“There will be 500,000 deaths in the UK.”
Neil Ferguson, Imperial College. March 16, 2020
“The perceived level of threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent. using hard-hitting emotional messaging.”
SAGE [SPI-B]. March 22, 2020
“The coronavirus is the biggest threat this country has faced for decades. All over the world, we are seeing the devastating impact of this invisible killer. From this evening I must give the British people a very simple instruction – you must stay at home.”
Boris Johnson, March 23, 2020
These three utterances capture the conscious hyperbole and calculated cynicism inherent in the outpourings of both politicians and their hand-picked experts at the beginning of 2020. Despite the pronouncements of the World Health Organisation [WHO] and Patrick Vallance, the UK’s Chief Scientific Advisor [March 13, 2020], ‘a very mild illness for nearly all of us’, the die was cast. The people of the UK, man, woman and even child, were to be frightened, terrorised. That they knew little of what they should be afeard was by the by. The people were deemed too ignorant to understand. The democratic notion that they should be informed and decide upon the appropriate response, nothing but absurd. This was war and only the High Command could possibly know what was best.
“Is there any means known more effective than war, assuming you wish to alter the life of an entire people?” — minutes of the Carnegie Foundation, 1908.
As for the enemy, the virus did not play fair. It could not be bombed, or even. so it proved. vaccinated out of existence. The virus itself was irritated by the abstract name by which it was designated, COVID-19, but pleased as its offspring were graced with Greek epithets, Alpha, Beta, Delta. How long might this go on – even unto Zita? In truth, the virus doubted such a historic possibility. Its impact upon the mass of unfortunates who crossed its path was in the main little out of the ordinary – headache, cough, temperature, tiredness, lack of taste, the shivers if badly affected, hardly anything if not. Its forefathers and mothers had inflicted much the same. In truth the virus felt a mite guilty, its conscience pricked. Here, there and everywhere, in the end, COVID-19 was primarily a deathly problem for the old and/or vulnerable with underlying complications. The virus thought they were too easy a target for a pathogen, said to be an existential threat to humanity.
In Greece, where I live, as of November 1, 52 deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours, bringing the overall total of pandemic victims to 15,990. Of these, 95.4% had an underlying condition and/or were aged 70 or over. The official percentage figure is typical across Europe
It is time to put aside my personalization of the virus. Not least because treating the virus as a sentient being has been a staple throughout the mainstream narrative. The virus, it is said, has closed schools, youth groups and playgrounds, pubs and restaurants, parks and gyms. Indeed in its cunning, it leaves you alone when dining, mask set aside but stalks you to the toilet if you forget the face covering. For the virus is struck dumb in the face of masks, worn properly or otherwise, rendered impotent. Why this plastic face cloth should warn off the virus is irretrievably woven into the mythology of the pandemic. Evidence for its efficacy is thin on the ground – see Part Four of this rant. However the manufactured tension between the masked and the maskless, the good and the bad, the obedient and disobedient, the responsible and irresponsible has been deeply divisive. It has turned us against each other, serving to distract our attention from those who are responsible for the 18-month worth of imposed interventions into our daily existence. Divide and rule so the old saying goes. As I write the unvaccinated in Greece are being denied access indoors to kafenia and tavernas, the beating heart of community life.
All of which returns us into the arrogant hands of the medical and behavioural experts gathered together in March 2020. Pompously they ignored the fundamental premise of a holistic public health policy. This held that when faced with a specific health threat the response must, at one and the same time, deal with the particular whilst taking full account of any actions taken upon the general health of society as a whole. The consequences of this skewed strategy – the impact upon the mental health of so many people, not least children, to take but one example – was criminally ignored until the last few months. I must confess to a distaste for the crocodile tears shed lately. Anyone remotely in touch with the worlds of formal and informal education, health and social care, knew full well that lockdown would be harmful for the younger generation.
No matter, the first national press conference set the scene, a nervous Prime Minister, deprived of buffoonery, flanked by his experts and following an ignorant, one-sided notion of the Science, warned us of catastrophe if we did not do as we were told. The assembled press concurred. These journalists, an embarrassment to their profession, the stenographers of our times, nodded and took dictation. Touching their forelock they asked the meek and mildest of questions. Criticism, even curiosity was frowned upon. The next morning the mainstream media from the Sun to the Guardian shared the shorthand and replicated in unison the government’s propaganda. Labour, desiring to prove its conservative credentials, to be tougher than tough on the virus, parroted the line.
On what you might regard as a flimsy personal aside, the order to stay at home didn’t seem quite right to me. Growing up as a child in the 1950s, Doctor Cull, the community’s and my family’s faithful GP insisted that when I had a cold I should get as much fresh air as possible. Later, in my teens, given my dad worked down the pit, I went with him several times to the Miners’ Convalescent Home in Southport. There we would push many a collier with respiratory problems along the seafront and the length of the magnificent prom. Taken away from the cramped terraced houses of their birth the bracing air was seen as vital to their recovery.
As for the behaviourist vanguard leading the fight, knowing that the virus was nowhere near lethal for the majority, it determined that a marketing strategy was required. The plague needed to be advertised. In the absence of dead bodies on the streets, people might well not pay sufficient notice. The relentless brainwashing was set in motion. The slogans abounded, appealing to a smug sanctity.
STAY HOME, PROTECT THE NHS, SAVE LIVES
PROTECT YOUR LOVED ONES
I WASH MY HANDS TO PROTECT MY NAN
I WASH MY HANDS TO PROTECT MY FAMILY
I WEAR A FACE-COVERING TO PROTECT MY MATES
I MAKE SPACE TO PROTECT YOU
And, almost criminal in their lack of ethical concern.
IF YOU DO GO OUT YOU CAN SPREAD IT. PEOPLE WILL DIE
DON’T KILL GRANNY
CORONAVIRUS. ANYONE CAN GET IT. ANYONE CAN SPREAD IT
DON’T MEET UP WITH MATES. HANGING ABOUT IN PARKS COULD KILL
Without a doubt, these formulaic sound-bites marked young people’s cards in a time-honoured way. If they met in the park or wherever any rise in cases was down to their self-centred insubordination.
When it comes to assessing the ups and downs of the pandemic in statistical terms the mainstream media know only the language of spikes and surges. Nothing is contextualised. The Guardian, once the go-to bastion of liberal, progressive, pluralist journalism carries a daily banner indicating cases, hospitalisations and deaths. These categories are only revelatory if they are broken down. This is never the case. To do so would uncover all manner of inconsistency and distortion. Meanwhile, the Guardian eschews any idea that it should promote a critical exchange between differing analyses of the pandemic predicament. Rather it exudes sneering scorn for any departure from COVID-19 orthodoxy. It sinks to the level of the tabloids in running anecdotes, dripping with an ‘I told you so’ self-righteousness – ‘Anti-vaxxer, dies from Covid’ and ‘Anonymous, agonising parent says her child was bullied at school for having the vaccine.’ On the global scale, it ran in April with headlines such as ‘The system has collapsed’: India’s descent into Covid hell’ accompanied by stock photos of burning pyres of the dead. In fact, the images reflected only the traditional Hindu response to the end of mortality. After two days the Guardian conspicuously forgot about India. The sub-continent’s purpose was served.
The Guardian, the BBC and all profess not a word about the suppression of competing interpretations of the pandemic offered up by a diversity of alternative media sources. Evidently, anyone disputing the mainstream narrative, whatever their prestigious medical credentials or their biography of intellectual integrity is to be contemptuously dismissed as an anti-vaxxer or conspiracy theorist. It matters not that they are neither. The slander is sufficient. Depressingly, leading lights of the Left such as Owen Jones and Paul Mason define dissent as dangerous, even calling for the closing down of criticism. Meanwhile, the unelected, corporate arbiters of truth at Facebook or Google can censor any opinion at odds with the status quo without a questioning murmur. The Guardian, self-styled independent and investigative, remains silent. On April 23, 2020, OFCOM, the UK’s communications regulatory body issued the instruction that health claims contrary to the government’s policies should be perceived as harmful. The censorship is excused by the deeply contrary notion of ‘misinformation’. No such sense of contradiction can be found in the launch in the USA of Good Information Inc by ‘progressive’ billionaires Reid Hoffman, George Soros, and others. The public benefit corporation, led by former Democratic Party strategist, Tara McGowan will fund new media companies and efforts that cut through echo chambers with fact-based information. Presumably with a straight face and without a hint of doubt McGowan says that ‘the group’s goal in the next year is to raise more awareness about immediate solutions to counter disinformation before it spreads.
The behaviourists, intoxicated by their influence, are far from finished. They have hardly begun. On August 31, the Scientific Insights Group led by the influential Susan Michie published ‘Staying ‘Covid-safe’: Proposals for embedding behaviours that protect against Covid-19 transmission in the UK’. It concludes.
Embedding ‘Covid-safe’ behaviours into people’s everyday routines will require a coordinated programme to shape the financial, physical, and social infrastructure in the United Kingdom. Education, regulation, communications, and social marketing, and provision of resources will be required to ensure that all sections of society have the capability, opportunity, and motivation to enact the behaviours long term. [my emphasis]
Michie is quoted widely as stating in a June interview that face coverings and social distancing should become permanent. Much has been made of her four decades-long membership of the British Communist Party. For those of us with a communist disposition, inspired by the young Marx, by Pannekoek, by CLR James, by Castoriadis, by Kropotkin and Bakunin, the vision’s corruption by its all-too understandable connection with the parties of that name is always frustrating. In essence, she is a ‘soft’ Stalinist, a technocrat and social engineer, utterly comfortable with knowing what is best for us. Hers is a bureaucratic collectivism. It is of significance that, starved of the elixir of militancy and clutching at straws, the Left as a whole has been seduced by her top-down version of ‘nudged’ solidarity. The orchestrated Clap For Carers, the apparent widespread adoption of masking has been interpreted as a prefigurative philanthropic expression of class struggle. I am less than convinced. For my part, I have come across, amongst others, the seriously scared, the pragmatic, ‘best comply or I’ll be fined’ and the misanthropic maskaloholics, who see the worst in all of us. Perhaps I’m not seeing the house for the bricks but I’ve not detected much political energy in the compliant. If I get to Part Five I’ll try to tangle with the crucial issues of what we might mean in this tumult by notions of solidarity and resistance.
Michie’s report follows the contemporary mantra ‘that till everyone is safe no one is safe’, which begs more than a few questions. For example, is it possible to be truly alive and fearful of existence? The goal though is to render the desired risk-free behaviour Normal, Easy, Attractive and Routine [NEAR]. There is much fashionable, shallow talk in the report of co-creation and co-production but only if you agree to the behavioural necessities in advance. In reality, the strategy will be delivered through a partnership between the state and corporations, who will deliver and monitor the desired changes in our individual and collective behaviour.
Susan Michie’s politics and ambitions are in tune with the desires of the Great Reset I touched on in Part One of these musings – the passage towards a global-led technocratic and surveillance capitalism. I have little doubt she supports the proposal that some form of global governance has to be achieved, a medium of control requiring ‘scientific’ regulation and a central role for experts. I have every expectation that she will be invited to speak about her research at the next Davos summit.
As I pen the last few words of this cry of concern about the insidious and insistent influence of behaviourism on our lives, the mainstream media continues to collude with its compulsory agenda of anxiety, After all, during the pandemic, the UK government has become its primary source of funding, hand in hand with Big Pharma sponsorship. Once more balanced reporting about the ‘experimental’ vaccines is shunned. In short the media’s unquestioning support for a vaccination programme from almost cradle to grave serves to deepen the divide between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, the latter collapsed into the reprehensible, even sinister category of ‘anti-vaxxers’. I will look more closely at the contentious medical issues raised in Part Four. For the moment the ‘othering’ of those, who for legitimate, informed and thoughtful reasons decline vaccination is deeply disturbing. The enemy is indeed within. It is one another. The SAGE group’s campaign of fear has willfully disregarded the British Psychological Society [BPS] code of ethics. In her formidable book, A State of Fear. Laura Dodsworth draws attention to Gary Sidley, a psychologist, who has challenged the BPS without success. In worrying about the tactics used by SAGE and the implications for our children and grandchildren, he says:
I don’t want to think about that really. It’s not a good place. There is something distinctive about using fear to get people to conform which is so distasteful and ethically unacceptable. Fear impacts on every aspect of our being.
In reality, behaviourism has no such qualms. It spreads its strangulating tentacles worldwide, confident in its certainty and immune to considerations of ethics or politics. It will serve authoritarianism, whatever its ideological hue. To take but the British incarnation the Behavioural Insights Team [BIT], affectionately or otherwise known as the Nudge Unit, initiated by David Cameron in 2010. According to Dodsworth, the Nudge Unit is ‘now a profit-making social purpose limited company with offices in London, Manchester, Paris, New York, Singapore, Sydney, Wellington and Toronto. It has run more than 750 projects and in 2019 alone worked in 31 countries. It has conducted over 1000 workshops for governments around the world, training 20,000 civil servants in behavioural insights.’
If anything it is the debilitating influence of these pseudo-scientific experts that ought to render us fearful rather than cheerful. They are nothing but the purveyors of official propaganda, the enemies of democracy and of the open, argumentative education that creates critical citizens.
By knowing how people think we can make it easier for them to choose what is best for them their families and Society [Thaler and Sunstein  ‘Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth, and happiness]]
.We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society. …In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”
― Edward Bernays, Propaganda, 1928
A passionate riposte is demanded. Bernays’ rationalisation of the status quo refused. We will not be moulded and manipulated. We reject their assumed authority. We are not puppets, the playthings of the powerful. We will decide together in questioning dialogue with one another, what is best for us, our families and society. We commit ourselves to the struggle for an authentic democracy.
[Part Four will examine the medical evidence, whilst Part Five will explore in relation to the pandemic, the slide to authoritarianism and the shift to technocratic capitalism the questions of agency and resistance.]