I fear huge swathes of the British citizenry like lockdowns, dutifully tolerating them not out of charity, but perverted relish. It’s one of a clutch of unsettling theories that lurk in my bludgeoned noggin, and I refer to lockdowns in the present tense because although
Freedom Bullshit Day was our supposed emancipation from the tyranny of NPIs (non-pharmaceutical interventions) we’ve merely been released on parole; our electronic ankle-monitors ready to ping us randomised variants of the existing directives at will – reward for a hijack well tolerated.
Beyond the sphere of individual suffering lies a far graver concern: that of the cowed collective. How, as a bewildered herd, have we managed to allow ourselves to be driven to this crossroads of social-upheaval sans communal scrutiny; where we now mooch about grazing on the dust of austerity, awaiting further instruction.
It’s a fascinatingly creepy scenario to find oneself in, when from amongst one’s own immediate clan, eliciting an enthusiastic engagement on the topic of NPIs as an overreach of state control, can often be likened to protecting one’s children from a roaring hearth with a chocolate fireguard – futile and messy. The Indifference Fatality Rate towards our new Health and Safety regime of castigating House-Prefects, at whose bullying insults and searing thwacks with an iron rule we are all being rapidly disarmed and dismantled, is sinister indeed. In US colleges, fraternities and sororities – those schismatic clubs for the little boys and girls of big parents – are called things like Alpha, Beta, and Delta. Now where have I heard those before? Oh yes, at my last detention. I thought I’d left school long ago. Apparently I’ve been re-drafted.
There could be manifold explanations for such overt displays of boredom at one’s own inglorious re-programming: business may be thriving not collapsing, or furlough gave respite from perpetual economic conscription. SEISS grants helped pay for a VW camper, or seeing less people out and about grew to become peaceful, and not indicative of the apocalypse. Maybe self-isolation pings keep mercifully thwarting unwanted commitments, or that in all seriousness, more time with the kids has ultimately provided a valuable opportunity to strengthen familial bonds. But no school + no work + furlough = mouth stuffed with the gold of indifference.
Many persist in cocooning themselves inside the oxygen-depleted illusion that their lives haven’t really changed much at all since last March, aside from a few pesky-but-surmountable annoyances scattered arbitrarily here and there about their well-furrowed pathways – like pre-set landmines.
I was like that once, primarily because there was nobody within my own environment of human interaction prodding me into considering otherwise. It can be quite some ask for a weary conscript to contribute to a debate that he doesn’t even know exists. I guess I have the phantasm Ofcom to thank for robbing me blind of at least six months of my own analytical autonomy. Truly terrifying then, to wonder at just how many years I may already have lost chasing the barren ambitions of Parliament’s shadowy cabinet of other one-dimensional, door-slamming apparitions. Exorcising them without assistance can be a horror-show: you’re unaware the house is haunted. You’re a spectre of a man: discarnate, and thus complicit.
We like petrifying ourselves witless on the horror genre though. And so after 16 months of quite obviously crippling injunctions that appear to have been lifted straight out of a medically-themed Beano annual, those opting to muck in with the exorcism and not the sacrificial Black Mass of beastly social-controls, can still be cast out regardless into the desert of psychosis by their own local parish – to join the other party-pooping do-gooders – for, it seems, attempting to pull the plug on Government’s ghost-train of ghastly guidelines.
It appears everyday is a rollercoaster of tantalisingly-terrifying cliff-hangers in Gulagshire: ‘Enjoy all the intoxicating dread of a labour camp from the comfort of your very own living-room! What will happen next?!’ I thought I’d stopped playing violent fantasy games long ago. Apparently I’m now a character in one.
‘It is what it is’ usually rears its ugly bonce as notification of banishment into the wilderness, but the response truly beyond the pale is the complete and utter termination of topic that occurs when one drops a counter-narrative, factual nugget into the conversational fryer – the wall of silence. If not the wall, then its messaging equivalent: a hasty sign-off in the form of a single, nerve-shredding fist-bump emoji. Remember way-back-when, in the dusty recesses of your memory, you thought it comical to greet someone with an elbow or foot-bump? I struggle to hold back the vomit of recollection, especially when our new parents do it with such taunting, dismissive frequency.
Utilising the very same gizmo used by Government to cajole us into communion with Satan himself, ‘nowadays’ one can download a damning document from their very own often commendably forthright website, the gist of which might read: ‘I despise thee shit-heel, prepare thine-self to suffer my wrath’, then calmly show it to a friend and observe baffled, as they squirm in the face of your meddling – agitated at such an invasive, cunning and underhanded manoeuvre. It’s as if you’re playing devil’s advocate only for your own twisted entertainment – except that Old
Nick Boris doesn’t advocate you, and neither does anyone want to play; with anything other than the Ouija-board of banality.
At its clumsy core, what I’m referring to is not an unrealistic expectation that all resentment of un-focused NPIs be met with immediate, sympathetic agreement. What I’m talking about is talking, or the absence thereof: the total unwillingness to gently converse, playfully debate, or animatedly wrestle with the quite astonishing plight we’re facing, as if that particular area of the listener’s brain has been removed, but yet it’s the speaker who feels lobotomised.
Propaganda and normalisation are the clearest, most obvious explanations: NPIs have been woven into the minutiae of our daily lives for so long that they are fast becoming a part of its fabric, creating a comfort-blanket-ban on dissent that keeps us snugly free from the palaver of rekindling the rebelliousness of our youth. It goes way deeper than that though.
As a herd we seem thoroughly confounded by the rigors and challenges set us by a will untethered. Our salvific lamps of self-determination now burn our eyes instead of lighting our way. This is an unfortunate state of being that it’s important to remember existed also in the pre-NPI era; in abundance. We’ve fallen into the trap of believing that pre-covid we were free, and that midst covid, this liberty has been only temporarily curtailed.
Un-focused NPIs are like a harsh sun, whose energy is being concentrated through the magnifying glass that hangs static in the troposphere above our homes; scorching us – the ants of the hoi polloi – into indifference by toasting our self-governance. That magnifying glass has always been there, but now that the Establishment have figured out how to tinker with the sun’s thermostat, shade is a commodity more precious than ever, and is best sought out BEFORE one begins turning to spineless ash. But offer a man an umbrella it seems, and he’ll look at you like you’re Mary Poppins.
We’ve always delighted in banging endlessly on about how tired we are, how busy we are; how stressed, depressed, muddled and tied-down we feel. There’s a certain familiar safety in griping about our oft-self-made mess; a sense of fellowship within the fraternity of disenfranchised droids – we’re all in it together. We don’t need Boris to invoke the spirit of the Blitz, we’re quite capable of doing that all by ourselves. We enjoy pulling together to bombard our sovereignty to smithereens, as the invisible enemy howls with laughter. We’re experts at it, and have been doing it for years. We are EastEnders incarnate – a neighbourhood of self-flagellating, nosy nihilists for whom angst is a tonic, and redemption a fusty old word from the Bible.
Give the average Little Britainer true liberty and he wouldn’t have the faintest idea what to do with it. If anything, and after a week in Majorca, he’d run a mile and then belly-flop into the nearest dilemma so as to avoid an irksome confrontation with the fuss of withdrawing his consent – the chaotic Kat Slaters and Grant Mitchells of the Propagandacene epoch, who twitch at the very notion of tribal serenity.
We’ll cheerily regurgitate an entire dossier upon what we’re having for dinner. Our toddlers could be sizzling and popping in the hearth as we one-pointedly comb a gas-barbecue forum. And we’ll regale each other until our mouths run dry with tales of work mishaps, pub gossip, and the zany events of our past. But broach the forbidden topic of lockdowns and up comes the impenetrable wall of silence – to protect against the Palestine of a harmless, amiable confab on the demerits of our own degradation, and help crush the virus of self-determination.
In this way, and with every aspect of our lives now apparently governed by the scientific equivalent of The Bash Street Kids, the herd feels less inclined to dissect the riddles of existence; less attracted to philosophy, and harbours distaste for discussions on morality, ethics – and consequences. It’s just not entertaining. And if our new, invented household of unsparing supervisors – who appear to have grafted themselves onto the ancestry of every family tree in the land, like long-lost, warty-nosed witches – are vanquishing the major threats to us on our behalf, then we no longer need mystify and befuddle ourselves with our own protective strategies, and can get on with the real business of life – living.
‘Protect me Parliament. Shield me SAGE. Guide me SPI-B; that I may be free to pursue the hallucination of my own agendas, and focus single-mindedly on a life well-lived‘. Quite what will constitute a life well-lived in a few decades or less is anybody’s guess, but if the Indifference Fatality Rate doesn’t drop, then one can rest assured that it’ll be indiscriminate oppression right to the bitter end – an irreversible, cast-iron guarantee.
Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime. Invite a man to chew the fat over the potential perils of the waters in which he fishes, and he’ll trade his nets in for a cattle-prod. ‘Fishing’s not for me’, he’ll say with his silence; totally unaware that the movement beneath his skiff is not the ocean, but the tectonic plates of grievous geopolitics shifting beneath his sofa.
Considering the devastating collateral damage of our ruinously-captivating addiction to the satanic cult of punitive NPIs, then from a purely philosophical perspective, and not desiring to sow discord, at what point do insouciant members of your tribe – revolted at the dreariness of self-rule – become the enemy?
If the use of such NPIs escalates to become a permanent feature of our lives, at what point will the phantasmagoria of THEIR EastEnders become YOUR real-life Silence of the Lambs?
Chiselling away at the wall of silence: infuriating, but by Christ critical. I don’t believe any of us, deep down, really wants to end up a paid extra in a snuff movie.