As the coronavirus pandemic ravages the world, identity politics appears to have taken a backseat to fighting the virus. Yet on Saturday, Emily Cousens, a research assistant at Oxford University, said she doesn’t want her university to win the “coronavirus vaccine race” — because it would make Britain proud and might teach the wrong lessons about medical progress. Specifically, she worried about China looking bad and the West — full of those evil “white males” — looking good.
“The story will be clear: China, once again, has unleashed a threat to civilisation. But the best brains of the UK have saved the world,” Cousens wrote at HuffPost. “If my university is the first to develop the vaccine, I’m worried that it will be used as it has been in the past, to fulfil its political, patriotic function as proof of British excellence.”
“We’ll forget the lessons that the pandemic has taught us so far: that the UK and the US are in fact not exceptions at the global stage. That we are not only vulnerable but can also afford to learn lessons from countries, regardless of whether we have a special relationship with them – such as South Korea. That being white, male and Oxford-educated may not be the only criteria for effective leadership (the countries whose responses have been most widely praised, Germany and New Zealand among others, are all led by women),” she insisted.
The upshot of Cousens’ piece is the virtue of international cooperation, especially with — you guessed it! — China. She praised China for sharing the genetic sequence for the coronavirus in early January, ignoring the fact that the Chinese Communist Party repeatedly lied about the virus and destroyed early samples of it, enabling it to spread across the globe.
She went on to complain that British leaders have resorted to patriotism. She acknowledged that “war-time rhetoric is useful in instilling a sense that this is a moment when individuals need to make sacrifices and put the country first,” but she complained that patriotism makes “our collective solidarities end at the border.”
To be fair, it does not seem like Cousens is rooting for the virus or hoping that a vaccine does not develop. But she did express her hope that Oxford doesn’t develop the vaccine — because that would be inconvenient for her narrative.
According to the identity politics narrative, those evil oppressive white men have been lording it over everybody else for centuries, so true justice and progress can only be achieved when women and racial minorities are empowered. This narrative completely overlooks the tremendous leaps forward taken by Western science, free markets, and technology. Modern prosperity was fueled by the West, and Oxford played a pivotal role in the story, as the home of the Merton calculators — who achieved scientific breakthroughs by applying mathematics to philosophical questions in the 1300s.
The West’s leadership has more to do with a culture of charity and innovation arguably inspired by Christianity than with anything racial, but left-leaning academics often see racism behind any effort to give the West credit for modern prosperity.
If Oxford develops the first coronavirus vaccine, that would be something to celebrate, and the British should take pride in the achievement. Indeed, Oxford’s coronavirus vaccination trial started on Thursday, with the first volunteers receiving the experimental vaccines. Let’s hope the university that spawned the Merton calculators can achieve another tremendous scientific feat, whatever it means for identity politics.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.
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