Cui Bono? No One

Keith Kahn-Harris
6 min readMar 6, 2020

A coronavirus-fuelled attempt at understanding the self-destructiveness of the privileged

There is a strange kind of comfort to be had in materialist explanations of politics.

Take climate change: Why is it that there is such an organised, well-funded attempt to prevent action against climate change and deny it is even occurring? The comforting, materialist explanation is that action against climate change would threaten the interests of those who benefit from the capitalist system (the oil industry in particular). Why is this comforting? Because it suggests that there is a logical reason for the lack of action against such a terrifying threat — at least some people are going to do well out of it.

The comforts offered by materialist explanations extend to questions of why some people do things against their apparent interests: Why did sections of the working class whose livelihoods were most threatened by Brexit support it so enthusiastically? Because the elites who pushed for Brexit managed to convince them to vote against their interests through whipping up false fears about immigration and national identity.

But what happens when human beings follow courses of action that are in no one’s material interests?

This appears to be the case with regard to the response to Coronavirus. Different countries have responded to the emerging pandemic with varying strategies and degrees of success. In the US, at the very least, an effective response has been imperilled due to deliberate political choices. Funding cuts under the Trump Administration have targeted precisely those government departments that are responsible for pandemics. Trump himself has underestimated the seriousness of the pandemic, appeared to blame it on the Democrats, and appointed his VP — who has a track record of incompetent responses to health crises — to lead the administration’s fight against the pandemic. Further, it is likely that the US, as well as some other countries, will use the crisis to tighten border controls and restrict immigration further.

The decades-long neo-liberal project to gut the state and attack sources of expertise makes a coordinated response to a pandemic much more difficult and, almost certainly, much less effective. The election of a President who is incapable of telling the truth and managing a coorduinated institutional response to the virus, further compounds the problem. The lack of affordable healthcare for millions of American citizens…

Keith Kahn-Harris

Professionally curious writer and sociologist. Expert on Jews and on heavy metal — interested in much more. For more about me go to