Searching for Understanding in the face of Power and Propaganda: The Impossible Dream
I had a dream last night. Hardly newsworthy but personally troubling. In truth my sleep is often disturbed by nocturnal neurosis. I’m forever anxious in the scenarios summoned up by my unconscious, forever forgetting, forever failing to fulfil tasks or promises, forever letting myself down. Now and again the tales are so real I awake suffused with dread about my comeuppance, thankfully followed by a huge sigh of relief as reality sets in. This feeling of release is almost worth the worrying somnolent journey.
Last night’s dream was a warning. Indeed it was stuffed full of shots across my bow. Friends, comrades and acquaintances, old and new, offered their advice in a variety of styles from a concerned Rogerian whisper to an insistent authoritative instruction. Their recommendations were mouthed in a diversity of settings – a staff meeting, a conference, a trade union demo, the pub or indeed the living room. The message went along the lines of ‘keep your counsel’, ‘best to let all this go’, ‘would be wiser to keep a back seat’ and ‘just shut up about it’. ‘It’ was questioning the COVID narrative.
Unravelling why I was thus reprimanded hardly needed a psychoanalyst. Yesterday I was messing around with a couple of interrelated bits of writing focused on the benefits and deficits of pandemic-led social policy. In particular I was looking at the impact upon children and young people of the closure of schools and youth provision. All the more so as UNISON had underlined in its call for the return of face masks in secondary school classrooms and the reintroduction of “bubbles” the deeply problematic character of the regimes being imposed even when schools are open. As I scribbled, a long-standing trade union activist I was very conscious of treading on thin ice. The more I mused the more critical I became of the stance of both UNISON and the National Education Union [NEU], which seemed to be profoundly at odds with a commitment to pupils and students. I was feeling nervous about how I was going to explain my disagreement.
Then, despite my effort to ignore the news, my Chromebook threw up a notification of the latest SAGE doom-mongering modelling. Reluctantly I visited the Guardian web site to read.
The scale of the threat posed by the Omicron variant was laid bare by government scientists last night as they warned that there are now hundreds of thousands of infections every day. That daily number could reach between 600,000 and 2 million by the end of the month if new restrictions are not brought in immediately. broad
The government’s SPI-M-O group of scientists, which reports to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), also warned that, based on their modelling, hospitalisations could peak between 3,000 and 10,000 a day and deaths at between 600 and 6,000 a day.
I bridled at their stupefying arrogance in claiming that a speculation of ‘between 600 and 6,000 deaths a day’ was somehow scientific. A soothsayer could hardly do worse. I felt anxious and hopeless. The spectre of authoritarianism was returning to haunt both the present and the future.
The advisers suggested reintroducing measures “equivalent to those in place after step 2 or step 1 of the roadmap in England”. Rules at that time included the “rule of six” and just two households meeting; they also barred holidays abroad, while care-home residents were allowed only one regular visitor.
Reviving its role as the Ministry of Fear SAGE marketed a return to a Stage 1 clampdown by suggesting that ‘infections could be limited to between 200,000 and a million a day. Hospitalisations could run at between 1,500 and 5,000 admissions a day and daily deaths would be 200 to 2,000′.
The size and scope of this propaganda stopped me in my tracks. As ever the tame media obeyed the whip, trotting out the cliches – tidal waves and avalanches of cases. Is it any wonder there are a lot? This last week 9,390,590 tests were carried out. Of these 513,574 tested positive, which as we know doesn’t tell us a great deal in terms of the severity of the symptoms. An alternative headline could be ‘almost 9 million people didn’t have COVID’ but that’s hardly the issue. More to the point is that on the back of very limited early data on the OMICRON variant we rush to impose restrictions that have still not been tested for their effectiveness.
Now and again I wake from a dream gasping for breath, believing I am being smothered. I felt something similar, a tightening chest, as I took in the long queues for the all but mandatory booster, reflecting that they were less than likely to be consulted before being jabbed. Wondering too, on what basis have so many embraced apparently the oft confused and inconsistent hegemonic narrative? Matthias Desmet, the Belgian Professor of Psychology at Ghent University advances the notion that those supportive of the dominant version of events are in a state of collective hypnosis. My intuition is to resist such a sweeping generalisation about why people think and act in the ways they do. I am more sympathetic to his view that in an individualistic society bereft of a vision for the future even the imposition from above of a sense of solidarity has furnished a collective purpose, a reason for existence. As of now this an important discussion for another day.
Back to last night I found myself in the wake of the media storm, embarrassed to be thinking, “perhaps I’ll leave posting these thoughts till after Xmas, to when things die down a little.” ‘Why,” I asked myself guiltily? “What on earth are you bothered about?” Weary I retreated to my bed, to be beset therein by the troubling dreams.
This morning, having walked our Glyka and, for her, made the porridge, glistening with honey, I discerned the wood for the trees. The questions asked of me by my ghostly friends were but my own to myself. One in particular leapt out, voiced in the dream by a close comrade of many years. The interlocutor began by pointing out that across fifty years in the youth work world as worker, manager, lecturer and activist I had achieved a decent reputation. Yes, I was seen as something of a radical maverick but a likeable one at that. My friend’s tone altered. Didn’t I realise that challenging the lockdowns, the vaccines will be regarded as siding with the Right, worst of all as abandoning all you have stood for? They warned, if you go any further down this path, you will be cancelled.
Knowing this was in fact what I was thinking myself when I sought sleep last night felt sobering and liberating. Reputations, intact or tattered, are the province of the beholders. Across the last 20 months men and women, high and low, have risked their careers and livelihoods to speak out against tyranny. Proof of the tyrannical nature of society today is the suppression of the ideas and the assassination of the characters of those in opposition to what’s going on. In this context my overnight self-centred anxiety is pathetic. However in its ordinariness it does reveal the obstacles we face in mounting resistance to the creeping toralitarianism, which threatens to be the new norm. There will be so many, who disagree with the present state of affairs but who fear for their jobs and families, scared to speak out.
For what it’s worth, settling my debts, at least for now with my debilitating dream means I will risk getting on the wrong side, being on the wrong side.
More than ever I think we are at a pivotal moment in history.
As I finish this quasi-confessional, Austria has rendered ‘vaccinations’ mandatory with Germany about to follow in its neighbour’s footsteps. The new German Chancellor is quoted as saying, “for my government there are no more red lines as far as doing what needs to be done.” ‘Covid passes’ have been approved in France and the UK. Here in Greece ‘unvaccinated’ pensioners will be fined directly by reducing the amount of their state-pension payments. Whilst in the Victoria State of Australia ‘unvaccinated’ teachers will not be paid during the summer holidays and will be sacked in April if they do not comply with compulsory inoculation. Perhaps I should compile a more extensive account of the heavy-handed measures being taken across the globe. The list goes on….
Democracy faces Dictatorship
Humane, emotional, spiritual and intellectual freedom faces Inhumane, cold, mechanical and behavioural slavery.
For what it’s worth I’ll keep going on about ‘IT’ – in spite of the voices in my dreams.