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The Era of Biotechnology, Mass Surveillance, and Government Control

AP Photo/Taimy Alvarez

The world is arguably experiencing the first biowar in history. This is not to say that any country deliberately manufactured covid or released bioweapons, but as recent reporting from the New York Times shows, the Chinese government tried to exploit it politically, perhaps calculating that a pandemic would hurt more complex economies than simpler ones. A great power competition has crossed over into the biology of the planet.

No ‘Negative’ News: How China Censored the Coronavirus
Thousands of internal directives and reports reveal how Chinese officials stage-managed what appeared online in the early days of the outbreak …

In Hangzhou, propaganda workers on round-the-clock shifts wrote up reports describing how they were ensuring people saw nothing that contradicted the soothing message from the Communist Party: that it had the virus firmly under control

The Guardian writes that “China is expected to be the only G20 economy to grow this year,” banking partly on the strategy of calculated simplification.

The Chinese leadership, anticipating slower growth and a more difficult international environment, are pursuing a new strategy known as a “dual circulation economy.” The concept, first proposed by Xi Jinping in May is aimed at reducing the country’s reliance on overseas markets and technology and fostering domestic consumption and advances in technology.

“Globalization is facing a reversal, with rising protectionism and unilateralism. The world economy is weakening as international trade and investment, science, technology … security and politics are all undergoing profound change,” Xi said in a speech in Shenzhen last Wednesday.

“We are forming a new development pattern with the domestic economic cycle playing a leading role. Our economy is at a critical period of transformation,” he said.

In contrast to the Biden mantra to “build back better,” Beijing appears determined to reduce their dependencies and increase their survivability. The foundations of countries have varying degrees of stability:

MIT physicist César Hidalgo and Harvard economist Ricardo Hausmann introduced a spectral method to measure the complexity of a country’s economy by inferring it from the structure of the network connecting countries to the products that they export.

By this measure, China is ranked 32nd, behind Japan, Taipei, Western Europe and the United States. Beijing’s basic message was simple: China’s society was going to be more robust in the troubled times ahead because of the Party’s command. Meanwhile Western political systems would be caught in a dilemma between the hardship caused by lockdowns and outrage that activity had not been curtailed more completely.

At this point Trump should resign and allow Vice President Mike Pence to serve as President through January 20. Despite Pence’s numerous faults, at least he appears to be engaged in attempting to combat Covid, as evidenced by his effort to bolster public confidence in the new vaccine by getting his shot on live television Friday.

Even the biotechnological advantage of Western countries in vaccine development seems set to become controversial as activists accuse “rich countries” of cornering the supply of pharmaceuticals. The NYT says:

As a growing number of coronavirus vaccines advance through clinical trials, wealthy countries are fueling an extraordinary gap in access around the world, laying claim to more than half the doses that could come on the market by the end of next year.

While many poor nations may be able to vaccinate at most 20 percent of their populations in 2021, some of the world’s richest countries have reserved enough doses to immunize their own multiple times over.

The politics of pharmaceuticals has already led to what the press calls “vaccine diplomacy.” Nikkei says:

Rollouts of Western coronavirus vaccines are dominating the headlines, but China is pressing ahead with its own drive to distribute shots worldwide while preparing for mass inoculations at home. Like many vaccines, China’s face lingering questions about efficacy and safety. But with funding for Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative slowing down, some experts see vaccine diplomacy as another chance for China to shore up its international influence, especially in the developing world.

Hopes that the world will return to normal in a few months were dimmed by the possible emergence of mutant viral strains in the UK. “The Coronavirus Is Mutating. What Does That Mean for Us?” asks the NYT.

Just as vaccines begin to offer hope for a path out of the pandemic, officials in Britain this past weekend sounded an urgent alarm about what they called a highly contagious new variant of the coronavirus circulating in England. …

Some variants become more common in a population simply by luck, not because the changes somehow supercharge the virus. But as it becomes more difficult for the pathogen to survive — because of vaccinations and growing immunity in human populations — researchers also expect the virus to gain useful mutations enabling it to spread more easily or to escape detection by the immune system.

It means that the West in biostrategic competition with China for some months or years. Even if the covid mutations prove susceptible to existing pharmaceuticals, there may be other challenges caused by the rapid increase in complexity in social and biological networks. China sees the threat and may believe more state control is the way to go. Beijing may even try to control the weather.

For decades, China has been home to one of the world’s most advanced weather-modification programs. Generally, its goals have been modest: more rain in arid places, less field-destroying hail and sunny days for big national events. But that modesty is starting to give way. Earlier this month, China announced plans to expand its rainmaking capabilities to cover nearly 60% of the country by 2025. Details are sketchy, but fears are rising about the potential military uses of these capabilities, and their effects on an already changing climate. For China, and the world, these concerns need to be addressed soon.

In 1978, the Convention on the Prohibition of Military or Any Other Hostile Use of Environmental Modification went into force.

Although China ratified the treaty in 2005, its interest in controlling the weather and the environment didn’t wane. Meteorological calamities such as hail and flooding account for more than 70% of the country’s annual disaster-related damage. Because of that ongoing toll, the government has staked its legitimacy in part on how well it responds to such incidents. In recent decades, as the country has grown wealthier, Earth-altering projects such as the Three Gorges Dam have become a favored solution.

Ironically, that is functionally comparable to what the Western establishment long intended to accomplish on a larger scale through the Paris climate accords. Climate academics Burns and Craik noted the Paris agreement was climate engineering.

Recent assessments of the international community’s ability to hold the increase of global average temperature to well below 2°C, while pursuing efforts to limit that increase to 1.5°C, indicate that this goal is unlikely to be achieved without large-scale implementation of climate engineering (CE) technologies. …

this Article analyzes the specific provisions of the Paris Agreement with a view to assessing the extent to which the Agreement can provide an institutional framework to effectively govern CE internationally, and how it may shape the development and implementation of CE options. In particular, the Article examines a number of critical interpretive questions that will need to be addressed as states begin to develop CE technologies at large scales, including the need to provide guidance respecting the acceptability of exceeding the Paris targets before drawing down atmospheric CO2 levels, the challenges for equity, human rights, and sustainability objectives that CE poses, and the need to incorporate CE technologies into accounting and incentive structures.

Whether intentional or not, the realm of international competition has spilled over into the domain of controlling the biosphere through the regulation of population movements, the dosing of billions with vaccines, the re-architecturing of entire economies, and climate engineering. 2021 may not be the end; only the beginning.

On the one side of this rivalry is China with its evolving strategies of the “dual circulation economy” and weather control. On the other is the Western establishments with its notions of “build back better” and climate engineering. In common to both sides are the tools of biotechnology, mass surveillance, and government control with which they hope to dominate the world.

As the world advances into the 3rd decade of the 21st century, perhaps publics will realize that the greatest environmental danger lies not in burning coal but in letting bureaucrats try to  control complex systems. The Five Year Planners are attempting to manipulate great forces, which will sooner or later break loose.

“They believed that prediction was just a function of keeping track of things. If you knew enough, you could predict anything. That’s been cherished scientific belief since Newton.’
And?’
Chaos theory throws it right out the window.”
― Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

“God creates dinosaurs, God kills dinosaurs, God creates man, man kills God, man brings back dinosaurs.”
― Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park

What could go wrong?

BooksLast Stands: Why Men Fight When All Is Lost by Michael Walsh “A philosophical and spiritual defense of the premodern world, of the tragic view, of physical courage, and of masculinity and self-sacrifice in an age when those ancient virtues are too often caricatured and dismissed.” —Victor Davis Hanson

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