Culling the Herd: A Modest Proposal

Eli Zaretsky

Anyone who has studied the history of plantation slavery understands that the management of the modern labouring classes was modelled on the management of animals. One obvious example is racial classification. Another is the micro-techniques of the labour process: forms of discipline, cleanliness and deference, which, as Foucault showed, were based on dressage and other forms of animal training. With the legal abolition of slavery, the problems of managing herds shifted. Under slavery, the masters had an interest in maintaining the health and even longevity of the slaves, who were their main form of property. After abolition, however, maintaining the health of free workers turned into a burden, especially as the cost of medicine rose. Understanding these simple facts of modern political economy may help explain how the United States, the self-proclaimed ‘greatest country in the world’, ended up with one-third of all Covid-19 cases.

The large-scale slaughter now unfolding in America was not set in motion overnight. The herd had to be prepared. One place to start is with the response to the uprisings of the 1960s. Any herd has to have its rebellious instincts curbed. Most urgent was suppressing the African-American population, since they had been the spearhead of the revolt. Almost immediately, the leaders were murdered: Malcolm X, Fred Hampton and countless others. But state-sponsored murder is labour-intensive and unprofitable. A more effective means was mass incarceration. There are currently more than two million Americans in jail, and about 40 per cent of them are black.

Also important in managing a herd is to destroy all forms of critical thinking, in particular anything that challenges the supremacy of private property. The multitude was taught to react with instinctive, even ferocious, negativity to any idea that could be described as ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’. Not only did this render the herd more submissive, it created a feeling of narcissistic superiority that helped its members accept the drastic loss of long-established rights. The master class, which had lived in fear of herd uprisings until it quelled the rebellions of the 1960s, was amazed at how easily the herd gave up the belief that it was entitled to jobs, housing and good schools. Also helpful, as with poultry and cattle, was the use of drugs (heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine). Most fundamental, however, was convincing the masses that they had little or no right to medical care.

The intense anxiety at the level of ontological security that this produced was numbed by the force-feeding of credit, entertainment and consumer goods. The herd became fatter, more submissive and less curious, even as the use of whips, prods and mutilation continued. To the softening of their basic ‘species-being’ was added insensitivity to the suffering of others. The massacre of Muslims and Mexicans went along with the destruction of social ties in the process of domestication.

The wealth produced by the ‘modern’ techniques of herd management was enormous, and it sustained some of the most beautiful homes, colleges and art institutions in the world, available to the master class and their children. There was no longer any need to fear rebellion because it was always possible to quiet discontent by pulling one of the herd into the master class. There was, however, one flaw in the system: a certain number of proles needed to be kept alive, and that drained money from the engorged and hypertrophied rich.

When the coronavirus presented them with a choice between letting people die and closing down ‘the economy’, there was no question which the masters would choose. A herd that had already had its most contentious and inquisitive members culled, and that had been rendered submissive, would easily become accustomed to the slaughter of two thousand or so per day. It was all a matter of keeping the rest of the herd healthy.


  • 15 May 2020 at 12:06pm
    peterrawlings says:
    I think Jonathan Swift is being improperly recruited for this article.

    • 15 May 2020 at 1:50pm
      Markku N. says: @ peterrawlings
      Improperly how?

    • 15 May 2020 at 6:57pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ peterrawlings
      how so?

    • 19 May 2020 at 6:06pm
      Paul E Davies says: @ peterrawlings
      I think you are right. When I saw the title, I was expecting something in the style of Swift, using irony to make a powerful point. What I found was something very different. A very good analysis, provocative and powerful - but not what I would describe as a "modest proposal"

    • 19 May 2020 at 11:35pm
      Russell Colwell says: @ Paul E Davies
      I agree with Paul Rawlings. The article is good, but mislabelled.

    • 23 May 2020 at 6:41pm
      Peter L says: @ Russell Colwell
      I don't think the title implies a direct correspondence to that specific essay. But Zaretsky's allegory links pretty directly to Part IV of Swift's _Gulliver's Travels_, in the Country of the Houyhnhnms: the horse-humans who treat the human Yahoos as chattel. Their "modest proposal" for the Yahoos is a variant of extermination. There's also ongoing tradition of writers who have taken up the colonial background of Swift's allegory (I have a longer comment on some of this towards the tail end of the discussion below)

  • 15 May 2020 at 4:52pm
    Marmaduke Jinks says:
    What a fascinating interpretation!
    Sounds like it’s all going to plan in the Land of the Free.

    • 15 May 2020 at 6:58pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Marmaduke Jinks

  • 16 May 2020 at 7:10pm
    Mark Bond-webster says:
    'Culling the herd' -- the euphemism of the new Robber Barons for the 'social Darwinism' so beloved of the Robber Barons of an earlier era -- or of eugenics a generation or two later.....

    • 16 May 2020 at 9:12pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Mark Bond-webster
      good point

    • 20 May 2020 at 2:43pm
      gary morgan says: @ Mark Bond-webster
      Yet many of the second wave of eugenisist were, like the Webbs, Wells and Shaw!
      I should add that I a milquetoast leftist! Interesting piece, provocative.

  • 18 May 2020 at 2:29am
    garyamdahl says:
    Charles Dight, a Minnesota eugenics crusader in the 1920s and 30s, was inspired by his time as a doctor at the Faribault School for the Feeble-Minded, watching students tend cattle, sheep, and pigs. He drew a picture of an infant crawling up a vaguely classical set of steps to a plateau where selectively bred animals stood in halcyon glory. He and William Bell Riley, who was a Baptist powerhouse, friend of William Jennings Bryan and mentor of Billy Graham, sent letters of congratulation to Hitler in 1933, commending his success at stamping out mental inferiority.

    • 18 May 2020 at 4:45am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ garyamdahl
      eugenics lives!

  • 18 May 2020 at 5:09pm
    Graucho says:
    What has always made me suspicious about eugenics is that when a eugenicist has to define what they consider to be an ideal person they invariably describe somebody just like themselves.

    • 18 May 2020 at 6:02pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Graucho
      also when a "productive citizen" os described and many other cases.

  • 19 May 2020 at 6:21am
    Jan Galkowski says:
    This depiction, although true to sentiments and intentions among many of the powerful, also neglects error and noise and misjudgments on their part. No set of people are so successful in their plans as to be error free.

    Moreover, this depiction neglects the set of Americana who, while not rich are not poor and are white, marginally benefit from the described apparatus which, whether successful or not, undoubtedly exists. They have a part in its maintenance and are enguilted because they do not have all the burdens of the impoverished and have some of the education. WHY, I would say, do THEY support this structure? I would also ask, DO THEY, in fact, blindly, unequivocally support it?

    However the latter question is answered it dampens the notion the article suggests of a calculated genocide. I do not mean to say the distinction matters. Genocide among indigenous peoples in the present United States was, as far as I've read, done with the implicit acquiescence of the greater public because, for the most part, they knew nothing about it.

    Still, by the standards of the United States, they were complicit because they elected the leadership in Congress and in the Executive which carried it out.

    This kind of sin continues to the modern day, as the article portrarys.

    I think the upshot is that Americans, at large, as part of schooling and adult education need to confront the evils of their history, first towards indigenous North Americans, and, then, towards enslaved Africans and their descendents.

    In these days, this might be extended beyond the Californian atrocities of Asian Americans towards Americans of Chinese descent.

    Until these built-in prejudices, nay, racist inclinations are acknowledged and dampened, the United States cannot become the great country it once was, no matter what the Gang of the Orange Mango says.

    • 19 May 2020 at 1:28pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Jan Galkowski
      Thank you Jan for. a very thoughtful response I basically agree with most of what you say As I think you realize, I was not trying to give. a"balanced" account but rather to unearth a deep current of feeiing and an ideological superstructure accompanying it. Thanks again.

  • 19 May 2020 at 1:36pm
    The author ought to have looked at some data. It is the 70+ age group that is dying disproportionately on CoVid i.e. "The Greatest Generation." The opiate problem more fits the narrative. Not both.

    • 19 May 2020 at 5:55pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ KEITH MONTGOMERY
      I agree: In the longer version I wrote this: There was, however one flaw in the system, and that was that a certain number of “proles” needed to be kept alive, and that drained money from the engorged and hypertrophied rich. For that reason, the coronavirus, one in a series of completely predictable viruses, came almost as manna for the master class. Amazingly, it disproportionately affected Blacks, who needed to be kept down, Hispanic immigrants, who were seen as criminals by the masters, even when they hired them as maids and gardeners, and old people, who took disproportionate amounts from what were pathetically termed “entitlements,” small droppings of the sort that fall from a pelican’s beak. Faced with a choice between letting people die and closing down what the masters called “the economy,” there was no question which the masters chose. A herd that had its most aggressive members killed, gelded or imprisoned, that had any beast with curiosity or imagination kept apart from its fellows, and that was rendered fat and submissive by cheap food, cheap entertainment and the hysterical laughter of the political show, was easily accustomed to the slaughter of 3-4000 animals per day. It was all a matter of keeping the herd healthy.

  • 19 May 2020 at 2:05pm
    John Sweeney says:
    Largely accurate

    • 19 May 2020 at 5:56pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ John Sweeney
      thanks, eli

  • 19 May 2020 at 5:44pm
    Mary J powell says:
    As AI and robots take over more and more of the functions of the "herd" the masters will have less reason to care if they live or die In fact they will probably prefer that more of them die than not and move to keep only a few around in case the robots don't work out. Then how difficult will it be to access healthcare?

    • 19 May 2020 at 5:56pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Mary J powell
      I agree. see my response to keith montgomery above for the question of the aged.

    • 20 May 2020 at 7:59pm
      Ara Wilson says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      The history of slavery has examples of situations where, from the point of view of enslavers, workers don't need to be maintained Where replacement costs were cheap, as in parts of the Caribbean, there wasn't any real effort to keep the workers alive for long (or have them reproduce with the implications for black enslaved women that comes with that).

  • 19 May 2020 at 6:04pm
    Robert Ware says:
    This delightfully playful post implies that the power structures informing the very real effects Zaretsky's calling out are the result of a grand conspiracy among sentient capitalist overlords--lately the much-maligned 1%. Rather (to also reference Foucault), these circumstances are the result of a discursive system of actors/agents from all socio-economic strata making (false) choices based on a shared body of internalized messaging that ultimately and accidentally result in The Way Things Are(tm). The cause is structural, not the personal agency of the monocled robber barons, who are simply the ones best positioned to--ahem--capitalize on the fallout.

    Nipicking, I know, and I'm sorry. I just don't think a lot of the people who would be best served by understanding this message will recognize that point embedded in the satire.

    Plus, It's a hallmark of the American Left to "well ackshually" each other to death over minutia while the Right tramples around heedlessly with the likes of Trump. So really I'm just doing my part. ;(

    • 20 May 2020 at 1:29am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Robert Ware
      Do you know Hans Vaihinger's work on "As-if." The point of my post was to show that America works "as if" there was a central committee to the master class that manages the masses. Of course in fact the culling of the herd works through capitalism. The problem is how to get people to be aware that our society really does operate as if the masses were a herd to be harvested. Ishiguro's "Never Let me Go" also captures this.

  • 19 May 2020 at 6:10pm
    sterilepromontory says:
    Recommended reading: "Democracy in Chains," by Nancy MacLean, "White Fragility," by Robin DiAngelo, and "Black Reconstruction in America," by W.E.B. Dubois. I'm surprised that the author didn't mentioned the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. Instead of empathy, the white response to the ensuing riots was repression, white flight from US cities, the election of Richard Nixon, and the birth of the Reagan cult. As a 16-year-old, I watched history unfold.

    • 20 May 2020 at 1:30am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ sterilepromontory
      I dont know the DiAngelo book but definitely recommend the other two. I certainly agree about King. the master class committed a double murder in that case because they have been appropriating his memory.

  • 19 May 2020 at 6:18pm
    Felicity De Motta says:
    It was blatantly stated by Johnson, to justify the policy of 'herd immunity' that we must be prepared to lose many of our loved ones! Says it all.....Profit over people.

    • 20 May 2020 at 1:31am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Felicity De Motta
      Yes, its more blatant than ever in times of crisis.

  • 19 May 2020 at 6:27pm
    sterilepromontory says:
    Eric Foner's essay in the current issue of this publication also speaks directly to this issue. And, as the book "Stamped from the Beginning" by Ibram X. Kendi showed, fear and resentment of black people (sharpened by the wealth and celebrity of a few prominent black people) is the collective nightmare America hasn't yet awoken from.

    • 20 May 2020 at 1:31am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ sterilepromontory
      I'll check it out, eli

  • 19 May 2020 at 6:37pm
    Ian Tully says:
    John C Calhoun, the ideologue of the slave-owners, liked to point to the contrast between the value of the slave to his owner and the northern industrial worker to his employer, but that does not mean the social arrangement of the industrial economy arose from slavery. Only in the USA would such a linkage be made.
    Nor was plantation slavery the only kind that existed in the US, any more than in any other slave-owning culture, as Frederick Douglass's history shows slaves could be part of the general economy too, even in a neo-classical way, semi-free profit sharers.
    The orderly society was at the heart of Enlightenment thinking, in part a reaction to the civil wars which had ravaged Britain and Europe. It was themselves, their urban environments and their behaviour which they middle-classes first wanted to tame. Certainly they feared the mob, but not just as a threat to property but to that order. The deep ideological belief that those traits of order, discipline, education and hard-work had made the early industrial pioneers and therefore would benefit the workers if they adopted them still has enormous influence among ordinary Americans, although met with cyncism in parts of Europe. It was one shared by Chartists and other early working-class political activists.
    All the early industrial societies invested in public facilities much aimed specifically at the Poor. Hospitals, orphanages, even the dreaded Poorhouses and new model prisons were seen as part of a civic and Christian duty not to forget the Poor. The US inherited the Evangelical impulse to do this through the Church and thus inhibited the British and European wider State provision which so marks our different approaches.

    • 20 May 2020 at 1:35am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Ian Tully
      Mostly I agree with this, but not sure what the overall point is. I think Robin Blackburn's work points to the general influence of plantation slavery on industrial management. Of course it was not the only influence.

    • 20 May 2020 at 2:43pm
      Ian Tully says: @ Eli Zaretsky
      Robin Blackburn certainly draws attention to the symbiotic relationship between early Capitalism and Slavery, and to the influence of Slavery on capital accumulation. In the UK the recapitalisation that resulted from the State debt on the Abolition of Slavery has been the source of much debate recently. However that is rather different from actual links between the management of the new factories and the organisation of labour being inspired by Slavery. The large number of Quakers involved in those early years certainly did not see themselves as no better than slave-owners.

    • 23 May 2020 at 1:44pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Ian Tully
      I have definitely heard Robin describe the plantations as forerunners of the factories. The self-consciousness of the owners is something else.

  • 19 May 2020 at 6:42pm
    The writer definitely has a point of view, formed in a vacuum, which is his empty head.

    I was born in and live in the country he thinks he's describing. It's both more and less evil than anyone who inhabits that modern Elysium, the United Kingdom, will ever know.

    • 20 May 2020 at 1:33am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ SMSRHINEBECK
      no need to descend to the ad hominem. There's always room in the herd for a little diversity.

  • 19 May 2020 at 7:14pm
    Tina Smith says:
    As an American, I vouch for the truth of this killing analysis that reveals the truth of our situation. Note also that our lawmakers are loath to vouchsafe even the smallest sums of money to everyday citizens, lest they begin to think democratic government exists to protect their interests.

    • 20 May 2020 at 1:35am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Tina Smith
      Thank you Tina

  • 19 May 2020 at 8:27pm
    Gregory Luce says:
    As a citizen of the US I should resent this piece but sadly it all rings true.

    • 20 May 2020 at 1:36am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Gregory Luce
      I also am sad. I worry that the virus will change nothing except for the worse.

  • 19 May 2020 at 8:39pm
    Jennifer Sargus says:
    So your theory reads that the same "master class" (apparently not identical to the government, just influential in directing the government?)that introduced drugs spent billions policing drugs and incarcerating those who used drugs. And the same "master class" that subjugated African -Americans also decided to "quell" African- Americans in the 60s by protecting their civil rights with major legislation protecting their civil rights? A lot of internal inconsistency in your approach.

    • 20 May 2020 at 1:37am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Jennifer Sargus
      History is complicated Jennifer. I dont claim to have the whole story but as Tocqueville pointed out, only God gets the whole story.

  • 19 May 2020 at 8:48pm
    Susanna Reece says:
    ‘The greatest country in the world’ began by eliminating via genocide the native peoples and occupying their land - what else do you expect?

    • 20 May 2020 at 1:38am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Susanna Reece
      an important addition.

  • 19 May 2020 at 8:58pm
    streetsj says:
    What's the proposal?

    • 20 May 2020 at 1:39am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ streetsj
      Democratic Socialism. I supported Sanders until the master class knocked him out.

  • 19 May 2020 at 9:09pm
    Virginia MacFadyen says:
    "Anyone who has studied the history of plantation slavery" would be affronted by this statement in your blog:
    "Under slavery, the masters had an interest in maintaining the health and even longevity of the slaves, who were their main form of property."

    I think your memory of your understanding of the history of plantation slavery is, to put it mildly, a little selective! Why don't you take a quick glance back at the history of sugar plantation slavery and the expendability of slaves...when more after more after more in massive numbers were transported from Africa to replace the dead - who may have lived perhaps three years? The logic you reached for is academic, not real.

    • 20 May 2020 at 1:41am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Virginia MacFadyen
      They worked the slaves to death for sure. Sugar above all, But the question of having an interest is quite complex and there is a large literature. At the simplest level though, slaves were property and property owners take some care of their property.

  • 19 May 2020 at 9:53pm
    John Bannigan says:
    In "Up the Republic" Fintan O'Toole said that one of the objectives of the American Republican party was "making war on the poor".

    • 20 May 2020 at 1:41am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ John Bannigan
      Thanks, I'll check it out.

  • 19 May 2020 at 11:10pm
    Bruce Post says:
    In 1963, the Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote a series of letters that came to be known as "Letters to a White Liberal." They questioned the sincerity of many white liberals involved in the American civil rights movement. Merton wrote that the white liberal would encourage the Negro - the term at the time - but eventually would desert them. Here are a few excerpts: " He ( the Negro) also knows, however, that your material comforts, your security, and your congenial relations with the establishment are much more important to you than your rather volatile idealism.... (Y)ou will sell him down the river for the five hundredth time in order to protect yourself. For this reason, as well as to support your own self-esteem, you are very anxious to have a position of leadership and control in the Negro's fight for rights, in order to be able to apply the brakes when you feel it is necessary."

    Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

    • 20 May 2020 at 1:42am
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Bruce Post
      Very interesting. Merton was one of my heroes when I was young, and I didn't know about this.

  • 19 May 2020 at 11:45pm
    Einschlaf says:

    You can expect a new force feeding of credit for the ones who are spared by the goddess Fortuna, for good measure.

    • 20 May 2020 at 5:30pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Einschlaf
      yes, its all about pumping up international finance. The anti-Chinese stuff is also incredible.

  • 20 May 2020 at 12:37am
    M Cushman says:
    The process that Zaretsky describes is resonant of Kimmerling's concept of Politicide: "a gradual but systematic attempt to cause Palestinians' annihilation as an independent social, political and economic entity".

    • 20 May 2020 at 5:30pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ M Cushman
      Yes, there is more in common in the way that capitalism treats the Palestinians and the way it treats the bulk of its own citizens than appears at first

  • 20 May 2020 at 3:15am
    John Gustafson says:
    Bold essay. I think about a recent The New Yorker interview with Chris Hayes where he poses the idea someone post 9/11 saying “Uh, guys, you know sixty thousand people here die from the flu. I’m not quite sure what the big deal is here.” Now, it's as if we've been through thirty 9/11s and still there exists a small, but vocal minority of commenters who downplay 90K American deaths. Maybe it was because many lost on 9/11 in the towers were white.

    • 20 May 2020 at 5:39pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ John Gustafson
      The US response to 9/11 was over the top. Considering the millions the US hs either killed, maimed or at least uprooted in the middle east since the 70s!

  • 20 May 2020 at 12:09pm
    Jean Rafferty says:
    This is an excellent article but not in the spirit of Swift. I don't expect Mr Zaretsky did the headline. I wrote a series of articles which are on my website and were written with Swift's Modest Proposal in mind, if anyone's interested.

    • 20 May 2020 at 5:34pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Jean Rafferty
      very interesting. I would LOVE to hear the difference, ie why my article is not swiftian. Really the swift reference was to alert the readers that everything should not be taken literally. I have a feeling that you are right, but would very much appreciate a few words clarifying. I loolforward to reading your articles.

  • 20 May 2020 at 1:03pm
    stevemerlan says:
    Some arithmetic would help in these exchanges. I am using the population and COVID-19 numbers to be found on the site

    As of May 20 06:00 MST the USA is shown as having a population of 330+ million.
    Taken together the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Spain have a population of 351 million.

    The US shows a mortality figure of 95.5 thousand which works out to 283 deaths per million of population.

    Western Europe as defined above ( I omit Scandinavia ) shows a mortality total of 145,500 which yields a mortality rate of 414 per million.

    414/283= 1.46. Did Western Europe have roughly 1.5 times the amount of slavery and genocide as the US?

    Counting is a useful skill.

    Steve Merlan
    Santa Fe NM

    • 20 May 2020 at 3:02pm
      mhenriday says: @ stevemerlan
      Counting is indeed a useful skill, Mr Merlan - as is a certain understanding of a function over time, which may require mathematical abilities of a higher order. Aside from your picking and choosing which Western European countries to include in your analysis - surely you are capable of the requisite operation in order to obtain a per capita figure in the event the Scandinavian lands and Portugal were also included ? - you also ignore the fact that the Western European countries you mention are much further along in their encounter with the Covid-19 pandemic than the United States. Perhaps you would be advised to wait another month before applying your considerable mathematical talents to the available data ?...


    • 20 May 2020 at 5:36pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ stevemerlan
      counting is very useful but a) I said nothing about mortality rates, just numbers, i which the US record is really incredible and b) no one who works iwth numbers would simply epect a parallel between slavery and covid virus, I'm sure you know that, eli

    • 20 May 2020 at 5:37pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ stevemerlan
      thanks henri

  • 20 May 2020 at 5:59pm
    Demetrio Tavares says:
    What a farrago of left wing crap. Better stick to your isle, plenty of herd mentality there.

    • 20 May 2020 at 8:45pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Demetrio Tavares
      actually I'm an American, a real yankee doodle dndy

  • 20 May 2020 at 6:03pm
    Demetrio Tavares says:
    Oh please, why don't you confront the evils of your own history. You know, conquering India and massacring the natives; stealing Australia from the aborigines, pushing the Irish to starvation, on and on.

    • 20 May 2020 at 8:45pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Demetrio Tavares
      there's enough crimes of capitalism to go around

  • 20 May 2020 at 6:06pm
    Demetrio Tavares says:
    More leftist nonsense. If the USA is such a horrible place, how come millions are yearning to cross our border??? They will do ANYTHING to set foot in the horrible, racist USA. And here in California where I live, whites are a MINORITY.

    • 20 May 2020 at 8:46pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Demetrio Tavares
      oh please, we are not hearing white rage now are we?

  • 21 May 2020 at 4:44am
    lordarsenal says:
    As an American, I need no convincing of the underlying meanness and cruelty that girds the ‘greatest country in the world’. Since at least the the end of World War II, the United States has consistently engaged and relished armed conflict against defenseless nations and toward its own people. Fat on self-congratulatory rhetoric, and it’s use of power and violence, one doesn’t require any Swiftian metaphors to see that at this very point in time, that the United States is the world’s bull in a china shop. A true punk.

    • 21 May 2020 at 12:37pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ lordarsenal
      ditto, Its sad, Its also a great cuuntry.or was,

  • 21 May 2020 at 7:43am
    Frank Solomon says:
    From today's Guardian:
    "Black Americans dying of Covid-19 at three times the rate of white people"

    • 21 May 2020 at 12:38pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Frank Solomon
      yes, also Hispanics. That was in the longer version

  • 21 May 2020 at 9:38am
    Felix McTiernan says:
    I'm afraid nonsense and hyperbole do not make a good article. Reads like anti- American propaganda mixed with a genuine misunderstanding of history

    • 21 May 2020 at 12:40pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Felix McTiernan
      perhaps is you were more specific I could reply in a more helpful way. The path to the truth is not always through Obamaesque pieties and scholarly quibbles.

    • 22 May 2020 at 2:16pm
      XopherO says: @ Felix McTiernan
      With Trump and his cohorts in power no one needs to invent anti-American propaganda, they personify it. And by the way, what is this 'history' that is genuinely (not falsely?) understood? History, the past, itself is beyond an ultimate 'understanding'. What we have is historiography, and thus many interpretations and understandings. I don't think you know much about 'history' Mr McTiernan. Perhaps you should read E. H. Carr, What is History, for starters - just for starters. And instead of just rubbishing a thoughtful and a little satirical (Swiftian or not) blog, try explaining your point of view, such as it is.

    • 23 May 2020 at 1:47pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ XopherO
      I love the great historians, like Carr.

  • 22 May 2020 at 4:11am
    Marco Roth says:
    "When the coronavirus presented them with a choice between letting people die and closing down ‘the economy’,"
    Um, as it turned out, they let people die and they closed down the economy. If one is going to be this conspiracy-minded, then why not see the layoffs and cost-cutting and shutting down of universities and indefinite closure of public (in the American sense) schools underway in the US as part of the master plan to drive the herd back into slave-like conditions as the delivery people and warehouse workers and forced labor in meat packing plants? I think you needed to take this piece even farther, and, as commentators suggested above, to be truly Swiftian, let's propose grinding up the babies of the "herd" for their antibodies and feeding them to the rich!

    • 22 May 2020 at 2:15pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Marco Roth
      yes, I had some of this in the longer version. Perhaps I'll do an expanded version! What do you think?

  • 22 May 2020 at 11:45pm
    Peter L says:
    I am a little confused by the quibbling about a proper spirit or recruitment of Swift. There could be "improper" ways to recruit that wouldn't be ironic, just as the very idea of a "proper" use of Swift can turn into self-parody. The satiric perspective of Zaretsky's blog-allegory, though, relates pretty directly to the "modest proposal" of Swift's Houynhnhms, that master class of Reason-worshipping horse-humans who treat the unruly human Yahoos as chattel slaves. Compared to "our" country of the Houynhnhms, they had a more totalizing, eugenic plan: exterminate the racialized Yahoos through mass castration, then replace them with a new laboring class of compliant asses (by which Swfit, of course, just meant donkeys). I wish Swift's allegory had ceased to be as allegorical. Zaretsky's provocative take suggests otherwise.

    Those who "marginally benefit" from the system, as Jan Galkowski adds, are our Gullivers, though not all revere the master class as fervently, or ridiculously, as (Le-mule) Gulliver. In different ways, Swift, Adorno, and Zaretsky, I think, question the attempt to simply project oneself beyond the herd (or herds), as ritual invocations of "herd mentality" tend to imagine. For Adorno, Nietzsche's anticipatory dictum, "no shepherd and a herd," corresponded well with mass culture in industrial society, but the anti-socialist Nietzsche failed to see how this society reproduced the "same old oppression" of capitalism, only now made anonymous.

    In Adorno's view, the "economic process"--or "the economy," in contemporary master-speak--perpetuated domination not just of the masses, but of the managers and administrators as well. One danger of the herd metaphor is that it seems to suggest that the latter are as oppressed or exploited as the former--a danger forefronted by some commenters and Zaretsky's longer ending on the disproportionate impact of Covid-19. But administrators and managers are a part of the herd insofar as the economic process also remains practically and ideologically beyond their control, with even the question of its transformation already ruled out of hand. (Anyone who has labored in the lower rungs of the contemporary university would be well acquainted with this logic among the well-intentioned and enlightened; however, to conceive the "masters" or "the 1%," well above these professional admin-managers, as just another effect of an internalized discourse system, is less squaring the circle than locking ourselves inside the corral).

    If I'm not mistaken, Zaretsky's point here would be that the "masters" are intimately tied to "the economy," not because they are masters of it, but because they serve and profit from the dominance of this all-too-real abstraction. It is a rejoinder, then, to the bleating from a right that we only make those in government "masters" by obeying their orders (wearing masks, physical distancing), an act that turns us into "slaves" (a long history in the U.S. on this freedom from constraint, bound up with Indian Removal and the Middle Passage, as Greg Grandin's book argues). I understand the pessimism in Zaretsky's allegory, especially in light of the U.S. responses to the pandemic. It seems to me, though, that invoking ideologies of "the herd" always risk cutting in multiple directions. "Not a double-edged blade and yet ambiguous / for, on it, one cannot see where it has no point," as the Brazilian poet João Cabral de Melo Neto characterized this kind of irony in his poem, "The Country of the Houyhnhnms."

    Although it too may run counter to proper Swiftness, Boots Riley's pre-pandemic film Sorry to Not Bother You offers a caustic revision of this ideological production of the herd. Significantly, though, it is by literalizing this metaphor--through the American corporation Worry Free's creation of a new laboring class of horse-human hybrids (Equisapiens)--that Riley's film imagines a more radical and egalitarian potential for struggle, couched in the ambiguous standpoint and prefix of these horse-human creatures. As the end suggests, Riley, too, seems weary of the "double death" of MLK invoked by Zaretsky, and revives an anti-herding imaginary for sheltered times.

    • 23 May 2020 at 1:50pm
      Eli Zaretsky says: @ Peter L
      thank you so much Peter for an extremely thoughtful comment. I hope some of the other interlocutors get to read it. Eli

  • 23 May 2020 at 9:24pm
    Fiona says:
    Very thought provoking, and probably correct. The cruelty of humans against other humans is boundless.

  • 24 May 2020 at 6:34pm
    Ole Bredberg says:
    Why the Covid-19 bashing of the US? You need to look at per capita data. UK is much worse than the US, and so is Sweden and many other European countries. So I see no connection between slavery and Covid-19 cases in the US. It is a bigger country and therefore more cases. And 1/3 is hugely inaccurate, unless you believe in data coming out of China, Russia, India, and Africa.

Read more