COVID-19 has killed countless thousands. It will undoubtedly go on to kill many more. It is a horrifying scourge, impassively ripping family members and friends away and roughly depositing them in the quiet of the grave.
But it has also granted us a range of crucial insights. It is not insensitive to those who have perished to heed these. In fact, it would be downright disrespectful (not to mention foolish) to ignore them, given the suffering and loss which were viciously inflicted as their cost.
Yes, COVID-19 is not just a vile fiend, it is also a brutal teacher. It has lifted the veil on so many things. It has disabused us of cherished illusions.
One such illusion is that our governments know what they are doing, that they are competent and well-prepared for anything, that they will put the welfare of their people above all else. I mean, if you still believe this now, I can’t imagine what would disprove it for you. It must be some kind of treasured, unfalsifiable ‘axiom’, placed deep in the foundation of your mind when the concrete was first being poured, which helps you sleep at night. (Personally, I think you should brave being a little insomnious if it means seeing what’s actually happening around you. Just a thought.)
There is a temptation to think of the pandemic as an unmalleable ‘act of god’. To take refuge in the excuse that “well, gee, I don’t know, it was always going to be bad no matter what.” (Which, admittedly, there is perhaps a grain of truth to. But just a grain.) Do not be duped by this line of thinking. It is an evasion of responsibility. It is a shirking of the proper, crucial allocation of blame. Make no mistake, what was coming one way or another was intensified manyfold by the bumbling governmental response to it.
I know this might seem like an odd reference to make, but just bear with me for a second. I’m reminded of a famously scathing pronouncement written about the Irish Potato Famine some time afterwards (in 1861): “The Almighty, indeed, sent the potato blight, but the English created the Famine.” It’s rather chilling, I think you’ll agree. I haven’t been able to forget it since I read it.
And it’s not hard to see how it became a rallying cry for the distraught, starving masses of Ireland. It crystallised the growing sentiment that this was ultimately a man-made disaster. Because although there were pre-existing factors which exacerbated the blight’s ruinous effect (e.g. the widespread reliance on monocropping a single variety of potato), these paled in comparison to the callous treatment then visited upon Ireland. That’s what sealed the deal. By murderous intent or indifference or just sheer negligence, the British government enabled fields of rotting potatoes to snowball into an entire country being consumed by want and misery and death. It was within their power to avert the famine itself and they didn’t. The Irish quite rightly never forgot or forgave this. They had lost about a quarter of their compatriots to ghastly deaths or else desperate exodus to foreign shores. So it goes without saying that they well understood what it was to be ruled by those who valued their lives so little. The consequence of which was both obvious and a historical inevitability. Several armed rebellions and almost exactly a century later, they had finally won an independent republic to call their own. Hats off to them. You love to see it.
My point being… nature may have sent the virus, but your leaders created the pandemic. Do not ever, ever forget this. And no sooner forgive it, either. It’s fair to debate whether they failed you because of malice or ineptitude, or some varying admixture of the two, but you should harbour no illusions about the matter at hand: they did fail you. That is beyond any reasonable doubt.
Granted, it can be hard to precisely gauge how well/poorly a government has responded because on the scale of assessment there’s no response and a immaculate response and… every hypothetical micro-gradation in between. This explains the prevalence of a comforting fallacy wherein people choose to view any subpar response favourably (or at least neutrally), given that it’s still so much better than the unrestrained massive-scale death which would’ve attended no response at all.
And you had best believe that your leaders are hoping you’ll fall for this. It’s just a trick. It’s the politician’s favourite sleight of hand, a way to deceptively reframe any evaluation of their failures. I’m pretty sure it’s outlined on page one of the secret Illuminati handbook they leave on the pillow of everyone who’s finally clawed their way into high office. For instance, Donald Trump is the exact diametric opposite of a literate fellow, but he damn sure read at least that first page of his large-print copy very well — probably even tore it out and stuck it up on his bathroom mirror. Why do you think he kept crowing about how the models predicted two million Americans would die if absolutely nothing was done? He wanted to try to induce in you the serfdom mindset of thanking him for doing more than nothing on your behalf. He wanted you only comparing his performance to the alternative of him and his entire cabinet being comatose. One ought to feel limitless disgust at this profoundly insulting dishonesty in service of saving his own skin. It shows precisely what he thinks of you. He thinks you’re imbeciles with short memories and impossibly low standards. Plain and simple.
Trump has tried to find any possible excuse for his failure. Remember how he kept telling you that when he sat down in the Oval Office, he found that “the cupboards were bare.” This was him claiming that Obama had left the outbreak-preparedness stockpiles near enough empty, which in turn is supposed to explain why his own capabilities were so lacklustre. Even if we are to believe his account, which is generally not a wise move, yet again he is hoisted by his own petard. Because he’s telling you that despite this being a dire and glaring deficit which was discoverable on his very first day as President, he then spent three years NOT sufficiently rectifying it. He needs you to strenuously ignore that fact, however. This is, if he’s to have any hope of successfully trotting out the rather peculiar defence of “the doofus before me fucked up real bad, so how can you really judge me for fucking up real bad too?” It’s enough to make a cat laugh. And not just any old alleycat who’s had a tough life. A really, really, really humourless one. In fact, one even diagnosed — by a brilliant veterinary neurologist, no less — at a young age with aphonogelia. And now just look at him go: that kitty’s laughing like a fucking hyena who’s four bong rips deep.
Listen, nobody’s saying that there should have been an absolutely, inhumanly perfect response. Nobody’s saying there should have been a lockdown as soon as the virus was discovered or some silly fantasy like that. What is being pointed out is how much better the response could easily have been. If you’re wondering how thin the margins of error we’re dealing with are, a Columbia University study argued that 700,000 infections and 36,000 deaths could have been avoided if the U.S. had begun lockdown measures just a week earlier. Although in America the imposition of lockdowns is a piecemeal regional affair, as opposed to a federal decree being applied nationally, there is no question that Trump could have expedited the process had he just employed his colossal influence to that end sooner. But he chose to wait as long as he possibly could. In a futile attempt to safeguard the stock market. He did that in real life, before your very eyes.
So, if you ever feel the urge to try and find some way to excuse Trump’s self-obsessed dithering well past the point where it was painfully obvious what needed to be done, let’s see if a little thought-experiment can rid you of it. Imagine going to thirty-six thousand funerals that didn’t need to happen: shaking hands with the grieving mourners, looking at photographs of the deceased, maybe even staying to watch the coffins being carried to their lonely burial plots. And then imagine what could possibly occur to you to say in defence of Trump being far, far more anxiously concerned with how an economic downturn might scuttle his best chance at re-election than with taking reasonable measures to preserve American lives. I fervently hope that in both thought-experiment and reality you’ll find yourself speechless. For your sake, really.
I don’t mean to focus all attention on Trump though. I would be remiss in doing so. (However tempting it might be.) Boris Johnson also flagrantly failed Britain by being so sluggish and so lackadaisical in his approach. His judgement was poor. His behaviour was embarrassing. And the inner circle of toadies whispering schizophrenic counsel in his ear was no less a ‘confederacy of dunces’ than Trump’s. He — and, by lamentable extension, we — would have been much better served if he had made decisions based on whatever revelations tasseomancy furnished him with. Because at least the tea leaves, much like a stopped clock, are bound to get it right once or twice.
A great deal of concerted propaganda is going to be deployed, both via official channels and by dependably loyalist hacks in the press, to try and persuade you to forget the things you have learned. It is imperative that this effort fail spectacularly. And it’s within your power to see that it does. Do not allow yourself or anyone you know to be beguiled by the notion that disaster was somehow averted by the attitudes and actions of the British or American governments. Disaster was, rather, invited. The two nations were extremely alike in that our leaders were incredibly slow to recognise the seriousness of the threat we faced, even consciously downplaying it while that was a convenient strategy, and then when push came to shove they favoured empty talk and half-measures and did not act decisively until the very last possible minute. They deserve an absolute torrent of opprobrium. From now right up until dementia robs every last one of us of the memory of their heinous betrayal of the public trust bestowed upon them.
And in so many other cases around the globe, people have learned just how disastrously incompetent and reckless and stupid their leaders truly are. (Brazil is a veritable horror show, for example. Though I’m not sure how much more Brazilians had left to learn about the self-advertised moral depravity of Bolsonaro. He’s incredibly lucky that the bad old days of South America are in the past… if this were back then, once the bodies start piling up because of his insanity/negligence, he would be given a twenty-minute drumhead trial by the new post-coup government and then handed over to a firing squad with AK-47s.)
I can only claim to be knowledgeable about the UK and U.S. cases though. It would be an exhausting labour to minutely detail all the ways that these two governments stupendously fumbled the ball, so to speak, during this critical time. (And, besides, I’m pretty sure that word-processing programs must run out of digital ink eventually, no?) I trust you’ve been following the news closely — who can afford not to at a time like this? — so you’ll no doubt already be acquainted with most or all of it anyway. It’s been an appalling pattern to see so clearly emerge during this pandemic. Day by day, news story by news story, evidence of radical incompetence continues to emerge like pinpricks of data being added to a giant pointillism illustration of a malicious, yawning shrug aimed right at you and your family.
It’s a timeworn adage that only a crisis can reveal the true level of ability and level-headedness of any given leadership. But it’s so true. It cannot be said enough. (Though I think you’ll agree that I’ve tried to test the limits of that during this post.) When everything is normal and everything’s going fine, it’s easy to pull off a facade of
polished statesmanship… adequate decision-making… basic mental acuity just not being an outrightly befuddled mushhead. But then suddenly a million fire-hoses of excrement are pointed at a million of those huge fans they use for indoor skydiving, and you see what people are really made of, what they’re really capable (and incapable) of. Naturally, you’d never wish a catastrophe to happen just to get this de-cloaking effect, but when it does happen, you should take what was revealed to heart.
To wit, I think this will be an all-important test of our transatlantic electorates. If the large-scale preventable deaths of your fellow citizens are not sufficient motivation to punish those responsible at the ballet box, what else could possibly do the trick? The wonderful thing about democracy is you get precisely the government you deserve. The awful thing about democracy is you get precisely the government you deserve. So choose wisely. Your leaders have already proven how little these dead mean to them. If you do not unambiguously rebuke them come election time, don’t kid yourself: you will be saying the same thing.
There are, to be fair, a very small number of success stories that ought to be celebrated. To take the obvious and much-ballyhooed example, the news coming out of New Zealand that, after having smothered its own outbreak superbly and suffering extremely minimal deaths, it has now eradicated coronavirus altogether is just… breathtaking. Even accounting for the advantages it enjoyed — e.g. its small population, its isolated geographical position as an island nation, etc — that’s an incredible achievement. It deserves all the kudos being heaped upon it. But just bear in mind that these outliers are few and far between.
A quick word about China before we move on. Because, really, how can you not?
The international bill of indictment is loooong — seriously, it looks like the receipt they’d print off for you after a shopping spree at the dollar store with a few benjamins burning a hole in your pocket — but right at the very top of the list, first and foremost, is the Chinese government.
This worldwide pandemic undoubtedly originated with the Chinese government’s blundering and despicable attempts to, when faced with a localized outbreak, pursue cover-up rather than containment. (Even allegedly using the window-of-opportunity they bought themselves to stock up on PPE before everyone else.) It seems obvious that this virus could have started in China and then essentially ended in China. It could have been extinguished early on. If there had been responsible actors at the helm. But the CPC cared more about controlling the optics, both inside and outside the country. They cared more about maintaining their ironclad tyranny over their own citizens. And thus they enabled the situation to spiral way out of control.
In doing so, they knowingly loosed a hardy new plague upon all the peoples of the earth. There is a case to be made that this ranks among the most evil acts so far committed during this young century. (The abhorrent and repressive regime which rules China is apparently keen to try and get as many entries on this list as possible. Secretly imprisoning up to a million Uighur muslims in brainwashing internment-camps where torture and deprivation abound is another spirited attempt.) The blood on their hands is simply staggering. Incalculable, in point of fact. Not only because so many countries are following China’s lead in trying to save face by wildly under-reporting fatalities. And not only because alongside those who directly succumbed to infection you then have to include all those who’ve been doomed by the global economic devastation which was simultaneously wrought. But also because we’re merely at the beginning of all this: the virus will likely be with us in some lesser form for a long time to come. One hates to be concurring with any official from the Trump administration about… well, really anything at all, but calling this China’s Chernobyl is a very apt summation. (Just remember that even the accurate things they say about China are cynically employed as a misdirect to draw attention away from their own failings.)
And so, the vast oceanic pain the world is now drowning in should serve as just yet another warning about how unbelievably dangerous an authoritarian country which feels accountable to nobody and nothing really is. China ought to be rendered a ‘pariah state’ for what it has done and for how bellicosely unapologetic it is. In a just world, they would pay the heaviest price which could possibly be extracted from them.
But, alas, China has the ultimate trump card against punishment, which all superpowers keep in their back pocket: leviathan geopolitical-strength. The sad reality is that different rules apply to you once you get a seat at the big boys’ table. (For example, permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council, which comes with a very snazzy complimentary branded t-shirt and… ah yes… unconditional veto power over binding resolutions. So it’s a bit like playing chess against someone where at any point they can cancel any advantageous move you’re about to make. You can imagine how that game might go…) Therefore, the question of what retribution could match the enormity of China’s sins is irretrievably subsumed by the head-scratcher of how, in fact, you would even go about delivering it.
All the same, as much pressure as can conceivably be brought to bear on the Chinese government… should be. For them to get off scot-free is utterly unconscionable. Whatever responsible actors are still to be found in the international community must pursue any and every recourse which remains to them. The dead cry out for justice. It’s a quiet but interminable and ineluctable cry. Who, a year or two from now when a return to anodyne normalcy induces short-memories all around, will still be keening for them in response?
The second revelation that we ought to heed is the simple reminder that we have not overmastered nature. Not by a long shot.
In wealthy, technologically-advanced societies there is a very strong temptation to consider ourselves as, in some final way, having made the destructive capabilities of nature more of a mere nuisance than a foe on equal footing with us. Sure, at most there’s occasionally a tornado here or an earthquake there, but these are very localized events and can even be mitigated to some extent. Ultimately we still feel that we can control and outwit natural forces. There’s a sense that we somehow stand apart from all of that now.
This is a declaration of independence from Mother Nature which presumably has not reached her. Or, if it has, was thrown away with a wry smile like so many before it. It is just ashes in her fireplace now.
We can build seawalls. We can quake-proof skyscrapers. We can even build underground bunkers for tornado season. But novel and tenacious and deadly microorganisms are nature’s ‘nuclear option’, if you will. A surefire measure of last resort. Something which cuts through any and all defences we have at our disposal like a hot-knife through butter. Because when the contraband a nation seeks to exclude is biological, microscopic, and can be asymptomatically smuggled inside the cells of the human body, every border ever erected is unavoidably porous.
Here’s something else to consider. It took roughly the span of one month for this virus, once exported from China, to initially seed itself in just about every corner of the earth. Three months later, it had brought humanity to our knees. It all happened frightfully fucking fast, in other words. Sometimes nature is content to play the slow game, and sometimes she plays it like she just remembered her car is double-parked and so she needs to wrap this thing up ASAP!
I hope the obvious lesson to draw from all this has been impressed upon you as forcefully as it has upon me.
This seems hackneyed to even point out, but it is indeed something that bears repeating: a global pandemic is a collective memento mori of unparalleled emotional force. It comes at a horrific cost, but it does have the valuable function of reminding all of us of not just how precarious our societies and social orders are, but also how fragile our own individual mortality is. So too, it lays bare the preposterous hubris of — perhaps even just subconsciously — believing otherwise. (The hope is that this flash of insight would spur a renewed commitment to solidarity, to unconditional kindness. Both locally and globally. But, for reasons I’ll go on to elucidate later on in this piece, that does not necessarily seem to have been the case everywhere.)
All I can really say is that I hope this is a wake-up call for us. As a species, I mean. (One suspects that just such an alarm-bell sounds during every generation. Though only sometimes heeded.) In a way, this was the mere dress rehearsal of an outbreak which would be a true existential-threat. There were fortunately some characteristics of COVID-19 which attenuated both its communicability and its deadliness to a significant degree. But what about when we face a new virus which fate has imbued with every advantage that could be had? What if it proves impervious to drug treatments as well as the chemicals we employ to destroy it everywhere outside the body? And what if its lifespan in aerosol form or on surfaces is not merely hours and days respectively, but weeks and months? And, worst of all, what if its mortality rate is 50% (or above) instead of 1-2%?
These are nightmarish scenarios to consider. But consider them we must.
I won’t drone on and on about this, because it’s an incredibly simple point I’m trying to make. We were caught egregiously unprepared this time. The next time, or the next after that or the next after that, we might well find that it’s the last mistake we’ll ever get to make.
As a brief postscript to that, I should say that the other contingency which really scares the shit out of me is someone consciously helping nature reach that endpoint faster. Someone engineering a custom pathogen whose sole purpose is to be an unstoppable executioner. A pestilence specifically hardened against every way we have to counter it, and maybe even one programmed to mutate evasively against whatever new innovations we may concoct to target it from a different angle.
Or, to put it more simply, a revolver with all six bullets in the cylinder for the next time we have to play Russian Roulette as a species.
I’ve recently been thinking about that potential for the artificial weaponization of nature’s power a lot. I hate to say it, because it’s so dark, but this event has really opened my eyes to how fucked we’d be if anyone — terrorists, state actors, whatever — did indeed attempt an attack with sophisticated biological weapons. I can’t help but fear it would be game-over for the human era on the very first try. Our health and emergency infrastructure is clearly just so subpar and unprepared for anything catastrophic. It’s utterly terrifying to envision how easily a doomsday-germ would implode it all.
(And doesn’t it follow that anyone who was nursing such ambitions would be extremely encouraged by the vulnerabilities which have been revealed? There’s nothing more galvanising than seeing a test run which proves your plan will be a massive success. Even worse, the very best time for them to strike would be… right now. They can piggyback on the current pandemic, forcing us to confront two viruses at once, and issue their coup de grâce before we’ve had a chance to remedy the deficiencies in our response apparatus.
Like I said, contemplations of this sort get real dark, real quick.)
The third revelation is about people’s behaviour during this crisis. We have seen full well both their capacity for stark compassion and their capacity for stark callousness. We have also seen their capacity for thinking clearly and their capacity for rank imbecilism. The positive end of these alternatives do, I think, speak for themselves. There are plenty of heartwarming videos and accounts of people being good to one another in this time of peril. They are a healthy counterweight to all the evidence to the contrary, and I’ve tried to up my intake of them whenever my misanthropic perspective has been overfed by the tales of self-centered idiocy which are ten a penny. I recommend you do the same.
However, I do feel like there’s plenty of volunteers taking up the job of saccharine collective back-patting. So I’m sure you’ll understand if I focus on the negative instead. I just think there’s a great deal more to be said about that.
It’s been fascinating to see the sudden dog-eat-dog, every-man-for-himself attitude play out on the international level, dissolving all pretences of camaraderie between countries which had hitherto enjoyed good relations. It’s the blatantness of it which really stunned me. The way that no reasonable excuse — nor even the faintest emulation of one — is even offered. They’re not even trying to pretend that it’s anything other than opportunistic swindling. They just blurt out ‘National Interest!’ and proceed to fuck some other country over without hesitation.
There’s been dramatic sagas where national governments have desperately moved heaven and earth just to retrieve a planeload of already-purchased PPE from a country hugely disinclined to part with it. Then there were countries trying to muscle their way into buying exclusive rights to any vaccine that might be invented. To name just a couple examples…
I have to imagine that there will be subtle diplomatic ripples, mostly playing out behind the scenes, of all such incidents for decades to come. Grudges will be held. Alliances will be reevaluated. I mean, how could it be otherwise? If there’s anything that a national government shouldn’t forgive, it’s being given the cold-shoulder whilst their citizens are dying in large numbers.
I think the other likely consequence is that obviously a lot of countries will seek to produce emergency provisions in their own factories, rather than depending on supply-chains which originate thousands of miles away in nations of questionable trustworthiness. A sagacious decision, I’d say. Bring all of that in-house as speedily as possible.
Now let’s talk about the reactions of people on an individual scale.
We have unfortunately learned disturbing things about some of our fellow citizens. As I said before, danger has this uncanny ability to do away with all charades, to reveal things for what they truly are. And what that equates to in this case is as follows. We have learned who among us, if this was indeed an apocalypse-movie and we were cooperatively holed up together in a boarded-up house, are the type to throw all the supplies into a hobo bindle and bolt during the night. The type to performatively get angry at the rest of the group when we find out they’ve been hiding the festering zombie-bite on their neck all this time. The type who can’t be trusted in high-stress situations because they’re childish, selfish fuckheads. You know the type. Everyone knows the type.
Perhaps you still need a little help precisely identifying them though. I will happily oblige.
1) You might have seen them making a big show of refusing to wear a mask like “all those sheep” and venturing out during lockdown “just ’cause.” You might have heard them glibly say that, because they’re young and healthy, their philosophy is “I’ll get sick if I want to.” It differs from person to person whether they’re just so thoughtless that they don’t realize the ramifications of this choice or whether they’re just so heartless that they simply don’t give a shit about it. Either way, here are just a few of the considerations that should have dissuaded them:
- What about your frail old grandma for whom the transmission of the virus is almost guaranteed to be a death sentence?
- What about the supermarket worker, long dependent on immunosuppressant drugs, who passed you in the aisle as you coughed?
- What about the hospital bed and medical attention you’ll gratuitously take up from people who desperately need them? From people who actually did everything they could to avoid getting sick?
Here’s my thoughts about these morons who knowingly and pointlessly expose themselves to vectors of COVID-19 in order to advertise some bizarre sort of bravado. You are the very worst kind of selfish. You are passing out suffering and even death to those around you simply because you want to seem like a tough-guy who won’t be told what to do by anyone, even doctors or virus experts. Your recalcitrance is the same callow, mindless, mulish variety as exhibited by hormonal teenagers, but warrants being fucking despised because you should be old enough to know better.
In the interest of fairness, these people should — during triage situations in hospitals — be allocated lowest priority for the limited resources for treating coronavirus. When everyone else who actually followed the rules out of concern for their neighbour has gotten a ventilator, then we’ll see if there’s one left for you. Hell, they should be used as the control-group who receives a placebo during the human trials for possible vaccines. Here’s some sugar-pills with a little scowl printed on them, asshole; let us know how you get on with them.
But I’d settle for these people carrying a negative social-stigma — as treacherous narcissists — with them for a long time after the virus has been defeated. I just fear that they have no sense of shame, and so won’t even be affected…
2) You might have seen news stories about people selling masks and hand wash (and so on) for a 5x or 10x mark-up. These people are parasites, loathsomely profiting from people’s fear and misery.
This one’s a no-brainer. Price-gouging of essential items should be illegal — and heavily punished, to set an example — during a genuine state of national emergency. Holding your humongous stockpile of masks hostage because you’ve greedily decided you want $30 a piece is abominable. Especially at a time when the difference between having one and not having one can be a matter of life and death.
If any of your local stores decided to try and make a quick buck at the expense of your community’s safety during a pandemic, don’t forget it. And ‘vote’ with your wallet.
3) You might have encountered the whacked-out and downright risible conspiracy theories some people would rather believe than simply accept how vulnerable humanity really is to the caprice of nature. (It goes without saying that that tells you a lot about the underpinnings of human psychology.)
The problem is that these people are not just pitiful, they are also dangerous. They are the ones who’ll tell everyone in (physical or digital) earshot that the virus is either being wildly exaggerated for machiavellian ends or is part of a secret government eugenics program or serves as the pretext for enacting the illuminati’s permanent house-arrest scheme… and as such, you shouldn’t listen to the advice of public health officials who are, it’s posited by the learned academics in the ivory towers of Dipshitopia, willing pawns in the plot to fool and/or control the populace. That’s when it stops being fun and games. That’s when these crackpots (and the pastime of laughing at them) are sadly no longer part of, to borrow and repurpose a perfect turn of phrase from Samuel Johnson, “the public stock of harmless pleasure.” Because now the ingenuous idiocy that they’re spouting is deleterious to anyone foolish enough to listen.
Y’know, if I had to choose my personal favourite one — and it’s really not an easy choice — out of all the paranoid fantasies which have been advanced? You might be expecting me to say ‘5G waves propagate the virus’. But… no. It’s impossible to enjoy that one. It’s too sad, too straightforwardly like undiagnosed mental illness. Instead, I’d have to opt for the theory that Bill Gates created and released coronavirus. I like to picture him injecting himself with it, waiting for it to fully incubate inside himself, and then secretly flying to China. Wearing a pair of those novelty ‘Groucho glasses’ as a foolproof disguise, he daringly pulled up alongside a speeding flatbed truck on his moped and sneezed on the pile of dead Wuhanese bats in the back. They then reached their destination at the wet market and the rest, as they say, is history. A watertight cover story had been established.
The kicker is that he did this so that we’ll all unquestioningly download the prescribed Contact Tracing apps, which will then be used to surveil our movements forevermore. What’s fascinating about this plan is how supererogatory it is. There’s something almost genius about its stupidity. Because after having effortlessly convinced the world to VOLUNTARILY PAY FOR THE PRIVILEGE of carrying a phone around with them at all times which has a fingerprint scanner, a GPS chip, a microphone, and anywhere from one to five cameras… the shadowy technocrat cabal, which Gates reigns over as a sort of cyber-nosferatu, decided that the best way to enact their totalitarian surveillance would be to get people to buy into an app with tells them its only purpose is tracking their movements.
(If I might be so bold, they really should have hired me on as a consultant just before the penultimate phase of that plan. I would have told them to stop while they were not only ahead, but had literally gotten everything they could possibly want. That’s traditionally regarded as the, uh, ideal stopping-point in fact. And then I’d sent them a big-ass invoice for a looooot of moolah, in payment for services rendered. And thus the white-shoe ‘Ryan Finch Consulting Agency’ would have been born. We specialise in advising secret societies on how best to affect their skulduggerous plans of world domination. The trick is to go look at whatever tinfoil-hat Youtube channels are saying you must surely be doing and — now that you’ve glimpsed the nadir, the absolute sloppiest and dumbest possible approach — pretty much work backwards from there and do the opposite. Keep that under your hat though, would you? I don’t want to blow my USP before I’ve made my retirement money. My clients have to go on believing that my secret-sauce is actually secret and/or proprietary if I’m ever going to afford that Swiss chateau I’ve always dreamed of.)
What’s really delicious are the uncovered ‘clues’ by which people convince themselves that they’ve rumbled an almost inconceivably complex and expensive and grandiose plot by some of the most powerful people in the world. For example, let’s recur to Bill Gates. He is a nefarious mastermind who has infected the world with COVID-19, remember? And he would have gotten away with it too… if it wasn’t for the comically, mindbogglingly obvious trail-of-breadcrumbs (or, rather, trail-of-blinding-flares) he purposely left in his wake to, well, taunt us all about his unstoppable plan in the grand tradition of movie serial-killers.
There was the TED talk in 2015, where he used the Ebola crisis that was still fresh in people’s minds to insist that governments needed to be better prepared for the next outbreak, whatever it might be. A wise and certainly prescient message, to be sure. But interpreted by the conspiracy theorists as an attempt to lay the psychological groundwork, so that his manoeuvres five years hence will be met with less resistance because they’ll be more readily considered necessary.
And then there’s the fact that his company has sought to patent a system where a computer issues “tasks” for the user and then a “sensor” monitors their “body activity” to verify they’re completed, at which point the user would automatically be paid in “cryptocurrency.” The conspiracy theory being that the “sensor” would be secretly implanted under the skin once Gates swoops in with an already-stockpiled COVID-19 vaccine: the two things would be delivered simultaneously to the unwitting recipient. There’s so much to pick apart about this that one hardly knows where to start.
(As a quick sidenote before I jump in, one of the other pernicious effects of conspiracy theory lunacy is that it allows the genuinely worrying aspect of things to be forgotten once an overlay of fanciful extrapolation has been placed on top of it to act as a false fear-and-anger sponge. Like, the description of that technology is creepy as hell. And scary in its own right. It’s ripped straight out of Section 1, Page 1, Paragraph 1 of the ‘Writing Dystopian Sci-fi for Dummies’ handbook. Don’t you think? It’s like someone decided that if there’s a problem with the layers of obfuscation/abstraction which attempt to make wage-slavery seem less like a lab-rat being trained to habitually press a button to get a reward — which it most certainly is — it’s that there are too many of them.)
To consider this from a really surface level, the patent makes no mention of anything injectable. And then there’s the point that, oh yeah, of course he would announce (and minutely explain the workings of) the technology he’s planning to use as the foundation of some New World Order of totalitarian control, right? In a patent, no less. Because when he’s declared God-king of all humanity, his biggest concern will be… someone trying to rip off his tech? Good thing he’ll have this handy-dandy patent then. The last thing that deserves a word or two said about it is the additional wrinkle that the identification code for the patent ends in 060606, whose similarity to the notorious 666 of the antichrist has predictably ignited the imagination of those susceptible to such nonsense.
Let’s put aside the absurdity of Gates putting in all that effort to contrive to end up with a patent ID which is merely kinda, sorta like a scary devil number. The more important point is that I can’t, for the life of me, understand why anyone is frightened that the antichrist will be able to lurk among us, wreaking its havoc with such incredible stealthiness that we’ll all be doomed before we can possibly uncover and thwart its schemes. It seems to me that there’s nothing to worry about. I mean, not with all antichrist-aspirants evidently being so obsessed with attaching to themselves the ONE signifier of unholy evil that everyone, even the most biblically illiterate among us, has committed to memory. It would be like if every lowlife who was about to commit a heist felt compelled to walk into the bank holding an ominously yet-to-be-filled burlap sack with a dollar sign emblazoned on it. You know what I’m saying? It would be a lot harder to worry about bank-robbers then. Impossible, really.
Anyhow, my takeaway from all this is simple. The fact that there are genuinely people out there who are able to sustain these kind of radically moronic worldviews as an integral part of how they interact with reality should fascinate and terrify us. Though leaning far more heavily on the terrify side, I’d say. And in case you’re wondering how many people that might be, a recent poll had almost 30% of adult Americans believing in this Bill Gates fever-dream. That’s something to chew on. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: what’s most annoying about the people who smugly bleat out “it’s not ‘paranoia’ if you’re right!” like a reflexive mantra is that they’re also usually the same people who are… never… fucking… right.
(Something else worthy of note about that poll: near enough that same amount answered ‘Not Sure’. Those are the people I really want to talk to. Because how the fuck are you undecided about whether a philanthropic billionaire is planning to maliciously corrupt the COVID-19 vaccination process in order to implant secret microchips?… That really seems like a proposition which precludes all fence-sitting. For real, that fence is henceforth red-hot to the touch, motherfuckers. Get off your lazy asses and pick a goddamn side already. I can at least respect the conviction, brainless though it may be, of those in the ‘Yes’ camp, but you slack-jawed indecisive mopes are just downright un-American. Ambivalency is a sure sign that someone’s a communist. Or, worse, a Canadian. Or… worstest of all… Trudeau with a copy of ‘Das Kapital’ tucked beneath his arm like a baby rescued from an orphanage on fire. I think you know what I mean.)
4) You may have come across… well, just the plain old trivial whiners. The people who focus on the dumbest stuff.
Let me be unequivocal: staying at home for a few months is not some giant, traumatic hardship. If you’re an extreme extrovert, fine, it’s not going to be particularly pleasant. No-one would deny that video-chatting is an unsatisfying substitute for real human contact. But people are just exaggerating this stuff to such melodramatic levels. I recently heard someone in a video say, in a sorrowful choked-up way, and I quote, “when I dapped someone back in March, I didn’t even realize it was going to be the last time I dapped someone for two months.” Wow. Woooooooow. What a bona fide tearjerker. Where should I send the therapy coupons? Or better yet, how about I furnish you with a mannequin arm so you can practice/simulate all the fistbumps you like in the comfort of your own home? I mean, seriously, I was really in awe when I heard the dude say that. It was like something from a bad SNL sketch. (Although, given how perennially unfunny that show is, I should maybe drop the redundancy and just say ‘SNL sketch’ and assume you’ll know what I mean.)
The staying-at-home isn’t the hardship in all this. People getting sick and dying and being laid off is. If you find you struggle to tell the difference, it’s time to reconsider some things, okay? In that same vein, I thought the ‘We stay at work for you. You stay at home for us.’ slogan that healthcare workers were posting selfies of themselves holding up was very poignant and incisive. I really don’t know how it didn’t flash in the minds of people self-pityingly complaining about having run out of shows to binge-watch and persuade them to hold their tongues.
(By the way, it really must be said that the heroism of hospital workers is hard to overstate. The hellish conditions and atmospheres they have to work in are so unbelievably bleak, and the physical/emotional toll they willingly endure is so severe. It’s a level of self-sacrifice which is hard to even wrap your head around. These people truly are the best of us. Where do we find such men and women, you know? And, yes, it’s nice that we were banging pots and pans for them now and again, but let’s not ever forget what an indictment of our society it is that these people get paid 1/1000th of what some guy who can throw a fucking football really well does. Whichever way you cut it, that’s a society that has its priorities completely, contemptibly out of whack.)
I also have something to say to those who escalate the rhetoric and say that “saving lives isn’t everything, what makes life worth living is being able to go to the park, to go grab lunch with a friend, etc; it sucks that people might die, but we can’t ever be robbed of these life-affirming pleasures.”
Listen, if you somehow magically knew that YOU or YOUR loved ones were guaranteed to die unless lockdown measures were implemented, you’d shut the fuck up and you know it. You’re just okay with OTHER people — mere expendable strangers — dying.
Or, to put it another way, if we both knew that your mom was going to die if I didn’t just sit on my couch and watch Netflix and play video games for a few months, and I breezily decided nah, I don’t wanna, I like hitting up Starbucks too much, what exactly would be your opinion of me? Can I guess? Is it ‘sociopath’?… I sure fucking hope so.
It’s really all too easy to be induced to hate the people one sees in photographs of these protests. The slogans on their placards are facile and crude outrage-bait and almost inconceivably self-parodying. (One that lodged like shrapnel into my funny bone was a woman holding up a sign that said ‘My Body, My Choice’ with a drawing of a mask crossed out. Which would be a good analogy only if abortion procedures had a chance of releasing radiation into the surrounding neighbourhood, like when you cremate someone with an atomic pacemaker.) And when the protesters weren’t performatively shouting verbal abuse at anyone who’s visibly a journalist, they provided interviews which were bound to make the viewer wonder how in the world Sacha Baron Cohen has figured out a way to play multiple characters at once… in real-time… with no camera tricks. Personally, I’m stumped. But boy is he good. Though one does have to question whether he might be starting to have his characters say too absurdly outlandish things at this point…
As far as I can tell, there are two main reasons why these protesters oppose the lockdowns.
The first is based on anger about the economic standstill and the widespread financial pain which attends it.
This is a totally legitimate anguish. As I said earlier, I feel terrible for all those — and they certainly are an enormous cohort — who have lost their jobs. I understand that it can seem like a cataclysmic world-ending event when you’re living paycheck to paycheck and then that next payment goes poof. Especially when you’ve got mouths to feed, and so on. Having to suddenly scramble to find some way to get by is absolutely awful, I get it.
And governments certainly didn’t do anything near as much as they should have done to help. At the very least, there should have been a mandated rent-freeze and eviction-moratorium (stretching some distance after the lockdown too, or what’s the fucking point? People need time to get back on their feet.) And there should have been genuinely substantial financial aid offered to the average person no strings attached. Instead, some countries cut a fat cheque for diddly-squat. Which is both predictable and disgraceful. And even in the U.S., they got just $1200 (though with the possibility of extra depending on a children-headcount). That’s a hell of a lot better than nothing, it should be said. But when someone’s income has been cut off entirely, it’s not that much money at all. It’s also just a one-off payment. So the closer you look at it, the more it seems like a mere token gesture. And it’s unquestionably a pittance when you think about the supermassive payload of largess which is being left gift-wrapped on the doorstep of corporations. That’s the sad reality of course. Entities like banks and airlines will always, always get a rapid, generous bailout; the people themselves, never. They just get drizzled with an April shower of trickle-down fuck-you-and-best-of-luck’s.
Furthermore, the other recourses available to the little guy are just supremely depressing. Getting on Unemployment is a nightmare when there’s a monolithic backlog of applications overnight. And the only thing that the scumbag bottomfeeders running predatory loan companies are asking for in return for that 5000%-interest loan is your first-, second-, third- AND fourthborn… along with ‘Power of Attorney’ and the deed to your immortal soul in this life and the next. It’s a shit-show all round, no doubt about it.
Nonetheless, when you come right down to it, shouldn’t that ultimately be considered the fault of the pandemic, not the measures put in place to try and stem its deadly tide? Let me put it like this. It wasn’t a case of choosing between lives or jobs, it was a case of finding some reasonable/stomachable midpoint between how many deaths and how many layoffs. Because a fair amount of those layoffs were coming no matter what. That’s what I mean when I say that it’s the pandemic itself which is the calamity you should direct your anger at, however bootlessly. Fate is the villain here. (With maybe some damnable Chinese assistance, as aforementioned.)
If you don’t believe me, just imagine how things would have gone in the other timeline where there had been no lockdowns whatsoever. The economy would not have just trundled on like normal. If the colossal number of people did indeed start to die in that scenario as has been predicted (remember, two million Americans or more), what do you suppose the effect of that will be?
You think Johnny Q. Citizen is still gonna be skipping down to the movie theatre with a smile on his face and disposable income in his outstretched hand to see the latest blockbuster? You think he’ll be going to restaurants or bars or shopping malls or music concerts or bakeries or electronic stores? ‘Cause I sure as hell don’t. Not if he’s got a single brain-cell to call his own. Not when he sees what’s going on across the country.
Not when you consider how many more people you pass on the street are going to be infectious given this hugely multiplied prevalence of the virus. Not when hospitals are so unbelievably overcrowded that they have to set up gargantuan tent structures in the parking lots to try and handle the overflow. Not when your chance of getting one of the all-too-few ventilators starts to feel like the likelihood of winning the jackpot on a scratch-off. Not when there’s helicopter footage on the news of guys in hazmat suits using bulldozers to fill the hastily-dug mass graves with body bags.
No, he’s going to stay the fuck at home. As will almost everyone else. So the economy is going to get absolutely shellacked. Maybe not quite as bad as when a strict lockdown just outright pulls the plug on it, but probably not too far off either. And the duration of that effect will most likely stretch longer than a finite lockdown which only lasts a couple months.
(Thus, the retort that “economic depressions kill people too!” — which is both tragically, undeniably true and still employed merely as a dodge — is neatly disposed of. That supercell storm was on the horizon either way, I’m sorry to tell you.)
There is, of course, an irony in all this which I think ought to be more remarked upon. It was difficult to make people adhere to the lockdown once it was begun, because as soon as it starts to ‘flatten the curve’ there’s an inevitable cacophony of dolts who feel vindicated, who will say “see?! I fucking told you it wasn’t anywhere as bad as they said! We didn’t even need a lockdown in the first place!” Whereas if you give into the perilous demands that there not be a lockdown, and just let things take their course, what’s going to happen? Simple. Thirty-three times (and, yes, that’s not a typo, I do indeed mean 33x) the number of Americans who died in the Vietnam War will perish needlessly, causing everyone else to voluntarily hide away in their homes. So a sort of belated, self-imposed lockdown organically emerges anyway. But by then it will be much too late.
The second reason for protesting the lockdown which abounds is more a matter of principle. It’s a philosophical opposition to the government deciding it has the right to confine its citizens to their homes, to deprive them of their liberty in such an extreme and fundamental way.
This is a… tricky one. Because I am very, very sympathetic to this way of looking at things.
So, how exactly do I feel about the enforced lockdowns? Well, I’m conflicted, as you might imagine. To a large extent, my political first-principles are libertarian. And, accordingly, I’m usually the type to be somewhere between sceptical and vociferously hostile towards any strictures a state might seek to impose on its people ‘for their own good’. I also tend to disbelieve any claim by that same state that there are exigent and/or unprecedented circumstances which warrant it. Likewise for the claim that it’ll only be temporary. (It would perhaps be trite to expound upon the classic example of, say, something like the ‘Patriot Act’. I think we all know the kind of cynical power-grabs I’m talking about. But they certainly bear remembering.)
That being said, it really all comes down to whether or not you think the government is ever legitimately empowered to revoke freedoms in order to protect its citizenry in times of imminent, catastrophic threat. That’s sort of the bedrock proposition we’re dealing with here. And, it will not surprise you to learn, there are MANY varied schools of thought about this. Though with poles of unwavering absolutism at each end. Hardcore anti-statists answer “definitely not.” (And may even seek the dissolution of the state as an entity altogether.) Hardcore authoritarians answer with a rapturous, slavering “oh please god, yes… whenever you like, in fact.” (It would perhaps be putting too fine a point on it to explicate the latent, abstracted sadomasochistic yearnings of such types…) Like most people, I fall somewhere in-between — though a million miles closer to the former than the latter. My answer is an extremely wary “hmm, sure, I suppose so.” If we are going to permit a state to act on our behalf, one of its most basic and uncontentious functions should be to protect us from those rare disasters which threaten very large-scale death. (Such as foreign invasion or *ahem* climate change, for example.) And so it must be able to take extreme measures when such pivotal moments occur.
The question then is to judge whether any candidate-event put forth by the state really does fit this bill. And whether their proposed response to it is genuinely ‘necessary’, ‘proportional’, ‘effective’, and… when applicable… ‘temporary’.
I’ve already said that I don’t have much faith in governments to answer these questions honestly. (And I think this is a healthy distrust which should be a great deal more prevalent than it is. It verges on a civic duty, in fact.) They have often shown themselves liable to confecting or otherwise exaggerating certain dangers in order to insidiously erode civil liberties. That’s why the responsibility of adjudicating these things ultimately falls to us. We must double-check that what they say is true, and not just a pretext for abusing their power. We must do this every single time they try it and we must enter the analysis with a bias of incredulousness.
However, none of that precludes the possibility that there might indeed be an instance when they’re telling the truth. A situation I believe we find ourselves in right now.
Yes, I think that COVID-19 is an exception that proves the rule. This was an undeniably real worldwide emergency. And potentially in a once-in-a-century sense too. I saw an Imperial College London analysis which projected that there could have been around 20 million global deaths EVEN if we’d all decided that a social-distancing and then just-hope-for-the-best approach was enough. Now, hey, models are models and not crystal balls, but ICL are well-respected in this field and… anyhow, it’s certainly food for thought. Though I do think it’s probably hard for us to truly mentally grapple with the sheer enormity of 20 million people dying. In case you want help concretizing it in your mind, imagine if we took the entire populations of Norway, Finland, Denmark and Croatia — cumulatively, I mean — and then just flung them all off a cliff. A really high one, that is. With ultra-sharp punji sticks erected at the bottom.
So we’ve undoubtedly got a profound calamity on our hands. And one which could really only be dampened to an acceptable degree by almost completely restricting the freedom of movement and stopping public gatherings altogether.
And I’d say that there’s really no question of whether the need for a lockdown could be obviated if everyone just voluntarily followed the strict rules laid down by scientists to contain the outbreak. Because, by and large, people have shown that they either aren’t public-spirited enough or don’t have the discipline or presence of mind to do so. One need only consult the endless photos of social-distancing being flouted en masse, and often for no better reason than “eh, it’s a nice day, so I just felt like hitting up the beach.”
Or Disneyland, for that matter. Those videos of thousands of people crammed in shoulder-to-shoulder as they streamed down the walkways post-outbreak were just mind-blowing. Not to mention sickening. That theme-park might as well have been a giant petri dish. For real, what percentage of those unlucky children ended up contracting coronavirus? It was sure as hell a good deal above 0%, I can promise you that. And for what? So they got to wave at some poor bastard dressed up in a sweltering Mickey Mouse costume and ride a few roller-coasters? That’s another conversation I just can’t imagine having to have. How the fuck do you explain to your kid that the reason they’re in a hospital bed fighting a deadly virus is that mommy or daddy called up the hotline and apparently tickets weren’t refundable? Just eat the sunk-cost, you fucking momo. Consider it an indirect investment in (the existence of) your child’s future. And even boycott the company itself if you like. But don’t drag your kids to what is essentially the ultimate hot-box session for virus transmission. At least give them a fighting chance to outgrow their baby teeth.
The other thing to consider are the obstacles which prevent people from doing the right thing even if they want to. Examples abound everywhere you care to look. Most forms of public transport — being exemplars of efficiency over spaciousness — don’t even physically allow for social-distancing. Nor do most workplaces. I mean, how are you supposed to keep at least two meters away from other people if you work in an open-plan office or in a restaurant kitchen or on a factory line or in a night club, et cetera. It’s ridiculous. Unless you encase each person in their own miniature Zorb, it’s just not possible.
(And, golly, didn’t we all learn a very important lesson when so many companies which could so easily have transitioned their employees to work-from-home arbitrarily decided not to? That’s how much your safety matters to the CEO-class. You’d receive more consideration if you were, say, a particularly expensive printer on the company’s books that was somehow in danger. Then you’d be carefully bubble-wrapped and whisked out of harm’s way. Real white-glove treatment. But if you’re just a fungible human-cog in the corporate machinery, they’re more than happy to simply roll the dice. It’s only your life, after all. That’s not company property. So who could care?)
All of these reasons combine to support the conclusion that a lockdown was really the only option. That is, if we weren’t just going to shake the hands of those doomed 20 million and tell them they had a good life. Even the infants. “Hope you really seized the day while you had the chance, little buddy. Now you’re going to be watching Peppa Pig in heaven.”
Now, does that mean that I was overjoyed to live in tedious/fearful stasis for a few months? No, I was not. It was a grim necessity, to be borne grimly. And even though a lockdown was, in my view, obviously required, I think there are still many severe criticisms which can be levelled at how it was implemented and enforced in different places.
For instance, I will freely admit that I was horrified and infuriated when I read that British police officers would be empowered to A) detain anyone suspected of being contagious for up to 48 hours and demand a “biological sample” for testing, and B) forcibly return anyone who’s outside breaking lockdown for no good reason (and refusing to depart) back to their home. I mean, it was a physical reaction. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. And my blood boiled. Because that’s fucking outrageous. The police should have no such power. Fines? Yes, okay. Even progressively increasing fines for successive violations. Possibly even a court summons for a prosecution at a certain point. But physically manhandling someone into the back of a police car and dragging them home? Or relying upon police officers who have no medical training whatsoever to determine whether someone is ‘infectious’ and thus can be held against their will for two whole days? Fuck to the no. That’s police-state shit which should be clamantly opposed in the strongest terms possible. (The fact that these powers have apparently been employed in a vanishingly slight number of cases makes no difference.)
And of course, as was night-following-day predictable, the British government’s roll-out and explanation (or lack thereof) of these new laws was an utter shambles. As with so many other things during this crisis, they failed to clearly convey exactly what all the new rules were going to be. Their messaging was sloppy and all over the place. Someone would say one thing, then someone else would completely contradict that. The result being that many people genuinely weren’t sure what it was they could and couldn’t do. This is, it seems to me, an appalling (not to mention Kafkaesque) relationship for citizens to have to their government: to find oneself newly at risk of breaking the law and being arrested for some infraction they really had no chance of understanding was an infraction. Because they’d heard six government officials say it was totally fine, two more say it was illegal, and then seven more just waffle on inconclusively about it. They say that “ignorance is no defence” in a courtroom, but how about arguing entrapment via misinformation from lawmakers themselves? Potentially a novel strategy to try on behalf of your clients, if there are any barristers reading this. (I like to imagine they’re sitting at their laptop wearing one of those idiotic white courtroom wigs which it’s hard to see how any self-respecting person could ever dream of donning.)
Anyway, here’s my own personal conception of a lockdown which is both judicious and palatable. It principally needs to adhere to four conditions:
- It must be constrained to a stated period of time. (None of this ‘indefinite’ or ‘ongoing’ horseshit that governments sometimes like to pull, because that’s just code for ‘as soon as it’s normalised… Forever’.)
- That period of time must be transparently moulded by the data about the outbreak, and tethered to it in case that changes unexpectedly. I.e. the lockdown should persist no longer than it determinably needs to.
- It must be enforced only with minor penalties like on-the-spot fines and perhaps criminal citations, escalating to court prosecutions which result in greater fines and things like community service — not major penalties like imprisonment. Even still, someone should really have to show that they’re a boorish scofflaw frequently breaching the lockdown before that new entry on their criminal record is added.
- Police officers must not be permitted to arrest and/or physically return people to their homes if they’re being obstinate. (The fines should have enough teeth to make this a thoroughly negligible occurrence to begin with. Make the first-offence fine a few hundred pound and see how many people dare incur it…)
That doesn’t cover everything, but it’s a good starting point. The goal should be to strenuously deter people from violating the lockdown, not to use the police as a makeshift gendarmerie to forcibly effect some weird, watered-down version of martial law. That’s not their role. That’s not what they’re trained to do. (Though, when it comes to the police, the word ‘trained’ must be used exceedingly lightly in any case. As anyone with eyes and brain and the capacity to use them in conjunction knows full well.) And it’s a warped transformation which cannot be countenanced by the populace. That inevitable pushback then erodes the effectiveness of the lockdown itself, which is completely counterproductive to the entire point of the thing.
My contention being that it is indeed possible for countries which respect individual freedoms to temporarily abridge them in a nonetheless liberty-minded way. I know that might sound like a paradox, and in a sense it is. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be the goal, the ideal to aim for. In other words, the task of governments during extreme crises should be to figure out how to do intolerable things in as tolerable a way as can be managed.
The question we should once again be asking ourselves, then, is why we don’t have such governments. And why instead must we only endure their paltry, malformed, fun-house mirror substitutes?
I have some thoughts about, in particular, the protests in the U.S. against the lockdown…
This is going to seem like a contradiction given everything I just said, but I assure you it’s not.
All things considered, I think it’s probably good that there were kneejerk protests, even though they were misguided and ineffectual and even hazardous to those who attended. Although they were relatively small-scale, I see them functioning more as a symbolic gesture. There’s a certain value to always assuming the worst, if you see what I mean. Some overreactions are like a worthwhile ‘drill’ for if a full-fledged police-state ever really does descend. “Keep your powder dry” and all that.
I think reflexive defiance is kind of just woven into the American emotional/psychological DNA. And I do fervently believe that this tendency to err too far on the side of being paranoid about creeping tyranny is an excess which does more good than ill, and which means that its sometimes foolish forms have to be tolerated.
I mean, when you compare that to the attitude we have here in the UK, I think my point is brought into even sharper focus. Here, people are much, much more passive and deeply resigned to the government doing whatever it likes for whatever reasons it cares to adduce. I tend to think of that as being by far the greater evil ultimately. Because it’s very possible to temper and even sometimes correct the American overzealousness, but once a society has become encrusted with the mindset that the people are not sovereign but rather mere powerless subjects, it’s almost impossible to bring it back from the brink. That’s why all efforts must be made to avoid things reaching that point.
And if that requires letting some fringe elements rage against the lockdowns, so be it.
Unfortunately, there were people at these protests who — alas, as is always the case — took things too far. And acted downright repugnantly. I’m thinking of the armed Michigan protesters, specifically.
Now, not for nothing, but you will thoroughly struggle to find someone who feels more strongly about the moral necessity of firearm-owning rights than me. And I also believe in open-carry rights (though I’m not totally closed-off to the argument that this shouldn’t extend to long guns in most cases.)
What I’m getting at is that people safely carrying guns at a peaceful protest doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I think it’s hugely to America’s credit that not only is this permitted in the first place, but also that it so frequently occurs without issue.
However, I think it’s despicable when the presence of these guns is part of an attempt to menace and threaten someone. That’s a completely different kettle of fish. And the distinction is very clear, is never to be forgotten or confused.
Take this Michigan protest. There were the usual distasteful right-wing accoutrements. Confederate flags, MAGA hats, preposterous self-aggrandising claims of being brave freedom-fighters, etc, etc. But then there were also a lot of quasi-rhetorical threats of violence directed towards the state’s democrat Governor, Gretchen Whitmer.
There was an effigy-doll of her in a noose. As well as placards making other vague warnings about hanging and saying death-to-tyrants and all that typical clichéd guff. And many, many references to Whitmer being akin to Adolf Hitler, which speaks for itself. It’s just a cowardly workaround. By directly likening someone to the quintessential inhuman monster we all agree we’d gladly have put a bullet in, you’re implying ‘this person deserves to die too’ without actually having the balls to come right out and say it.
What’s more, that absolutely vile and braindead comparison shows that not only has there been an outbreak of amateur epidemiology among these people — “masks don’t even protect you from the virus, they’re just meant to subjugate us” — they are also historically illiterate. This does not come as much of a surprise, I have to say. If you reverently quote (or, as is often the case, misquote) Washington and Jefferson and Franklin, yet voted for Donald Trump, you can’t have cracked the spines of too many history books.
And when the armed protesters were allowed into the Capitol building, some of them decided that they’d wait outside Whitmer’s office. A brutally obvious question thus arises. What are you trying to convey by lying in wait literally right outside the room where she works… wearing masks, dressed like a paramilitary death-squad, and wielding assault rifles? (Looking, as these types invariably do, like a band of creepy incels going to play with their airsoft guns in the woods. No doubt taking turns acting out their wet-dream of being the valiant rebels from ‘Red Dawn’. You can just picture it, can’t you? “Wol-ve-rines!”, cried the emotionally-stunted high-school dropout with the #QAnon tshirt.) The answer to that question is just as obvious. No serious person would deny that the intention of such an act is intimidation. The spectre of the threat of murder is being employed as a scare-tactic. The message is simply that “we are ferociously angry at you, and this is us theatrically proceeding nine-tenths of the way towards the endpoint of kicking down your office door and shooting you to death, so you’ll realize how serious we are about getting what we want.” And for all the ‘badass’ machismo they’re desperately trying to exude, they keep this part implicit. They don’t even have the temerity to say it plainly. They’re just gutless goons, through and through.
If you’re doubting whether there are really people crazy enough to take that next and final step, you need only look at some of the sizeable private Facebook groups — which you can read about here — whose sole purpose seems to be masturbatory group-fantasising about how Whitmer ought to be murdered. What’s the betting that many of these deranged wackos attended the protests?
This intent-to-intimidate wasn’t just focused on the Governor herself though, it also took a more generalised form.
Personally, I think it’s just common-sense that people shouldn’t be allowed to bring firearms into a legislative building of all places. The state of Michigan, however, evidently disagrees. But the protesters were not content with staying in the outer areas of the Capitol building they’re permitted access to, they tried to barge their way onto the floor of the chamber itself and had to be physically blocked by a line of state police and sergeants-at-arms. Again, now we’ve progressed beyond the bounds of ‘protest’ and ‘open-carry’, into something entirely different.
You need only look at the nature of the situation to understand what I mean. You have a group of protesters who are playing some kind of cringeworthy armyman dress-up game. They are outfitted, in fact, like warfighters. (This cannot have escaped their attention, given that it’s the whole object of their military fetish/LARPing hobby. Even though, ironically enough, they’re often the sort who would get laughed out of an Armed Forces recruitment office and subsequently find themselves wistful for the halcyon days of the Moron Corps.) And they have filed into the Capitol building en masse, brandishing long guns. (I suppose it’s actually kind of redundant to use that suitcase-term, because how many pump-action shotguns or bolt-action rifles do you see at these protests?) They then raucously tried to gain access to an area they’re specifically not allowed into.
And to what end? Well, during the April 30th protests, the legislature was convening to vote on whether or not to extend the Governor’s state-of-emergency powers, and therefore her ability to continue the lockdown. The protesters were trying to occupy the chamber as this session was taking place. They wanted to surround the lawmakers, whilst visibly armed, who were debating a bill these people passionately hated. The message they were hoping to send with this behaviour is clear: displease us and these guns may well be used as a corrective.
(They sadly succeeded in cowing the legislators, who cancelled all scheduled assemblies during the subsequent May 14th protest.)
Any such attempt at strong-arm coercion cannot be repudiated forcefully enough.
Just as I do not believe in the heckler’s veto during the voicing of ideas and debate, I do not believe in the gun-toting militia’s veto when it comes to the deliberations of elected representatives. Democracy cannot function if men with assault rifles will bear down upon the lawmakers whenever they make an unpopular decision.
Especially when these same men disagree with near enough every decision. And somehow view each one as being tantamount to the final nail being hammered into the coffin which contains their freedom. (That wooden box must look like a goddamn pin-cushion by now…)
Hell, perhaps I’ll make my last word a small piece of advice about that. A good rule of thumb is that if you’re legally allowed to flood a government building with a heavily-armed civilian militia, you’re probably quite a loooong way away from the Orwellian nightmare you’re claiming to be there to fight. The very terms of the proposition contain its own paradoxical undoing.
Just something it couldn’t hurt to ponder…
And, listen, if the government does enslave us all, maybe there’ll be remedial ‘Critical Thinking Skills’ lessons for you in those FEMA camps we’ll all be dragged to. So there’s always a silver lining. Something to look forward to, you know?