“To these people, lockdown has been a raging success. To everybody else, it has been an unmitigated disaster.”
n April 24th, London saw what was probably one of the largest civil rights marches in recent memory as anti-lockdown protestors gathered under the banner, Unite For Freedom. I say “probably” because I have seen reports estimating the attendance anywhere between “several thousand” and “hundreds of thousands.” But I honestly could not say for sure because there appears to be (and have been) next to no interest in the event from the British media.
In the hours immediately following the march, the BBC’s top story was an editorial masquerading as news encouraging younger people to get the vaccine, and Sky News decided to run with professional footballers boycotting social media as the most pressing issue of the day. Even in researching this article a week later, pretty much the only “news” I could find was that eight police officers had been injured, none seriously. Or, in other words, it was a peaceful protest, unlike some recent others that come to mind, and over which the British media positively fawned.
It might seem odd that in an allegedly free market for journalism, a massive civil rights protest would fail to be an attractive subject for reporting in its own right, but especially if absolutely none of your journalistic peers are covering it, giving you the exclusive scoop. But I have come to think recently that this view is tragically naïve. We are in the early stages of the most intense and exhaustive propaganda campaign any Brits have likely ever experienced. Although I can only speak to my personal experience in the United Kingdom, Merion West readers elsewhere may well be in a similar position.
The march was not covered because the lockdown is going to be painted as a glorious national success, and its critics as science-denying, grandma-killing, selfish, heartless, unpatriotic idiots. The media is getting its ducks in a row to peddle this insulting propaganda—insisting that the suspension of civil liberties and the destruction of the economy and social fabric in the name of an unprecedented authoritarian social and medical experiment instigated at the behest of a geopolitical foe was, in fact, an impressive feat of humanitarianism and collective action. Indeed, we have always been at war with Eastasia. As one might expect, the personal experiences of tens of millions of Brits are entirely contrary to this narrative, which is exactly why it must be aggressively peddled in the first place. And I warn the reader: It will be.
My experience of lockdown is likely instructive, and while I am hesitant to rely overly on anecdote, I feel it is justified in this case for two reasons. First, my two relevant experiences relate to institutions with which tens if not hundreds of thousands of others have also had to interact in a similar manner. And, second, my thesis here is that with the background of propaganda this intense and unrelenting, anecdote is really all we have. The single best outcome of me publishing this article would be to encourage as many others as possible similarly to share their anecdotes such that we can all begin to piece together some actual “news.”
My first relevant experience relates to the period in between the virus being acknowledged to be a serious danger but still being somewhat mysterious and a full lockdown not having yet been declared. I quickly became involved in two initiatives. Primarily via Facebook (and also helpfully utilizing NextDoor), I discovered a group of like-minded folks scattered all over Edinburgh, where I live, piecing together a network of volunteers and attempting to identify vulnerable individuals whom these volunteers could help effectively to socially distance by buying groceries, collecting prescriptions, and so on.
The main hiccup with this plan was the infinite wisdom of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR): On legal advice (volunteered, it ought to be noted), it was found to be inadvisable digitally to record the information of anybody helpfully identified as “vulnerable,” even if they identified themselves in this way, as was clearly the intent. This meant that we had to abandon a handful of efforts already underway (by volunteers) to automate the process of information gathering and volunteer matching by geographical location. We had to switch to a pointlessly half-analog hack of encouraging such people to sign up to GDPR-compliant NextDoor, where they could connect with a local volunteer on their own. Given our initial aspirations, this was annoying, but at least it seemed to be working.
On the back of this frustration, I set out to create what I imagined would be a catch-all homepage for anybody concerned about the virus and who could be helpfully nudged towards all the services just mentioned. With some friends, I bought the domain name evcr.info for Edinburgh Virus Community Response, and I spent a weekend designing a simple enough website that directed visitors first and foremost to the NextDoor network just mentioned but also to various local health services and a range of potentially appropriate charities. Those charities I reached out to were very happy to be involved and all provided me with the relevant information within a day or two. Incidentally, I also reached out to every single member of parliament and member of the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh and received no reply, and I reached out to every local media outlet and received two replies, both of which set up calls they never attended.
But, of course, all of this was a complete waste of time and effort on the part of every volunteer who contributed because just two or three weeks later the United Kingdom entered total lockdown. It is worth pondering what exactly this meant in our circumstances: Having set up the means to help the vulnerable as a grassroots campaign, and having been ignored in doing so by our local and national government and media, utilizing this valuable social infrastructure had suddenly become illegal. Helping our neighbors was too dangerous. We all had to stay locked in our homes for our own good. And to protect the National Health Service (NHS), of course.
I would never have imagined something like this could happen, and if I contributed to enthusiasm for lockdowns, however marginally, I sincerely apologize.
I do not say any of the above to pat myself on the back or to seek praise from strangers on the Internet. I made a big enough deal about all of this at the time, pushing it all across social media, and offering to clone the website template for anybody else anywhere in the world who wanted to try to implement similar tools. I am even somewhat embarrassed given I published an article in this magazine, The Coronavirus: Exacerbated by Cultural Pathology, in which I chastised the United Kingdom in particular but “the West” in general for not taking the threat seriously, comparing and contrasting to Bulgaria, with which I am also coincidentally familiar.
This was written about two weeks (and published about one week) before the lockdown, and I say I am “embarrassed” because some of the rhetoric in that article could easily be read as pro-lockdown in hindsight, yet this was not my intention in the slightest. The point of the article was very simply to implore more personal responsibility with respect to the virus which, at that point, I saw as still being treated as a triviality in the United Kingdom. It was most certainly not to call for abdication of personal responsibility entirely and the indefinite suspension of civil liberties under blanket authoritarianism. I would never have imagined something like this could happen, and if I contributed to enthusiasm for lockdowns, however marginally, I sincerely apologize.
So no, I do not want a pat on the back; I want my belated realization of my own naiveté to be as instructive as it can be to others who have not yet had such experiences. My crude assessment of the British government’s response to the virus would be that at first it dramatically underreacted and then flipped to dramatic overreaction without hovering for even a moment on anything measured or reasonable. The reader might be tempted at this point to chastise me, out me even, as something along the lines of a “COVIDiot,” a “COVID denier,” or some other slur that—in their minds—excuses them from reasoned debate. This debate is not as to whether or not the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a serious illness; it is whether or not lockdowns have been, or even could, in theory, be, efficacious and ethical. Let me then describe my second relevant experience.
My mother has a degenerative autoimmune disorder that requires constant and intense medication resulting in near-enough continual immuno-compromise. This is a long-winded way of saying she was at serious risk of COVID-19 complications. My family took this entirely seriously, as one would expect. We did not “deny” COVID-19 in the slightest, and we made arrangements such that she was able to be physically proximate only to me and my father for nearly a year. She was one of the people allegedly being helped—saved, even!—by this unprecedented medical and social experiment.
What “help” or “saving” did she receive? Precisely none at all. Having declared it illegal for any of her friends or neighbors to help her—as I had tried to arrange to be easy enough to achieve in Edinburgh—the government provided no assistance whatsoever to ensure she could not merely be “safe” but also continue to live a decent life. I had to continuously flout blatantly insane travel regulations, having taken proper precaution to ensure I was not myself carrying the virus in order to see that her house arrest was, in fact, as “safe” as the government had vacuously promised it would be. Incidentally, she was far more upset about the restrictions for people like me than the lack of care for people like her.
And, in fact, the “help” she received was less than none because she usually requires on and off medical attention that she was denied for her own good. I had to take days off from work in order to act as her nurse on more than one occasion. Although once again anecdotal, I imagine the annoyance, guilt, and shame of this immense governmental incompetence being done in her name was (and still is) widespread among the legitimately vulnerable.
The funny thing about all this travel, by the way, is that it was perfectly easy. I revised my excuse meticulously (which may have been legal anyway, but I am still not entirely clear) and will admit to rather romanticizing the entire exercise in my own mind. But, in the end, I just walked through some empty streets and got on an empty train.
In addition to the frustration of aborting the Edinburgh network, and the creepy religiosity attached to the NHS by state decree, this realization was what began to shatter my naiveté and led me to piece together what was really going on.
There was never any intention of enforcing these absurd laws. The intention was rather to scare the living s— out of everybody so that they would not have to be enforced at all. I am not being dramatic or rhetorical here. If anything, I am underselling it. Gordon Rayner at The Telegraph recently wrote in “State of fear: how ministers ‘used covert tactics’ to keep scared public at home,” that:
“Whether frightening the public was a deliberate—or honest—tactic has become the subject of intense debate, and dozens of psychologists have now accused ministers of using ‘covert psychological strategies’ to manipulate the public’s behavior.
They believe the Government, acting on the advice of behavioral experts, has emphasized the threat from Covid without putting the risks in sufficient context, leaving the country in ‘a state of heightened anxiety.'”
“They are so concerned that the British public has been the subject of a mass experiment in the use of strategies that operate ‘below their level of awareness’ that they have made a formal complaint to their professional body, which will now rule on whether government advisers have been guilty of a breach of ethics.”
Rayner’s tone is indicative of good—we might cheekily say, skeptical—journalism, whereas I am in no mood whatsoever to be so even-handed in this honestly marketed editorial. Without even getting into the hilariously nonsensical Science TM that underpinned these decisions, it is clear enough that this was propaganda, and I fear it is about to get much, much worse: more intense in terms of the social pressure it attempts to catalyze, as well as more dishonest in terms of it resting this time on known untruths rather than unknown ones.
This is what is going to happen—indeed what you can already see is starting to happen: We are going to be told that the lockdown was a “success” because of the vaccines.
In the United Kingdom, in particular, this will intentionally and fallaciously be intermingled with praise for the effectiveness of the vaccine rollout and an association of all these features with the NHS, the church of our new national religion.
It pains me to have to say the following, and I do so less so for the majority of readers and more to pre-empt criticism that disingenuously takes extracts of this article out of context, but the vaccines are a scientific wonder and a testament to human ingenuity. For readers who are unaware, the combination of relatively recent advances in driving down the cost of genetic sequencing and biochemical engineering led to a working vaccine being discovered four whole days after the virus itself was first isolated for analysis. Amazingly, this was done without the virus being physically present in the laboratory that discovered and manufactured the vaccine.
These very same breakthroughs are already being transferred promisingly to potential cures for Malaria and HIV. If there is a silver lining to be found in this nightmare, it is surely this astonishing advance for science and humanity. Contrary to the prevailing mood and largely unthinkingly pro-lockdown media narrative, this is also a testament to the power of capitalism, given the scale and cost of resources both developed patiently over decades and mobilized near instantaneously—neither of which competencies can be realistically claimed of any government.
For something so allegedly “scientific,” why are null hypotheses never given serious consideration? Can we know what would have happened without a lockdown?
In fact, one wonders how many lives might have been saved from COVID-19 had the government-imposed trial period not been waved for any responsible adult willing to take an experimental vaccine, having understood the risks and rewards for themselves? Such a fascinating discussion is sadly outside of the scope of this article. I would suggest the rough explanation for this (and for many other open questions) is that governments will trigger-happily ban anything with easily foreseeably negative consequences that can be tied to them explicitly and will care not a jot about anything with more complicated or nuanced repercussions. This is to say, they only care about appearances, and this, in turn, explains the importance of propaganda. Governments need to be re-elected, after all.
I will instead wonder aloud just how much damage the lockdowns caused and why this is mysteriously never acknowledged or accounted for by the government. As I mentioned—and to this point—the media mysteriously had no cause to pick up on the enormous civil rights protest just two weeks ago. For something so allegedly “scientific,” why are null hypotheses never given serious consideration? Can we know what would have happened without a lockdown? Can we explain what happened in Belarus and Sweden? Why are excess deaths per capita in Sweden in 2020 the seventh-lowest in recorded history? Why has Belarus had fewer total deaths from COVID-19 than the United Kingdom has had daily new cases for the better part of a year? Can we explain the disparities in outcome between states in the United States with and without mask mandates? Why has New York suffered so much more than Florida? I am not suggesting that I know the answers to these questions, but I find it rather odd that asking them in the first place seems beyond our supposedly free market for journalism and more or less a major faux pas for the average person as well.
Back to the United Kingdom, the Civitas working paper, The Cost Of The Cure, estimates a cost to the Treasury alone of £473 billion, a 2.45m increase in unemployment over pre-pandemic levels, 20,000 lives lost from delayed treatments, 17,000 additional domestic violence cases between March 2020 and June 2020 alone, significant increases in clinical depression and substance abuse, and an unquantifiable but clearly horrifying effect on the education of children not only kept out of school but effectively imprisoned. And these are only easily measurable consequences. There are countless tragic cases of undiagnosed illnesses that would have been easily caught by general practitioners but which instead worsened in isolation, particularly among the vulnerable to COVID-19 who were too terrified to seek in-person medical attention.
My own criticisms are easily framed in light of this information. I am not advocating anarchy, that we simply abandon government altogether and rely on social bootstrapping via Facebook and NextDoor. But surely it would have cost significantly less than £473 billion to provide focused care and protection to the most vulnerable—rather than doing less than nothing, as described—while letting everybody else get on with their lives or, shock horror, helping the vulnerable? And while every death is, of course, a tragedy, given the average age of death not even from COVID-19 but merely with COVID-19 in the United Kingdom is higher than the British life expectancy, it would likely not have been too difficult to figure out who was truly vulnerable and for whom COVID-19 would, in fact, have caused little more than a bad flu. Of course, this would all have required thinking through cause and effect, opportunity cost, and complicated and nuanced repercussions. It would have contributed to precisely nobody’s re-election. I apologize once again for my naiveté.
However, this does seem to me to point the way to an explanation for all of this that is at once more cynical and yet more personal. It is a kind of methodologically individualist explanation that avoids the explanatory necessity of conspiracy. The propaganda campaign I predict is coming—or that we might think is simply the natural evolution of what we have already suffered for over a year now—is a weapon of class warfare. Those individuals who work in government and media, which is to say, those influencing and making decisions, are the least affected by the decisions being made. Many will, in fact, have benefited if it has turned out their jobs can be done more easily or more productively from home, or if they are involved with digital enterprises that have taken an unprecedented share of their markets at the expense of local brick-and-mortar businesses. Full disclosure: I am precisely such a person, but I at least have the good sense to be ashamed of it.
To these people, lockdown has been a raging success. To everybody else, it has been an unmitigated disaster. Even exclusively in terms of the virus, it has very probably saved no lives, and it has very probably cost many. It replaced bottom-up, local knowledge and real, meaningful relationships with diktats from an impersonal and provably incompetent central body, whose child-like idea of how best to prevent disaster is literally to freeze everything until the threat goes away. See no evil, hear no evil; go to a happy place until everything is better.
Oh but, by the way, that happy place must be your home. And we do not know when things will be better. But if you disagree, you are killing grandmas. And look! It was all a success. Nothing to see here; everybody get back to normal. Sorry about destroying your life’s work, and sorry your grandma died anyway. But you don’t want to kill grandmas, do you? You don’t hate the NHS, do you? You don’t hate science, do you?
This is coming. Don’t fall for it. And don’t tolerate it either.