PERHAPS two of the most commonly asked questions about Covid-19 hysteria and the formulation and implementation of the disastrous policies across the globe in response to the Chinese virus are: why are we so willing to give up our freedoms, and how the hell did we get here? Excellent questions both.
The answers may lie, at least partly, in the arguments of two popular works of non-fiction published over the last couple of decades. They are Nudge, written by Obama apparatchik Cass Sunstein and his academic offsider Richard Thaler, and The Tipping Point, by the airport bookshop star Malcolm Gladwell. The former is a work of behavioural economics – for which Thaler received the Nobel Prize in economics in 2017 – the latter a work of sociology that launched Gladwell as a writer. I am sure Gladwell wasn’t intending to be prophetic or ironic when he said: ‘Ideas and products and messages and behaviours spread like viruses do.’
It will not surprise those familiar with the inner workings of the Johnson government in the UK that a book on behavioural science and how to steer (‘nudge’) human behaviour in certain preferred directions might be relevant to the Covid State. In fact it had occurred to a predecessor. In 2010 one of David Cameron’s innovations was to set up a Nudge Unit within the Cabinet Office. https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/nudge-unit Today, known as the Behavioural Insights Team, and part-owned by the Cabinet Office, it has arguably come into its own.
It is also easy to make the case that the answer to the two questions posed at the outset has involved a tipping point – in March 2020 and since that date – following decades of seemingly unrelated little things which together have enabled something enormous to occur.
I have identified seven developments which have enabled the policy disasters of lockdown and vaccine apartheid to be visited upon us and to crush us. All of these developments have set us up for the big fall and the big fail. Let us, with Aquinas, simply call them ‘remote causes’. Between them, they positioned governments, third parties such as churches – so critical in delivering the Covid State – and the populace to respond to the coming of the virus in the ways they have. We have been nudged towards a tipping point.
Lockdown culture might be defined as that willingness of governments to embrace Covid Statism and of the governed to believe a deadly pandemic is afoot that must be crushed by a raft of ill-considered non-medical interventions (NMIs), which involve the ending of rights, freedoms and normal life.
The first enabler of lockdown culture has been the systematic dumbing down of education at all levels and the replacement of critical thinking and scepticism with ideology and sentiment. This is, above all, the age of the low-information voter. We have been exposed for our ignorance – of science, of history, of evidence-based thinking and policy. Would previous generations have rolled over in the unquestioning manner of today’s populace? The men (mostly) who had to fight a real war? The decision-makers who had to fight a real pandemic (the Spanish Flu)? The current education tsars parrot the need to learn ‘twenty-first century skills’. The real need is to recapture nineteenth- and early twentieth-century skills. Bright people such as David Starkey and Niall Ferguson – the smart Ferguson – understand deeply the need to study history and learn from it. Today’s students, courtesy of the classical liberal arts foundations, learn nothing. They know zilch about the scientific method. They clearly don’t understand biology. Or logic. They don’t know the odour of rats so they know when to smell them. Only a dumb generation could have bought the Covid scam.
The second enabler has been the perfecting by the political class of telling the big lie and being believed. The dry run was climate change. The pandemic, like climate change, would simply not be believed to be a real thing without the daily banging on about threats, fear, death. Would anyone on earth believe there was a dangerous (dare one say ‘unprecedented’) sea-level rise if we weren’t told about it by a so-called expert every other day? Do most people even know someone who has died of Covid? Or even got sick from it? The big lies – masks work, lockdowns help stem the virus, distancing and endless handwashing are necessary, vaccines will save us and nothing else will – are able to be told and believed because the political class know now how to do it well. We know they lie, make stuff up, gild the lily, exaggerate their ability to change things through policy, cover up, refuse freedom of information requests, bribe journalists in myriad ways, ignore hard questions, speak in Sir Humphrey-ese, brazen things out, never apologise or admit error. It is just that now, in addition to lying to cover up failings for which the elected might be punished, they tell massive lies that wreck economies and trash communities and societies. Without blinking. Many people still believe in the inherent goodness of politicians, who are doing all this to ‘save’ us. We are that gullible, and they are that good at lying.
The third enabler of lockdown culture has been the coming of health and safety to institutions, workplaces, businesses and society. This has coincided with the rise of human resources departments and corporatist ideology in large organisations. Some call this ‘safetyism’. That fear of a virus has become the default position of a sizeable majority of the population is a testament to the success of the push, from the 1960s on. We have been thoroughly prepped for the current fear-athon by decades of this rubbish. Would the Omaha Beach generation have been cowed into wearing masks and enduring house arrest to defeat a virus from which over 99 per cent of those who get it recover? We have been conditioned to fear minor things. Or to fear being sued if we do not eliminate all risk. Safetyism and litigiousness work in lockstep.
The fourth enabler has been the buying-off of academics. The corporate university has turned former professional sceptics and intellectual rabble rousers into automata and shills for the funding classes. The research-publishing-funding cycle drives all academic behaviour now. We simply cannot expect leadership, questioning and resistance to the State or the corporations from today’s ‘intellectuals’. They have clocked off. Indeed, they now work for corporates themselves. Once upon a time the academics ‘were’ the university. Now they ‘work for’ the university. One Australian professor is now in the High Court arguing that he should not have been sacked by his university simply for questioning the research outputs of other academics (over climate change). Mike Yeadon has said that he has tested some of his theories about aspects of immunology with ten or so UK professors. They all agree with him. None will do so publicly. Tame academics who have been taken out of the equation remove one of society’s previous safety valves against lying by the State or by vested interests. They have been bought off, and fully paid for. Their Faustian bargain has enabled the Covid State.
The fifth enabler has been fascist technology. Much of the Covid State’s capacity for oppression has been powered by technology. Working from home allows staff to stay employed and comfortable. To have a ‘good Covid’. Whatever the productivity and innovation implications of working remotely, it is technology, the Age of Zoom, which has powered the continued running of society – or a facsimile of it – and allowed governments to preserve some sense of civil order. We are supine because we are comfortable. Apart from those who have lost their jobs, of course. Technology has also enabled the hideous contact-trace regime which allows governments to say they are ‘winning’ the ‘war’ and permits them to know exactly where we all are and what we are doing at any given moment. The sinister age of QR codes and of tech-enabled vaccine passports has prompted Naomi Wolf to note that the platforms used for these purposes deploy precisely the same technology as China’s evil social credit system. A number of observers have noted that lockdowns and the whole paraphernalia of the Covid State simply couldn’t have been engineered a decade ago.
The sixth enabler has been the rise to power of third parties, unelected by anyone, who exercise fundamental power over the lives of citizens and workers. In some cases, third parties have simply failed to resist the march of Covid totalitarianism and oppression. The spineless churches come to mind. Many customer-facing businesses are cowed into collaborating with the Covid State simply to be allowed to stay open. Still others are recruited to do the work of the government for it – the media with its propaganda and relentless infomercials, the snitching class, transport companies, sports organisations, corporates in general. The dobbers are out there and active, tearing down protest signs. Big Tech, which controls the most important 21st century infrastructure, silences dissidents, unplatforms Covid refuseniks, deems certain views to be ‘disinformation’. Tucker Carlson has suggested that it is now not governments, but corporations, which are the most coercive institutions in society. The Covid State thrives because of the power of the non-government enablers.
Finally, let us look at the professionalisation – if that is the word – of the political class as an enabler of lockdown culture. James Burnham’s book The Managerial Class is but one essential primary source offering an explanation of the rise of the Deep State. Yet it isn’t just about managers running things which were formerly the province of the elected class. Rather, it is the fact that the elected have become managers which has caused a massive shift in political culture. And not to our benefit. One hears a lot – and one says a lot – that the politicians of today are third-rate. Yes, they are. But why is that? It is because politics has become a career, and careerism does not make for courageous decision-making. (Yes, the old Sir Humphrey line comes to mind). We needed Churchill, and we got BoJo. Politics is now a stepping stone for those addicted to power AND wealth. The public choice theorists warned us about the venal interests of those whose decisions affect us all. But what they didn’t see coming was the wholesale re-imagining of politics as a vocation. The politicians of today were born to be panicked, self-regarding, reputational-risk-obsessed, prone to following the polls rather than the science (whatever they might say), ever ready to hide behind health bureaucrats rather than making decisions based on the whole picture. The Covid State was inevitable.
Does knowing all this help at all? I fear not. All these things are now baked into the political system and into our society. We are functionally illiterate when it comes to understanding science, our intellectual leaders are owned by Big-Everything, our all-powerful corporates run much of our lives, we are scared witless of minor easily manageable health risks, we don’t have the know-how to understand how minor this ‘crisis’ is or the capacity to resist, we happily vote for chancers and third-raters, and we are willing to be lied to about fundamental things which govern the very way we live. The Covid State was waiting to happen. We have been nudged. We are conditioned. And the tipping point into lockdown culture has well and truly passed.