(Image: AAP/Natalie Boog)

It’s a win-win for the media. First it helps to create a coronavirus panic, and then it fills its coverage with reports on the panic itself — crashing stock markets and brawls over toilet paper. 

Andrew Bolt, March 10, 8.54am

The last place I’d line up is with people who think they’ve got the coronavirus: At least 50 people queued along the footpath outside the Royal Melbourne Hospital on Tuesday afternoon and Sydney’s Royal Prince Alfred Hospital also saw about 250 patients … And why are pedestrians walking right past them?

Andrew Bolt, March 11, 7.05am

They’re still trying to bang the drum for a political response on the right, but it’s starting to get as confused as an ageing tabloid columnist feeling a bit woozy, and thinking “arrrrrr, it’s just the flu”.

In the US, one of Trump’s national security advisers tried to put the blame back on China for their “cover up”. This was at a Heritage Institute event in DC, at the same time right-wing site National Review and others were trying to rename the thing the “Wuhan virus” or the “China virus”.

Meanwhile in The Daily Telegraph there’s the usual “yellow peril” cartoon circa 1910, and Miranda Devine and Tim Blair more or less constructing the whole thing as a panic; a sort of jammed-on right wing setting.

But life, like a respiratory virus, comes at you pretty fast, faster than a bunch of hacks can respond.

Why are the right so keen on constructing everything as a panic and a media storm? Because such a position denies that anything happens collectively, or demands a collective response.

The position, as I’ve noted, was adopted en masse (ironically) from Spiked a few years ago. But Spiked are from the revolutionary Communist tradition, and capable of thinking a little more dialectically.

One reason to resist being stampeded by every pseudo-event is to be able to clearly see the real thing when it happens, and to be able to respond decisively.

The one thing the programmable Murdoch drone bots can’t do is change their way of thinking in response to actual events.

An actual event it is. The tendency to sublimate it away has to be resisted, daily, hourly. We live in a society which has created a whole series of antibodies against truth and events — the entertainment sensorama, Twitter, memes and, yes, hot takes — and they greatly assist an avoidance of thinking about it.

Then there’s the Australia Effect, in which everything else seems over there, happening in the world elsewhere. That is magnified in this case because we will be getting colder, virus-friendly weather in April, just as the warmer weather begins in the northern hemisphere. Quite possibly, Australia will avoid the worst of it by delayed transmission. But the rest of the world is less likely to.

The most likely lingering effect of the virus in the north is that it will permanently shift the very process of social life, in a manner that was already underway.

In the US, political rallies in the Democratic primary season have been halted (Trump is still planning one in Milwaukee on the weekend, gathering his aged and disproportionately unhealthy followers in one place). An entire town in New York state has been sealed off, and large gatherings have been banned in Washington state.

The NCAA basketball championships, a wildly popular collective event known as “March Madness”, will now be played in empty stadiums. Finally, just to show that there’s an upside to everything, they’ve postponed Coachella.

The question is, when this is over, will the crowds, and the crowd events, come back? The deep structure of the tech connectivity revolution — smart phones, apps, social media — has been towards atomisation, removing the necessity of gathering in physical co-spaces from much of life’s business.

Quite possibly, when this is over, there may be an ecstatic revival of public gathering, a celebration. But by then, a whole series of businesses will have put structures in place to work without gathering or crowds, and a whole series of habits that have been hanging over from an earlier era will appear purely voluntary.

What about the institutions of the office, the school and the university for example? Will the practice of people gathering in the same physical space to work on texts and information that they then exchange wirelessly, just seem ridiculous, a legacy of typing pools and Xeroxes?

Will the already attenuated idea of the campus-based university collapse altogether, so that the lecture — many already remotely attended — simply disappears? Will the idea of the school in which hundreds of students congregate to tramp from classroom to classroom to spend 10 minutes learning, and another 30 testing the teacher’s ability to control them, seem just absurd?

This is how revolutionary transformations often happen. The Bourbon monarchy, the Tsars — their regimes went when the repeated practices that guaranteed their power became so detached from the actual situation that they appeared not oppressive or evil but absurd; just beside the point.

More recently, our whole view of human sexuality was transformed by the HIV-AIDS western pandemic of the 1980s. (Not in the case of the later, more lethal African pandemic. There we simply let 15 million black people die. Just as we had let hundreds of thousands of high-risk westerners die unnecessarily earlier.)

But that is a political opportunity that has to be picked up, and responded to with agility (remember agility? What a time to be alive, for the moment). Because the changes will be full of unintended consequences.

What’s one of the likely effects of direct-to-business financial stimuluses? I’d say a new wave of service automation, wouldn’t you?

If you’re a hotel/motel owner, wouldn’t you be tempted to invest in one of those automatic check-in machines springing up everywhere. You scan your ID, it spits out a keycard. Or the door of your room scans a barcode you’ve been sent. These are in half the major hotels in Vegas — gambling being the reliable pilot industry for such innovations — and they’re coming anyway. Why not use that government money to permanently reduce your wages bill?

That’s just one example. Drone delivery, autonomous vehicles, you name it. Any technology that advances the approved public health idea of “social distancing” will be taken up.

No matter how much governments try and restrict direct-to-business payments to maintaining employment, automation will occur.

This will proceed in the standard fashion described by Marx: of advantage to any individual firm, or even sector, it will deepen the crisis of accumulation and employment overall.

Any universal consumption payment bonus will make more logical the case for universal basic income.

Interesting times, should it really take off, far more so than the capacity of the right to wrap their tiny minds around. Whether the left can rise to the occasion and make a response on universal grounds — rather than attacking the term “infection” as “colonialist” and mens’ and womens’ hospital wards as transphobic — well, we’ll find out.

Most of us will, anyway.