Two pandemics

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Two pandemics

...after years, one spawned the other

Paul Golding

Sunday, July 05, 2020

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The world is currently experiencing two pandemics with diametric social responses. One resulted in worldwide lockdowns and social distancing and the other in mass demonstration and antisocial distancing. These two pandemics reflect aspects of the geopolitical tensions and superpower competition in the world.

The first originated in China as a public health emergency which engulfed the world. As a consequence of the first, and a confluence of other factors, including Black Lives Matter and the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a social epidemic started in the US. This second epidemic quickly mushroomed into a global pandemic with massive protests erupting in Europe, Asia, and the South Pacific.

Jamaica held its own small-scale protest in front of the US Embassy in Kingston. What is at the root of this second pandemic? Was it created in a lab, was it deliberately spread to cause panic, was it a geo-political design to accomplish hegemony?

The logical starting point in answering these questions would be to go back to the beginning of the African slave trade. However, because of the origins of this second pandemic, we will start with the American Civil War (ACW) which spanned from 1861 to 1865. The standard narrative for the reason for the ACW is that there were tensions between the North and the South regarding the emancipation of slaves which led to war. The truth is less noble and more nuanced than the prevailing narrative. While there were people in the North, including Abraham Lincoln, the Church, and abolitionists, who thought that slavery was reprehensible and repugnant. Emancipation was not the primary reason for the war. Think weapons of mass destruction and the war in Iraq.

In the years leading up the ACW, the North and the South had two different economic systems. The North was industrialised, focusing on finance, shipbuilding, mercantile shipping, steel making, and other urban occupations. Steam power was widely available and, therefore, the need for slave labour was minuscule. This system depended on free labour. Concurrently, the South concentrated on agriculture with cotton being the staple. For cotton production to be profitable, slave labour was required, and the southern states had massive economic stake in slavery. Cotton depleted the soil quickly and, therefore, additional land was required to expand its cotton production. To accomplish this the number of slaves states would have had to be expanded. The North objected; they needed additional land for a reliable source of food for the labour force in the north. The conundrum was: North needed more land in the west for food and the South needed more land in the west for cotton. Two competing economic systems which would determine the future economic direction of the USA, industrial or agricultural.

Another issue was tariff. In the mid 1820s imported manufactured goods faced high tariffs, while foreign raw materials were free of tariffs. This tariff structure benefited the North twice by protecting the manufacturing industry and providing a source of cheap raw materials. The South did not manufacture goods, and therefore had to import at a high tariff or purchase from the North which attracted high transportation costs. Most of the tariff revenues collected in the South was spent in the North to build or subsidise, among other things, the erection of train lines which were of no benefit to the south. This was a highly contentious and long-standing issue.

So, contrary to the prevailing narrative, the conflict between the two economies that existed in the USA at the time, and which would prevail, was at the crux of the ACW. The North wasn't interested in emancipation per se, it was against expansion and in favour of industrialisation and a dependable source of cheap food. Also, with industrialisation, more people were migrating to the North to find jobs while the South could not attract free labour nor was free labour profitable. For the South to survive, slavery needed to continue and expand. The South also thought that the tax regime should not favour one set of industries at the expense of others.

When no compromise could be reached, the drumbeat for secession started, and when Abraham Lincoln was elected in November 1860, the South considered it an act of war. By February 1861 the Confederate States of America was formed with 11 states seceding from the United States/Union. On April 12, 1861 the ACW began. Lincoln took the political position that the war was about slavery, although it was not. Militarily, the ACW was to protect the union. On September 22, 1962 Lincoln issued a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation which declared that, as of January 1, 1863, “all enslaved people in the Confederate States shall be then, henceforward, and forever free”. This wasn't a proclamation for all enslaved people to be “henceforward, and forever free”; only those in the southern states that were at war. In fact, when the formal Emancipation was made in 1865, only slaves in the Confederacy were free. The slave states that remained loyal to the Union were not included in the Emancipation. In fact, even though slavery was abolished, there was no law that said it was a crime to have slaves or if you committed a crime you could be enslaved.

The Reconstruction period, which lasted from 1865 to 1877, was an effort, more like an experiment, to reintegrate the Confederate states and four million former slaves into the Union. This was a very turbulent period as there was no plan before the end of the war as to how this would be achieved. The immediate post-ACW years were generally good for black people. The Federal Government passed the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the US Constitution and the Civil Rights Act of 1866. This gave the former slaves the right to vote, to hold public office, to seek their own employment, to own land, to own a home, to be called by their first and last name, to try on clothes in a store, to marry, and to education among other things. Many black people left the South for other states. Those who remained lived in abject poverty.

While Reconstruction was taking place, the Federal Government was making concessions to the South which would eventually reinstitute a more insidious form of slavery. The Federal Government allowed the southern states to enact laws, as early as 1865, which were called the Black Codes or vagrancy laws. These codes stripped blacks in the South of their right to vote, serve on juries, travel freely, marry, education, or to work freely. Black people could be imprisoned for, among other spurious things, being an uppity black, speaking loudly in the presence of a white woman, and an inability to prove that one was employed. So black people became criminals with up to 90 per cent of the prison population in the South being black. These black people were leased out en masse to farmers and industrialists and were treated worse than slaves. The death rate was 30 per cent to 40 per cent, per year. A complementary approach was peonage (debt servitude) — a system in which an employer compelled a worker to pay off a debt with work. In the South, one's debt would never ever be paid off. All these methods of neo-slavery were done in conjunction and complicit with state and county governments.

The Federal Government was successful in reintegrating the Union. The compromise, however, was to allow the South to make their own laws and treat black people as they choose. After 1877, the Federal Government abandoned the aspect of reconstruction which involved integrating former slaves in the South. The South used the high incarceration rate as proof that former slaves, and black people generally, were not ready for emancipation or for civil rights and were intellectually inferior. Sociologists also used the data to support the Southern premise. An entire system of racism was created in the South which discriminated against and subjugated former slaves. This involved all aspects of life — police, judge, jury, politics, private sector, housing, employment, banks, television, Hollywood, church, you name it.

This is where the second pandemic was incubated and spawned several civil right movements, including Black Lives Matter (BLM). There is a school of thought that the Ku Klux Klan has infiltrated several police precincts in the US and are killing black men with impunity. There is an intractable philosophy that BLM will have to overcome in order to make a significant difference. This philosophy was articulated in a thesis entitled 'Why the South Must Prevail' by William F Buckley Jr in 1965. Buckley, in arguing against civil rights, stated:

“The central question that emerges — and it is not a parliamentary question or a question that is answered by merely consulting a catalogue of the rights of American citizens, born equal — is whether the white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically? The sobering answer is yes — the white community is so entitled because, for the time being, it is the advanced race. It is not easy, and it is unpleasant, to adduce statistics evidencing the median cultural superiority of white over Negro, but it is a fact that obtrudes, one that cannot be hidden by ever-so-busy egalitarians and anthropologists.”

This philosophy is alive, well, and being dangerously “trumpeted” by the White House. The lyrics from Bob Marley's War is very appropriate here: “Until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned, everywhere is war.”

Buckley Jr's perspective on the use of violence in preserving the superiority and privilege of the “advanced race” — white race. He writes: “Sometimes it becomes impossible to assert the will of a minority, in which case it must give way, and the society will regress; sometimes the numerical minority cannot prevail except by violence.” So, as the BLM movement makes improvements in civil rights and cultural slavery, major changes to the philosophical fabric will be met with violence. The New York Daily News reported on June 2 that gun sales in 2020 had skyrocketed compared to 2019, particularly in the months of March, April and May, as the US dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, police brutality, and protests. Correlation doesn't equal causation, but experts believe the increase in gun sales is connected to the protest. In March, it was estimated that 2.5 million guns were sold — an 85 per cent increase from last year. April saw a 71 per cent year-over-year increase, and there was an 80 per cent increase in May. In January and February, before the pandemic and protest, the country firearm sales were only up 19 per cent and 17 per cent, respectively. “Yuh betta tek sleep and mark death!”

In conclusion, the philosophy that needs to be embraced is the Unity of Mankind by Blumenbach, which makes the compelling argument that mankind is a single species and all races have accomplished equal cultural development, including writing, art and scientific investigation. In this, both God and science are in unity. I invite readers to watch the PBS documentary Slavery by Another Name on YouTube.

Professor Paul Golding is former dean of the College of Business and Management at the University of Technology, Jamaica.Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or pgolding@utech.edu.jm.


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