Sunday, December 26, 2021

'An Indisputable Boon For Authoritarianism'

Five Ways the Coronavirus Pandemic Strengthened Authoritarianism Worldwide

The coronavirus pandemic has been an indisputable boon for authoritarianism. Individual liberty and personal sovereignty are in retreat around the world. 

Tyrannical China is rising as the dominant world power, having paid no price for unleashing the disease, while the United States and its allies are having deep second thoughts about economic freedom, free speech, and other bulwarks against authoritarian control.

Here are five ways the coronavirus pandemic drove the worldwide ascendancy of authoritarianism:

Growing Chinese Power

China emerges from the pandemic with more geopolitical influence than ever. Beijing used “vaccine diplomacy” to buy influence from developing nations by donating millions of doses of its dubious vaccines. 

The staggering economic damage inflicted upon other nations by the coronavirus appears to have accelerated China’s timetable for becoming the dominant economic power in the world, although there are analysts who believe Beijing’s reliably false economic reports mask systemic weaknesses that could kneecap its meteoric growth, such as its rickety real-estate system and its faltering power grid.

China relentlessly uses its influence to attack capitalism and democracy, touting authoritarianism as a superior model for dealing with crises like the Chinese coronavirus. The alleged failure of the U.S. government to handle a disease China supposedly brought swiftly under control has become a staple of Chinese state media editorials.

China is aggressively using its economic and political influence to spread its authoritarian ideology of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” across the developing world.

China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is colonizing the Third World with debt to Chinese banks and swarms of Chinese workers, who invariably get the lion’s share of the jobs created by BRI infrastructure programs. China’s military and technical assistance comes with ideological indoctrination programs, increasingly conducted at regional academies China is building in developing nations.

Mandates and Lockdowns

Even without the malign influence of Communist China, the Western world is growing increasingly accustomed to authoritarian commands from nominally limited governments. It is difficult to discern the meaningful limitations on governments that can order its citizens to inject themselves with medications and punish them harshly for non-compliance.

Much of the punishment is being administered by politically cooperative corporations, a deeply troubling trend of using “private” muscle to bypass the legal limits on government power. A generation ago, evil giant corporations were stock villains in popular culture; today, the American public meekly accepts giant corporations as enforcers of the ruling Party’s will. Previous experiments with using politically controlled corporations to implement political directives have not ended well.

Enforcing vaccine mandates will inevitably lead to a massive expansion in government surveillance. A proposal was made this week to implant “vaccine passport” microchips in human beings to track their vaccination status, an idea that would have been the stuff of dystopian science fiction horror stories a few years ago. Facial recognition systems to enforce quarantines have also been tested.

Some form of electronic monitoring system seems inevitable, for the convenience of the bureaucracy – and once it has been imposed, there is every reason to believe it will expand far beyond coronavirus vaccine compliance, evolving into something like China’s “social credit system.”

People are discovering their paper “vaccine passports” expire much more quickly than they anticipated, setting up an endless loop of surveillance and compliance to obtain booster shots and updated papers. Without those papers, the “unvaccinated” – a term that will soon refer to people who received two vaccine shots, but no boosters – will find themselves locked out of public facilities.

Grim as the lockdowns might have been in America, they pale in comparison to the virtual police states imposed by ostensibly free nations like Australia and New Zealand, complete with “quarantine camps.”

Huge protests against draconian coronavirus measures erupted across Europe in November, and even high-compliance societies like South Korea are growing uneasy with repeated clampdowns against virus outbreaks.

Censorship and speech control

The pandemic accelerated a trend toward speech control and censorship that was already far too pronounced at the beginning of 2020. Populations across the Western world are now accustomed to censorship diktats against ideas the ruling Party and its corporate allies find objectionable. 

Human rights groups noted a surge of speech controls and bans on free assembly justified as coronavirus-fighting measures over the past two years. In some cases, deadly force was employed to suppress speech deemed “threatening to public health.” Authoritarian regimes found the Chinese coronavirus a very handy excuse for shutting down protests and opposition political rallies.

Social media giants declared war on “disinformation” – which they selectively define as they please, according to their political preferences, before opening fire on it with heavy censorship artillery. Somehow the bans, “fact-checks,” and content warnings never seem to hit targets on the Left.

History struggles to provide an example of a crackdown on “disinformation” that did not become politicized and authoritarian in character. China’s titanic Internet censorship apparatus began as a crusade against disinformation and “false news.” 

The Chinese Communist Party still justifies its oppressive speech controls as an effort to control disinformation – and it very much wants American Big Tech companies to follow its lead.

Crackdowns and Oppression

The pandemic years saw a pronounced increase in the use of oppressive tactics against activists and opposition politicians by autocratic regimes.

Coronavirus quarantine protocols quickly morphed into crackdowns on political dissent. Leading democracies were consumed with their own coronavirus battles, so authoritarian regimes felt free to smash their opponents. 

Criticizing the coronavirus response of such a regime became one of the fastest routes to prison. Accusing political opponents of violating coronavirus safety rules became a popular pretext for arresting them.

Coronavirus outbreaks caused numerous elections around the world to be canceled or postponed. Sometimes these delays were welcomed as sound health policy, but sometimes they proved very convenient for dictatorial regimes.

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