Covid Cynicism

We’re publishing today a new piece by regular contributor Dr Sinéad Murphy, Philosophy Lecturer at Newcastle University. This is her contribution to the discussion about the role of reason and emotion in the lockdown debate initiated by Dr David McGrogan’s piece on “the failed strategy of lockdown sceptics” and continued by Guy de la Bédoyère’s reply. She writes:

I was struck by David’s piece. I believe he is correct. Both sides of the lockdown debate make appeal to scientific facts and statistical analyses. But those who argue in favour of lockdowns have done so and continue to do so with a righteous energy and moral fervour, which those of us who argue against them have tended to steer clear of, on the assumption that such energy and fervour would weaken our arguments rather than make them stronger. This assumption comes naturally to our Enlightenment habits of thinking and acting, which have been formed on the premise that reason and feeling are separate faculties and hardly compatible. The assumption is false and has disabled our position from the outset.

A little while ago, I happened into discussion with a new neighbour, on the matter of Covid and lockdown. When I indicated my support for a Great Barrington-like policy of assistance for the vulnerable who wished to have it, allied with normal life for everyone else, my new neighbour demurred, saying: “That’s very able-ist of you.” Just the kind of name-calling moralism that we sceptics of lockdown have come to expect. And what did I do in return? I drilled further down into calm reason, countering that I was quite content to be an ‘able-ist’ and did not at all require that the whole world alter its course so that the particular needs of particular groups be neutralised by being always already catered to. But my reply was a poor one and seemed to produce no effect. What I ought to have done – what David McGrogan urges us rightly to practise doing – was to play my neighbour at his own ad hominem game: accuse him in return of being an ‘able-ist’ and naming to him with the same outrage that he effortlessly conjured up, some of the infinite number of kinds of people whose lives have been damaged or destroyed by Covid policies – my ‘vulnerable’ if you like: the old, those who live alone, those with cancer, children with special needs, single parents… my list is longer than his by far.

In this context, the New Year’s Day post on Lockdown Sceptics by Freddie Attenborough merits special mention, for its clever and moving turning of the tables against the Covid orthodoxy. Its very title – “The Fallen” – a highly effective appropriation of the language of pathos which those who mourn the Covid dead have this year been allowed to claim as an instrument for their use, and their use alone.

This kind of emotional response does not mean that we must depart from our facts, which we have mustered so carefully and which we justifiably treasure; but we ought to feel freer to infuse them with the moral feeling that we have incorrectly judged it best to put aside for the good of our mission.

And this is all the more vital for the stay it might put upon what I regard as the most significant factor in the success this year of the attack on our ways of life: the cynicism that prevails among the educated classes, those whose voices dominate our mainstream press, and whose readiness to be functionaries in the system of our incarceration is one of the most dispiriting things of all.

Worth reading in full.