Giorgo Agamben and the Corona Witchhunt

Giorgo Agamben and the Corona Witchhunt

Giorgio Agamben, a philosopher of substantial esteem in modern intellectual circles, is widely recognized for his invaluable contributions to the discourse on biopolitics and the intriguing concept of the “state of exception.” As the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic loomed large, Agamben found himself compelled to articulate his misgivings, launching critiques at the modus operandi of the Italian government and the global fraternity of governments.

In the eye of a tempest stirred by what seemed hasty, unreasoned, and unfounded emergency measures enacted in response to a perceived coronavirus epidemic, Agamben called for an introspective exploration of a declaration proffered by the National Research Council (CNR). This declaration not only averred that “there is no SARS-CoV2 epidemic in Italy,” but also proclaimed that the infection, given the epidemiological data at hand and the breadth of cases, exhibits mild to moderate symptoms — akin to a strain of influenza — in 80-90% of the subjects.

Agamben pointed out that it is only in 10-15% of cases that the infection develops into pneumonia, which, for the most part, yields benign outcomes. Moreover, a mere 4% of patients were estimated to require intensive therapy. If these statistics represent the true lay of the land, Agamben posed the question, why then is there a concerted effort by the media and authorities to fan the flames of panic, thus inciting a genuine state of exception with dire restrictions on movement and a standstill of daily life across whole regions? This disproportionate response can be attributed to a couple of elements, he suggested.

Firstly, it starkly unveiled the pervasive tendency to utilize a state of exception as a standard model for governance. The legislative decree hastily endorsed by the government, under the guise of “hygiene and public safety,” spawned an authentic militarization of municipalities and regions where at least one person had tested positive for the virus and the source of transmission remained elusive, or where at least one case could not be attributed to an individual recently returned from an area already grappling with the virus.

In Agamben’s view, this nebulous and unfixed definition threatened to swiftly escalate the state of exception to all regions, as it was highly unlikely that no other such cases would emerge. He underlined the profound constraints on freedom encoded in the decree: prohibitions on individuals leaving or accessing affected areas, suspension of public and private gatherings of all kinds, closure of educational institutions and cultural spaces, suspension of educational trips and public examination procedures, and enforcement of quarantine measures and surveillance of individuals in close contact with confirmed cases.

In light of these factors, Agamben criticized the extreme response to what the CNR characterized as something not significantly divergent from the usual influenza strains we encounter annually. He proposed the unnerving hypothesis that, with the well of terrorism as a justification for exceptional measures running dry, the fabrication of an epidemic presented an ideal smoke screen to escalate such measures beyond all bounds.

Witch, Wappie – it’s the same mechanism

Moreover, the burgeoning state of fear that had been insidiously permeating individual consciousness in recent years, metamorphosing into a tangible need for scenarios of collective panic for which the epidemic once again provided the perfect alibi. Thus, in a darkly ironic cycle, the constraints on freedom imposed by governments are received with acceptance, fueled by a yearning for safety that was, paradoxically, created by the very same governments now stepping in to satisfy it.

Agamben, as a left-leaning philosopher, remains a misfit in the propagandistic archetype. One could argue, indeed, that the term ‘Wappie’ in Dutch society bears a resemblance to the term ‘witch’ from the medieval era, with its derogatory implications crafted to marginalize and muffle those audacious enough to question prevailing narratives. The parallels between the modern era of COVID-19 and the epoch of witch hunts warrant exploration, especially in the illuminating light of Agamben’s provocative viewpoint.

The witch hunts of bygone days were powered by fear, ignorance, and an urge for simplistic solutions to complex issues. It was more palatable for societies to accuse the enigmatic ‘other’ for their miseries rather than address the structural challenges at play. Witches were scapegoated, their existence used as an excuse to exert control and perpetuate the status quo. Today, even in our technologically advanced societies, we might not be setting witches aflame, but the propensity to marginalize, deride, and scapegoat those who question the dominant narrative endures. This is particularly evident in how individuals like Agamben have been stereotyped and dismissed for querying the government’s response to the pandemic.

Agamben’s disapproval of the state’s deployment of the pandemic to orchestrate a ‘state of exception’ fits snugly into this ‘other’ category, challenging the consensus in a manner that can be easily construed as heretical — akin to the witches of old. His insistence on scrutinizing the magnitude of the threat posed by the virus and the necessity of the measures implemented as a counter elicited the ire of many, who viewed him as a ‘dangerous other,’ reminiscent of the witches of antiquity.

He hypothesized that the very fear used to legitimize these exceptional measures was, in fact, cultivated by the state itself, maintaining that this ceaseless state of fear resulted in the voluntary surrender of liberties. This viewpoint, although unpopular, initiates a dialogue about the essence of power, control, and the use of fear as a political implement — a vital conversation in any society that esteems democratic principles and individual liberties.

Silencing questions

The kernel of the witch hunts lay in an atmosphere where questioning the established order was not just discouraged but perilous. The ability to question, to criticize, to offer alternative viewpoints, is pivotal to a free and open society. When such questioning is met with mockery and attempts at silencing, rather than open debate, it echoes the ambiance of the witch hunts, where questioning the established order could have fatal consequences.

Agamben’s perspective, therefore, calls us to reflect on the dynamics of our society. It encourages us to retain a critical eye, to not swallow narratives hook, line, and sinker, and to resist the silencing of dissenting voices. By doing so, we ensure that the spirit of philosophical inquiry, of freedom of thought, and the right to dissent, remain vibrant. Whether we concur with Agamben’s views or not, we must champion the right to express them, for once we lose the capacity to question, to challenge, to engage in open debate, we risk slipping into a world where the witch hunts of the past assume new forms, with equally devastating consequences.

At the crux of it all, this discourse isn’t merely about a virus or a pandemic response. It’s about the fabric of our society, the mechanisms of power, and our ability as citizens to shape our world. It is about ensuring that fear and uncertainty do not lead us down a path where the ‘state of exception’ becomes the rule, where the voices of the ‘witches’ among us are silenced, and where the invaluable act of questioning is lost. For when we lose that, we lose an integral facet of what used to make us a democratic society in the first place.

Lack of human empathy

However, at the heart of this discourse is the palpable lack of human empathy that our collective response to the crisis has exposed. As travel restrictions and lockdowns suffocated the life out of the tourism industry, developing nations that rely heavily on tourism revenues have been driven to the brink of despair. Millions have been plunged into abject poverty, triggering death, and destruction on a scale that is hard to comprehend. Yet, the mainstream media’s coverage of these secondary effects of the pandemic has been woefully inadequate.

The media’s selective silence on this issue is particularly noteworthy, given its influence in shaping public opinion and directing political discourse. It’s a stark reminder of how narratives are created, propagated, and even manipulated in our society. It raises the question of whether we are truly living in a democratic society when the full breadth of a global crisis is not accurately reflected in public dialogue.

Furthermore, this lack of empathy has manifested not just in our negligence of the plight of those far from us, but also in our unwillingness to question or critique the official narratives and measures imposed in our own societies. Agamben’s theory of the ‘state of exception’ implies a concerning trajectory for democratic societies if fear and complacency enable the normalization of extraordinary measures and the erosion of personal freedoms.

In this regard, the COVID-19 pandemic has acted as a catalyst, exposing underlying cracks in our societies and in our understanding of democracy itself. If empathy and the willingness to question are integral to a truly democratic society, what does our collective response to this crisis say about the state of democracy in our world today?

Moreover, the significant societal implications of the pandemic extend beyond just the tangible, immediate effects. The repercussions on our collective psyche and the long-term effects on our political systems are profound. As fear and uncertainty loom, the need for safety could supersede the desire for individual freedoms, leading to a new socio-political dynamic that could fundamentally alter our understanding and experience of democracy.

The rational approach

In 2020 when the entire governmental campagne was quickly emerging I wrote:

A rational person would always wait and see when completely new methods are tested under the banner of mass hysteria by companies that have been convicted of fraud in the past. Having observed and listened to various virologists, I came to the conclusion that the chance of the vaccine causing problems itself is greater than the chance of COVID-19 landing me in the hospital. Looking back with the figures included, the chance of a serious side effect from these jabs is about 1: 1000, and the chance of ending up in the ICU due to COVID-19 is much smaller for my age group.

This introduces an element of a hostage premise, something rarely discussed, which suggests that a vaccine against a common cold is virtually impossible, because cold viruses evolve too quickly. It’s similar with the flu; you need to get that shot every year, and they call it a ‘vaccine’, but that’s a commercial pitch. The hostage premise is that by succumbing to this blackmail (because it is plausible that this virus was manufactured in a lab), you open the door for even more such blackmail and future generations paying dearly for this so-called artificial resistance.

The idea that you can achieve a vaccination rate of 80% with a vaccine that works for 6 months (proven by studies) is madness. The real situation is that misguided individuals are creating graphs of vaccinated versus unvaccinated, while half of those they consider vaccinated are no longer so—this is exactly what we should call pseudoscience.

What also stands my hair on end is the idea that you can dismiss an ICU department where everyone with a cold was infected as an ‘ICU department with 20 COVID-19 patients’ as if those people ended up in that department because of the virus. The same goes for the counting of the deaths. Not to mention the fact that the test is completely unreliable – that someone with severe cancer tests positive for a cold doesn’t mean they died from it.

These were the key points that played a role in my decision. I still stand by it, and my method of staying healthy has worked excellently so far. Frankly, I can think of another hundred points, but as mentioned, this provides a good core reflection of the rationale behind my decision. So far, I’ve noticed that proponents usually respond rather evasively to these arguments.

When authorities began to use national borders to combat a common cold that was already present everywhere and began to blackmail the population that they could only travel with a jab, I had already lost my ‘respect’ for the expertise of the officials in charge.

I love brilliant scientists. I’m not so fond of civil servants with sleepy jobs who suddenly imagine themselves as superheroes and top scientists without ever having worked in a laboratory for an hour, let alone made a meaningful contribution to the field.

The fact that a representative of Big Pharma bought the ANP in 2019 doesn’t strike me as an example of the Trias Politica that I would be proud of. Meanwhile, we are stuck with the mess: it will all have to be set up again, and this time with a good Trias Politica and a solid, independent rationale.

Our collective response to the pandemic, driven by fear and uncertainty, may have led us to uncritically accept the narratives and measures imposed by certain entities. This, in turn, questions the very essence of our democratic society and the principle of Trias Politica—the separation of powers, highlighting the urgent need for rational, independent thinking and transparent communication in our pandemic response. It raises a question about who gets to control the narrative and, more critically, the long-term implications of our collective compliance to these measures.

A crisis of science

When this crisis started in March 2020, I pointed out on this blog that the cry for ‘experts’ was rather childish, because when dealing with a new virus, no experts exist yet. Subsequently, I was horrified when I saw that dusty flu protocols were being pulled from the cupboard, along with a tuberculosis study from 1932 about droplets. I thought, oh dear, here we have the Dutch education system again. And indeed, what followed was an endless episode of nitpickers.

When can you really call someone an expert? In this case, it seems that we must rely on the concept of a ‘very good scientist’, but when are you that? We need criteria, because without criteria you cannot make a distinction. What are these criteria going to be?

A good scientist makes a significant contribution in his field of expertise, he or she ‘advances his skill with seven-league boots’.

Boom. Everyone who plays the ‘expert’ on television can immediately be given chores and asked to sand the skirting boards. What ingenious contribution did this person make to virology? You’ll find that the contribution is very minimal in almost all cases, a contribution that is actually not worth mentioning. But how can you then play ‘the expert’ as a scientist?

And that was just one criterion. Imagine how rare the expert will become if we pull some more criteria out of the closet. For instance:

A good scientist wrote a collection of high-quality books with authority.

(Can you also hear that constrained cough, those running footsteps, that pedantic butt disappearing into the storage cupboard?)

How quickly has the expert disappeared, in mere seconds if you let the critical mind blow. But what are we smelling there exactly, is that not…linoleum…freshly sanded skirting boards…what kind of slip is sticking out of that cupboard there… Mr. Teacher, what are you eating there?

When I see in the media such a repugnant figure as van Ranst, or our vampire with Uighur blood still on her trail – ah then I think, the test society, it’s time we come up with new criteria for what a ‘good scientist’ is because the current ones are overloading the broom closets.

Let’s start again:

A good scientist is someone who does well with colleagues and has been to China.

Now that’s making progress. That is a definition our scientists can work with. What’s that clattering sound? Master Pimco, you look radiant. What did you say, the pubs closed an hour earlier today?

Now, integrating this into the overarching philosophical argument, we can see how this skepticism towards the experts and their credentials further emphasizes the importance of questioning and challenging the power structures in our society, especially in times of crisis. The criteria by which we judge expertise should not be superficial or unrelated to the task at hand. Instead, they should be based on substantial contributions to the field and a deep understanding of the subject matter. Only then can we trust these experts to guide us through crises and shape the society we want to live in. Without this rigorous selection of expertise, we risk making uninformed decisions that can lead us down a perilous path, eroding the fabric of our democratic society.

Martinus Benders, 09-07-2023

Nobelpreis für Deutschland

Treffpunkt feiner Geiste

M.H.H. Benders ist ein anerkannter Dichter seiner Generation, ein Schüler der universellen Myzelien, Amanita Sage und Mykophilosoph. Er hat siebenundzwanzig Bücher geschrieben, die letzten in der Kaneelfabriek.

Momentan arbeitet er an dem zweiten Band der SHHHHHHROOM-Reihe, Bücher über Pilze, und der Microdose Bible, einem Aktivierungsplan zur Wiederherstellung Ihrer wahren Identität, der nächstes Jahr erscheinen soll. Bleiben Sie dran!

Aber das Große Ziel von Benders ist es, in Deutschland Erfolg zu haben. Er hat die Dynamik und Vielfalt der deutschen literarischen Szene erkannt und ist bereit, sich darauf einzulassen und seinen Beitrag zu leisten. Mit seinem einzigartigen literarischen Stil und seiner unermüdlichen Arbeitsmoral ist er entschlossen, ein neues Kapitel in der deutschen Literaturgeschichte zu schreiben.


“Amanita Muscaria – The Book of the Empress” is an exceptional work that establishes a benchmark in the realm of mycophilosophy. While one could perhaps categorize the book within the domain of Art History, such a classification would fail to do justice to its true essence. Primarily, this captivating text explores the evolution of humankind, making it a standout in its field.

Amanita Muscaria – The Book of the Empress – De Kaneelfabriek, 2023

“‘Waarover de Piranha droomt in de Limonadesloot’ stands as a philosophical exploration into the human faculty of imagination. It probes the intriguing notion that imagination, rather than offering solutions to our problems, might in fact be their origin. This thought-provoking work is set to be available in English and German by the close of 2023.