COVID-19: The Bigger Picture Hiding Behind the Virus

Agents outside our control with their own vested interests – politicians, the media, business – construct reality, much as a film-maker designs a movie, says Jonathan Cook. 

By JonathanCook

Things often look the way they do because someone claiming authority tells us they look that way. If that sounds too cynical, pause for a moment and reflect on what seemed most important to you just a year ago, or even a few weeks ago.

Then, you may have been thinking that Russian interference in western politics was a vitally important issue, and something that we needed to invest much of our emotional and political energy in countering. Or maybe a few weeks ago you felt that everything would be fine if we could just get Donald Trump out of the White House. Or maybe you imagined that Brexit was the panacea to Britain’s problems – or, conversely, that it would bring about the UK’s downfall.

Still Feel That Way?

After all, much as we might want to (and doubtless some will try), we can’t really blame Vladimir Putin, or Russian troll farms spending a few thousand dollars on Facebook advertising, for the coronavirus pandemic. Much as we might want to, we can’t really blame Trump for the catastrophic condition of the privatized American health care system, totally ill-equipped and unprepared for a nationwide health emergency. And as tempting as it is for some of us, we can’t really blame Europe’s soft borders and immigrants for the rising death toll in the UK. It was the global economy and cheap travel that brought the virus into Britain, and it was the Brexit-loving prime minister Boris Johnson who dithered as the epidemic took hold.

The Bigger Picture

Is it possible that only a few weeks ago our priorities were just a little divorced from a bigger reality? That what appeared to be the big picture was not actually big enough? That maybe we should have been thinking about even more important, pressing matters – systemic ones like the threat of a pandemic of the very kind we are currently enduring?

Because while we were all thinking about Russiagate or Trump or Brexit, there were lots of experts – even the Pentagon, it seems – warning of just such a terrible calamity and urging that preparations be made to avoid it. We are in the current mess precisely because those warnings were ignored or given no attention – not because the science was doubted, but because there was no will to do something to avert the threat.

If we reflect, it is possible to get a sense of two things. First, that our attention rarely belongs to us; it is the plaything of others. And second, that the “real world”, as it is presented to us, rarely reflects anything we might usefully be able to label as objective reality. It is a set of political, economic and social priorities that have been manufactured for us.

Agents outside our control with their own vested interests – politicians, the media, business – construct reality, much as a film-maker designs a movie. They guide our gaze in certain directions and not others.

A Critical Perspective

At a moment like this of real crisis, one that overshadows all else, we have a chance – though only a chance – to recognize this truth and develop our own critical perspective. A perspective that truly belongs to us, and not to others.

Think back to the old you, the pre-coronavirus you. Were your priorities the same as your current ones?

This is not to say that the things you prioritize now – in this crisis – are necessarily any more “yours” than the old set of priorities.

If you’re watching the TV or reading newspapers – and who isn’t – you’re probably feeling scared, either for yourself or for your loved ones. All you can think about is the coronavirus. Nothing else really seems that important by comparison. And all you can hope for is the moment when the lockdowns are over and life returns to normal. 

“Paradoxically, a craving for the old-normal may mean we are prepared to submit to a new-normal that could permanently deny us any chance of returning to the old-normal.”

But that’s not objectively the “real world” either. Terrible as the coronavirus is, and as right as anyone is to be afraid of the threat it poses, those “agents of authority” are again directing and controlling our gaze, though at least this time those in authority include doctors and scientists. And they are guiding our attention in ways that serve their interests – for good or bad.

Endless tallies of infections and deaths, rocketing graphs, stories of young people, along with the elderly, battling for survival serve a purpose: to make sure we stick to the lockdown, that we maintain social distancing, that we don’t get complacent and spread the disease.

Here our interests – survival, preventing hospitals from being overwhelmed – coincide with those of the establishment, the “agents of authority.” We want to live and prosper, and they need to maintain order, to demonstrate their competence, to prevent dissatisfaction bubbling up into anger or open revolt.

Crowded Out By Detail

But again the object of our attention is not as much ours as we may believe. While we focus on graphs, while we twitch the curtains to see if neighbors are going for a second run or whether families are out in the garden celebrating a birthday distant from an elderly parent, we are much less likely to be thinking about how well the crisis is being handled. The detail, the mundane is again crowding out the important, the big picture.

Our current fear is an enemy to our developing and maintaining a critical perspective. The more we are frightened by graphs, by deaths, the more we are likely to submit to whatever we are told will keep us safe.

Under cover of the public’s fear, and of justified concerns about the state of the economy and future employment, countries like the U.S. are transferring huge sums of public money to the biggest corporations. Politicians controlled by big business and media owned by big business are pushing through this corporate robbery without scrutiny – and for reasons that should be self-explanatory. They know our attention is too overwhelmed by the virus for us to assess intentionally mystifying arguments about the supposed economic benefits, about yet more illusory trickle-down.

There are many other dramatic changes being introduced, almost too many and too rapidly for us to follow them properly. Bans on movementIntensified surveillanceCensorshipThe transfer of draconian powers to the police, and preparations for the deployment of soldiers on streets. Detention without trialMartial law. Measures that might have terrified us when Trump was our main worry, or Brexit, or Russia, may now seem a price worth paying for a “return to normality”.

Paradoxically, a craving for the old-normal may mean we are prepared to submit to a new-normal that could permanently deny us any chance of returning to the old-normal.

The point is not just that things are far more provisional than most of us are ready to contemplate; it’s that our window on what we think of as “the real world”, as “normal”, is almost entirely manufactured for us.

Distracted By the Virus

Strange as this may sound right now, in the midst of our fear and suffering, the pandemic is not really the big picture either. Our attention is consumed by the virus, but it is, in a truly awful sense, a distraction too.

In a few more years, maybe sooner than we imagine, we will look back on the virus – with the benefit of distance and hindsight – and feel the same way about it we do now about Putin, or Trump, or Brexit.

It will feel part of our old selves, our old priorities, a small part of a much bigger picture, a clue to where we were heading, a portent we did not pay attention to when it mattered most.

The virus is one small warning – one among many – that we have been living out of sync with the natural world we share with other life. Our need to control and dominate, our need to acquire, our need for security, our need to conquer death – they have crowded out all else. We have followed those who promised quick, easy solutions, those who refused to compromise, those who conveyed authority, those who spread fear, those who hated.

If only we could redirect our gaze, if we could seize back control of our attention for a moment, we might understand that we are being plagued not just by a virus but by our fear, our hate, our hunger, our selfishness. The evidence is there in the fires, the floods and the disease, in the insects that have disappeared, in the polluted seas, in the stripping of the planet’s ancient lungs, its forests, in the melting ice-caps.

The big picture is hiding in plain sight, no longer obscured by issues like Russia and Brexit but now only by the most microscopic germ, marking the thin boundary between life and death.

Jonathan Cook is a freelance journalist based in Nazareth.

This article is from his blog Jonathan 

The views expressed are solely those of the author and may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

26 comments for “COVID-19: The Bigger Picture Hiding Behind the Virus

  1. Ali
    April 11, 2020 at 10:21

    Great News has always came from Nazareth

  2. Lily
    April 8, 2020 at 14:46


    the whole Red Army Choir of Russia was killed in Syria, while giving a concert four the wounded in a hospital which was bombed. None of the MSM took any notice, of course.

  3. April 8, 2020 at 11:01

    We have all seen the figures. From the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus website. Johns Hopkins has been in the forefront in explaining the Coronavirus pandemic. From the quick summary about the website:…

    “Flu: 291,000 to 646,000 deaths worldwide; 12,000 to 61,000 deaths in the U.S. per year. The COVID-19 situation is changing rapidly. Since this disease is caused by a new virus, people do not have immunity to it, and a vaccine may be many months away. Doctors and scientists are working on estimating the mortality rate of COVID-19, but at present …”

    As we know, Covid-19, at the moment doesn’t approach the flu numbers but it has been only three months since it first appeared

    Still, the world wide numbers are particularly notable, that the flu at this point is as dangerous if not more so than Covid-19.

    How to explain?

    We have not completed a year of Covid-19, and simply extrapolating is not likely to be very accurate. Covid-19 s new and we don’t have the same confidence in explaining it as we do with thee various types of flu. Uncertainty comes into play, as does caution.

    But is it also something else, things we can only speculate about.

    What for instance would have happened to the country when flu began to spread and we had sounded the same level of alarm and employed the same war footing description, as our President likes to say, that we are at war with an invisible enemy. Flu likely kills at least as many, but we didn’t close down our country

    For what is most remarkable is not only what the virus is but how we responded. From the beginning, sounds of alarm everywhere and predictions of hundreds of thousands, even millions of deaths. Recognized experts making dire predictions, calling it, among other things, our greatest challenge since World War II!

    Those who might have challenged this have been silent, for what if it is true. No politician or bureaucrat would want to be in that position. So there is silence and admittedly there might be good reason for doing so.

    Spring is upon us Summer not far behind, and vaccines and therapeutics are on the way so there is reason to be hopeful and if Covid-19 does come under control, which it likely will, and the economy bounces back, who, politically speaking, benefits. For many, that s a serious problem.

  4. E Wright
    April 8, 2020 at 01:56

    I was with you until half way. I have not yet climbed on board the climate change mantra. China has a population of 1.4 billion people and it has just discovered capitalism. Perhaps this is the real reason we are in disequilibrium. They are not about to rewind their new found controlled-finance model to suit naysayers in the West – all other things being equal.

    I thought you were going to take the argument this way – Globalization will undergo a seismic shift after this. The world will descend into blocs again – with USA, Europe and China being the leading ones. Eastern Europe and Mexico will benefit from a pullback from China, whilst China itself will be left with a belt and road project that goes nowhere. The new disequilibrium will be in China, where they will need to adjust their economy away from reliance on western supply chains.

    • Skip Scott
      April 9, 2020 at 09:43

      I suggest you read Pepe Escobar to see where China’s Belt and Road initiative is heading. The USA’s vassals are becoming restless, and China offers Fair Trade. Welcome to a multi-polar world.

  5. Igor Slamoff
    April 8, 2020 at 00:10

    Jonathan Cook makes a lot of sense as soon as he stops talking about Palestine.

    • April 8, 2020 at 15:25

      I think he is just describing to us the global picture, the case of the Palestine misery dealt out by the Israelis is the subject of another topic.

    • Skip Scott
      April 9, 2020 at 09:39

      He makes perfect sense regarding Palestine as well. And many Jews agree with him.

  6. April 7, 2020 at 14:35

    Without prejudice.

    I feel frustrated when – aven after all that happened in the lead up to the 2008 crash and what Blair, Bush and all of their misguided boyfriends (Michael – Michael, Michael, Michael) have been planning for the last 50 years.

    Unlike the US, the UK does not have a constitution.

    Many of your “co-citizens” have being able to spot what is actually going on.

    Yet, You-Tube and all of the others with the “big money” have chosen to “demonise” and “de-platorm” them ?!

    One simple request – please support (of course if you believe in human rights) Jason Bermas, Kim Iversen and their very important work…x

  7. Jeff Harrison
    April 7, 2020 at 12:31

    “For those watching TV and reading the newspapers – and who doesn’t -” Well, I for one, don’t. Getting your news from the TV is an exercise in brainwashing. The same is true of the MSM in the US. You will only be told that information that supports the narrative of the government which is why you never heard about the “attack” on Douma being non-existent in the MSM. It’s why I come to places like CN (and others) to get a sense of reality. I find it truly hilarious those that dismiss the likes of RT and Tass and Xinhua as being just creatures of their respective governments when the likes of the NYT, WaPo, et al are just as mendacious as Pravda was back in the days of the old SovU.

    The other part of the problem is the 24 hour news cycle. There isn’t a 24 hour news cycle. You can cram trivia and repeat yourself constantly to fill 24 hours but all that means is that you only see a blur that no one could decipher. Which makes you easy to manipulate and makes it difficult for you to find the actual facts that accidentally find their way into the rest of the crap that is presented on TV and Newspapers and think about them.

    • Maxine
      April 7, 2020 at 17:54

      Sorry, this is off-subject….You mentioned RT….I live in Switzerland and RT, my favorite news station, has suddenly disappeared from my TV without any explanation….I suspect it could be the US government behind it but this is pure speculation….Do you still get RT in the US?

  8. Julia N.
    April 7, 2020 at 10:40

    Yes, yes, yes!! What an important piece. I will be sharing this extensively and hoping that the ones who should read it will do so. Because of the 24-hour/day fear-a-thon on almost every news station, radio show and podcast (sadly, many so-called liberal ones) I have been listening to more music; as well as reading the scientists & journalists who are putting the data in perspective & calling out the systemic fraud & manipulation of the CDC & other federal agencies during other health “crises.” I fear this country will allow, just as it did after 9/11, the further erosion of our civil liberties just to feel “safe” from something it is impossible to be safe from.

  9. Andrew Thomas
    April 7, 2020 at 10:32

    No, we can’t blame Trump for the entire privatized US healthcare system. However, he owns part of this, as recently published information clearly shows. Having said that, his shamelessness has, along with the Fed, and Congress, and the Supreme Court, and state governments all over the country, have also clarified the state of play very well indeed. This is a shithole kleptocracy merged with a kakistocracy. Voting has lost all of its meaning. The only thing left to us is an active boycott in November, assuming the farce isn’t called off by a presidential decree. The ruling of the Supreme Court on the Wisconsin election on Monday would seem to make the Court’s approval of such a thing unlikely. However, it’s not exactly the same question, and the Federalists are nothing if not both inventive and supine when it comes to the exercise of corporate-backed executive power. My guess is that it won’t happen, if only because Trump will be crushing the Dems in the polls.

  10. Skip Edwards
    April 7, 2020 at 10:30

    Good article, though it leaves out the most important distraction this Coronavirus provides: Endless Wars and Climate Change have entirely disappeared from the news. God Bless America!

    • AnneR
      April 7, 2020 at 14:16

      True, Skip Edwards, right on. Nary a word about the continued warring and upping of the ante. Nor any word about the ever-increasing siege warfare exacted against Iran and Venezuela, most particularly the former. To both countries’ people great harm and distress. This is such a sick nation with both a WH and a Congress filled with people who clearly (judging by the actions – the former – and non-actions – by the latter) really have zero humanity, morals, ethics. Exceptional? Ho, yes – but in ways no fairly decent, humane person would want to be associated with.

  11. Joe
    April 7, 2020 at 10:12

    A very necessary article, with a message that is ignored by the vast numbers of technology addled, self centered, unaware people, paddling upstream in a futile attempt at a perceived ‘happiness’. The ‘new norm’ has actually been engrained for a long time now, and it is the detached, selfish, devil-may-care attitude of narcissistic drones worried only about the latest version of device, to ‘placate’ the vacuum left by last years ‘outdated’ cellphone.
    In the meantime, Nature is destroyed; ironically, the true healer since the dawn of time. We have overlapping generations that have never heard a bird sing, who know not of the change of seasons, and yea, will likely never know what love is, such is the disconnect that insidiously disguises as ‘normal’.
    Throw a crisis into the daily comfort zone, and the spoiled brat comes out in everybody; the unbridled fear, the entitlement, and the ludicrous expectation that they ‘deserve’ to be coddled, and the crisis mended for them.
    We drifted away from Life when the wave crass commercialism, materialism, selfishness, and instant gratification flooded our Being. No matter what the ultimate outcome of Covid, the economic, financial, and social impacts will far outweigh the mortality of the affliction.
    The vital question, the decision, the choice, that is now in front of us, to become ‘human’ again, to love each other, to become SELFLESS, will test the meddle of the population.
    Will we choose altruism, or will we eventually slip right back to complacency and greed once the pandemic ameliorates?

    • April 10, 2020 at 01:18

      So true. Well said. I sometimes think we’re perpetually on the verge of a mass enlightenment, at other times it seems most all are lost. Through it all there are those who never worshipped money, power and position, and are in tune with the cosmic harmony, a rare breed I fear.

  12. AnneR
    April 7, 2020 at 07:32

    Indeed, Mr Cook, indeed.

    The US (its ruling, plutocratic elites and their fellow traveling political hench-folks) has never wanted to expend taxpayer (i.e. the hoi polloi’s taxes, the rich-ultra rich not paying any or very little of their “earnings” to the IRS) monies (however much cheaper, in reality, such a medical system would have been and be) on a single payer, free-at-point-of-service medical care system for all of its citizens. Such a system is “communist,” “socialist.” The fact that the remainder of the western world has some such construct without apparently being communist or even truly socialist escapes the US ruling elite consciousness. Deliberately.

    Indeed, the attitude among many of those elite 20%ers would seem to be along the lines of an Arizonan politico who expressed this worldview on Obamacare (hardly single payer, not free at point of service or anything close to, nor does it cover every American – the poorest are beyond its scope): in answer to some question about the ACA, this politico (doubtless with medical coverage paid for by taxpayers) said that some people could afford Mercs, others Fords, some could only afford umpteenth-hand vehicles and then there were those who couldn’t afford any vehicle. Access to medical care falls along the same lines – and that’s the way things naturally are.

    She was a Reprat – but Mr Biden thinks along the same lines, it would seem.

    Yes, the US populace – the hoi polloi, vox populi, the bewildered herd, us – want M4A and as a single payer non-profiteering system. Or most do. But the profiteering companies – pharma, hospitals, clinics, med insurance companies, doctors, medical staffing (for Emergency Depts etc.,) companies – do NOT want anything to do with such a system. And they are among the election funders of those DC politicos (many themselves among the rich) who balk at the very notion of M4A. The medical and the political system here is corrupt. Not only does Power corrupt, but profiteering also corrupts and does so as absolutely as absolute power.

    And this system, this political, medical system isn’t likely to change without some drastic overhaul – and is that likely?

    Other changes – increasing surveillance e.g. – may well take place. But profit before life? One only has to consider the eagerness with which the US Congress – both sides of the Janus party – signed onto the Strumpet’s obscenely enormous MIC funding last year, continuing the Profit before People (at home and in the countries devastated by us) construct that is DC.

  13. Betty Jean Patterson
    April 7, 2020 at 05:02

    Great News has always came from Nazareth

  14. John A
    April 7, 2020 at 04:09

    Over the last week, there have, to my knowledge, been three big claims of ‘Russian disinformation’ and ‘Russian trolls/bots’ on social media.
    1. Last week, Russian equipment and support sent to Italy to help fight Covid-19. Nato stenographers claim and spread the disinformation that ‘80% of the equipment was useless’, citing one anonymous source. Total lies.
    2. Swedish minister claims social media campaign against a 5G network in Sweden is run by russian trolls. Turns out it is a 64 year old grandmother living in Stockholm who is behind the campaign.
    3. Yesterday afternoon, russia media report, according to a National Health Service source, Boris Johnson is on a ventilator in hospital. Utter nonsense say MSM, Russian disinformation. Overnight headlines in British media – Boris in intensive care.
    The western media are so totally venally corrupt in serving the 1% yet get found out in their lies time after time and yet carry on. I try to read as many different media as possible, but have no doubt, which are more credible, and it aint NATO stenographers

    • AnneR
      April 7, 2020 at 14:33

      Yes, John A. Truly there is something warped about the western ruling elites’ mindset. But I guess they have to have a bugaboo and Russia (then China, sometimes Iran and others) is the primary, western created, go-to one. Even among those who did not grow up, or were only young, during the cold war.

      I am only thankful that, despite my father’s Tory politics (all but regarding the land, which he believed should be nationalized and 50 acres given to every male [well, he was sexist]; an curious, decidedly not Tory viewpoint) the USSR as was then never was on either his or my mother’s agenda. Indeed, we used to watch with much pleasure the Red Army choir, once we got a television (not till 1958, when I was 10), which toured the UK, I *think*…

      No ducking under school desks. Nor any other weird thing…

    • April 8, 2020 at 15:01

      Exactly, the facts may change drastically, but in the West ( NATO), the narrative never changes, it is just repeated ad naseum on the MSM.

  15. Marko
    April 6, 2020 at 20:09

    So , now the FED is considering purchasing equities , so as to defend the portfolio values of the already-wealthy , who own most of that equity. This will likely be a regular practice in every crisis going forward ( see Japan ) , and we know that we are now a distinctly crisis-prone country , and can expect at least one crisis per decade , and probably more.

    To make this process more equitable , why not permanently place those equities into a sovereign wealth fund , and use the annual dividend flow to improve programs that benefit the broader populace , like social security and M4A ? Other countries , like Norway , have such funds and use them in this way. Heck , so does Alaska , for that matter.

    Why don’t we do it ? Most of you already know why. If you don’t , just watch some old George Carlin clips on Youtube.

    • April 7, 2020 at 11:45

      I agree Marko. Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I believe what you are proposing, or something like it, has to be done for systemically important entities, such as banks, telecoms, health, insurance, and national defense providers that own the largest share of their markets. We must do as you say, if we are not to be held hostage to the absentee landlords who currently own our nation for their sole benefit.

    • Dfnslblty
      April 7, 2020 at 13:56

      Socialization via nationalization is your excellent proposal.
      Privatization in public areas – education, banking, medicine, oil and water- has robbed Citizens and destroyed the environment.
      We can elect officials to bring equality to governance, or we can continue to live as serfs.

    • David Otness
      April 8, 2020 at 00:24

      “Way!” Marko. I’m Alaskan—almost 70 years—and agree. St George (Carlin) included.

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