectual inquiry by questioning 2,400 years ago. Image public domain.

    Some 2,400 years ago, the philosopher Socrates provided us with a first-rate intellectual tool kit for discerning truth through the fog of obfuscation and manipulation. In the Socratic method, questions are asked continually until a contradiction is exposed, thus proving the fallacy of the initial assumption. One way to summarize this might be: Answer an answer with a question until the truth emerges. The Sixties expression “Question everything” effectively captures the essence of the Socratic method. The Socratic method of inquiry is just as useful today, when health authorities contradict themselves constantly yet expect us to believe in their “answers” and supposed expertise. The point here is not to supply you with answers but to equip you to question what you’re being told so you can come to your own conclusions. (For specific examples see my essay “Questioning the Covid Narrative.”[15])

    Now let’s look at how it is that an entire population—with the exception of a small percentage of critical thinkers—could have been so easily swayed to accept this litany of abuses. The short answer: propaganda. By now it’s become something of a cliché to call what’s going on “Orwellian,” but unfortunately there’s no better descriptor for it. The media is now in full Orwellian “doublespeak,” or “newspeak” mode. In practical terms, if a news report says Covid cases are going up, in reality they’re probably going down. (Not to mention, the media never clarifies that “cases” don’t mean people who are sick, since something like 80 percent of those who test positive for Covid suffer no symptoms at all.) If the media says we’re in a second wave, the truth is that it doesn’t really exist. (Or that if health authorities had listened to immunological experts in the first place, and instead of locking down everyone had allowed natural transmission to take place as it does every flu season, the vast majority of us would have developed antibodies to Covid by now, the virus would have mutated as flu viruses always do, and we’d be onto something else.) If the media says the new Covid vaccines are “safe and effective,” read: unsafe, even potentially lethal, as daily increasing reports of severe adverse reactions and even deaths attest.[16] And so on.

    George Orwell not only laid out the blueprint for today’s dystopia but also exposed the fallacies used to perpetrate it. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

    Writing in the anthology 1984 and Philosophy: Is Resistance Futile?, Elizabeth Rard uses the satirical approach of a Ministry of Truth employee writing a handbook on how best to control the masses. What’s chilling is the degree to which the techniques she outlines have become a standard modus operandi for the media in just the two years since this book was published. Under the heading “Strategic Fallacy Deployment,” Rard lists five main techniques now in daily use:

    1) Ad Hominem attacks, “an excellent bit of manipulation because it allows you to counter anyone’s argument without even needing to engage the argument,”[17] simply by discrediting the speaker. We’ve seen this amped up particularly since the presidency of Donald Trump, with the effective “Orange Man Bad” meme closing peoples’ minds to anything he says before he even says it, though it’s been in use for as long as politics have been around. The same technique is now leveled against any doctor, nurse, scientist or infectious disease specialist who dares to contradict the mainstream Covid narrative, effectively committing career assassination, with the additional tactics of censorship removing them from view. “Conspiracy theorist” is another example of the Ad Hominem attack.

    2) The Straw Man argument, since, as Rard indicates, “the Ad Hominem will go a long way to dissuade people… but there is still a chance that some might be curious enough to overlook the repulsiveness of the man… We satisfy the curiosity of misguided citizens by presenting them with a version, albeit a bastardized version, of the position that they wish to comprehend.”[18] By over-simplifying or misrepresenting someone’s argument—especially if they’re not given the right of rebuttal—it’s easy to take them down. This has been used effectively through the “conspiracy theorist” and “anti-vaxxer” memes, which, through the self-reinforcing loop of Facebook “fact checkers” presents a distorted, “bastardized version” of the arguments such people present.

    3) Suppressed Evidence. This has been one of the main principles deployed by government and health authorities during the Covid crisis through the media. “This fallacy is committed when someone omits some piece of information that would, were it to be known, weaken their argument.”[19] For example, in April and May of 2020, both Canada’s chief medical authority Dr. Teresa Tam and her American counterpart Dr. Anthony Fauci admitted in televised interviews that face masks were ineffective in preventing viral transmission for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the peer-reviewed evidence doesn’t support the idea. By the fall of 2020, with the “second wave” supposedly washing over us, this position had changed to “masks are mandatory,” but with no explanation for the sudden reversal, much less any scientific evidence. Most people can accept that science is a collaborative effort subject to constant review and revision, but the fact that no attempt was made to justify the requirement reeks of something fishy. And in true Orwellian fashion, just as with the Ministry of Truth and its program of constantly rewriting history, these same videos were removed from the Internet.

    The anthology “1984 and Philosophy: Is Resistance Futile?” explores the implications of Orwell’s vision today.

    4) Special Use of Emotional Distraction (Appeal to Fear). Rard writes of another ancient philosopher who developed perennially useful intellectual tools. “Aristotle… famously never said that man is a rational animal. Humans are particularly well equipped to use their reason to understand and make predictions about the world around them… Fortunately, Aristotle also gave us the key to thwarting rationality. He thought that in order to facilitate rational thought we must each learn to control our emotions so that we would not be at the mercy of extreme emotional reactions that would directly interfere with our ability to think and act rationally.”[20] About the only thing we’ve added to this insight in 2,500 years is the verification of neurological science, which has confirmed that, when people experience fear, it “lights up” the limbic or so-called “lizard” brain, shutting off access to the frontal cortex where higher reasoning functions live. From the perspective of evolutionary biology this makes perfect sense, since in a situation of danger, humans need the capacity for either fight or flight in order to protect themselves. But in a situation where the danger is more remote or abstract—or downright fraudulent—triggering this response puts a person at the mercy of whoever is stimulating it.

    “Once we have made the citizens sufficiently fearful of the way things were we then present Big Brother as their salvation,” writes Rard. “The strategy here is beautiful in its simplicity. We make people so afraid of a world that is worse, we prey on their fears of loss, starvation, and death, and then we offer them the solution.”[21] So first we’ve been conditioned to fear a virus on the false premise of its extreme mortality rates, then we’re presented—magically!—with a vaccine developed at lightning speed and without the standard scientific protocols. And for “Big Brother” today we have the trifecta of Big Tech, Big Pharma and Big Media. This is the terrible irony of “wearing is caring” media messaging about masks; it plays upon our good impulses to be considerate of others but based on false premises.

    5) Appeal to Force. As Rard writes, “This is our last resort, and it is necessary when dealing with a particularly clever and willful individual… The method here is simple. If all other means have failed to produce the appropriate beliefs in an individual we simply confront them with a fate so horrifying that their own sense of self-preservation overrides their rational brain and produces the desired beliefs in their mind.”[22] Rard, writing in the guise of a Ministry of Truth operative, then cites the case of Orwell’s protagonist Winston, whose will and independent thinking is broken through torture and then reconditioning, or what totalitarian regimes such as China and Soviet Russia like to call “re-education.”

    A particularly subtle form of force is now being employed in the West, partly through the promotion of social shaming and partly through the threat of consequences for those who choose not to take the Covid vaccine, which, given its unprecedented mRNA component, can only be classified as an “experimental drug.” This ignores a key principle of the Nuremberg Code requiring that any experimental medical procedure be accompanied by informed consent.[23] That means full disclosure of medical risks, something else that has been suppressed by government and media. Already by early January 2021, there were alarming reports of severe adverse reactions even among young healthy people who received Covid vaccines, and death within weeks of receiving it for others. This is a contravention of Article 5 of the Code, which states that, “No experiment should be conducted, where there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur.” And it means that no one should be coerced by threat of sanctions if they fail to take the vaccine.[24] To do so is to invalidate the second component of this provision of the Code: consent.

    Historian Arnold Toynbee’s theory of history explains a lot about the typical trajectory of civilizations. Image courtesy history site.

    The great historian Arnold Toynbee, in his essential work A Study of History, draws upon a positively stunning array of historical knowledge to formulate a theory of history, or perhaps more precisely, a theory of the rise and fall of civilizations. Some historians or social scientists would likely dismiss any attempt to apply systems theory to history given the postmodernist or nihilist rejection of any objective reality whatsoever. Yet Toynbee’s analysis is subtle enough, his sources so broad and erudite, that he makes it clear where the exceptions to the rule lie. His analysis of the vast bulk of historical data he surveys is treated with scientific detachment. In Toynbee’s thesis, civilizations tend to go through a life cycle that includes a formative creative phase, which typically precedes an empire-building phase, followed by a “time of troubles,” leading to an attempt to impose a “universal state”—basically an admission of failure and an attempt to stave off ultimate collapse—and followed finally by an “interregnum” period during which successor states tend to arise. And here is where the use of force comes in. Although it’s unusual for Toynbee to make any kind of categorical statements, he does come down firmly on militarism as an inevitable precursor or handmaiden to ultimate decline: “Times of trouble produce militarism, which… has been by far the commonest cause of the breakdowns of civilizations during the last four or five millennia which have witnessed the score or so of breakdowns that are on record to date.”[25]

    However, as Rard indicates, the use of force is “a last resort.” Toynbee explains how during the early phase of a civilization, what he calls the “creative minority,” or “dominant minority”—what we today might call the One Percent—inspires mimesis in what he dubs the “internal proletariat.” They are motivated to support the project of civilization by the inspiring example of a creative minority. Unfortunately, this class seldom retains the capacity to respond to new challenges with the same degree of creativity or innovation. So they fall back on one of two strategies, in Toynbee’s view: nostalgia for a prior “golden age” or its own zenith period and an attempt to recreate it, or what he calls “archaism;” or futurism, promoting radical, often technocratic new paradigms as the solution to current problems. We can hear this latter approach being promoted in the so-called “Great Reset.”

    Unfortunately, neither approach tends to work. Recreating the halcyons of the past can’t work because economic and sociopolitical conditions seldom stay the same. And promoting futurism rubs up against peoples’ fear of and resistance to change. Theorists can’t possibly have enough information to model a futuristic solution that will work when conditions will also inevitably have changed. Worse, futurists have a nasty tendency toward authoritarianism as a means of enforcing their utopian vision of the future. What’s chilling is Toynbee’s observation that, “in the field of secular culture the classic expression of futurism is the symbolic act of the Burning of the Books,”[26] such as happened literally during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Many commentators, including Chinese expatriates, have observed a similar phenomenon happening in the West with “cancel culture” and the current mania to “burn everything from the past.” And what are today’s technocrats advocating? Tear up the playbook and start over according to their prescription. Toynbee sees this as the final stage in a civilization’s collapse: “The dominant minority’s will to repress evokes in the proletariat a will to secede,” Toynbee observes, “and a conflict between these two wills continues while the declining civilization verges toward its fall…”[27]

    Indian scholar and activist exposes the lie at the heart of the technocratic paradigm being promoted by the so-called “Great Reset” backers. Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

    Indian activist Vandana Shiva makes an eloquent argument in her book Oneness vs. the One Percent that is especially relevant to the AI/robotics, surveillance capitalist state currently being promoted by the likes of Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Klaus Schwab and their ilk:

    “Breaking free of the 1% (sic) and their constructs is not just possible, it has become necessary. It is an ecological necessity because the worldview of separation combined with an illusion of limitless extraction and exploitation of nature is pushing us to an ecological precipice. It is an economic necessity because a 1% world will render the 99% disposable, extinguishing our diverse creativities, potentials and possibilities. It is a democratic necessity because the 1% is a violent dictatorship. It destroys our fundamental freedoms, and the freedoms for all beings to evolve in an interrelated world, in an earth family.”[28]

    Thankfully, there’s always what I call “The X Factor,” the unforeseen consequences of greed and hubris that invariably take tyrants down on the very eve of their triumph. Think of Alexander at the borders of India, Napoleon at Waterloo, or Hitler at Stalingrad. The innate human need for freedom has a tendency to trump repressive regimes. People can be cajoled or even bullied to a certain point but not beyond, as when Alexander’s troops mutinied after four long years of military expeditions away from their families without a break. Similar to Shiva’s comment, Toynbee observes that when a civilization is in its terminal phase, “the proletariat at length breaks free from what was once its spiritual home but has now become a prison-house and finally a City of Destruction.”[29]

    [1] “BC Loses its Democracy to Pandemic Measures,” Sean Arthur Joyce, Vaccine Choice Canada, December 10, 2020 / chameleonfire1, January 10, 2021: “4 Reasons We Are Concerned About BC’s COVID-19 Law,” BC Civil Liberties Association, Meghan McDermott and David Macauley, August 11, 2020: BC Ombudsperson special report: “Extraordinary Times, Extraordinary Measures,”

    [2] “Global Democracy and Covid-10: Upgrading International Support,” Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), July 15, 2020, Stockholm, Sweden:

    [3] “A Call to Defend Democracy,” Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), June 25, 2020:

    [4] “Taking Stock of Global Democratic Trends Before and During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), December 2020:

    [5] “Why Lockdowns Don’t Work and Hurt the Most Vulnerable,” Dr. Mercola, December 30, 2020:

    [6] “Government data shows lockdown more deadly than COVID-19,” Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms special investigative report, December 3, 2020:

    [7] “Government data shows lockdown more deadly than COVID-19,” Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms special investigative report, ibid.

    [8] “Why Lockdowns Don’t Work and Hurt the Most Vulnerable,” Dr. Joseph Mercola, December 30, 2020, ibid.

    [9] “Government data shows lockdown more deadly than COVID-19,” Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms special investigative report, ibid., emphasis mine. See also: “The effect of job loss and unemployment duration on suicide risk in the United States: a new look using mass‐layoffs and unemployment duration,” Timothy J. Classen &

    Richard A. Dunn, Health Economics, Volume 21, Issue 3, February 14, 2011, Wiley Online Library:

    [10] “Government data shows lockdown more deadly than COVID-19,” Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms special investigative report, ibid.

    [11] “Head of CDC Admits Lockdown Killing Way More Americans Than COVID,” Michael Thau, RedState, July 27, 2020:

    [12] David R. Henderson, “End the Lockdowns Now,” May 7, 2020:

    [13] John Ralston Saul, Voltaire’s Bastards—The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, Penguin Books, 1992, p. 536.

    [14] Agnes Otzelberger, “Help or Harm? Telltale signs of ‘pathological altruism’,” Medium, October 15, 2020:

    [15] Sean Arthur Joyce, “Questioning the COVID Narrative,” chameleonfire1, January 25, 2021:

    [16] “Tip of the Iceberg? Thousands of COVID Injuries and 13 US Deaths Reported in December Alone,” Children’s Health Defense News, January 14, 2021:

    [17] Elizabeth Rard, “Ministry of Truth Handbook,” 1984 and Philosophy: Is Resistance Futile?, edited by Ezio Di Nucci and Stefan Storrie, Open Court, Chicago, 2018, p. 53.

    [18] Elizabeth Rard, “Ministry of Truth Handbook,” 1984 and Philosophy: Is Resistance Futile?, ibid., p. 54.

    [19] Elizabeth Rard, “Ministry of Truth Handbook,” 1984 and Philosophy: Is Resistance Futile?, ibid., p. 54.

    [20] Elizabeth Rard, “Ministry of Truth Handbook,” 1984 and Philosophy: Is Resistance Futile?, ibid., p. 55.

    [21] Elizabeth Rard, “Ministry of Truth Handbook,” 1984 and Philosophy: Is Resistance Futile?, ibid., p. 56.

    [22] Elizabeth Rard, “Ministry of Truth Handbook,” 1984 and Philosophy: Is Resistance Futile?, ibid., p. 56.

    [23] Nuremberg Code, Article 1:

    [24] Article 1 summarizes this principle thus: “…without the intervention of any element of force, fraud, deceit, duress, over-reaching, or other ulterior form of constraint or coercion.”

    [25] Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, Oxford University Press complete hardbound edition, Volumes I and II, London/New York/Toronto, 1960 (1962 reprint), p. 190.

    [26] Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, ibid., p. 518.

    [27] Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, ibid., p. 77.

    [28] Vandana Shiva, Oneness vs. the 1%: Shattering Illusions, Seeding Freedom, Chelsea Green Publishing, Vermont/London, 2018 (2020 ed.), p. 149.

    [29] Arnold Toynbee, A Study of History, ibid., p. 77.

About seanarthurjoyce

I am a poet, journalist and author with a strong commitment to the environment and social justice. If anything, I have too many interests and too little time in a day to pursue them all. Film, poetry, literature, music, mythology, and history probably top the list. My musical interests lie firmly in rock and blues with a smattering of folk and world music. I consider myself lucky to have lived during the great flowering of modern rock music during its Golden Age in the late 1960s/early '70s. In poetry my major inspirations are Dylan Thomas, Rilke, Neruda and the early 20th century British/American poets: Auden, Eliot, Cummings. My preferred cinema includes the great French auteurs, Kirosawa, Orson Welles, and Film Noir. My preferred social causes are too numerous to mention but include banning GMOs, eliminating poverty (ha-ha), and a sane approach to forest conservation and resource extraction. Wish me—wish us all—luck on that one!
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