In 1927, the French intellectual Julien Benda published La Trahison des Clercs which has been translated to English as The Betrayal (and sometimes the Treason) of the Intellectuals. The book is a searing indictment of the role played by intellectuals from both sides of the First World War in fanning the flames of that devastating conflict which raised the threshold of man’s capacity for murder and destruction to theretofore unimaginable levels.
For Benda, the great and unpardonable sin of the intellectuals in both Germany and France was to abandon the imperative to generate “disinterested” knowledge, and to instead lend their talents and prestige to tasks of promoting home-borne chauvinism on one hand, and the systematic denigration of the enemy’s culture and citizens on the other.
The rise of the figure of the intellectual, as we understand it today, is intimately linked to two interlocking historical processes from the last third of the 19th century: the rapid secularization of society and the rise of the daily newspaper.
In effect, as citizens began to leave the church and its leaders behind, they redirected their desire for transcendence toward the daily press and its new secular “clerics.” These new spiritual leaders, in turn, had to decide, as had their predecessors in ancient Israel, Greece and Rome before them, how to exercise their newfound power.
Was it their job to shore up the positive spirit of the collective in the age of the nation-state? Or was it to reveal to their parishioner-readers the stark truths of their time?
Given the enormous stakes in the matter, the second option was, for Benda, the only morally acceptable one.
As the twentieth century advanced, the turn-of-the-century writer was gradually supplanted at the apex of the new social communion by the man of science, and especially, by the figure of the physician. Given the exigencies of the scientific method, an adherence to a disinterested search for knowledge should have, if anything, become even more important for such people than it had been for the “lettered” objects of Benda’s ire.
However, it did not take long to discover that the newly ascendant men of science were just as prone as Benda’s treasonous writers to abuse the institutional powers conferred on them by society and the state in order to pursue narrowly subscribed, and often deeply inhumane, campaigns of bullying and/or human experimentation.
There was, of course the long campaign of intellectual terror waged by Lysenko and his acolytes in the Soviet Union and the large-scale buy-in—much bigger than is still generally acknowledged or admitted—by German physicians of the genocidal program of “Nazi medicine” during the 30s and 40s. And here at home, we have more than enough disgusting cases of medical abuse (forced lobotomies, the Tuskegee Study, MK Ultra, Oxycontin to name just a few) to keep a forensic journalist or historian of medical crime busy for a lifetime.
But when it comes to acknowledging this, things are much the way they are when it comes to acknowledging the serial crimes of the US empire. It is—as Harold Pinter said in addressing this last matter in his Nobel speech—as if, “It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn’t happening. It didn’t matter. It was of no interest.”
And because we have largely ignored these outrages against human dignity and the core ethos of healing—explaining them away the very few times when they are mentioned with the ever-useful “a few bad apples” meme—we find ourselves completely flat footed before the dangers of a new expert-led imposition of highly questionable public health policies, as well as a medical cadre that is more arrogant and less capable of personal and collective insight than one could have ever believed to be possible.
Emblematic of this new reality was a “dialogue” about Covid containment I recently had with a doctor friend who insisted in the inimitably declamatory fashion of his caste that: “We know what we have to do to control Covid. Just use masks and social distancing.”
When I expressed skepticism about this and asked him whether he, like me, had read the available science on the effectiveness of those approaches to containment, he ignored me. And when I again asked if he had read the science he said: “You can cite all the trivia you want, but we know this is what works”.
Indeed, I am more and more convinced that most practicing physicians have read precious few studies on the clinical treatment of Covid or the effectiveness of the public health measures that were invented out of whole cloth in March of 2020 to combat the spread of the disease.
Rather, like the hierarchically-minded “good students” they were and are, they simply assume that someone somewhere up the chain of power has actually read things about these matters, subjected them to critique, and decided they all made perfect sense. Indeed, never has Thomas Kuhn’s portrayal of the drone-like and paradigm-enslaved thinking of most working scientists looked more true.
How else can we explain the fact that so many physicians have sat by silently while blatant anti-science and anti-logic nonsense is proffered to the public day after day by their media colleagues, and worse yet, have, in numerous cases, organized and led campaigns to silence the minority in their ranks who have the courage to challenge these absurd claims and the policies they make possible?
Each of the Emergency Use Authorizations for three Covid injections currently being distributed in the US said quite clearly that there was no evidence that the treatments could, or would, curb transmission, something that has been eloquently borne out in a boatload of studies on so-called breakthrough cases in the last 2-3 months.
Yours truly, that faithful peasant trafficker in “trivia,” read these EUAs immediately when they were issued December and January and wondered how this salient fact was compatible with a vaccine rollout clearly anchored in the idea that individual jab-taking was the best, indeed, the only way to “protect us all” through herd immunity.
Did any of the tens of thousands of doctors out there relentlessly pushing the injections in the name of collective responsibility ever read those summaries of clinical efficacy on transmission?
If they did not, they are professionally negligent and thus undeserving of any further deference or respect.
If they did and continued to state or imply that the injections would halt infection and transmission, then they should be held responsible for the deaths and injuries caused in those taking the injections under this misleading premise.
And if and when the apartheid vaccine passport system ever comes, as it should, under prosecutorial scrutiny, these same doctors should be right there in the dock with the politicians as accessories to the crime for providing a completely bogus intellectual underpinning for the liberticidal project.
Where were all these brilliant minds as the wholly captured CDC and FDA, throwing one of the most elemental premises of immunology casually out the window, repeatedly cast doubt upon the reality and potency of natural immunity, and serially suggested that a not fully-tested vaccine that only produces antibodies for a part of the virus provides better protection than the body’s own millenary defenses?
Did they protest it? Or at least have the temerity to mock the outright idiocy of such statements and suggestions? Did they stop and ask whether that made any sense? Outside of a brave minority–Brownstone Institute hears from such dissidents daily–very few did or, indeed, do so now.
Most of them acted like a physician I know who, after receiving a stack of studies from a patient regarding the potency and durability of natural immunity (none of which he had read or even heard of) along with a request for a statement attesting to the patient’s recovery from Covid, literally ran out of the room for 15 minutes, only to return with a mealy-mouthed and gaslighting statement that in no way confirmed his charge’s recovery nor the now scientifically undeniable fact of his near total protection from both getting and transmitting the virus.
Where are the protests from these people who until a few years ago could be heard pontificating about the “sacred nature” of the doctor-patient relationship and the “doctrine of medical necessity” now that those seminal concepts of medical ethics are being torn to shreds by vaccine mandates that make no distinctions between individual patient susceptibility to the disease?
Have these bathetic citers of Hippocrates begun to think about what this could mean down the road for the practice of medicine? After having cheered government efforts to foist experimental injections on tens, and more probably, hundreds of millions of people for whom these injections can do no statistically significant good, and thus only harm, they are in no position to stop further pharmaceutical demands from the combined forces of big business and government.
On what basis, for example, could a doctor now object on behalf of his patient to an employer who, waving a statistical model produced at some institute, has decided to mandate the universal prescription of, say, statins, or more ominously, antidepressants among the workforce in the name of reducing mortality and sickness and/or bringing down insurance costs?
In such a case, a large percentage of that workforce would be taking drugs they do not need. But after having folded in the face of efforts to do the same with medications of much less proven efficacy and completely unknown side effects, why would corporate backers even consult the doctors in the future?
The sad truth is that they won’t.
Finally, we must reassert what is arguably one of the greatest (if most assiduously ignored in recent years) responsibilities of a healer: the obligation to calm and reassure the patient.
Where were the doctors doing everything to tell their patients that statistically proven chances of dying from Covid were minimal, about the same as dying from the flu? Where were those who repeatedly pointed out the steep age and comorbidity gradient among the disease’s mortal victims?
Again with honorable exceptions, these mostly very well-paid practitioners have been completely AWOL; that is, when they have not been eagerly using their state medical boards to harass and sanction those of their colleagues with the temerity to point out these inconvenient truths.
Worse yet, many of them chose to further lie and insult us with blatantly false bromides about how Covid is a “threat to all” that “doesn’t discriminate among its victims.”
Certain Jesuits of my acquaintance often used to say, “To whom much is given, much is expected.” During the middle years of the 20th century, the social privilege, deference and power previously granted to clerics, and then to writers, was bequeathed to the science-based healers.
While they have done much to improve our lives with the money and authority we have given them, they have—even though they seem largely unaware of it—now fallen into a grave state of moral decadence.
If more had, like their early 20th century predecessors, been forced to study and acknowledge the always present threat of hubris in human affairs, they might have been able to head off this historical denouement.
Sadly, however, most today are unreflective technocrats unable to recognize, never mind critique and distance themselves from, the ever more limiting epistemologies within which they carry out their daily tasks. And because of this Oedipal blindness, they will soon, much sooner than most of them think, lose much of the social capital they had assumed was theirs to wield in perpetuity.