by A.R. Norman
Why haven’t our points landed and who or what is behind the hysteria that grips us? Is it the Government, the media, scientists or SAGE or some other malign agency?
In his very persuasive essay, Dr David McGrogan claims that both the reason lockdown sceptics have failed to break through the hysteria surrounding COVID-19 and the source of the hysteria itself is the successful establishment of a ‘moral truth’ by the advocates of lockdown. In response, Guy de la Bedoyere argues that, against such truths, reason will never prevail – that emotion always has, does and will win the day.
There are, however, some other factors worth considering. The first is context. In 2016, something happened that was not meant to happen. Having being given a referendum, the British people defied their political masters and voted for Brexit. This, from the perspective of the Establishment – the political and professional classes, together with the media that represent them and the businesses that fund them – was an absolute catastrophe, a catastrophe compounded when Donald Trump came to power in America. This was a disaster for the same political and professional classes whose identity politics and global-capitalist economic project was threatened by his overt nationalism and the protectionist policies he promised.
Brexit and Trump were thus two enormous wins for populism, the revolt by broadly patriotic, socially conservative, anti-globalist parties which now form governments in much of Eastern Europe (and, let’s not forget, in Russia too) and which continue to gain support throughout the rest of Europe via the likes of National Rally in France, AfD in Germany, Lega Nord in Italy and Vox in Spain. From these gains – and the eruption of violence in America today reinforces the view – it became clear to those who people the entire western Establishment that unless they can do something drastic, they are in serious danger of losing control.
The Covid scare gives it – the Establishment – the perfect opportunity for a massive reassertion of its authority. When people are afraid, they cry out to their leaders for protection. As it turns out, these leaders have precisely nothing to offer so they do the only thing that is in their gift: they deprive the people of their liberty and make them pay for the privilege through the expenditure of blood (think here of all those missed hospital tests and treatments, think of all the suicides and of all those acts of violence in the home) and treasure (the, as yet uncounted, trillions of dollars worldwide). So it is that, under cover of fulfilling the people’s wishes for protection (and let us not forget how enthusiastically most have embraced lockdown), the Establishment has just pulled off a blinder. It has massively arrogated power to itself. By terrorising an already frightened populace, by bankrupting future generations and, crucially, by depriving a generation of young people of a significant proportion of their education, it looks like it has succeeded brilliantly in shoring up its position far into the future.
Are we to suppose, though, that any of this is premeditated? Doubtless there are many clever and cynical (to Dr Sinead Murphy’s point) people within the Establishment who see perfectly clearly what is happening and are going with the smart money: how delightful it has all been for those who hold shares in Amazon, Pfizer and other businesses that Covid hysteria favours. But are we really to suppose that this is a conspiracy of the rich and powerful at the expense of the weak and poor? Before we chase down that rabbit hole, let’s not forget that while today’s Establishment may be an alliance of global capitalists and more or less woke liberals, tomorrow’s might not be. China’s Establishment is nationalist, not globalist, and it is not in any sense liberal.
The point to bear in mind is, rather, that the willingness of the majority to go along with the Establishment reflects the successful alliance between the moral ‘truth’ that death is upon us and all means of prevention are justifiable and the tacit claim that the Government is only the entity capable of dealing with the threat. But partly, too, it reflects something about the wider culture we have, collectively, brought into being and over which the Establishment merely surfs.
The fact is, most of us (lockdown sceptic and zealot alike) are united in accepting Nietzsche’s claim that God is dead. We have thus created a culture where we take the knee not to a transcendent God but to a multiplicity of idols, albeit not all of us to all of them. Some genuflect in admission of historical guilt to gods invoked by the BLM movement. We all genuflect to a munificent Treasury whose magical money tree keeps us in food and funds us even while we are furloughed. Quite a few genuflect to the idol of identity that a – highly motivated – minority invokes to deny the reality of biological sex. Above all – and, again, this goes for almost everyone irrespective of their loyalty or hostility towards these lesser gods – we abase ourselves before Science, most mighty of them all. For it is science that will rescue us from the scourge of illness, old age and biological determinism to give us the identity we crave while keeping us in peace and prosperity through technological advance. This it will accomplish partly by means of the safetyism it enjoins on its supplicants: “Stay at home! Save lives!” (forget that no life was ever saved, only a death postponed).
Yet, in spite of the comfort offered by these secular deities, it is clear that many find it hard to take their professed atheism seriously and this we see in the hysterical reaction to the Covid pandemic. How so? After all, if John Lennon (today a senior Establishment figure, let’s not forget) is right and there is “No hell below us/ Above us only sky” there is no place for fear of what it is to come. Where there is neither divine justice nor divine mercy and the worst that can happen when death exercises its inevitable dominion is that the atoms and molecules of which we are comprised are simply redistributed around the universe, there cannot be anything to worry about or be afraid of. And yet, although all that is required is that we steel and remind ourselves of our ultimate destiny – reabsorption of our bodies by the earth, of the earth itself into star dust, and our conscious minds simply fading out like transistor radios when the power is cut – many sense that we cease to be fully human when we think like this. This may explain why many are not even taking evolution seriously any more. COVID-19 is arguably the most Darwinian of all diseases, concentrating with laser-like intensity on the old and the ill, while sparing the fit and the furious young. But just when you thought Darwinists would be cheering Covid to the rafters, not a one is to be heard anywhere.
We are thus compelled to confront the paradox that, while the deliberate taking of life has never been easier, nor more acceptable – whether it be one’s own (in a nice way) in some sunny clinic in Switzerland, or of other peoples’ in the euthanasia of Belgium or Holland or Canada, or in the abortion mills of the world, there are ways of dying (such as from COVID-19) that are inadmissible. Death is acceptable just if it is on the individual’s terms.
But is one kind of death really better than another in the moment it is happening? It is hard to say. Nonetheless, it seems clear that many are left uneasy at the prospect of setting out on the the dark seas over which Nietzsche foresaw that we God-killers must sail. And it is this uneasiness in the face of death and the ultimate meaninglessness of life that has made it a lot easier for the ‘moral truth’ of lockdown to gain purchase and for the Establishment to exploit it.
In this context, it is unfortunate – not to say perverse – that both the Establishment and lockdown’s supporters are aided and abetted by a Church which has distinguished itself only in its resolute support of the safetyism. Certainly we have heard nothing from any priest or prelate about how we ought to die. There has been no talk of fearlessness in the face of death, nor of Christ’s overcoming its sting. And in a way, this is not surprising. If any bishop were to suggest that COVID-19 could in some respects be thought of as a mercy of God – after all pneumonia was popularly known as ‘the old man’s friend’ (as John Prescott helpfully reminded us last year) – he would be hauled over burning coals. Should he suggest that many of those with advanced dementia, could they be brought back to their senses for a day, might actually cry out for the kiss of Corona rather than be condemned to eke out their days in dismal derangement and at the mercy of others who perhaps do not care for them as much as they might have hoped, no doubt he would be pilloried for his trouble. Still, it is unfortunate for those who wish for an alternative moral truth about the pandemic. Whatever one might think of it, the Church is one of the few agencies capable of articulating one – especially given its historic role in helping people face the inevitability of death, a skill that we have shown ourselves largely to have forgotten.
This is no small matter. The terrible corollary to this amnesia, this forgetting how to die, is that we forget also how to live. This is why it has been so easy for so many to enter into the devil’s bargain from which our earthly masters stand to gain so much. We are prepared to put our lives on hold in exchange for deliverance by vaccine while untold numbers around the world are plunged into poverty, untold numbers suffer abuse in the home, untold numbers die sooner than they should from untreated medical conditions and untold numbers of those who do succumb to the dread disease must do so without the succour of family or friend. Petrified at the ultimate meaninglessness of life without God, we have embraced death in life.
Of course, it could be countered that, in a modern society, people cannot be expected to tolerate the sight of coffins being shipped to makeshift morgues, that we dare not risk letting the National Health Service become overwhelmed. Why can this not be either expected or risked? Because it would not be compassionate. We would be failing in our common humanity to permit such things to happen when we are capable of preventing them.
Arguably, this would be right if the definition of compassion could be circumscribed such that it extended only to those directly victim to COVID-19. But this is not the case. Compassion is a virtue that is universally applicable, not one that can be confined to a small constituency. It is therefore not necessarily compassionate to favour (mainly) the very old and the very ill over the young and healthy if it means that the young and healthy suffer disproportionately thereby. Would the old even want them to? Certainly not 83 year old Maureen from Barnsley who famously spoke up for the young and said she didn’t “give a sod” for herself.
When Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn gave his deeply unflattering and thus unpopular commencement address to Harvard University in 1978, he drew attention to the fact “extreme safety and well-being are not advantageous to a living organism” and pointed to the ebbing away of courage in the free West. It is this ebbing away of courage that, he argued, we should fear far more than death. What made Solzhenitsyn such a controversial figure in exile was his insistence that this lack of courage, especially in the face of death, arises in the context of society’s forgetting of God.
We have not yet reached the scale of calamity that Solzhenitsyn witnessed during his lifetime. Yet in permitting the theft of liberty and wanton expenditure of blood and capital that has been deployed by the Establishment on our behalf in its wildly disproportionate response to an evidently not so scary virus, we have set ourselves up for many further outrages in the future as this same Establishment fights to further re-entrench its position. We should not be very surprised when we are told that the scientists insist that, for our safety, we need to rethink the whole way in which we interact and socialise with one another. Nor should we be surprised to discover that many restrictions are maintained permanently for fear of the next pandemic. No doubt, too, SAGE and NERVTAG and other portentously named committees will be given a permanent seat at the policy makers’ table.
Meanwhile, for those who find the new regime intolerable, there is always the solace of mindfulness. Through mindfulness meditation we can learn how to recognise our emotions for what they are: nothing but the afflictions of ignorance. When we understand how things really are – how, ultimately, we live in an uncreated world of appearances and nothing more, we will cease to care about how we are governed or even about the lives and morality of the fortunate few who govern us. And so, running from the hazards of life, we will gradually deliver ourselves up to the slavery that has always characterised a world without God.