Antarctica – the object of geopolitical competition and scientific endeavour

The Australian government has announced a funding package of 804 million dollars, over the next decade, to increase Australia’s presence and activities in Antarctica. While there are definite scientific goals and benefits to increasing Australia’s existing commitments to Antarctica, it cannot be denied that geopolitical considerations were foremost in motivating the Morrison government’s Antarctic policies.

Cleaning up historical waste

We normally think of Antarctica as a pristine, if icy, wilderness – and that is fine. However, we cannot ignore the accumulation of historical pollutants and wastage on that continent as a result of military and scientific activities. The historic Australian Wilkes research station, abandoned in 1969 due to its burial under snow and ice, is estimated to have 20,000 cubic metres of waste still in its tip – including old batteries, dead dogs, leaking oil drums and abandoned food.

If we create all this waste, we have an ethical and legal responsibility to clean it up. In fact, Australia signed up to the Madrid Protocol, an environmental annex to the Antarctic treaty system. This protocol, which came into effect in 1998, establishes ecological considerations when planning and implementing Antarctic activities. Mining in Antarctica is expressly prohibited.

The American operated McMurdo research station (you may find a map here) used a nuclear reactor for its power requirements from 1961 until 1972. It took seven years to remove the 12,000 tonnes of contaminated rock to clean up the place. The waste was relocated to the United States. This kind of substantial environmental remediation will be ever more necessary if economic footprints are allowed to increase in Antarctica.

Geopolitical competition

Australia has had a presence in Antarctica for decades, and is no noice to geopolitical competition. Since the International Geophysical Year 1957-58, which brought together the best scientific minds working in the earth sciences, Australia has established research stations in Antarctica – and claimed approximately 42 percent of the continent’s landmass as its own.

In the late 1950s, numerous nations began a flurry of scientific activity in Antarctica – one of them being the Soviet Union. The Australian government at the time responded with commentary casting suspicion on the motives of our Cold War opponent – what are the Russians up to? Media commentators and politicians asked if military motivations underlie Soviet actions in the Antarctic.

Security concerns was the rationale deployed by successive Australian governments to increase Antarctic activity. Richard Casey, the external affairs minister in the 1950s, wondered aloud whether the Soviets would be able to rain missiles on Sydney or Melbourne. These concerns circulated in the media without a shred of evidence – in 1955, the Australian Defence Committee concluded that even if the Soviets had aggressive designs on Australia, it was hardly likely the Russians would attack from Antarctica.

In its most recent announcement regarding Antarctica, the Morrison government made references to the possible incursions of rival powers into Antarctica. While the government did not mention Russia or China by name, media outlets, such as the Australian Financial Review, loudly cheered the financial commitment by Canberra as a step in fighting the Cold War against China.

Kieren Pender, writing in The Guardian, notes that Cold War politics and science have coexisted in an uneasy relationship. He writes that:

Australian efforts in Antarctica therefore always serve a dual purpose: promoting science and conservation while maintaining some degree of involvement across the Australian Antarctic Territory, lest the treaty system ever dissolve.

That is interesting, because the Morrison government made clear that this funding commitment was aimed at strengthening our ‘leadership’ in Antarctica – mostly by way of building drones and inland traversing technologies, which have clear military capabilities.

Warming oceans

We have all seen the documentaries regarding the melting of Antarctica’s ice sheets and glaciers, accelerated by human-induced global warming. This will result in a cascading series of adverse impacts on the ecology of the Southern Ocean. The latter, also known as the Antarctic Ocean, surrounds the Antarctic continent, and contains a diverse marine ecosystem.

As the oceans warm, the ability of the marine life to survive in those ecosystems will erode. The Antarctic krill, a tiny crustacean that lives in the Southern ocean, is physically small – about six centimetres in length. However, their importance in the marine ecosystem is huge. Numbering in the millions, they constitute the food basis for whales and other species. The krill depends on a delicate balance of food and temperature.

As the phytoplankton, the microscopic plant organisms on which the krill depends, decrease in the warming oceans, the krill migrate further southwards. The growth habitat of the krill gradually contracts, and the adverse repercussions will cascade throughout the marine ecosystem.

The urgency of action on reducing the impact of anthropogenic climate change should take priority over short term military and geopolitical interests.

Anti-Asian racism, defector stories and foot soldiers of imperialist gangsterism

Eileen Gu, the American-born Chinese freestyle skier and athlete, defected to the People’s Republic of China. Competing for the Chinese team in the Winter Olympics, she has been subjected to a vitriolic barrage of denunciation in the US corporate media for her decision to defect.

Her story, and the reaction of the American media, is instructive in revealing how defector stories are politicised, both during the Cold War, and in the current neo-McCarthyite offensive against China. The boycott of 2022 Winter Olympics by the US and its allies – largely symbolic – was motivated not by concerns about human rights, but by geopolitical designs of imperialist gangsterism.

Anti-Asian racism

Gu has quite correctly spoken out against the epidemic of anti-Asian racism in the US that has accompanied the current pandemic. She has advocated for gender equality in sport, and her sporting talents were encouraging by her parents. Speaking fluent Mandarin, Gu made annual trips to China prior to her defection. The way the US corporate media reacted to Gu’s defection is akin to that of a serial abuser whose victim leaves.

Instead of examining their own history of abusive behaviour – in this case, a longstanding practice of anti-Asian hate crimes and racism – the serial abuser launches a vitriolic attack against the abused. Eileen Gu is condemned as a traitor, ‘dual loyalty’, an ingrate and spoilt brat. That hysterical denunciation is a disgusting spectacle, but it is also interesting. It contrasts with the strongly supportive expressions towards those defectors emerging from the (former) Eastern bloc.

Dissidents welcomed – and those turned away

Being old enough to remember the 1980s has its advantages. Defectors from the former USSR (and politically associated Eastern bloc nations) were hailed as courageous heroes, lionised in the US corporate media, and rewarded handsomely for their defection. Repurposed into heroic dissidents, refugees from the Eastern bloc were weaponised into serving as propaganda tools for the US oligarchic empire.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wrote about the gulag archipelago, for which he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature. Lauded as an ethical force in Russian literature, his ultranationalist and racist views were largely excused, even ignored. Channeling Nazi sympathies, he expressed the view that Russia should once again become a Greater Russian Pan-Slavic empire, swallowing up all the non-Russian ethnic minorities – a position similar to that of Alexei Navalny today. Solzhenitsyn was an unswerving advocate of all the unethical foreign interventions of the US state.

There were scores of refugees who were turned away by the US authorities. Guatemalans, Salvadorans, Hondurans, Haitians – people whose lives were afflicted by the US-supported dictatorial regimes were denied sanctuary in the US. These nations were turned into uninhabitable cauldrons of violence by US foreign policies. These dissidents never got access to the corporate media, were never welcomed as heroes, never received the lavish attention given to celebrity-dissidents from Eastern European nations.

Uyghurs in the diaspora – foot soldiers for the US empire

The Uyghur issue – and the region of Xinjiang – have received inordinate amounts of media attention. A huge subject, we cannot address all its complexities in one article. However, we can make a number of relevant observations. Accusations of genocide, regularly hurled at Beijing in relation to the Uyghur people, are unsound and reckless. Genocide is a historically specific crime, and the charge should be used with caution.

Using the term ‘genocide’ as a politically motivated propaganda tactic should be avoided, but that is precisely what Washington is doing. The mass, industrialised extermination of defenceless ethnic groups has been the usual practice of European colonial powers, motivated by intense racism. To place China in the same category as European colonial nations is not only historically inaccurate, but morally perverse.

Uyghur separatism, as a political ideology, has its origins in ultrarightist Pan-Turkism. The Uyghurs are a Turkic Muslim minority in China. Extremist groups, such as those cultivated by Washington and the CIA, encourage religious separatism as a direct challenger to the authority of Beijing. The Chinese authorities certainly respond with harsh repression – but please do not throw around the word ‘genocide.’

Making a false accusation of genocide is itself a crime under international law. Using such a charge as part of a propaganda campaign against China is not only reckless, but obnoxious and disrespectful to those nations that have survived actual cases of genocide. The World Uyghur Congress, a collection of exiles and Pan-Turkish activists, wish to derive political capital from the powers-that-be in Washington.

Becoming Sinophobic mercenaries for the US empire, the push by Uyghur exiles for a confrontation with China – and their financial support from the CIA – is highly reminiscent of earlier campaigns by US intelligence agencies to cultivate secret armies to wage warfare against official ‘enemy’ states. Currently, the Uyghur diaspora is being converted into US empire loyalists, linking up with Pan-Turkic far right groups in Central Asia.

Refugees and asylum seekers should be welcomed, whether in the US or other nations. The Anglosphere, united in its goal of confronting purportedly ‘enemy’ nations, weaponises refugee stories for the purpose of encouraging imperial wars.

Being passionate about work sounds great, but it is delusional as a philosophy of work

We have all heard the following advice; follow your passion, and you will never have to work another day in your life – at least, some version of this aphorism. It is a mantra that exhorts all of us to improve ourselves, leave that boring job, and fulfil our dreams – and by doing that, work will stop being an exercise in monotonous drudgery. Sounds good, right?

Do what you love (DWYL) sounds great in principle, but it actually encourages employee atomisation of the vast majority of work under capitalism. Turning our focus exclusively inwards, this mantra, by focusing on our individual happiness, encourages us to ignore the welfare, safety and happiness of our collective working conditions. Self-betterment is a fantastic goal – more power to you – but not when it is an excuse for narcissistic satisfaction at the expense of other workers.

Monetising our passions sounds sensible, but it is the philosophy of the hustler, the grifter, the duplicitous real estate agent (No offence). There are professions which require passionate commitment – nursing, paramedics, health care – and that’s great. We are all familiar with the stories of a person, working in a dead-end job, finally getting up the courage to leave, change careers, become a pastry chef and win cooking competitions. If that is you, then more power to you. Making the world a better place is a goal to which we can all aspire.

Work is just work, and not necessarily the place to find your passion. Being a responsible, reliable and diligent worker is good enough – no need to follow the mantra of ‘follow your bliss.’ It is dismissively easy to tell a person ‘go and get a better job’, as if it is just a matter of changing shoes or clothes. The nature of work under capitalism has changed, and with more privatisation, there is increasing casualisation, job insecurity and precarity.

Time magazine – you know, that bastion of loonie-leftie Commie propaganda – ran an article stating that loving your work is a carefully cultivated myth under capitalism. As the traditional blue-collar manufacturing – and heavily unionised – workforce declined since the 1970s and 80s, the sense of collective bargaining has been replaced by a highly individualistic DWYL ethic, all the while ignoring the fact that work – the employing entity – will not reciprocate worker loyalty.

The late Steve Jobs epitomised this trend of ‘following your bliss’. Wearing a black turtleneck jumper and blue jeans, he constructed an image of himself as the ordinary worker doing what he/she loves; the smart talking, casual approachable person who successfully followed his passion. That’s all well and good, except that this image disguises the dispiriting reality of soul-destroying monotonous factory work which makes the wealth of corporate tech giants possible.

Amazon, a prime example of a tech giant, has a long history of mistreating its warehouse workforce, setting a gruelling schedule of speed ups, and handing out punishments to those deemed to be underperforming. Amazon workers have complained of being treated like robots, with work consuming their entire lives.

While we associate horrendous overwork with 19th century manufacturing, online distribution warehouses, such as those operated by Amazon, exhibit all the qualities of a dehumanising panopticon. The warehouses are not called by that name anymore – they are ‘fulfilment centres’, in line with the DWYL mantra.

There is no sense in advising Amazon workers to simply ‘follow their dreams.’ There is no alternative but collective organising of the workers, to ensure safe and humane working conditions. Sarah Jaffe, labour reporter and journalist, writes that while we remain wedded to the idea of ‘loving our work’, we will ignore the erosion of health, safety and welfare measures which have prevented work from becoming an unsafe place for our physical and mental health.

Silicon Valley, the hub of the tech companies which implemented the personal computer revolution, is plagued by homelessness and inequalities. Ninety percent of the Silicon Valley workforce are actually economically worse off now than they were twenty years ago. However, the top ten percent – the wealthy – have increased in wealth. Jobs have steadily moved away from higher and middle salaried positions to lower-paid, less secure jobs.

The IT place where ‘follow your dreams’ should display its empowering possibilities actually has all the trademarks of an unequal capitalist system. The DWYL philosophy cannot disguise the economic realities of the exploitive corporate structure. We all have to work to deadline pressures, overtime hours and weekends; there is no excuse for tardiness. However, being good enough at work is perfectly okay; save being passionate for your hobbies, sports and non-work interests.

Being a diligent worker is one thing; depriving yourself of sleep, neglecting family and non-work life to become an automaton is quite another.

The Great Barrington Declaration, anti-vaccine fanatics and mutating conspiracy theories

The Great Barrington Declaration, a manifesto purportedly based on scientific advice, sets out alternative methods for dealing with the pandemic excluding lockdowns and public health measures. While seemingly concerned with community freedom, it is actually filled with dangerous delusions harmful to public health, and masks an ultra libertarian and eugenicist agenda.

The Great Barrington Declaration, signed in October 2020 and named after the town in which it was formed, was sponsored by the free-market libertarian American Institute for Economic Research (AIER). Based in Barrington, Massachusetts, the document calls for ‘focused protection’ – though what that involves is never fully explained.

Calling for the removal of lockdowns and public health measures, the signatories advocate ‘herd immunity’, letting the Covid-19 virus run through the community. In a nod to a eugenical perspective, the elderly and sick are to be quarantined – though they will be left to their own devices. Public health measures such as lockdowns are intrusive; make no mistake. However, to portray health measures and vaccinations as ‘tyranny’ is giving oxygen to fringe groups and anti-science business advocates, intent on prioritising corporate profits over community health.

Lockdowns have adverse impacts on mental health, and this is a consideration for public health officials. However, the solution proposed by big business – encapsulated in the Great Barrington Declaration – produces mental health impacts as a result of ‘letting the virus rip’. Sweden, one nation which avoided lockdown in the name of economic well-being, experienced high rates of mental health illnesses and adversities as a result of a fictional ‘herd immunity.’ The Swedish economy performed no better or worse than that of its lockdown-neighbours.

Dangerous fallacies and pseudoscience are the ideological pathogens currently spreading throughout the world. Herd immunity as proposed by ultra rightist groups, is an ideologically driven fiction, promoted by far right libertarians usually in the pay of billionaires. Letting an infectious disease or virus spread unopposed through the community is not going to achieve herd immunity. That will only result in overwhelming numbers of infections, overflowing and overworked hospitals, and undue pressure on health care provision.

Community (or herd) immunity is not achieved by letting a virus run riot and infect people in the community. It is achieved by implementing an immunisation strategy, vaccinating the population so that only a tiny minority is at risk of infection. No infection has ever been controlled by the simplistic measure of just ‘letting it rip.’

Anti-vaccine zealots and libertarians find common cause

Anti-vaxxers are the foot soldiers of the ultraright, providing a lightning rod for coalescing conspiracist movement. A veritable death cult of Covid-19 denialism is produced by a confluence of factors. The capitalist system has increased its assault on the ecological world, wreaking destruction – and the far right exploits this situation to recycle mutating conspiracy theories.

Robert Kennedy Junior (RFK), environmental lawyer and activist, compared the public health restrictions in the current pandemic to the Nazi-era laws persecuting Jews and ethnic minorities. He deliberately invoked a comparison to Anne Frank, a Jewish girl and diarist who defied Nazi authorities in the Netherlands. Though he apologised for those remarks, anti-vaccine zealots have frequently misused the Nazi analogy, condemning public health measures as tyrannical, and thus positioning themselves as ‘freedom fighters.’

RFK Jnr made his remarks while addressing an anti-vaccine rally, which brought together fascistic militia groups and ultrarightist forces in Washington in late January. His anti-vaccination attitudes have led him to align with far right groups – under a banner of ‘defeat the mandate.’ Thousands of such Trumpist zealots gathered, carrying placards which read, among other things, that vaccines are bio-weapons, and that Jesus was the only vaccine needed.

Big pharmaceutical corporations, through their profiteering activities, have generated resentment and discontent in the community. Hoarding vaccines in the predominantly wealthy nations, while millions in poorer countries remained unvaccinated, corporate pharmaceuticals stand exposed as profit-hungry entities. This discontent is being exploited by anti-vaxxer groups, misdirecting hostility towards public health systems and measures.

Over the decades, neoliberal austerity programmes have gradually reduced government health care systems, handing over medicine and health care to the large pharmaceutical corporations. In fact, it is no secret that the Moderna vaccine was initially developed by the tax-payer funded National Institute of Health. Government bodies do have the funding and scientific capacity to develop and distribute vaccines to the population. That would involve denying profits to the pharmaceutical multinationals.

Anti-vaccine misinformation and anti-science conspiracy theories are a dangerous detour; what is needed is a rethinking of the health care system as a public institution, not for private profits.

Removing the stranglehold that profiteering pharmaceutical corporations have on our health care – and its advocates in the political system – is a necessary first step towards restoring public confidence in a publicly-run health care system. The cranky libertarianism of the Great Barrington Declaration, and its supporters in the anti-vaccine movement, will only lead us into a lethal cul-de-sac.