2020 has been a year of cataclysmic global change. As the world has faced unprecedented crises, the School of Blogal Studies has worked to make sense of them. This year, we have hosted two blog series: the first on Populism and the second on the COVID19 pandemic. Authors have documented current events, including the killing of Qasem Soleimani, the Nirbhaya verdict, the ongoing protests in Belarus, the Sudan peace deal, the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and the shockingly underreported conflict in Norther Mozambique. Our contributors have written about pressing global issues such as land and climate change and women in peacekeeping.
More recently, we published our most viewed post, Upprop bland forskare med anledning av bränderna i Moria, Lesvos (Petition from Researchers Regarding the Fires in Moria, Lesvos), where more than 150 academics have signed their names demanding that Sweden receive those left homeless by the fires in Moria and work with the E.U. to abolish the “hotspots approach.”
To mark the milestone in our blogging journey, i.e. the 100th post that we shared this week, in this 101st post, we (the editorial team) look beyond the present to consider the issues—ranging from U.S. domestic policies and practices to problematic global structures of consumption and racism— that will become increasingly significant as 2020 comes to a close.
Pandemics and the Necro-Economy of the Meat Industry by Theo
How do you recognize a vegan? Don’t worry; they’ll let you know by writing a blog post about how animal farming is the single most dangerous contributor to global pandemics.
Some of the recent pandemics carry their origin in their name: the swine flu and avian flu jumped to human hosts from pig farms and poultry farms respectively, and the infamous “wet markets” are considered a likely origin for the current coronavirus pandemic. Maybe less known, the 2012 MERS outbreak probably had its origin in camels, and even the Spanish flu may have originated in an overcrowded camp hospital in France that kept pigs and poultry to feed the camp. In fact, approximately “75% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonoses [originate from animals]”, according to a report by ProVeg.
According to Michael Greger, a physician, industrial animal agriculture is the “perfect-storm environment for the emergence and spread of disease.” Animals are crowded together in ill-ventilated rooms, they are genetically very similar because of aggressive breeding, and they are stressed out, thus weakening their immune system. We could not create a better environment to breed diseases even if we tried. Add to this the indiscriminate use of broad-spectrum antibiotics that create antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and animal to human viral transmission flourishes.
All of this is to show that industrial animal agriculture is not only bad for the animals but also humans. They are not only breeding grounds for diseases; they reveal capitalism’s cruelty towards humans and animals. Workers have to share small living spaces (again, helping the spread of diseases), are paid inadequately, and labor rights are frequently ignored. The problem is not evil meat-eaters, but an economic system that sanctions the necro-economy of the meat industry. The coming years will show whether we manage to overcome industrial animal agriculture that spells death for both animals and humans.
A Pivotal Year for Nuclear Weapons by Dustin
Growing up next to Los Alamos, New Mexico, with several relatives who worked at the national lab there, I’ve always been more aware of nuclear weapons than most people of my generation, born at the end of the Cold War. The last few years, though, have brought renewed global attention to one of the most existential threats we face. The Trump administration’s ripping up of the Iran nuclear deal, plans to further expand and modernize the U.S. atomic arsenal, and brinkmanship with North Korea, plus the Saudi nuclear program, increased tensions between nuclear-armed India and China, and new Russian weapons systems have all dominated headlines. The Hawaii missile false alarm and its propagation via news alerts on our phones gave us a renewed taste of imminent nuclear fear. Bob Woodward recently reported that during the height of the North Korea crisis, former Secretary of Defense James Mattis believed that a nuclear attack could be imminent.
Across many of these related crises, the U.S. government plays an important role, and hence the 2020 election will be pivotal for the future of nuclear arms control. A second term for Trump would likely mean an expanded American nuclear arsenal, weakened arms control measures, and continued confrontation with Iran. Biden has indicated that he will scale back or reverse some of the nuclear weapons modernization and development programs initiated by Obama and Trump, reduce U.S. reliance on nuclear weapons in its defense strategy, revamp arms control negotiations, and initiate a “no first use” policy. Like with the existential threat of climate change, November 2020 will be a pivotal moment for the future of the world.
(Un)democratic Discourse and the 2020 U.S. Election by Elizabeth
As we approach the 2020 elections in the U.S., I am becoming increasingly worried about the deterioration of democratic discourse. While I do not share Trump’s cynical and self-serving view that the U.S. election is rigged, I do believe that conversations leading up to the election demonstrate that most members of the electorate are not discussing issues that matter with their perceived adversaries.
This is unsurprising since so many people now receive and exchange information on social media platforms carefully curated to filter out uncomfortable information, but it does have serious consequences for the democratic process. That is, if we only discuss important political issues with those who hold similar views, it is impossible to understand the views that our “adversaries” hold as well as why they hold them. What values underlie an immigration ban? What needs animate climate change denial? What interests are at stake when people insist that “few bad apples” are responsible for police brutality? Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that anyone needs to seek consensus, but I am saying we need to listen and attempt to understand each other.
The lack of engaged discourse leading up to the U.S. presidential election is deepening existing political divides and fueling violent disputes. Now the question is not who will be elected president, but how that election will disenfranchise large swathes of the electorate.
The Elephant in the Room! by Swati
My wonderful colleagues have described some key issues, including the connections between meat industries and pandemics, the future of nuclear weapons, and how the U.S. electorate is engaging and disengaging ahead of the election. I want to talk about the big elephant in the room everywhere, especially in academia: racism and race relations. It underpins the most important aspects in the international and domestic, in our personal and professional spaces. Black Lives Matter became a powerful movement amidst the pandemic, serving as a reminder that we have normalised racism in our everyday lives, despite professing commitments to end it. Racism spills across national borders and affects every aspect of governance and international relations. Above all, racism is about our everyday encounters with it, which depletes our soul, diminishes our lives and takes away our dignity bit by bit. Like what Ashis Nandy said about the detrimental aspects of colonialism to both the coloniser and the colonised, racism harms its proponents, as it does those who are subjected to its dehumanising consequences.
Academia needs to address the problem of racism more than anywhere else. Contrary to the view that we constantly check our privileges and prejudices, we have created an environment that rewards and standardises ‘whiteness’, strips it of any accountability and transparency, and enables rules and protocols to be written on its terms. Have you cared to notice, how brilliant academics of colour are being treated around you, how the fight is exhausting and depleting and how we continue to invisibilise and normalise discriminatory practices? It requires a lot of emotional labour to keep fighting for equality when even your best friends, most enlightened colleagues and closest allies do not see their own complicity in the racist practices that are embedded in the university systems and beyond.
So then, the future requires that we take stock and often. The pandemic requires that we think about how we can create compassionate and just spaces where we can challenge racism and sexism collectively, while querying our own roles, responsibilities and privileges.
The Future Beckons…
Our blog has connected us to a wider community of researchers, academics, educators, students, general public and world watchers, struggling with similar questions, anxieties as we do and hopeful as we feel at SGS. We have appreciated the belongingness to a wider universe and our diverse and unique positionalities, which remind us how borders appear increasingly irrelevant and epistemic compassion appears the only way out to celebrate the multiple worlds we inhabit. Centering people in our politics is key to analysing world events. We will do a lot of that in the future. To those who have supported us in our journey, we remain grateful. To others we say, come join in our efforts to decentre, decolonise and rethink how we view the world.
Keywords: #democraticdiscourse #USelections #echochambers #mediasilos #veganism #covid #covid19 #pandemics #MeatIndustry #AnimalAgriculture #Capitalism #necroeconomy #racism #BlackLivesMatter #academia #nuclearweapons #nuclearagreements #armscontrol #post101
Theo Aalders used to be the webmaster of this blog, but has since gotten entangled in other nets and webs. He is currently working on a comic book about his PhD research on the LAPSSET corridor in Kenya.
Dustin Johnson is a doctoral student in peace and development research at the University of Gothenburg’s School of Global Studies, and joined the Blogal Studies team in 2020. His PhD research focuses on gender and the practices of child protection in UN peacekeeping. You can find him on Twitter at @WarAndCoffee.
Elizabeth Olsson is a Ph.D. student at SGS. She joined the editorial team in 2017 and has published 18 posts on Blogal Studies, including e-Pomodoro: Time Management Updated for the COVID Era, The Presidency is Dead. Long Live Dictatorship?, and The Publication Paradox: Reflections on a Self-Destructive Standard of Academic “Excellence”
Swati Parashar is Associate Professor at the School of Global Studies. She is the founding editor of Blogal Studies, bringing with her years of international blogging and media experiences from India, Singapore, UK, Ireland, Australia and now Sweden. She tweets @swatipash.