Silenced as a Writer When it Counted

A nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is a nation that is afraid of its people.

John F Kennedy

As soon as authorities began locking down entire nation-states, closing borders, shutting down schools, and shuttering businesses, it was obvious to me that the cost in terms of human suffering would be immense. 

East woman peeking in the gap between the black ribbons with the inscription prohibiting

In the Wealthy World

Millions of small businesses (which employ half the US’s working people) would fail, hundreds of millions would be unemployed, stress-related illnesses like heart attacks, strokes, and cancers would skyrocket. 

In the Developing World

People whose parents grew up in dirt-floor shacks now live themselves in homes with indoor plumbing. It’s impossible to stress how much extreme poverty has dropped in poorer parts of the world over recent decades. But that reduction in grinding generational poverty was the result (however much leftists strain to deny it) of global free trade which brought employment, infrastructure investment, and stable currency inflows to those places. With the rich-world lockdowns grinding economic activity to a halt, only the most economically illiterate person would be unaware that the rug was being pulled out from under them just as they climbed into the middle class.

I Spoke Up

On Medium, I posted a thoroughly documented essay, with links to mainstream news and politics sites as well as academic medical research about stress illness (recall that when I’m noit a poet or fiction writer, I’m a biomedical copy editor), demonstrating the death and destruction that the lockdowns could be expected to cause. 

I also squawked about these effects on my social medium of choice.

In the meantime, my trilogy of post-apocalyptic novels which center around a rogue bacterium escaping from a lab and sweeping the planet, were selling only slightly better than first novels usually do. I decided to run an ad relating them to the current outbreak of a virus. 

I Was Silenced

Within 12 hours, Medium had pulled down my essay saying it was contrary to public health. Hunh. Funny, since I was blowing the whistle on a grave threat to public health resulting from an ill-thought-out public policy. I edited the article, toning down its conclusions, and reposted it. Within 12 hours, it had been pulled down again. It was only after 800 Yale epidemiologists, physicians, and public health experts signed a statement challenging the lockdowns, that Medium allowed the third posting of the essay, even more watered down, to remain.

At the same time, Amazon rejected an ad (which I’d revived after running it a year earlier without any difficulty) for Machine Sickness, the first book in the series. The headline for the ad read, “Exploding From a Lab” and the ad mentioned a GMO microbe. The ad was banned because, to quote Amazon’s e-mail, “It is Amazon’s policy to not advertise content in which our audiences may see a controversial topic, person, or event.” Needless to say, that’s a ridiculous deception. Anyone can go on Amazon and be served ads for thousands of books full of the most controversial, hate-soaked, diatribes, filled with transparent lies and misinformation.

I also noticed that none of the stand-alone posts I made on Facebook, objecting to the lockdowns and pointing out the lives that they would destroy and stunt, had any reactions or comments, meaning that they were not being served in people’s feeds. Then, I observed that Facebook would appear to time out every time I attempted to comment on any post pertaining to Covid-19 in any way.

Death to a Writer

For anyone, it’s upsetting to be told shut up, your opinion doesn’t matter. For people locked into their homes and unable to communicate in any other way, it’s even more stressful. But to a writer, it’s a taste of death. I have a gift to write. It gives meaning and purpose to my life, especially since I became disabled from my earlier profession. While millions of people became depressed due to the unwelcome changes resulting from lockdowns, the despondency and helplessness I felt was profound.

One of the Lucky Ones

I am not one of the hundreds of millions of people around the world who lost jobs and livelihoods, life savings and generational enterprises, marriages and homes, as a result of the lockdowns. I am, God willing, not one of the tens of millions who are dying and will die of stress-related illness or untreated conditions due to these lockdowns. I’m certainly not one of the billion or so people who will slide into extreme (less than $2 a day) poverty as a result of the global recession we are having. And make no mistake, we are having it. The only real question at this point is, how long will it last?

How Many More Like Me?

But I have to ask, how many others were muzzled as I was? The reaction was chillingly instantaneous. The “correct” viewpoint was passed down from on high with no dissent tolerated. Relevant to my experience, the only acceptable stance was “Lockdowns do save lives, and the virus did not come from the virology lab in Wuhan.” I am not the only one to observe that there is good evidence that lockdowns kill more people than they save, and certainly far from the first to regard the proximity of the Wuhan lab and the first outbreak as suspicious. (You’d have to be an idiot not to wonder about that!)

The mass use of the internet has been changing the world for about twenty years now. Ten years ago, it was a tool for mobilization of mass movements in color revolutions, occupiers, tea partiers, and ethnic Springs around the globe. The fact that an American could read what a reporter in Turkey was writing or see Tweets by the millions from Egypt made us aware of our common humanity in ways nothing ever had before. And the publication of videos like “Collateral Damage” or the Abu Ghraib torture photos by Wikileaks, and reporting on programs like “Operation PRISM” by the Intercept gave the world hope that the unspeakably corrupt abuses the powerful committed in silence could be prevented by speaking their truth.

But look what happened to Edward Snowden and Julian Assange. Exile and imprisonment. Then the authorities got wise. They called the heads of the social media and search engine companies to heel by subpoenas before Congress in which they were implicitly threatened with regulatory harassment. That was the stick. They they were awarded multibion-dollar database administration contracts and top-secret access to the intelligence infrastructure of the Empire. That was the carrot.

And now, the World Wide Web is no more. It’s no longer a web, but rather a managed cascade, in which government actors pour true and false information and rhetoric in the top, and it’s managed by a massive unseen army of search technicians and moderators, operating sluices and stopcocks to make sure that the information and ideas they want amplified flow freely and the ones they want suppressed languish in stagnant pools.

A Lot

What heartened me in my despair was that I had already begun to assemble a censorship-resistant information flow. I’ll write more on this later, but one of the biggest ways was by e-mail subscriptions to viewpoints I disagreed with as well as those I agreed with. I saw that what entered my e-mail inbox from the right and the left was very different from what I saw on curated and credentialed press sites. The people who reached out to me in response to comments I made, and in response to this blog, assured me that I am not alone in recognizing the obvious. It also made it plain that that recognition has almost no correlation with whether one likes Trump (I don’t) or hates him (I also don’t). What it does correlate with? That’s a topic for a later column.

My inboxes have been crowded with e-mails from people who’ve seen my words and reached out in support. E-mail newsletters and blog subscriptions reflecting diverse dissenting viewpoints keeps me grounded in the reality that the approved worldview is only one of many potentially valid ones. 

I’ve wandered far from my original point here, but I think it was a necessary preface to what I need to say.

Which is this:

The Cage Has Been Slammed Shut

In the internet environment of ten years ago, the harms of lockdowns could have been debated and recognized almost instantaneously. That this didn’t happen is a horrible, inexcusable mistake that our children will pay for. That this didn’t happen is totally down to the authoritarian measures taken by governments since. I’m referring to restrictions on internet expression, both legislative (hello, EU GDPR) or extralegal (we know you’re on the line, DNI, we can hear you breathing). 

These measures were adopted in the wake of the 9-11 attacks when Bush was in office, expanded under Obama, and now they continue in the time of Trump. Those three Presidents had little to do with the application of these dystopian instruments. And whoever is elected in November will have little say in their application as well. 

Similarly, those who believe they are completely spontaneous and self-motivated in protesting the death of one of thousands who have died due to police brutality, one of the millions of victims of violent racism around the planet, are not. The speed at which they spun from “stay at home” to “hit the streets” makes that obvious. The violent emotions resulting from confinement and loss are being released in a coordinated campaign of distraction.

Keep Your Head Clear and Your Principles Consistent

My science fiction series is premised on an event which leads to a great apocalyptic unraveling of all political power systems around the planet. Lacking such an event, the political power systems will continue. 

All I can do as a citizen of Planet Earth is observe them carefully and heed discussions of them by people I know are cogent and thoughtful, throwing out the chaff and keeping the grain. All I can do as a writer is maintain a set of consistent principles and respond to my observations according to those principles.