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Reflections on Brownstone's Retreat - Brownstone Institute

Reflections on Brownstone’s Retreat


My mind “hurts.” I just got back from the Brownstone Institute’s Retreat in Avon, Connecticut, February 22-25, 2024. Thirty-five people from a diverse mix of backgrounds and professions were invited to participate in two and a half days of presentations, brainstorming, and discussions about some of the most critical issues facing America.

The central rule under which the process was conducted required an individual’s good-faith commitment in which the interactions were not recorded, and the promise that, while what was presented and discussed was fair game for analytical use, the names of the people interacting could not be used in public reports. 

The idea behind this approach is to encourage fully free and open commentary and interaction in an intensely analytical climate. This is designed to eliminate concerns that an individual’s observations and arguments could be taken out of context due to political motivations, agendas, and misperceptions of those outside the group. 

Below are thoughts based on my memory of presentations and the numerous group and individual discussions that followed. I think it offers an accurate sense of what the participants were most concerned with. It is not comprehensive since I didn’t take notes, but I created my own summary in an effort to try to organize my swirling reactions to what I learned and heard at the Retreat.

The Weakening of the Rule of Law

As Jason Chaffetz writes in They Never Let a Crisis Goes to Waste, Rahm Emanuel and Nancy Pelosi each aggressively used the mantra of “never let a serious crisis go to waste.” Each utilized the strategy of what Chaffetz calls “Disaster Liberalism.” What unfolded during the Covid-19 period was that political and economic interests used the Covid-19 pandemic assertion to gain systemic control and assert powers we never even knew they possessed.

In fact, under the Constitutional and Rule of Law system founded on limited powers of government and the deliberate diffusion of institutional control that served as the foundation of the system we believed we were occupying prior to the significant deviations that accompanied the responses to Covid-19, we were betrayed by many of our leaders and institutions. 

Nor were the violations of our Constitution and Rule of Law commitments solely the behavior of the Democrats, Republicans, or political Independents, at least during the final days of the Trump Administration. As people’s fears were stoked, however, we experienced a full-scale systemic panic that spread across private sectors as well as the political spectrum. The powers that strove to regain control of America’s political system kept up sustained attacks on their hated target, using the “Covid Crisis” as a weapon. 

The reality is that many actions were taken illegitimately. I remember early on in the “crisis” when orders were being issued almost daily about masks, social distancing, and lockdowns that I kept asking myself and others “Where is this power coming from?” The truth is that it was simply seized, not authorized but claimed and asserted, and few dared to say NO! Deliberately heightening our fear and desperation was used as a psychological method to justify authoritarian control. The “crisis mentality” provided the lever.

“Social Justice Warriors” and the “Infantilization of Mind”

In his brilliant 1830s book, Democracy in America, French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville warned that one potential flaw of democracy was that, rather than overt force as done in an authoritarian system, in a democracy subtle manipulations of governmental power and collective pressure were used to “infantilize the minds” of its citizens, corrupting their culture and capabilities without their even knowing.

This is occurring as we speak. The Left is deliberately giving America’s young a sense of purpose through being “Social Justice Warriors.” A recent report describes how a California school system is spending huge amounts of money to create a program that pays students $1,400 to study how to be Social Justice Warriors. This strategy has been fomenting for the past several decades in universities but is spreading. The key is that it is not education but indoctrination.

What is taking place is the advancement of a dogmatic and intolerant Neo-Marxism and Maoism that is seeking to transform society into an all-dominating “Collective.” In that collective you either conform or are “canceled,” ostracized, denied opportunities, or labeled a heretic, racist, sexist, or another negative characteristic.

It is not even in error to ask whether the amazing overreactions to the poorly understood and horribly mismanaged Covid-19 Pandemic were done to gain control more than to dampen or buffer the effects of the virus. I had a discussion at the Retreat with several people about the issue of whether the Covid-19 virus was an accidental release from the Wuhan lab or whether it was naturally occurring.

I said, “In one sense it doesn’t matter. I believe that it did come out in China, and was most likely causing harm in that system at least six months before they issued limp warnings about its nature and risks in December 2019.” My argument is that the CCP realized Covid-19 was going to be seriously problematic and that China was going to be significantly harmed because they really didn’t know how to stop it. My sense is that the CCP leaders decided it was necessary to “share” the virus with other nations so that China was not the only country to suffer a “Covid” downturn. 

As cynical as this scenario seems, one reality is that at the end of January 2020, China allowed 10 million-plus Chinese citizens to travel throughout the world to celebrate the Chinese New Year. I consider this to be a “seeding” strategy intended to make sure other economic and political competitors have problems and that China did not have to unilaterally experience the isolation and quarantine that would otherwise occur. Certainly, the CCP’s worldwide propaganda and intimidation campaign to avoid criticism and to “cancel” anyone who dared to suggest China’s complicity and accountability strongly propose that the CCP was operating out of a sense of guilt.

As one respondent with whom I was talking stated: “That actually makes sense” and then added, “It also does not change the idea that governmental and corporate interests in America played along with this by creating a strategy of control that satisfied their interests of gaining power and diverting enormous profits to themselves.” This is the kind of multi-faceted interaction you could have with people at the Retreat.

James Rollins echoes Chaffetz’ comments about Emanuel and Pelosi in writing that South Carolina House Majority Whip James Clyburn has stated: “the crisis is “a tremendous opportunity to restructure things to fit our vision.” In other words, coronavirus gives good cover to impose progressive requirements on stricken businesses and a society eager to see government simply act. And fast.

That is precisely what Democrats did. In the same way, the badly flawed World Health Organization, already closely aligned with and heavily influenced by China even earlier than 2019, went along with the Left’s power-oriented narrative and is continuing to use narratives of fear in 2024 to protect its damaged reputation and expand its global power. 

It is not unrealistic to argue that this is what the Democrats, Progressives, and major corporate and health sector economic actors who ultimately benefited from hundreds of billions in federal subsidies did during the partially manufactured crisis of the Covid-19 pandemic. They generated an extremely strong sense of a potentially catastrophic crisis. This use of radical fear-mongering allowed phenomenal profiteering from a crisis that was made far more serious than it deserved. This helped Chuck Schumer, Pelosi, Clyburn and their supporters and minions. It not only unseated Donald Trump, but produced a psychological and emotional climate of fear and panic.

Maintaining a psychology of fear was also a core strategic element. Shutting down schools and sending children home was a key part of the strategy. Even though data clearly revealed that children were not at any significant risk, the closing of schools coupled with masking and social distancing mandates heightened the psychology of fear and provided even greater control. After all, our trusted government and core governmental institutions would never mandate such extreme measures without justification. Right?

Orwell Reborn: Legacy Media, Social Media and the Rise of Big Brother

Among the topics discussed at the Retreat were increasing censorship and the role of social media. This included the rise of a one-sided entity we refer to as the “Mainstream Media” that has clearly taken a side in America’s political system. The federal government’s use and abuse of its power presents a stunning danger to our system’s integrity through the monitoring and censorship of people’s communications about matters not consistent with the agendas of those in positions of power.

Artificial Intelligence systems controlled by Big Tech pose a fundamental threat to the ideals of our Democratic Republic. One Retreat presenter described Big Tech and its close relationship with federal agencies as a sort of “Censorship Industrial Complex” operating much like our “Military Industrial Complex” in which government, vast corporations, and lobbyists work hand-in-hand to serve their interests of power and profit. 

How serious the threat is posed by the burgeoning censorship and information control system can be understood in the fact that there has been a massive shift of American’s information and news intake from traditional print media to Internet sources. The “manufacture of consent” and perception of a false “reality” is made increasingly possible because studies show that 86% of the American population obtain their information and news from the Internet. A January 2021 report by the Pew Foundation reported that “More than eight-in-ten U.S. adults (86%) say they get news from a smartphone, computer or tablet “often” or “sometimes,” including 60% who say they do so often.”

Orwellian linguistic narratives have been used to propagandize, influence, and shape public perception. You do not have to look at my 2021 book Un-Canceling” America to understand that, as numerous people at the Retreat voiced, we are in an “Age of Appalling Lies.” Huge organizations are misrepresenting and sanitizing their data to serve their purposes. It is all about gaining power, wealth, and control. 

One consequence is that the ability to trust and seek truth is disappearing. On so many levels we are experiencing a “Treason of the Experts” and a profound betrayal. To this point we have been “playing on their field.” Brownstone Institute was created almost three years ago to counter the forces set in play by exposing what is taking place. It is trying with an increasing degree of success to confront those seeking to undermine America at a time when so many others in media and government are personal and intellectual cowards, or beneficiaries of what is taking place.

Given the clear political bias manifested by the shrinking “Mainstream Media,” and Big Tech’s ability to censor or spread one-sided propaganda through social media, we face a dangerous situation that combines the suppression of speech with the dissemination of false narratives aimed at silencing one set of interests and elevating another into a position of dominance and control.

Jeffrey Tucker, the Founder and President of Brownstone, described what is taking place through the use of the Internet and social media as a dangerous combination of censorship and denial of access to unfavored sources and people who might challenge the “Woke” agenda. It is the dissemination of widespread propaganda aimed at indoctrination, censorship of disfavored voices, and the surreptitious monitoring of private communications. Tucker rightly describes this as a “Digital coup d’etat.” 

There is No “Marshall Plan” to Bail Us Out: The Implications of an Enormous National Debt

America’s national debt is at $34 trillion and growing explosively. It is far too large to ever be repaid or significantly reduced. Even that horrendous amount does not represent the actual obligation over time. I recently saw an analysis that suggested the debt was growing by one trillion dollars every 100 days. The US national debt is already $34.4 trillion in early March 2024 with 300 days still remaining in 2024. If accurate, and it is, that means at the end of 2024 we will have a national debt above $37 trillion that is growing even more rapidly as carrying costs are added to its growing amount. 

Even this frightening and unsustainable amount is illusory because it does not include our legally obligated future financial commitments, or the fact that, given the lower wealth held by ordinary Americans, there will be a collapse of the dynamic core of the consumer economy on which the health, dynamism, and scale of our system is based. This is already underway because many people are loading up their credit cards and other borrowing for ordinary expenses.

They are incurring debt that they will be increasingly unable to repay, and this is leading to a systemic collapse in the relatively near future, one made more likely by the radical economic policies being implemented as a response to the fears and unrealistic claims surrounding questionable projections of climate change and causative factors.

Nor does this potential catastrophe take into account the challenges facing the Social Security system, one dependent on payroll taxes for its funding. It is already in trouble and is projected to be bankrupt by the mid-2030s. Pope Francis has described the evolving population demographic as an “Age Curse.” When we add to this the catastrophic dilemma that the US population is aging dramatically, people are living longer and requiring increasing medical care, and that the American population demographic representing people in their mid 50s and above have very inadequate or no savings put aside for their retirement and other needs, we face a financial and social disaster.

This phenomenon will impose historically unique demands on America, Western Europe, and Japan, systems in which rapidly aging but longer-living populations are experiencing plummeting birth rates resulting in increasingly skewed generational conditions influencing work and wealth creation. This is a situation in which demands are being created for which there is no obvious pathway to resolution. 

The Impoverishment of the Middle Class

Another critical issue involves the incredible profits being extracted by Big Pharma and the health care sector, and their rapid growth in terms of share of the US economy. In 2021 the healthcare industry was estimated to earn $808 billion in profits and represent 17.3% of the US economy, the third largest in the nation. While Pharma and addiction is a driving force, the reality is that we really need to understand what is happening as the creation of a total “ecology” of disease, addiction, hopelessness, and decline in which millions of humans are being harmed. America is not “getting better.” The nation is “getting sick” and we must act to try to heal what ails us.

The massive shift of wealth from middle and lower socio-economic classes to the most wealthy, with the draining of wealth pose extreme consequences for the economic and social health of the nation. This shift constitutes serious risks to American society, even to the point of economic and therefore societal collapse of essential systems. The corrosive process of progressive impoverishment of everyone other than the most wealthy will simultaneously undermine the quality of life of the poor and dwindling middle class almost immediately.

But the irony is that, after a decade or so, the wealth base of the elite and incredibly wealthy who benefited from the transitional processes will also begin to erode rapidly. The widespread erosion of the consumer base means that the ability of the most powerful and ultra-rich will be threatened because their extreme wealth depends on the extraction of the wealth of the lower classes that will rapidly fade away.

Threats to Privacy and Economic Security Through Central Bank Digital Currency

A fascinating presentation at the Retreat involved the analysis of the ongoing and accelerating efforts by the institutions of the financial system to convert paper money holdings to fully electronic instrumentalities and systems, particularly what is called Central Bank Digital Currencies or CBDCs. At this point a normal person might ask, “Why? I’m completely happy walking around with cash in my pocket, spending it on what I want when I want it, and by the way, if everything is digital and processed and held by banks then what happens if the system is hacked or breaks down in a cyberattack? And, oh yeah, doesn’t that mean that banks and the government and big companies know every single thing I do with my money?

The Retreat’s discussions on this were intense. The fact is that there are very significant financial and political dangers of CBDCs mandated to replace other forms of currency, and wholly controlled by central banks. This poses significant risks, including the complete loss of fiscal privacy, and is well on the way to being approved legislatively. When every purchase and financial transaction is capable of being monitored by our government, as well as businesses and other entities, “Big Brother” files can be kept on everyone. 

The Illegitimate Assumption of Power by Manipulating the “Crisis”

In terms of the cynicism of “never letting a crisis go to waste” as explained by Rahm Emanuel and Nancy Pelosi, the core mechanism of stimulation in 2020 and 2021 was to spread fear and panic through the gross overstatement of Covid deaths and disease counts. The daily “death count” statistics were blazoned on television screens and other media instruments. The mantra of “follow the science” was heard everywhere, even though the “science” was often invalid and significantly overstated. One reason for this is that very significant financial motivations existed for hospitals, Big Pharma, and a segment of the medical profession to overstate deaths. These may frequently have involved a showing that the individual at some point may have had a Covid infection but there was no clear guarantee that it was active. 

In many instances, the deceased persons were suffering from other serious comorbidities. In many occurrences there was no clear cause of death, but it served a political and financial purpose to assign Covid as the cause rather than other causative factors. The financial motivations of Big Pharma, doctors, hospitals, and political actors to keep the money gained by their Covid response flowing were substantial.

One particularly troubling presentation at the Retreat offered an example of how alleged data are being manipulated for effect. It was shown by the assertion of annual deaths over the past century said to be caused by pandemics. The Spanish flu offers a disturbing example. Dating from the early 1900s and aggregated with deaths attributed to other “pandemics” such as Swine flu, E. Coli, etc., The deaths assigned to Spanish flu make up 90% of the 3.3 million deaths per year that are alleged to be caused by pandemics.

The lie, however, is that when you control out the massive Spanish flu death count from all the other variations, the annual “pandemic death toll” average is closer to 19,000. Yet the WHO uses a global event from a century ago to infuse its warnings, show why its continued existence is vital, and as is now occurring, to pursue greatly expanded powers applicable in a global context through a major treaty expanding its powers.

The idea of “following the science” was also part of the Covid-19 “scam.” The systemwide “Lockdowns,” the requirement of masking, the practice of “Social Distancing” that was based on a late 19th century non-scientific assertion, and the outrageous resistance by the medical profession and Big Pharma to early treatment by medications that were proven anti-inflammatories, but outside the patent control and profit streams that patented medicines and new vaccines would provide Big Pharma, protected the immense profits that were made by those systems. We experienced strategies of profit, power, and political control. 

Early intervention treatments by some heroic doctors with medicines such as Ivermectin and Hydroxychloroquine saved many people by slowing or even eliminating the disease at an early point. This avoided dangerous hospitalizations in the latter stages of the lung-based inflammatory disease at which most deaths occurred.

What occurred can be understood in the context of the Great Barrington Declaration signed by 1,200 medical professionals. The Declaration challenged the amazingly erroneous and destructive initial political reactions about cause and denial of early responsive medical, economic, and social strategies. A truly offensive example of the ignorance and lockstep behavior is offered by the Stanford University Faculty Senate vote to censure Scott Atlas, a Hoover Institute Fellow who dared advise Donald Trump about paths of action.

Atlas argued against lockdowns and other actions that contradicted the prevailing “wisdom.” Eighty-five percent of the Stanford Faculty Senate voted to censure him. Even by the time of the Brownstone Retreat, Stanford’s “brilliant” Faculty Senators have never bothered to confess what should be their shame, embarrassment, and pompous arrogance sharply exposed by the fact that it has become clear that Scott Atlas was correct. They were wrong. They knew virtually nothing about the situation, and should themselves be sanctioned or required to do some form of penance for their demonstrated ignorance, herd mentality, and intellectual cowardice. 

With Covid, honesty and integrity disappeared overnight. The simple fact is that such repressive reactions by numerous systemic elements committed to the exploitation of the Pandemic for profit and political purposes exposes the motives of the mainstream actors—both public and private—who benefited from the control of the medical treatments and gained enormous wealth and political power from their actions. The consequences to America are dangerous to the continuing well-being of our social, political, and Constitutional systems.

It will be an ongoing struggle to cope with the ignorance, mistrust, and deviousness produced by the Pandemic. A core part of the Progressive strategy was to gain power and profit. They did this by creating division, hate, and shaming intended to silence or punish any opposition. They have long preached tolerance, unity, and understanding, but that narrative is nothing more than a mask aimed at gaining power through “canceling,” hate, overblown claims to victimhood, and the projection of guilt onto the people they want to control and silence. 

Confronting the Reality of Becoming a Drug-Addicted Society

Another critical issue at the Retreat included that of the extremely serious overmedication of millions upon millions of people with vaccines and other medical products that are ultimately addictive. People are not being informed that many of the pharmaceuticals regularly used on them by those they think are trusted professionals frequently have extremely undesirable side effects over time.

What is taking place with a number of the drugs is criminal. It is what several medical professionals described as “Cargo Cult Science.” It is a situation of industry capture and enormous profit. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) are addictive and dangerous. A specialist who analyzed the data suggested that every school shooter was on it. At the very least SSRIs are potentially toxic and deadly. Drugs in this category are used to manage depression, but in many instances cause depression. People can lose their minds. Statins are also really bad, and are even more harmful for older people. 

One of the most troubling interactions involved an individual who was misdiagnosed at the age of 14 by a psychiatric specialist, informed of the existence of an incurable brain defect, placed on a highly addictive and mood-altering medical regimen to the point of experiencing psychotic breaks, and years later after experiencing a suicidal episode, discovered that the original diagnosis was flawed. This courageous person then demonstrated incredible willpower and over a period of years withdrew from the addiction and regained a state of emotional and psychological normalcy.

While we can hope this individual’s ordeal is unique and rare, the numerous medical professionals who were participating in the Retreat stated that many doctors look on the field of psychiatry as a massive fraud, one too dependent on treating clients through unnecessary, often harmful, and addictive pharmaceuticals. 

Artificial Intelligence, Job Destruction, Governmental Monitoring, and a Chinese Version of a “Social Credit” System All Come to America 

When we think about the growing destruction of employment opportunities due to the combination of Artificial Intelligence and robotics, the dangers to the system’s survival become even more severe. The IMF, for example, projects a 60% job loss. Ben Goertzel, a US-Brazilian tech leader and the founder and chief executive of SingularityNET, foresees AI taking over 80% of jobs. His group is working on “Artificial General Intelligence” (AGI), an AI with human cognitive abilities. Considered generally to be the “godfather” of AI, Geoffrey Hinton quit his job at Google a year ago and stated he regrets his life’s work due to the widespread creation of disinformation and human job destruction.

The rapid disappearance of employment opportunities across a diverse spectrum of forms due to Artificial Intelligence generates a process that goes far beyond Joseph Schumpeter’s idea of systemic phases of “Creative Destruction,” in which many people are harmed by the rapid shift in the nature of the economic and social system due to new transformational technological breakthroughs, but are ultimately buffered by the positive effects created by the new forms of enhanced productivity as institutions and behaviors adapt to the new conditions.

In that Schumpeterian dynamic, there is an expectation of cyclical downturns followed by an eventual return to prosperity. With AI, while many analysts go with historical data to assume a recovery, a Schumpeterian period of downturn, with a rebound after a decade or so this is not going to happen in the AI world which has implications and effects far beyond simple tool-based technological systems.

In a 2019 book I co-authored with my son Daniel, The Artificial Intelligence Contagion: Can Democracy Survive the Imminent Transformation of Work, Wealth, and the Social Order (Clarity 2019), we analyzed in detail the impact of AI systems and robotics on society through our systems of work, education, governmental control and monitoring, corporate power, and the behavior of organized and intense cadres of social activists. While we projected many of the most serious conditions to “hit” in a period ranging from 2030-2045 or so, the unfortunate reality is that the onset of severe concerns has been accelerated by the Covid-19 Pandemic. We are already feeling its effects and our current leadership is incapable of understanding or responding to what is happening.

I examined key elements in America’s culture that were transforming our reality in a series of books following the publication of The Artificial Intelligence Contagion. The subsequent analyses include “Un-Canceling” America (Amazon, 2021), Defending K-12 Education Against the New Racism (Amazon, 2021), No More Excuses”! Parents Defending K-12 Education (Amazon 2022), and most recently Conformity Colleges: The Destruction of Intellectual Creativity and Dissent in America’s Universities (Skyhorse Publishing, 2024).

Taken together with The AI Contagion, these books seek to describe the extreme divisiveness that is afflicting the American society, not as an accident, but as the result of a massive and ongoing attempt to undermine the fundamental values, ideals, and institutions of the nation so that we become in essence a Neo-Marxist state. The fact that such systems are doomed to fail, just as have the other states that are taken over by promising equity, justice, free participation and the like, but always end up as authoritarian regimes. They are inevitably controlled by power-driven despots such as the Chinese Communist Party, the Soviet Communist Party, or Hitler’s National Socialist Party. 

Power Must be Diffused Widely if Freedom is to Survive

Unfettered centralized power always takes over in the end regardless of seemingly eloquent rhetoric. That is why the Framers of the American Constitution created a historically unique system that focused on the diffusion of power across states and numerous institutions so that no single interest group could seize total control. People participating at the Brownstone Institute Retreat understand what is happening. It was a relief to be reminded that a wide range of committed and highly intelligent people understand the critical importance of challenging and interdicting what is being attempted. This resistance to power was a theme that ran through many of the presentations and discussions we experienced at the Retreat. I feel privileged to have been a part.

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  • David Barnhizer

    David Barnhizer is a Professor of Law Emeritus at Cleveland State University. He was a Senior Research Fellow at the University of London's Institute of Advanced Legal Studies and Visiting Professor at the Westminster University’s School of Law. He worked in the International Program of the Natural Resources Defense Council, was Executive Director of the Year 2000 Committee, and consulted with the World Resources Institute, IIED, the UNDP, the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, the World Bank, the UN/FAO, World Wildlife Fund/US, and the Mongolian government. His books include Strategies for Sustainable Societies, The Blues of a Revolution, Effective Strategies for Protecting Human Rights, The Warrior Lawyer, and Hypocrisy & Myth: The Hidden Order of the Rule of Law.

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