As the reader may know from my last guest appearance, I am entirely on the side of the COVID skeptics. I have never believed any aspect of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic — whether social distancing, face masks, lockdowns, or mass vaccination campaigns — has been anything other than destructive folly or intentional malice. So I, of course, applaud the many scientists, doctors, journalists, attorneys and authors who have become leaders in the struggle against the looming COVID medical security state.
These include, in no particular order, figures like Alex Berenson, Del Bigtree, Zev Zelenko, Pierre Kory, Peter McCullough, Robert Malone, Steve Kirsch, Brett Weinstein, Vernon Coleman, Joseph Mercola, Sucharit Bhakdi, Gert Vanden Bosch, J.J. Couey, Aaron Siri, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and many others, including of course, our generous host, William Briggs.
Dr. Robert Malone is, given his background as the inventor of mRNA vaccine technology, a leading figure in the COVID resistance movement. And his three-hour appearance with Steve Kirsch on Brett Weinstein’s podcast was an important moment in the coalescence of the resistance [Rogan podcast too]. That podcast went viral because the participants calmly and rationally made a detailed case that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in American, and indeed the entire world, was indefensible.
Now the question of why the narrative about COVID-19 is a universally the same across the world (with a handful of exceptions like Sweden) begs a response. The proponents of the current COVID measures typically will respond that this is a function of “the science” being settled and uniformly directing the actions of government and private parties. These measures are so obviously destructive and nonsensical begs the question why they are doing these things. One can’t help but conclude that it can only be intentional.
Anyone who speaks to friends and family members still in the grip of the official COVID a narrative will typically hear a response like the following: “You’re telling me that there is a conspiracy involving hundreds of thousands of people that manages to keep itself completely secret? All it would take would be one person going to the press to blow the whole thing!” This is a common “normie” response to “conspiracy theories” of all types.
Likely with the foregoing in mind, at the time the Darkhorse podcast first aired in June 2021, Dr. Malone was quite hesitant to characterize the motivations of the public health officials, political leaders and pharmaceutical executives as anything other than the result of incompetence. As the months have passed, Malone has become less reticent, and in recent alternative media appearances, he lays out a description of how our public health response has been corrupted, explaining its apparently indefensible blunders as the outcome of subverting forces.
The first key element of the theory is the idea of “regulatory capture.” This is an entirely mainstream idea employed by political scientists, legal scholars, and prominent economists, such as George Stigler. In its classic form, it posits the idea that a government regulatory organization can be “captured” by the economic and business interests of the industry that it purports to regulate. This is usually a function of the “revolving door,” the phenomenon that lawyers and other experts working within the bureaucracy know that their tenure will be short, so while they are inside government, they are thinking about positioning themselves for a post-government job. The are “soft” on the industry to the detriment of the public good.
In the context of the COVID crisis, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., among others, has noted that the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while legally responsible for regulating the pharmaceutical industry, are in fact its leading cheerleaders. Indeed, the fact that the FDA receives a substantial share of its budget from “user fees” paid by pharmaceutical supplicants creates a conflict of interest and incentivizes promotion of the commercial success of these companies at the expense of the public interest. In short, they are the foxes guarding the hen house.
The second key element has, as far as I know, only come to prominence recently, and has exploded in popularity both in the dissident Right and within the COVID resistance. It starts with the observation that a handful of financial service firms, primarily BlackRock and Vanguard, and to a lesser extent State Street and Fidelity, have become incomprehensibly more massive than anyone thought possible and control a meaningful fraction of all of the stocks and bonds issued by global public companies.
What are these firms? Unlike Goldman Sachs, the “vampire squid of Wall Street,” which makes money by creating financial products and making markets in them, these firms are on the “buyside.” Their job is to say “yay” or “nay” to the securities and other financial instruments that Wall Street is trying to sell to Main Street, acting as investment fiduciaries on behalf of ordinary investors.
Each started out managing some version of a “mutual fund,” the pooled investment vehicle in the portfolios of millions of middle-class Americans. In particular, these firms have focused heavily on the “index fund,” which seeks to replicate broad securities market performance by buying every security in widely-published indexes, like the Standard & Poor’s 500. The securities regulators always assumed these firms were the “good guys,” providing clear information and monitoring benefits in exchange for relatively low and transparent fees and presenting little risk of manipulation or other misconduct.
So it’s very interesting that these firms have become the focus of discussions identifying the villains of “late capitalism.” This seems to be a function of their enormous size. At $9.5 trillion in assets under management, BlackRock’s largely passive, index hugging money is incomprehensibly larger than anything Congress had in mind when it passed the Investment Company Act in 1940.
I have no brief for BlackRock’s Larry Fink, and much of what he and his minions moot publicly these days is symptomatic of the rot endemic to America’s oligarch class and their professional-managerial hangers on. For the last several years, the current fad in investing has been “ESG” (Environment, Social and Governance), which is the application of “woke” criteria to investing in stocks and bonds. For example, ESG constrained investment programs will steer their investments away from oil and gas and mining and toward unproven “green technologies” heavily dependent on government handouts. They also embed “diversity and inclusion” goals that require companies to have larger and larger “Human Resources” departments of bureaucrats keeping detailed statistics of what racial and gender minority groups have been advanced within the company.
These activities are on their face a dead weight cost, producing no benefit in productivity. Why “ESG” is happening now is an interesting question about which much ink could be spilled. I am inclined to think that it is another form of intra-elite competition in response to elite overproduction, but a closer look would take us far afield.
The typical version of the BlackRock/Vanguard theory presented in the alternative media focuses on monopoly control. Specifically the idea that these index fund giants own such large fractions of every public company that, by virtue of their shareholding, they can direct these companies and make them coordinate their individual actions in ways that would otherwise be impossible. This is combined with the observation that almost every critical industry in the developed world is oligopolistic, dominated by a handful of extremely large companies.
This theory posits that, because the pharmaceutical companies and the media companies are owned by the same people, a directive has come down from BlackRock/Vanguard to the media companies to not criticize the pharmaceutical companies, because doing so would be harmful to the owners’ interests in drug and vaccine profits. Since it is in the pharmaceutical companies’ interest to continue the COVID emergency indefinitely, so as to be able to sell new patented therapeutics and liability free vaccines, the media companies have been coerced to advance this agenda upon direct orders from their index fund pay masters.
Anyone who knows anything about index funds, pharmaceutical companies and media conglomerates is going to find this story to be quite unconvincing, because it is inconsistent with how these organizations operate in practice. Index funds do not give orders to the companies they invest in, because their agnostic strategy means they also own all of a company’s public competitors as well, and really only care that the entire market rise on the back of “fiscal and monetary policy” (i.e., printing money). The proponents of this theory never even mention the role of specialty media firms (like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s) who publish the indexes, and who set the rules that determine what securities are in each index.
Media companies do not take orders from their investors about what matters are or are not of journalistic interest. Situations where the business people attempt to influence “editorial independence” invariably blow up as minor scandals and causes cèlébre. For example, journalists working at Murdoch owned outlets, from Fox News to the Wall Street Journal, routinely take umbrage at allegations that they do the boss’s bidding, as does the Washington Post vis-à-vis Jeff Bezos. And they are not afraid to go public.
Finally, nobody outside of the pharmaceutical industry cares whether the pharmaceutical industry is profitable or not. Let us consider a useful hypothetical. Let’s say that you are the CEO of a big oil company, let’s call it NoxonMobility. You do care intensely about how your oil and gas competitors are doing, because if the performance of your company’s stock price is materially less than other players, your stock options will be reduced and you will lose your job. But you want to keep your job, because it gives you a great deal of money, power and prestige.
What you do not care about is whether pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, like Pfizer and Moderna, are making money selling therapeutics or vaccines. These are not your competitors. While you may need to “greenwash” your company with meaningless “renewable energy” projects, everything about your company’s success comes from selling oil. The COVID lockdowns were bad for the oil business. In April 2020, the price of oil fell below $20, after holding steady above $100 only a few years earlier. While the price largely recovered by the end of 2020, this volatility hurt “frackers,” whose cost structure requires higher oil prices.
You would think our hypothetical oil company executive would be dead set against COVID policies that reduce the demand for oil, depressing the value of his company’s reserves. The “New Normal” is bad for business, so, if it were me, I would prefer the “Old Normal.” But if our CEO bucks the narrative, whether on COVID, climate change, diversity and inclusion, and a host of other beliefs that are part of the elite consensus, he will be removed by his board for damaging his company’s “brand confidence” long before anyone at BlackRock/Vanguard makes a call. So economic profit is looking quite weak as a motive for corporate/managerial behavior. The meme “Get woke, go broke” is merely wishful thinking.
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The BlackRock/Vanguard theory oversimplifies and attempts to make exoteric what is actually a much more complicated and esoteric power process. Instead, one of Mencius Moldbug’s key ideas, “the Cathedral,” is, I believe, an obviously more useful tool to try to describe what has been happening in the public/private response to COVID in the last two years.
Unlike my last guest appearance, I am here to praise Mencius Moldbug, not to bury Curtis Yarvin. As readers may recall, Curtis Yarvin is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who had become a leader in the pre-Trump dissident Right, writing under the pseudonym “Mencius Moldbug.” His main vehicle until his 2013 retirement was a blog called “Unqualified Reservations” (UR), an idiosyncratic effort to make sense of American political decline. More recently, Curtis Yarvin has returned to public life in his own name, writing on Substack. Yarvin wrote a piece there recently called “A brief explanation of the cathedral,” which summarizes the relevant concepts in a single place without breaking much new ground.
The word “Cathedral” is an obvious metaphor adapted from the power of the Pope in Roman Catholicism to speak “ex cathedra” (from the episcopal chair) to define matters of faith and morals. The relationship between a civilization’s “truth finding function” and political power is fraught with peril. In a word, seeking political power corrupts the search for truth.
Moldbug’s “Cathedral” can been defined as a distributed or emergent conspiracy among media, academia, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and government bureaucracies to seize and hold informal power in the Western democracies. Indeed, the Cathedral appears to have critical nodes within all of the West’s converged institutions (even, unfortunately, the Catholic Church itself). This definition includes two key elements that embody its explanatory power.
First is that the conspiracy is “emergent” or “distributed.” There is no CEO of the Cathedral, no Politburo. There is no top-down hierarchy and nobody is giving orders. The coordination between each node of the Cathedral, whether a government bureaucrat or a journalist, is achieved intellectually and culturally, by each member believing and saying the same things, attending the same schools, and reading the same newspapers and websites. Therefore, no orders are given, nor are they needed.
Second is that the power sought is “informal.” This is distinct from formal power, which is power that proceeds for well understood constitutional, legal and electoral processes. For example, under the U.S. Constitution, there is no formal role given to Harvard University. Unlike the “press,” universities as such are not mentioned anywhere at all in that document. But it would be difficult to refute the argument that what the leadership of Harvard University thinks is infinitely more important to the course of recent American history than the opinions of Republican members of Congress and the voters who put them there.
The worldview of the Cathedral is synoptic. It is the same everywhere. If there is a competitive “marketplace of ideas,” one would expect, on most issues, Harvard and Stanford would disagree, simply to create a market niche for each institution. From biochemistry to urban planning, Harvard would have the “East Coast” view while Stanford had the “West Coast” view. But we don’t see that. On every controversial issue, they both say the same thing. This seems a curious phenomenon.
Moldbug/Yarvin explains our observations with a Darwinian analogy, so the subtitle of his recent piece is “An oligarchy inherently converges on ideas that justify the use of power.” Under the Darwinian metaphor, the Cathedral, like the COVID virus, is subject to selection pressures. In the marketplace of ideas, what ideas are being selected for? The answer is ideas that validate the use of power. So the nodes of the Cathedral gravitate to ideas that give the members of the intellectual class who embody the Cathedral an impetus to take action, to advocate, to have an impact.
One of the main historical scenarios Moldbug uses to develop the Cathedral thesis in UR is the “Climategate” e-mail scandal. Analogous scandals during the COVID pandemic are a ghostly echo of this largely forgotten episode. In 2009, thousands of e-mails and computer files were “hacked” or “leaked” from the University of East Anglia in the UK. The most damning e-mails were exchanges between Phil Jones, the head of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit, and the hyper-litigious Michael E. Mann of Pennsylvania State University, father of the infamous “hockey stick” graph. The various e-mails exhibited the participants appearing to collude on manipulated data, to withhold facts unfavorable to their thesis, and to undermine the publication in peer reviewed journals of papers from climate change skeptics. In the most salacious exchange, Phil Jones suggests revising the presentation of a chart intended for publication to “hide the decline” (i.e., hide data showing temperatures had in fact been declining, not rising).
The problem of the Cathedral was not that Jones and Mann were working for BlackRock/Vanguard, the Trilateral Commission, the Rosicrucians, or any other shadowy actors. The problem was that they were not working for anyone. No one had practical oversight over what they were doing. Which put them in a position where they could craft their message into propaganda disseminated to millions in a tone of breathless hysteria. They saw their main task not as proving the truth of anthropogenic global warming as a scientific matter, but instead delivering a message to the public in a way that it would be believed and acted upon.
Since they defined what was and was not “climate science,” since they were a law unto themselves, there was no process to correct their errors or expose their frauds. We can easily imagine one of the participants uttering the phrase “I am Science…” The Climategate e-mails sank into oblivion without a trace, and nothing about university climate science changed an iota as a result. As our host would say, it never hurts to be wrong in the right direction.
The public relations campaign surrounding “global warming” was a preview of the COVID pandemic. Public affirmation of global warming reinforces the important of climate science and climate scientists. Denying it denigrates their importance. Affirming global warming means action, lots of action, in every area of human life that depends upon energy. Denying global warming means inaction. There is no power and influence in inaction. Of course, obtaining government research funding is an important part of this plan of action.
The Climategate e-mails have been mirrored by e-mails between Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and Anthony Fauci, released in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. The main irritant here was the “Great Barrington Declaration” (GBD), a call for an alternate COVID strategy that was prepared by Sunetra Gupta of the University of Oxford, Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University, and Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University, and signed by thousands of scientists and physicians [Briggs: including myself]. (Do not be fooled by their affiliations; their institutions do not approve of their actions.)
In response, Francis Collins wrote to Fauci and others colleagues to call for “a quick and devastating published take down of its premises.” This was apparently necessary because the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration were “fringe epidemiologists.” The tone is almost identical to the Climategate e-mails in its arrogance, indifference to scientific debate, and myopic fixture on manipulating public opinion.
So what was Fauci’s reply? “Don’t worry, I got this.” In short order, Fauci sent Collins weblinks to newly published articles debunking the GBD’s “focused protection solution.” These include an opinion piece in “Wired” (a technology/culture magazine) and an article titled “Focused Protection, Herd Immunity and Other Deadly Delusions” published in “The Nation,” the venerable Progressive weekly. Collins’ response? “Excellent.”
Obviously, Collins and Fauci didn’t work for and we’re not accountable to either Donald Trump or Rand Paul. Like Jones and Mann, it appears they were accountable to no one and worked for nobody but themselves.
The “groupthink” at the heart of the pandemic response was not a new phenomenon. In the two decades preceding the COVID outbreak, roughly dozen “pandemic planning scenarios” were staged, commencing with 2001’s “Dark Winter” smallpox bioterrorism simulation. We should not be surprised that the COVID pandemic and the increasingly totalitarian responses to it were the sole recommendations of the experts and institutions who organized and participated in these events.
In each case, the scenario would include one or more of the medical security state innovations we saw in the real COVID pandemic: travel restrictions, lockdowns, mandatory quarantines, mask mandates, “track and trace” via Orwellian smart phone apps, forced vaccinations and martial law. Most telling, the 2017 SPARS scenario hosted by Johns Hopkins focused on “manufacturing consensus” about hastily developed experimental vaccines by disseminating propaganda, marginalizing dissenting voices, and censoring social media. The only recommendation missing from these scenarios was branding the dissidents as “terrorists” and disrupting them via the state security services.
This is the Cathedral at work: the ideas that win are those that demand decisive action. Even if the best response would be to do nothing, if only to avoid the missteps that make the pandemic longer and more destructive. “Zero COVID” policies are the perfect example of a goal that is unattainable, permitting one to expend indefinite resources attempting to attain it.
Returning to the BlackRock/Vanguard thesis, I would note that much of it depends on an erroneous conception of the relationship between “capitalism” and the “free market” to the West’s ersatz liberal democratic regimes. “Capitalism” and the “free market” have the same relationship to the Cathedral-controlled modern state as the “Five Year Plan” had to Lenin’s and Stalin’s Soviet Union. These are not ends unto themselves; they are means to an end. This is simply how the system operates, but it is not why it operates. The Bolsheviks created the Five Year Plan as a way for them to implement their rule over Russia. The Bolshevik Party was not created so that there would be some political party committed to implementing Five Year Plans.
The various centers of power in the Western democracies, be they business, political, bureaucratic, media, or academic, seek to secure and increase their power. Those who we can call the “oligarchs” are motivated by this, and not by monopoly rents from pharmaceutical profits. It’s not the money; it’s the power.
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