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The Plague

“Are you able to condemn absolutely?”

“No – but surely that is not necessary?”

“It is not – though the situation is very bad. But testimony without reservation is the only testimony I will give – so I will give no testimony in support of your testimony.”

Ostensibly, these two characters at the start of Albert Camus’ The Plague are talking about the health situation of Algerian natives under French colonial rule. But The Plague is not actually about an outbreak of the black death in Oran. It is about France under Nazi occupation, recast as a description of French behaviour in an epidemic. The plague represents the Nazis: deadly, relentless, reigning in terror for a time and then gone. The book’s interest is in how people act when a thing like that sweeps over them; about the scum it brings to the top; about who decides to resist and when and why; about Vichy and freedom and the human heart.

By setting the book in Oran, Camus gave himself an advantage: he could describe the city he grew up in very well (and the ostensible event – an outbreak of plague – was more likely). But he also gave himself a problem. France was under the Nazis but Oran was under the French colonial authorities. The French readers of Camus’ book are like the French readers of the newspaper whose journalist “cannot condemn absolutely”. So Camus explains – very exactly, in terms of his analogy – that he will say nothing, and from that point on, the book focusses only on how the ethnically-French inhabitants of Oran behave.

I have been a little surprised never to see mention of The Plague in my recent web browsing. (Only a little surprised – the amount that is on the web and not noticed by me is vast.) That an epidemic can be like an invasion, empowering Vichy-like petty tyrants and harming freedom, would seem topical at this time. I’m no great fan of Camus (though, like anyone honest, I greatly prefer him to Sartre and suchlike) and it is from old memory that I provide the quote heading the post. But some people think highly of him, and I’ll grant that, even in translation, a certain quality of the prose shines through. The left did not welcome his post-WWII advice that what they needed most was “pitiless criticism”, but they never managed to push him all the way down the memory hole.

In the UK and the US, I’ve seen criticism of the lockdown that I thought very fair – and other criticism I thought OTT, as if it were rational to think Boris and Trump really loved lockdowns and wanted them to last forever. The cruel absurdity I see in France seems to belong in the pages of The Plague.

17 comments to The Plague

  • John B

    ‘… as if it were rationaL to think Boris and Trump really loved lockdowns and wanted them to last forever. ‘

    If not Trump then Boris certainly does: net zero carbon economy, it is called.

    Tyranny is in the blood of the political elite, the wars on drugs, tobacco, alcohol, thought & speech, plastics, obesity, salt, sugar, fat, meat, diesel now petrol, engines, climate change.

    Covid was a fortuitous cataclysm which has allowed full dress rehearsal to see how easily societies founded on absolute freedoms, would submit to total, tyrannical rule. The result is in, not only submit willingly to it but demand it.

  • Duncan S

    Niall, The Plague is referenced in the Facts about Covid-19 page, but, other than a couple of mentions early in the days after “the event” I agree it’s not been widely referenced.

  • CaptDMO

    Golly, in this era of stay at home lockdown, and “cable” tee vee reruns of slap stick oldies,
    Haven’t seen ANY of “The Mortal Storm” being run.

  • Paul Marks

    Even the Daily Telegraph appears to have collapsed into the madness – citing establishment scientists (the sort of people whose LIES and FRAUD got us into this mess in the first place) as saying the government was easing the lockdown “too early” – after two and half months of smashing the economy and driving many people to their deaths.

    “Too early” – you mean there is a business in the country that is not bankrupt and not enough people have killed themselves, is that what you mean “scientists”? Have not enough people died of cancer (“save the NHS STAY HOME” – and die) and other illnesses? Why do you want even more people to die? Accept we know why you do what you do – – you want an excuse for your Collectivist “Green” – and you believe that that the people who die (for you know your polices COST live, they do not “save lives”) are acceptable casualties to achieve their objective of Collectivism.

    Clearly it is not just the humanities that have been corrupted in the Collectivist dominated universities

    As for the Telegraph.

    According to the Telegraph (front page today – Saturday 30th of the May 2020) the rioters who have looted and burned in Minneapolis are “protesters” – and the Telegraph did the old left-media trick of selectively quoting for one of the President’s “Tweets” – the whole point of a “Tweet” is that it is SHORT, there is no honest reason to edit a “Tweet”. Editing is for a long piece of writing – not a “Tweet”.

    By the way I have some sympathy for George Floyd – yes he was passing fake 20 Dollar Bills, but the Federal Reserve has been doing that since 1913 (Article One, Section Ten – only gold or silver coin may be legal tender in any State, Article One, Section Eight gives the Congress the right to COIN money, not print it) and no one ever grabs them by the throat.

    Why should some black man have his throat crushed for passing a few 20 Dollar Bills when the Credit Bubble bankers rip everyone off to tune of TRILLIONS of Dollars?

    That does not mean I have any sympathy for the looters and burners – they could not give a toss about Mr Floyd, this is NOT about him – this is what the Marxists and “anarchists” always want to do.

    It is much the same with the Mayor of Minneapolis (another leftist – in a city controlled by the left for more than 40 years) – he will not defend property, indeed he even threatens to prosecute (for “murder”) those who shoot looters – but he still demands TAXES.

    A Protection Racket (“pay me money and I will protect your property – do not pay and something bad is going to happen to you….”) with no protection.

    Even Al Capone would be ashamed to behave like a modern leftist City Mayor.

  • thefat tomato

    @john B, certainly some people are submitting willingly, the vast majority are, and with good reason, there is an ongoing pandemic. I optimistically doubt that that submissive behaviour would exist under purely political justifications.

  • Living in an inner-ring suburb of Minneapolis, I sympathize with George Floyd’s family and friends. I don’t trust the Minneapolis police that much. There have been a few too many dead innocents around here. Justine Damond in 2017 is a good example: she called police about the possible assault of a woman in an alley near her house, and ended up shot herself. By police.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_of_Justine_Damond

    Derek Chauvin (what a name for a cop!), the cop that knelt on George Floyd’s neck, was involved in killing another black man some years back. I’ll give him a bye on that one, the black man was pointing a shotgun at him. There had been something like 18 public complaints on Chauvin. Then we have the 2016 killing of Philando Castile, another black man.

    The Mayor and Governor are Democrats. My Representative in Congress was Keith Ellison. He was elected State Attorney General, and replaced by Ilhan Omar. None of them particularly like the USA; all of them are trying to soft-pedal the riots. They’ve been trying to make nice with the rioters, though now that several blocks are burnt down, they’re back-pedaling. The mayor of St. Paul is a bit more proactive — they’ve been arresting vandals there. Apparently the most vigorous of them came from Chicago and St. Louis.

    They have been vandalizing and burning a lot of businesses. (I’m not sure just how stealing televisions relates to George Floyd, but hey, I’m white. I don’t understand these things.) And they burned down the Third Precinct police station.

    It got more personal for me when they burned down Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore last night. I have shopped there for something like fifty years. It was the longest-open SF bookstore in the US. Was.

    I’m just glad we have the second amendment.

  • Ellen (May 30, 2020 at 8:51 pm), some of the stories I see today read as if the cruel absurdity I wrote of in France is attempting to establish itself in the US (rioters walk away free while the law-abiding get lockdown enforced), though others (paywalled, so I link to instapundit’s summary) suggest it is largely a socialist riot inspired from without – mostly of course the ‘socialism of “hey, now is a safe time to nick stuff” but with some antifa participants able to spout the jargon.

    You and bobby b (he lives not far from Minneapolis IIRC) are on the spot. Between 2005 (when the French police attempted to contain the rioters and failed) and 2020 (when the zones urbaines sensibles were very quietly exempted from any lockdown enforcement) is a line of development – I should rather say, a line of regression. Where your locale is on that line is something you can judge better than I. I would love to believe the answer is: “not far, and some other power (Federal?, 2nd Amendmenters?) can still reverse it”.

    My own take FWIW: rioters need numbers and coordinated timing (to overwhelm the forces of law and order – of course a very PC-ruled police force is more easily overwhelmed than others). The combination is something they do not innately have, so the small initiating groups need an external signal, such as the death of Mr Floyd. None of the rioters care as much as you or I do about Floyd – his death’s sole connection with the riot is its function in being a widely reported signal, thus telling the small groups that do have coordination: “now is a good time to try; if the police are not swift to crush us, we’ll get the numbers because enough potential rioters saw the signal and realised, as we did, that ‘opportunity knocks’.”

    Meanwhile, I do not yet know if Mr Floyd was simply murdered by PC Chauvin (yes, I see your point about the name) because he was that kind of policeman, or if Mr Floyd’s recent acts were like those of the man who “was pointing a shotgun” at Mr Chauvin in the prior incident, or what. It would be nice if an investigation by someone we could all trust were to establish the facts – and see justice done on or for PC Chauvin as those facts determine. That the media’s rioter-friendly narrative implies the pure-Democrat slate of every relevant authority in the state is not trusted to do this should embarrass the media – but when a reporter can say “the riot seems mostly peaceful” while standing in front of a burning building (that is blatantly in the camera shot) then either the bubble has driven its maintainers mad, or else the true message is one of solicitation to the rioters: “come and we’ll cover for you”.

    One thought to avoid paranoia, or at least minimise it: warm weather and a long period of lockdown-enforced inactivity are a recipe for rioting. Some parts of this may have just happened, though the turned rock is showing some ugly slugs.

    Lastly, some people sign off their comments “stay safe” because of the virus. I never have yet – but to you and bobby b I will say, I hope you stay safe.

  • bobby b

    “It got more personal for me when they burned down Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore last night. I have shopped there for something like fifty years. It was the longest-open SF bookstore in the US. Was.”

    If you subscribe to paranoid theories – I do – the burning of UH’s fits in nicely with an invasion of semi-literate white Antifa vandals who might be expected to have taken strongly-felt sides in Sad Puppies. One could find many of the . . . wrong books . . . there. Don lost some friends over that. (From what I’ve seen, the bookstore didn’t burn in a general conflagration. It was targeted – windows broken and accelerant thrown in. I can’t imagine it would have been targeted for reasons of racial animus.) It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you.

    ” . . . but to you and bobby b I will say, I hope you stay safe.”

    Thanks, Niall. I suspect I live one ring out from Ellen, but I’ll just say generally that I ought to watch the news more carefully, and that a fine mist of pepper spray and teargas can make motorcycle riding problematic. We inhaled the 3rd Precinct smoke for several hours before I dared leave my friends’ house. It’s definitely not a no-go area – we really have none here – but it was that night.

  • bobby b:

    If you subscribe to paranoid theories – I do – the burning of UH’s fits in nicely with an invasion of semi-literate white Antifa vandals who might be expected to have taken strongly-felt sides in Sad Puppies. One could find many of the . . . wrong books . . . there. Don lost some friends over that. (From what I’ve seen, the bookstore didn’t burn in a general conflagration. It was targeted – windows broken and accelerant thrown in. I can’t imagine it would have been targeted for reasons of racial animus.) It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you.

    I have functional paranoia. In college I worked with high voltage and radiation. When I went off to be a museum curator, I worked with aged and delicate items, and was supposed to protect and preserve them. Some were damaged or stolen by visitors, but I did my best.

    I’m not happy with much modern SF. At one Diversicon there was a panel of writers discussing the best way to use ideology in their stories. I raised my hand and said, “You think ideology makes a story better?” The trans on the panel said, “This is something better discussed over a drink,” and the panel continued on its path. In other words, I’m a Heinlein and Doc Smith girl. Uncle Hugo had lots of that. So it’s possible this fire was aimed, though since it was only one building in a block of burning buildings pyromania is more likely.

    When it came to many damaged stores, the rioters seemed to go with the ever-wise adage: first pillage, then burn.

    A pox on all their houses.

  • Snorri Godhi

    By the way I have some sympathy for George Floyd – yes he was passing fake 20 Dollar Bills, but the Federal Reserve has been doing that since 1913

    That is pretty dark humor, but i like it.

    WRT paranoia: maybe a month ago, i mentioned Jim Corbett’s autobiographical stories of hunting man-eaters in the Himalayan foothills.
    If Jim Corbett had not been paranoiac enough to think that the man-eater could be lurking pretty close to him at all times, he would not have survived — and many other people would not have survived, either.

    Just because you are paranoiac, it doesn’t mean that they are not out to get you.

  • By the way I have some sympathy for George Floyd – yes he was passing fake 20 Dollar Bills, but the Federal Reserve has been doing that since 1913 (Paul Marks, May 30, 2020 at 7:03 pm)

    I agree with Snorri: Paul’s remark is a witty, if grim, joke – and is not just a joke.

    As regards ‘since 1913’, it also happened during the civil war. As 25th United States Secretary of the Treasury, Salmon P. Chase issued greenbacks – which IIRC fell as low as $2.84 of them to buy one gold dollar in summer 1864. He then became Chief Justice of the US supreme court and, in 1870, ruled that the civil war legal tender acts (that he himself had presided over as Secretary of the Treasury) were unconstitutional. The year after, when new justices were appointed and his ruling reversed, Chase gave a dissenting opinion – reaffirming his belief as Chief Justice that he had violated the constitution as Secretary of the Treasury.

    In the UK in olden time, various kinds of forgery were capital offences (as was a lot else), though by hanging from the neck after trial, not by kneeling on the neck after arrest (I too can make grim jokes, but I more than forgive any reader who does not find them funny). When Wellington invaded France, but found the French dubious of the Spanish gold coins in his army treasury, he offered amnesty to any British forgers who would present themselves. “It is a comment on the recruitment policies of the British army”, said one historian, “that over forty presented themselves.” They quickly re-struck the coins as 5-franc pieces so that Wellington’s troops, uniquely in that era, could pay for their locally-sourced food.

    Governments do a lot of things they do not allow private citizens to do. In time of civil war to end slavery, or foreign war to cut down a Bonaparte, Niall moderate-libertarian Kilmartin feels more forgiving.

  • Snorri Godhi

    “It is a comment on the recruitment policies of the British army”, said one historian, “that over forty presented themselves.”

    It is also, i submit, a comment on the forgers’ trust that Wellington would stand by his word, and not hang them!

  • Rich Rostrom

    Paul Marks: “Article One, Section Ten – only gold or silver coin may be legal tender in any State…”

    Not correct. It says “No state shall… make any Thing but gold and silver coin a Tender in Payment of Debts…” This does not constrain the Federal government. It was included to prevent states from enacting “tender laws” under which creditors were required to accept payment in semi-worthless paper scrip for debts incurred in specie. (Rhode Island did this, leading to the spectacle of debtors with handsful of paper chasing creditors down the street – and to the near-complete shutdown of commerce.)

    Article I Section 10 is a list of things states cannot do – some of which are elsewhere specifically authorized for the Federal government.

  • bobby b

    “When it came to many damaged stores, the rioters seemed to go with the ever-wise adage: first pillage, then burn.”

    Surprisingly, this didn’t seem to have been the case for Uncle Hugo’s. In fact, throughout the cities, few books were stolen. Nikes, sure. Jack Daniels and big TV’s, of course. But books . . .

  • Rioters seldom read, and those that do, probably wouldn’t want to be seen doing it. I am curious to see if the Mayday Bookstore http://www.maydaybookstore.org/ , which claims to be every possible flavor of activist Left, will get burned down. They are in a prime neighborhood for activists.

  • Paul Marks

    Rich Rostrum – did I not go on to say that Article One, Section Eight says the Congress has the right to “coin money” there is no right for the Feds to PRINT money – otherwise the Tenth Amendment is meaningless.

    Are you aware that the reason the Constitutional Convention was called was to end the practice of the United States government funding itself by printing “Continentals” – hence the term “not worth a Continental”.

    If fiat money was Constitutional AFTER the Constitutional Convention (as you seem to be implying Sir) then there was no point in having the Constitutional Convention and the Continental Congress might as well have carried on to this day – printing away.

    As for the Civil War – both California and Oregon (both Union States) refused to accept fiat money in payment of taxes, demanding that payment be in physical gold or silver (in practice payment was in gold).

    The private merchants in Oregon and California who refused to accept “Green Backs” were also correct to refuse.

    As for my “joke” about the scum of the Federal Reserve and the degenerate Credit Bubble bankers – I was, of course, not joking.

    If Mr Floyd was guilty of a crime – then the Federal Reserve and the Credit Bubble (fraudster) bankers are guilty of this crime TRILLIONS of times over.

    They do not lend out Real Savings of Cash Money (they are not like the “Iron Bank of Braavos” in “Game Of Thrones”) – they either print money, or create it by book keeping tricks (Credit Bubbles) and the harm they do is truly vast.

    They are criminals – and the fact that their crimes have been “legalised” by corrupt legislatures and corrupt courts makes it WORSE, not better.

    The “financial system” is corrupt to the core – as are the vast corporations who depend upon Credit Bubble finance.

  • Paul Marks

    Of course I would like PRIVATE coinage (which was legal up to the 1850s – there were private mints in Colorado and elsewhere).

    The government has shown that it can not be trusted to not debase the coinage – since the early 1960s there has been little or no silver in the coins.

    As for banking – I have no problem at all with “usury”. But people must have the money they are lending out – and after they have lent out the money they must not pretend to STILL have it (not till when and IF they are repaid).

    The present “financial system” has nothing to do with honest money lending.

    Presidents John Adam, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, James Polk and Martin Van Buren all warned (repeatedly) of the corrupt practices of bankers – and how what they were doing was totally different from honest money lending.

    Things have not got better over time – they have got vastly WORSE.

    For example, Mr J.P. Morgan (the leading banker of the early 20th century) made sure to have one ounce of physical gold for every three ounces he pretended to have by his loans.

    Dishonest yes – but compare it to today.

    How much physical gold (or physical silver) do you think that modern bankers have to cover the TRILLIONS of Credit Bubble “Dollars”?

    Compared to modern bankers – J.P. Morgan in the early 20th century was a saint.

    “Paul you are not saying that you would rather have someone like the late Mr Floyd in charge of a major bank than the people who are in charge now”.

    Yes – that is exactly what I am saying.

    And I would certainly rather have the late Mr Floyd in charge of the Federal Reserve than Mr J. Powell.

    If Wall Street (and “The City”) are the system – then BUGGER THE SYSTEM.

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