The Panic Industrial Complex is getting jittery. They fear a loss of power. As the coronavirus subsides, the clickbait media and the MacBook-rattling technocrats are doing all in their command to cling to the psychological leverage they have exerted over a terrified citizenship for the last four months. Their influence is based on their ability to project relentless doom and fear into public life. Now that they see normality on the horizon they have doubled down on the scaremongering and narrative control.
Anyone who values citizenship must passionately embrace normality again, and not capitulate to fear. The self-appointed guardians of public safety must not be allowed to hold civic life in this monstrous state of psychic limbo for a minute longer. Freedom, progress and the beautiful, enriching texture of our culture depend on our defiance.
The unique liberties nurtured over centuries in the United Kingdom depend to a great extent on our institutions. Institutions such as our independent judiciary, the sovereignty of parliament, the right to trial and the limits on executive power. However, these same liberties also depend on something slightly less tangible. British freedoms have been protected for centuries because they have been embedded in a civic life that is brilliantly messy, rambunctious and even at times transgressive.
With freedom of the press, freedom of association and a culturally entrenched respect for private liberty, come vigorous checks on arbitrary power that champions of a written constitution could only dream of. As long as this pugilistic, creative, vibrant and aggressive civic life exists, the state’s power is necessarily limited. The great shifts in public attitude that define a progressive society evolve naturally through vigorous public dialogue. Change does not come through bureaucratic diktat, it comes through the ecological growth of cultural forces. As a result, when such change comes it has depth and resilience, and its strength is a broad foundation of genuine, hard-won consensus.
As Boris Johnson forces state decrees on us once again, arrogantly assuming for his government the powers to dictate the ways we live our private lives and severely limiting the essential exchanges of cultural life, British liberty remains in mortal danger.
There are many things wrong with the lockdown. The legislation is vaguely defined, yet far reaching. It was passed through parliament without a proper debate or vote and there was no meaningful resistance to it when it was passed. However, the main source of the lockdown’s evil is that it is a planned, sophisticated and totalitarian assault on civic life. It robs each citizen of the chief protection against arbitrary power, by shutting down the centres of shared social and artistic experience.
A rigid, results-based equality cannot be enforced in a country like Britain, and the messiness of that fact does not sit well with utopians and ideologues. However, the benefit of a constitution that relies on an uproarious public dialogue is that it is competitive. Media platforms, pundits, ministers, polemicists and technocrats must compete against each other and win the consent of the public through a testing battle. The very messiness of British civic life puts a check on inflated egos and totalitarian ambitions.
A punchy, satirical and raucous social square prevents the necessary monopoly on communications and messaging that demagogues and technocrats alike need to exert their control. In the midst of the Covid lockdown and the enforced panic concocted by a dangerously monotone media, we have been stripped of the sparkling turbulence that makes British people so irrepressible.
With cinemas, theatres and museums still closed or severely hampered in their reopening by suffocating safety precautions, the lifeblood of British culture remains in the grip of an invasive power-grab. Our supposed guardians have every incentive to perpetuate this state of cultural freeze because our private freedoms are weakened and the reach of their power is met with an ever dwindling resistance.
There is a reason that artists and writers are often the first victims of totalitarian regimes. There is a reason that freedom of association is considered such a danger in a nation where the state is treated with religious importance. Noisy cafes, packed theatres, bustling streets, gossiping beauty salons and busy exhibitions are the very fabric of a free society. They create meeting points for free thinkers. They act as familiar landmarks in which outrageous public argument can take place on common ground. A hustling, booming, rowdy civic life ensures that many centres of power exist as alternatives to those of the state. They mean that the culture flies on many engines at once, rather than on one engine of power upon which the whole society must depend.
The ‘old normal’ existed for a reason. The ordered chaos of British life evolved over centuries and we stand on the shoulders of cultural giants like Geoffrey Chaucer, Dr Johnson, Oscar Wilde and Mick Jagger as much as we do on those of William Gladstone, Kier Hardie or Emmeline Pankhurst.
The ‘emergency’ defence is the tyrant’s ace card. And the biggest threat to a tyrant is a noisy, unruly civic discourse. As long as people remain trapped in their homes and beholden to Amazon, Netflix and Mail Online, the state and the faceless elites have a free run on our liberties.
It’s time to take back the strongholds of citizen power. It’s time to jump-start the culture. If we don’t do it now, the bland horror of the New Normal will soon reveal itself in all its totalising evil.
By James Black|August 7th, 2020