Correspondence: The Trivial Matter of Naming Things!
8 April 2020
How do things and events acquire names and descriptions? The obvious explanation is to trace the wording back to an original source. This can be done for some words and phrases but not that many. Having found a likely origin of the wording, later it is sometimes questioned whether the wording is a good or approiate one. How is it even possible to have a proper wording for something? This was the question that roughly prompted the school of thought better known as deconstructionism, to conclude that the wording of a thing or event is arbitrary and therefore is bound to be improper.
A novel controversy has broken out about the naming of the ongoing disease pandemic. In regard to a previous pandemic Laura Spinney, a historian and science journalist, speaking about the Spanish Flu says “one of the few certainties we have about the Spanish Flu Pandemic is that it didn’t start in Spain…The Spanish felt, and were to a degree, stigmatised by this. In 2015 the World Health Organisation (WHO) put out guidelines for how to name a disease. I think the motivation for that was mainly to avoid this kind of stigmatisation, this kind of kneejerk naming of a disease after the place it first appears to manifest itself, or the sector of the population or animal in first appears in. One of the small things we can applaud ourselves for is that we have not given this outbreak a stigmatising name”.
When a mysterious disease was reported in Wuhan in late December 2019, the cause of the disease was found to be a novel corona virus, on 11th February the World Health Organization announced that the official name of the disease would be Covid -19. This is not the formal medical name, the International Committee on Taxonomy of viruses calls it ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2”, or SARS- COV-2, because it has a family connection to SARS 1, a disease dating back to 2003. The virus is also referred to as the novel coronavirus, the 2019 corona virus or just the coronavirus.
In 2015 the WHO had adopted new norms for naming infectious diseases, the main change was to cease associating the disease with the location where it was first experienced. This old toponymic system had been in use as late as 2012 when another coronavirus identified by the acronym MERS, short for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, had appeared and the much earlier Ebola virus had also taken its name from a river that runs near the village where it was first detected.
Of course in the case of Covid 19 not everyone has stuck to the new WHO guidelines for referring to the disease. The most important one of course being President Trump who has referred to it as ‘the Chinese virus’! After having been accused of stoking up racism he responded with the thought that it is just a fact of geography, the virus came out of China!
While acknowledging that Trump was likely intending some harm in ignoring the WHO guidelines he was not alone and there were other alternative labels given to the disease. I have heard at least some Chinese media refer to Covid 19 as the CCP virus, the Chinese Communist Party virus, television media coverage in Taiwan that I have seen frequently uses the CCP virus naming convention in its news bulletins, as do some of the news reports emanating from the media in India. The CCP convention has been steadily gaining traction in America and in Europe.
It is hardly surprising that the media in Taiwan should deploy the usage CCP virus based on the historic antipathy between the Chinese Communist Party and the rulers in Taiwan. The CCP continue to lay claim to sovereignty over Taiwan on behalf of the 'One Chinese Nation' and they also ensure that Taiwan is refused a membership of the World Health Organisation. It appears that Taiwan is seeking to make a legal case against the WHO at the UN on the grounds that it has been doing the bidding of the CCP and urging the rest of the world to learn how to deal with the pandemic by imitating what was initiated by the CCP. The supporters of Taiwan claim that the island did a much better job of combatting the spread of Covid-19 than the CCP, yet the WHO refuses to even recognise their very existence.
It certainly seems true that WHO statements have been flattering the Government of China, this maybe because Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was for a long time an executive member of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, an organisation with historic political affiliation to the CCP, he is not even a qualified medical doctor and owes his position, some say, to political lobbying made on his behalf by Chinese diplomats at the United Nations, one of his first proposals was hardly a praiseworthy one, to try to appoint Robert Mugabe a good will international ambassador of the WHO.
On January 14th 2020 a WHO international press statement said that ‘preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel corona virus.’ The WHO is accused of stalling on recommending the closing down of Air traffic from China, not declaring an international alert early enough, the alert was only issued on 28 January, and the first cases of the virus had already been detected two weeks earlier in both Japan and Australia.
There is a section of a near forgotten book written by Leon Trotsky called ‘The Revolution Betrayed’, in fact it is the last section called ‘The friends of the Soviet Union ‘ one thing said there, that friendship with the Soviet Bureaucracy is not a friendship for the proletarian revolution , but on the contrary, insurance against it. Some European visitors to the then Soviet Union were ridiculed for only seeing what the Communist Party officials wanted them to see. This half-forgotten story of the past does bear a certain resemblance to the demeanour of at least some of the WHO medical inspectors charged with the task of investigation the disease outbreak in China. The reputation of Canadian doctor Bruce Aylward is looking pretty tarnished, if you look back over his interviews from a month ago, most of what he said has turned out to be far from being the case, a tell-tale admission was that when he returned from China to Geneva, the headquarters of the WHO, he was asked by a journalist why he was not self- isolating having just come back from the most infected area, his reply was that he had not met anyone who had actually been sick.
It certainly looks like WHO officials in the early stage of the pandemic were doing no more than relaying official Chinese data and accounts about what had been happening in Wuhan. This does not mean that the World Health Organisation is corrupt, solely a vehicle for CCP propaganda, it is more likely a sign of its own lack of financial independence, and a felt need to be diplomatic in the context of dealing with the second strongest political power in the world at the UN. There is likely to be a UN investigation into the role of the World Health Organization, especially now that President Trump is threatening to withdraw funding, we will wait and see what the investigation comes up with before writing its condemnation.
To refer to the coronavirus as the CCP virus is an act of ideological propaganda, it harks back to the Cold War and the language of anti- communism, the Cold war between the West and China ended some time ago, though it continues between the CCP and the old class enemy who control the political direction of the Island of Taiwan. The most important thing to emerge out of this 'battle of the names' is for social science to try to come to a determination on the social and political standing of the New China. In the past China was named in various competing ways, an emerging country, a third world peasant society, a Socialist Country, a state capitalist society, a degenerate workers state, a deformed workers State, now it is loosely called a capitalist society under a communist dictatorship, what is the good and the bad of it, if the standing of China in the world is now so great and its influence of the CCP so extensive to behoves all of us to make up our minds about what is all around us, ambiguity and uncertainty is no longer an acceptable stance to take.