Lockdowns and coercive mandates have moved from a position of extraordinary intervention in the face of a novel virus to an increasingly used catchall to deal with complex problems, including potential new viral outbreaks, climate change and existing respiratory illnesses. Before, these were recognised as problems of systemic action, with incentives designed to produce negative externalities while concentrating wealth at the top. The disequilibrium of medicinal practice or the effects of climate change were never simply the product of individual decisions but the lock in of multiple imperatives, from consumption to product sourcing based upon principles of profit, cost-cutting and limited spatio-temporality.
This has now been reversed, as the developments of the pandemic and other global complexities have been pushed onto the individual as their responsibility. If you get the coronavirus, you were immoral for doing so as you clearly didn’t follow public health guidelines and/or ignored stay-at-home orders/lockdown rules. If climate change continues to accelerate, it is your fault as you don’t recycle or you eat meat or some other ridiculous excuse which, if you were to do, would have no affect on wider climatological cycles.
From the COVID pandemic being rightly seen as a collective problem which required innovative solutions that correctly balanced the capacity to live with the prevention of transmission, the response has become one of individuation. Now, you are responsible for preventing viral spread – you must take the vaccine and follow the rules or you will face consequences. In other words, keep taking the booster shots and make sure your vaccination card/passport is up-to-date. However, the extent of individual decisions on the spread or extent of COVID-19 are minimal at best, even with vaccines.
Emerging data from Israel, the UK and the US show a lack of significant linkage between vaccination levels and COVID transmission and hospitalisation rates, with the Delta variant substantially reducing the efficacy of vaccines when it comes to preventing COVID spread and moderate illness. And as variants continue to develop, they will escape the protein targeting of existing vaccines, logically necessitating the development of herd immunity through natural infections. With leaky vaccines like the ones we currently have, the only way to return to liveable lives is through widespread transmission and targeted interventions.
Vaccines and the medical bureaucracy that come with them, though, are not about health or returning to normal. They are about control – control over what you put into your body, how you live your life and how profitable you are. Agamben notes how medicine has become cultic in its endeavours and ends. The politics of the pandemic are becoming a never-ending crisis which transforms the extraordinary intervention into a policy playbook through which all manner of complex phenomena can be tackled. “Cultic practice is no longer free and voluntary, exposed only to sanctions of a spiritual order, but must be rendered normatively obligatory”. There is no escape from pandemic conditions, as they can be redeployed to other threats as and when necessary.
The medical, or more precisely, pharmacological cult, has historically implemented (or attempted to) policies to medicalise wider societies. The anthrax threat of 2001 was one such, instantiating biosecurity protocols and pushing vaccines (BioThrax, that had known side effects and limited efficacy) to prevent the affects of a mythical bio-terrorist scenario. The 2009 swine flu episode also had similar connotations, with medical experts predicting hyperinflated death and infection statistics and recommending significant medical interventions including social distancing, limits on movement and widespread closures. As swine flu turned out to be significantly less deadly and transmissible than predicted, such policies never attained widespread acceptance. Finally, the widespread medicalisation of society through mood-controlling pharmaceuticals and opioids has conditioned people to accept significant medical intervention. A vaccine on top of an anti-depressant drug or similar regimen is less of a leap compared to a society focused on producing healthy outcomes through lifestyle choices that limit processed food intake and/or encouraged time spent outdoors and exercising.
The cult of the pharmacy is not about providing a life worth living or even a healthy life, but a bare life extended to the maximum extent for the purposes of profit. “What they can count on is that the medical system will do all it can to artificially keep them alive—against their own wishes and often against the better judgment of their family members— and will sometimes even bring them back from the dead and keep them on life support in a persistent vegetative state”. Inflated insurance premiums for palliative care or exploitative care facilities for the elderly/infirm that are rife with abuses and run by underpaid and undertrained care workers. An existence entirely purposed toward productivity in the workplace and the inducement of as many illnesses/diagnoses as possible.
In the context of COVID, the cult of the pharmacy is the endemicity not of the virus but of the perma-lockdown. The lockdown is now the primary policy for controlling viruses and potentially other issues (such as climate change or supply chain problems, with the reintroduction of rationing) and for preventing hospital overload (while failing to inform how hospitals have been underinvested in for decades). It is the maintenance of significant lifestyle interventions like social distancing and facemasks. It is the extension of bare life through inadequate viral treatments (like intubation and Remdesivir which exacerbate cytokine inflammation and have significant adverse side effects respectively). It is the introduction of vaccine mandates to push the blame of COVID failures onto abstracted populations like the unvaccinated.
As the vaccines continue to fail in their advertised expediency, the cult of the pharmacy will continue to push them as the only affective method of “returning to normal”. We already see this through the creepy and supercilious propaganda pushed by journalists, comedians and media factcheckers. Remember, these interventions are not about health, but about control. No vaccine needs propaganda if it worked as advertised. “Biosecurity has shown itself capable of presenting the absolute cessation of all political activity and all social relations as the maximum form of civic participation”. It is about replacing relations with technological intermediation and maintaining the power of the pharmacological as a primary part of ideological power. Lockdowns and mandates will increasingly become a feature of the new normal. In trying to stop every preventable death, we’ll end up living in open air prison camps.
 Dmitry Orlov, Shrinking the Technosphere