Phantoms of the Operation

“Tis the times’ plague, when madmen lead the blind.”   – Shakespeare, King Lear

Many thousands of New Yorkers have temporarily moved into the small Massachusetts town (permanent population approximately 7,000) where I live because of fear and panic created by fraudulent disease and death data gathered and disseminated under the umbrella term Covid-19.  Such deceitful, fear-inducing news concerning diseases is old hat, but this time it’s part of perhaps the biggest propaganda campaign in modern history, resulting in an unprecedented government crackdown on people’s freedom, a massive transfer of trillions of public dollars to the banks and corporations, and crumbs for average Americans.  In my little town, second vacation homes, Airbnbs, and room rentals are packed. It is a flight to “safety” reminiscent of the months following the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent anthrax attacks that originated from a U.S. government bioweapons laboratory.  In the years immediately following those attacks, McMansions were built throughout these hills and local houses were bought up like penny candy as New Yorkers flooded the area.  Now as then, the wealthy refugees absconding on the road of flight accept official explanations and arrange their lives accordingly. Little is learned as repetition compulsion rules and the latest terror alert has them cowering in fear, playing their parts in a theatrical production conceived by master dramatists.

Let’s call it “The Operation.”

During the day, you can see small numbers of them out walking, yards apart, on the country roads. The downtown streets are deserted day and night. This in a town that over the past twenty years has become an upscale movie set catering to tourists and second-home owners who have brought great wealth with them, making it very difficult for regular people to afford the town and survive on jobs in the service economy. Now that the country has been brought to a halt by the government shutdown, the regular people are screwed big-time. Many small businesses will never again open. The town’s largest employer, Jane Iredale cosmetics, the perfect employer for life the movie, has just laid off forty-seven employees. Make-up for the psycho-social drama might run short now, even though the theater has temporarily gone indoors. I don’t know if Iredale’s mascara (Italian, maschera, mask) is still available.

In normal times, the town would be filled with people frequenting the restaurants, cafes, and boutiques, parading down the streets dressed like movie stars in SoHo. Black clad actors.  Now it is a ghost town without many ghosts.  The few you do see wear cloth or paper masks.

The word mask comes from Latin, larva, a ghost, specter, a disembodied spirit – a maskLarvatus, masked, a personality, or person, an actor, one who wears a mask. Person, Persona, a mask, a false face – personare – to sound through the hole in the mask.

Shakespeare was right.  To grasp the social play, one must be a theater critic.  There is a reason ghosts play such important parts in his plays.  If life is but a walking shadow, a poor player, then what are we the cast?  Are we but seldom masters of our fate but usually only underlings, dancing to the tunes our masters play for us?  It seems tis so.

For the paper and cloth masks people are wearing are just a second layer of masking, the first being what sociologists – diminutive descendants of Shakespeare – call status/roles and regular people just call roles, even when they don’t know they are playing them, which is most of the time. Most people associate playing a role with being phony, while failing to notice that social life is comprised of such play-acting, “as if” the play were natural.  To admit that it is fictitious and that one is performing in a play written and directed by someone else is to open a trapdoor beneath one’s feet.

The sociological term status refers to the very many positions one occupies in a lifetime such as occupational titles, family positions, even racial statuses that society imposes on people.  So a person could, for example, be categorized as a medical doctor who is a father and an uncle.  Each status – doctor, father, uncle – would have socially imposed expectations attached to it that are called roles that one is expected to play or else one is considered an oddball at best.  To treat them as playful simulations in a life of experimentation, and to treat social titles and statuses as comical, results in one not being considered a team player or actor in the social play.  Only children and crazy people do that.

Imagine you are an impostor and dress in the uniform of an airline pilot.  To pass for a pilot you must know how to perform the role.  In other words, to be a good actor in the role and pass yourself as the “genuine” thing.  This is what Shakespeare meant by all the world’s a stage, with the wooden stage where Hamlet and Othello are performed just being another artificial form of the “naturally” occurring fabricated life of society.  So social life is phony in that sense, which raises the basic question of what then does it mean to be genuine, to be real.

The philosopher René Descartes once said:

As an actor, to conceal his blush of embarrassment, enters the stage masked, so I step forth onto the stage of the world, masked.

But to be masked is to be hidden, to be a ghost that no one can see, a cipher. So Descartes and Shakespeare were asking us that fundamental question: Who are we?  Are we?

Nietzsche asked it this way:

Are you genuine?  Or merely an actor?  A representative?  Or that which is represented?  In the end, perhaps you are merely a copy of an actor.

Most people, as good underlings do, have now obeyed the director’s instructions and retreated into their Plato’s caves where they huddle fearfully around the flickering screens that have become their well-nigh reality, and which will become even more so in the future as the powers-that-be push their digital agenda.  It’s still showtime but of a different sort with the performers receiving the director’s cues all electronically. That the cast didn’t write the play and doesn’t know who did doesn’t seem to bother many.  They see it as the only show in town and they’re playing it, and while the anonymity of the digital life adds to the comedy of errors, it may be what many desire.

We live in the culture of the copy in every sense of the term.  There is rarely one of anything, even people.  Long ago Walter Benjamin wrote a famous article called “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”  In it he says that the mechanical reproduction of a work of art eliminates its “aura.”  “By making many reproductions it substitutes a plurality of copies for a unique existence,” he wrote.  In the age of film and digital screen existence, this is very true for people as well. Uniqueness is fading. The more people live in and by screen images and the propaganda such technology affords to the powerful, the more they can be reproduced.  This of course has happened.  Once the masses had to be gathered into a herd in one place and induced to act in unison. Today place has been replaced with cyberspace and the masquerade ball can be directed without movement.

Welcome.  “The Operation” is just beginning.



23 thoughts on “Phantoms of the Operation”

  1. “If life is but a walking shadow, a poor player, then what are we the cast?”

    This is superb. Is it a paraphrase from a Shakespeare work in particular? Thanks. And great, to the point writing.

  2. Very interesting reader responses…, I like them. One detail that struck me again this morning. It appears most people in this region prefer NOT thinking or feeling and quite enjoy being told what to do and how to think by the various authorities. Now this is in a region where most people feel they are sophisticated thinkers…, after all they must be; they live in the same region as the glorious Bowdoin College, which is simply another indoctrination center and part of the Wall St. gang. However, most citizens still think common education is okay. So any form of authority in this region is highly respected since people prefer not to think about anything. The head chef, the chief mechanic, the postal clerk, the clergy, the Po-lice…, these creatures simply adore authority. There was once a Naval Air station in Brunswick, Maine. The Navy moved and the base is under business as usual development. Few citizens know that the Navy is to make a commission from anything happening here for 25 years. The Navy never really left. The navy confiscated a large tract of beautiful farm land to put this toxic freak show there during WWII. It is still toxic. The navy doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to do the cleanup work that they agreed to do. All authority is toxic including the almost one church on every block in this town. 244 years of Fraud. 500 years of killing and destruction of the natural world with the show having gone on the road long ago. There is so much more…., I must stop here to cry.

  3. Life is so simple, isn’t it!? I secretly envy them. They do as they are told, and don’t give it a second thought. Their reward is a seemingly endless supply of electronic diversion. And when one wants to feel really productive, there’s always that new cookie recipe to try, courtesy of NPR.

    But what about the rest of us? The conscious ones. The sensitives. The ones that can no longer sleep at night. The ones that understand that this absurd theater is really a horror show. That it ends very badly and spares no one.

    For us, perhaps insanity is all that is left?

    Thank You, Ed.

  4. Walter Benjamin must have worked for an art dealer.
    Copy away!

    My role is “crazy conspiracy-theory relative.” I tell them I prefer conspiracy-HYPOTHESIST.

    I thought “IT” was going to come about when some hypnotic resonance came through their phones and turned them all into zombies. [This “them” (“their”, “they”) is the small “t”, as opposed to the capital “T” “They” (“Them”, “Their”), who are playing The Virus like a violin [ala Jack Benny].
    The Virus is just sooo convenient, and saves the resonance thingy for the future.
    The numbers have never justified the reaction.

    Recall episode 145 of The Twilight Zone: “The Masks”. They (small “t”, hoping to become a capital “T”) took the masks off, and ….

  5. As they say here in Australia Ed, “Your blood’s worth bottling!”
    I’m in full agreement that the thing is staged, manufactured, promoted. Beyond that, I have also noted some peculiarities regarding the MASKS. – There is a completely distorted (reversed) perception of who they are meant to protect! – Does a surgeon disinfect and wear gloves to protect himself or his patient from infection? Does the mask keep YOU safe, or protect OTHERS in case you are a carrier? Would you wear one before you go out and mix with others, or put it on when you get home to protect your family? – Your behavior in this regard exposes you behind your mask!

  6. A wonderful post Ed. Full of some truly excellent insights. Thank you.

    Here in southern California I’ve recently noticed a new phenomena. With the increase in the percentage of masked citizens during the last week I’ve noticed several small groups of young women (early 20-somethings) – who are now wearing more colorful, stylish masks. It is as if – “the mask” – has rather quickly morphed into some sort of “fashion accessory.” One that suggests complete cognitive subservience to the power apparatus – while still retaining one’s own unique – though completely “fake” – individuality, or as they say – “personal brand.”

    I suspect it will not be long before we see more “masked” characters in popular television and movies – our media propaganda apparatus now being almost completely “seamless.”

    1. Gary, I’d bet you are right and sale of designer masks is sure to come. You say it better than I can: One that suggests complete cognitive subservience to the power apparatus – while still retaining one’s own unique – though completely “fake” – individuality, or as they say – “personal brand.” Pax, Ed

  7. While I’m in accord with the social/existential analysis Ed sets forth, I remain unconvinced that this pandemic/panic was an orchestrated phenomenon at its inception (if that’s what he’s suggesting). No doubt the plutocrats have seized upon this situation to do what Ed describes–to further cow and control the masses, to protect and consolidate elite interests, to tighten the global plutocratic vise-grip. But for them to have hatched something with this kind of revolutionary potential, an earthquake which both unmistakably reveals the foundations of the neoliberal order and shakes them to their core, would be tantamount to playing Russian roulette, a potentially fatal game played purely at the mercy of chance, inherently beyond human control. The level of socioeconomic disruption and decay, already evident and spreading even faster than the virus, creates a revolutionary opening eclipsing anything seen in the Great Depression, the chaotic late 60s/early 70s, or the Global Recession a decade ago. Thus I question whether the plutocratic lions would have so overplayed their hand as to create the distinct possibility that the huge herd of human wildebeests they had successfully stampeded and were picking off one-by-one, might finally figure out their only recourse: to turn around and run AT the lions. Perhaps we will all eventually succumb to the predators with our eyes fixed on our video screens, but then again, maybe not. We are many, they are few. They know it, but not enough of us do……YET.

    1. Cultural Revolution

      Once again, the era of Trump, we’re faced with, if not an existential question, at least a practical one:
      Would you rather your daughter go on a date with man number 1, that says to her father’s face: “I’m a rapist”?
      Or man number 2, one that lies to the father’s face? And is also a rapist.

      Both are rapists.

      Obama was man number 2; Trump number 1.
      Hitler number 1; Churchill number 2, and so on and so forth.

      Or, to be less imprecise: numbers one and two, symbols [figure heads] for a particular social, economic and political class.

      And thus novel coronavirus and The Liberal Virus [thank you Samir Amin] meet face to face.

      I was attending grammar school in January/February 1969, when teachers and pupils had option not to attend school owing to an influenza outbreak.

      I remember it well, being one of the students that kept on going to school. I was tickled to be getting the extra attention.

      Less and less teachers were showing up, less and less students, and the principal, because so few were coming in, canceled school for a few days, and February vacation came a little early and we returned to school after that break.

      There was no panic, nothing. Life was normal.

      Many become ill of course and many died.

      “1968 flu pandemic, also called Hong Kong flu pandemic of 1968 or Hong Kong flu of 1968, global outbreak of influenza that originated in China in July 1968 and lasted until 1969–70,” states online encyclopedia Britannica.

      “The 1968 flu pandemic resulted in an estimated one million to four million deaths.”

      According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “It was first noted in the United States in September 1968. The estimated number of deaths was 1 million worldwide and about 100,000 in the United States. Most excess deaths were in people 65 years and older. The H3N2 virus continues to circulate worldwide as a seasonal influenza A virus.”

      Last year, according to the CDC, an H3N2 strain appeared “late” in the flu season, and according to the CDC, the vaccine they monitored to protect against it was successful in only 3 percent of those ages 9 to 49 who got a vaccine for it.

      CDC guidelines, related to this COVID-19, for reporting deaths, the following is what the federal agency says.
      Q: “Should ‘COVID-19’ be reported on the death certificate only with a confirmed test?”
      A: “COVID-19 should be reported on the death certificate for all decedents where the disease caused or is assumed to have caused or contributed to death.”

      What is one to conclude when the CDC mandates that fairy tales [assumptions] be included on death certificates?

      When there was one confirmed COVID-19 case in Massachusetts as of March 4, [when 3,000 deaths in China were known], the state’s Department of Public Health Commissioner Monica Bharel, MD, MPH, gave testimony during a public hearing convened by the legislature involving the state’s “preparedness and response” to the novel coronavirus.

      Bharel began her March 4 testimony to the Joint Committee on Public Health Oversight Hearing on Coronavirus Preparedness & Response, saying: “The Massachusetts department of public health has been leading our state’s efforts to address this new coronavirus since we learned of it in December.”

      Was she lying about the December claim, incompetent, something else?

      Or did Bharel and the state’s DPH learn of it in December?

      World Health Organization stated as follows, via Twitter, on Jan. 4: “#China has reported to WHO a cluster of #pneumonia cases —with no deaths— in Wuhan, Hubei Province. Investigations are underway to identify the cause of this illness.”

      “WHO reports on pneumonia of unknown cause in China,” the agency said the next day.

      Five days later, the agency’s website stated: “WHO issues its first guidance on the novel coronavirus. 10 January 2020.”

      The DPH rules issued March 11 say that individuals that contract the disease and have tested positive are subject to “isolation” and must be isolated 14 days, when a determination is made whether that must continue; while those who have been in contact, or believed to have been, are supposed to “quarantine” for 14 days.

      First responders in Massachusetts, including police, firefighters and paramedics operating ambulances, most if not all of them have been in contact with an infected person; most of them are not being quarantined. Many continue going to work, in fact.

      A report pubished last Saturday by a firefighters union in the state with 12,000 municipal members indicated only 666 had been tested for the COVID-19, and more than ten percent tested positive.

      Policemen have told me they were told to treat this like the flu, that it will pass, and it’s no big deal. Since they are trained to takes all kinds of precautions, they are not doing their jobs any differently, they told me.

      That is what police are being told.

      What is the public being told?

      The DPH provides local boards of health with names and addresses of those infected; the boards of health are told not to share the names with first responders, and to only share an address.

      The DPH is not telling local boards of health in Mass the names of those who die from this.

      During her March 4 testimony, Bharel said nothing about “social distancing.” She said cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze and wash your hands.

      Why is no one saying to drink water, the oldest medicine on earth to dilute risk of an infection disease?

      The marriage of novel coronavirus to The Liberal Virus is a lethal interaction.


      1. Not sure I understand the thrust of your response to my comment. For the sake of argument, let’s assume that the plutocrats concocted this whole pandemic panic from square one, in order, presumably, to consolidate and enhance their wealth and power and to strengthen and shorten the chains of wage-slavery in which the masses toil. The possibility of a backfire here, a boomerang effect, seems obvious and is indeed playing out as we talk back and forth. More and more people are seeing the naked cruelty/callousness/ugliness of neoliberalism, despite the MSM’s heretofore largely successful efforts to mask it or distract us from looking at it. More and more people are about to find themselves, if they haven’t already, in even more desperate straits than before, and they will not be happy about it, may well not take it lying down. The scent of rebellion and revolution is in the air–at least I can begin to smell it–and its emergence was predictable once the pandemic panic froze normal neoliberal reality in its tracks. Do you really think that the plutocrats couldn’t have anticipated all of this, or that they did…and decided to go for it anyway at the substantial risk of causing their whole obscenely profitable game to come crashing to the ground?

        1. If you don’t mind me jumping in here with another two cents, I very much envy you your cadre of peers – all mine seem to have bought into the playbook “hook line and sinker.” From your comment I assume you associate with a number of individuals who see this “pandemic” for what it is; I have been denied that luxury. However, I absolutely believe the makers of pandemic were certain enough of their players that, had they deliberately concocted not just the pandemic but the virus itself, they would have almost no fear of negative feedback. It isn’t snobbishness to assume the worst of nearly everybody else: it’s a necessary evil.

          1. It’s also the only thing that can keep the wildebeests running from the lions instead of at them. Time for a nobler view of human nature IMHO. Cynicism about our potential ethical/spiritual progress is the key tenet of the neoliberalism, which has not only permeated society but also crept into our hearts and minds. I say to hell with it.

            1. This is to all involved in the dialogue here. Keep thinking it through and making your points as things evolve. Your perspectives are different but your intentions are all the best. It’s a tough issue.

              1. Agreed, Ed. Would you kindly correct my comments to say “straits” not “straights” in the first; and “tenet” not “tenant” in the second. Gettin’ old.

    2. Newtn,

      I hope you are right about the many against the few and the revolutionary opening. I hope. Pax, Ed

  8. First I owe you a huge apology – for reading your article. A work of literature, just like the reproduction of a painting, is, as you noted, cheapened every time it’s reproduced. Reading a work of literature therefore cheapens its initial value; the reader in no way understands its essence but rather chips away little pieces to rearrange into his or her own “work.” In that regard, we are all plagiarists.
    On a lighter note, the real, true, genuine essence of American society surely has to be Ferdinand Waldo Demara – Fred Demara, The Great Imposter, who, as far as I can tell, never spent a day in prison for his escapades (except as a Warden). But then, how can America imprison itself?

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