COVID Aftermath: When Science Fiction Becomes Reality
Aaron Kheriaty. The New Abnormal: The Rise of the Biomedical Security State. Washington, D.C.: Regnery, 2022. 278 pages. $29.99.
Science fiction is a quintessentially guilty (Anglo-) American pleasure. Like horror, crime fiction, and spy novels, sci-fi has yet to be recognized as "high literature" by many (especially conservative) literary critics. This is not, however, to say that science fiction has had no impact on American and broader world culture — quite the contrary. Elon Musk, the current billionaire bête noire of the left, has cited Isaac Asimov's classic Foundation series as inspiration for his own creation of Tesla and SpaceX. MIT scientist and popular YouTuber Lex Friedman recently included a number of science fiction tomes in a list of books that most influenced him. Peter Thiel, another powerful figure on the rights, draws his political inspiration from The Lord of the Rings series, a work of fantasy, sci-fi's generic cousin.
Whether or not science fiction is haute couture, it is nonetheless extremely popular and immensely influential among some of the most powerful people in the world. Science fiction is so powerful because it shows humankind the greatness of what men are able to achieve. Robert Heinlein's novels captured the "can do" spirit of the American Century. Asimov himself and Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame projected quasi-utopian visions of how science and education would enable a tolerant and prosperous future. At the same time, science fiction shows how an advanced technocratic society can go awry. George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World are the most obvious examples of these, but there are also several other works that project dystopian fiction in which the world is ruled by a totalitarian system of some kind.
Totalitarian governments, implanted microchips, artificial intelligence, and digital passports seemed the fare of science fiction — and wide-eyed conspiracy theorists — even up until the first decade of the twenty-first century. It was always assumed that the love of liberty in the Anglo-Saxon world, the lessons of communism and fascism from the twentieth century, and the West's Christian moral inheritance would keep any encroaching totalitarianism from reaching England or the United States. COVID, however, changed all of this.
In his new book from Regnery Press, The New Abnormal: The Rise of the Biomedical Security State, former University of California Irving medical school professor Aaron Kheriaty chronicles how he went from being at the frontline of COVID lockdowns in California to the tip of the spear in resisting what he believes is the increasingly totalitarian system that has been implemented over the past three years in the name of biosecurity.
As Dr. Kheriaty notes, the notion that the government could seize control over the bodies of an entire population and heavily regulate and discipline the bodies, minds, and souls of their citizens had been tried during the totalitarian movements of the twentieth century. Kheriaty further notes that the cutting edge of science in the United States once supported eugenic measures that included such activity as forced sterilizations of those deemed unfit to reproduce. During the early twentieth century, eugenics measures were funded by major institutions such as the Rockefeller, Carnegie, Ford, and Kellogg foundations and were supported by intellectuals at the nation's elite universities. Forced sterilization in Virginia was upheld by the Supreme Court in 1927, with Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. famously stating, "It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind." Kheriaty's point is that the medical, educational, judicial, and political establishment even in America has trampled on the rights of its citizens in the past and has assumed ownership of the bodies of those citizens deemed "unfit." To argue that similar events happened in the twenty-first century is, in Dr. Kheriaty's view, not to give in to conspiracy theories.
Kheriaty argues that a similar violation of the privacy and rights of individuals is occurring during the current COVID emergency. Kheriaty provides his own experience as professor of psychiatry and head of the medical ethics program at the University of California, Irvine. While he was at U.C. Irvine, the university implemented a program for dealing with COVID known as the "ZotPass," which was, in Kheriaty's words, a "system of digital surveillance" that monitored students' location and regulated their movement on campus. Kheriaty notes that this practice was not unique to U.C. Irvine. Throughout the country, systems were implemented to monitor and control students. These systems of control were complemented by steady propaganda (Kheriaty's word) from university administrators as well as pressure for students to snitch on each other for not following COVID protocols.
Kheriaty argues that such regimented and controlled systems on university campuses during COVID are microcosms for a proposed system of control to be implemented worldwide in the name of safety. In The New Abnormal, Kheriaty provides the further example of Amazon warehouses in which nearly every movement of workers is controlled and monitored by an algorithm called the "Associate Development Performance Tracker," otherwise known as (the Orwellian) ADAPT. ADAPT is accompanied by near total surveillance of Amazon warehouses by cameras.
These measures, however, are only temporary, for, as Kheriaty argues, during what has been called the "Fourth Industrial Revolution" by World Economic Forum figure Klaus Schwab, both blue- and white-collar workers are themselves being replaced by robots and other forms of artificial intelligence.
These seemingly "futuristic" events are not part of a science fiction plot; they are occurring and have already occurred.
Kheriaty sees the 2020–present COVID response as being an experiment on the world's population. He argues that vaccine passports are forms of social exclusion, and what was considered the citizen's right is now a reward for compliance.
Kheriaty further points out that even mainstream medical professionals such as the New England Journal of Medicine had by early 2022 noted that some vaccines were ineffective against some variants of the virus. He chronicles the tremendous psychological and emotional toll the lockdowns and COVID safety precautions took on billions of people across the world, who were, in some cases, not able to bury their family members or visit friends and family, or who were too scared to see a doctor for genuine health needs.
Believing that the university hospital at which he worked was violating the rights of his patients, Dr. Kheriaty protested and was eventually fired from U.C. Irving. He continues his fight today working for a variety of conservative think-tanks, such as the Ethics and Public Policy Center, fighting what he believes to be an emerging totalitarian system.
The New Abnormal ends with a humorous but unsettling dystopian fictional short story called "Seattle, 2030" in which a future Microsoft worker is caught up in a world of drugs, sexual immorality, and spycraft courtesy of the biosecurity state.
Some readers may object to Kheriaty's dystopian vision and may even scoff at his cri de coeur for resistance to biosecurity state. Indeed, in fairness to both Dr. Kheriaty and his critics, no one can predict the future, and the incredible leaps in technology around the world are often matched by the increasing ineptitude of the ruling class — especially in the West.
Perhaps one potential future for us is predicted in The Blade Runner series, which begins with Philip K. Dick's campy 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, continues with Ridley Scott's 1982 masterpiece Blade Runner, and reappears in the twenty-first century with Dennis Villeneuve's brilliant but flawed (and very risqué) Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Especially in the latter films, the future world is a combination of utopia for the ultra-rich and a dystopia for the working class and poor. The wealthy live "off world" in a clean and harmonious environment, while the 99% are stuck living a subsistent life on Earth. While robots, A.I., flying cars, and other forms of high technology are part of everyday life, the reach of the ultra-rich and the government is not all-encompassing. A lot of the technology is broken or malfunctioning, and humans have formed a small cyber-punk version of Rod Dreher's Benedict Option, living outside the system. Totalitarianism in the Blade Runner world does not work because even with the support of a fleet of robots and flying cars, governments are still run by all too human humans.
In The New Abnormal, Aaron Kheriaty provides a frightening vision of the future as well as strong case for resisting the new biosecurity state. Whatever may have happened during COVID, the future is still unwritten, and what will happen is something that only God knows.
Image: qimono via Pixabay, Pixabay License.