When several 5G masts were attacked during the early pre-lockdown panic, images of pitchfork-carrying retards reverting to primitive superstitions were instantly evoked – y’know, the kind that spot a train in the distance and cry ‘Iron horse! Tis the Devil’s work!’ All the backwoods backwards clichés employed in everything from ‘The Wicker Man’ and ‘Deliverance’ to ‘The League of Gentlemen’ came to the fore, even though the source of this misguided hysteria was the ultimate contemporary tool, i.e. our very own global Speakers’ Corner. Even without the odious David Icke (and online channels that shamelessly promote him to boost their revenues), cyberspace is hardly short on wild conspiracy theories or fiction presented as fact; but so much internet output is geared towards confirming whatever one already chooses to believe and disbelieve that it’s no real wonder this is the case.
Crackpot writings on the Holocaust or the Moon Landings were once restricted to discredited historians and scientists whose works were in the hands of a tiny minority of pseudo-academic fruitcakes; but, as we have seen over the past 20 years, the spread of information via the 21st century’s superhighway means everything can now reach anybody. While those who propagate insane, nonsensical theories may be as deluded and demented as their hardcore devotees, they have nevertheless cannily tapped in to something that reaches a far wider audience – the destabilising uncertainties of our times, wherein nothing appears to be as it once seemed. Exploiting a climate spiked with cynicism and disillusionment courtesy of successive exposés of actual corruption at the highest levels of society’s institutions – politics, royalty, the church, the police, the press – the conspiracy theorists long ago twigged that when the people believe nothing, they’ll believe anything.
The guilty parties to blame for this situation, for abusing their power and presuming their wealth or status would insulate them from exposure, cannot be surprised at the monster they’ve created. Every politician caught with his hand in the till or his trousers round his ankles, every priest preaching damnation to sinners and then found fiddling with an altar-boy when the service is over, every public health ‘expert’ extolling the merits of social distancing to the masses and then discovered spurning them in private, every police commissioner turning a blind eye to grooming gangs whilst ‘checking the thinking’ of the person behind a tweet questioning the crazed logic of a trans-activist – all plant seeds of despair, despondency, anger and outrage in the minds of the public and tell them nobody holding a position that was once imbued with respect can be trusted anymore. When there are no moral barometers, people seek a truth that reinforces their suspicions, whether it’s true or not. They need something reassuring to cling to.
So, it’s no great leap of the imagination when the world is placed in unprecedented suspended animation that many desperately looking for an answer will fall for any tall story. The more governments try to cover their tracks and withhold as much as they can from their populace, the more they leave themselves open to accusations both wild and legitimate, and China is an obvious target in the current situation. Despite protracted arse-licking on the part of the World Health Organisation and Google employing the kind of censorious approach to associating Covid-19 with China as certain sections of the left adopt whenever anyone dares to criticise elements of Islam, it’s inevitable China’s undoubted culpability in the coronavirus pandemic will not only receive genuine and warranted examination, but will also provoke fantastical theories sold as the truth.
Yet, even when one takes a step back from the more extreme allegations aimed at exposing the causes behind something that has left the people of the world dazed and confused and feeling like they’re not being told everything, the impact of the lockdown has exacerbated the inherent mistrust and dislike of one’s neighbours that is always just below the surface of many, pushing it beyond the pale in a way that probably wouldn’t have happened under normal circumstances. For all the doorstep clapping and pots-and-pans-banging that supposedly sums up the ‘we’re all in it together’ coronavirus community, the simultaneous snitching that has evolved from traditional curtain-twitching has played into the hands of police forces loving the new powers to extend their jurisdiction in dealings with the man, woman, child and rough-sleeper in the street, which is hardly the basis for a jolly Blitz Spirit.
And there are also the ‘lockdown fundamentalists’, those who not only call the cops if they catch sight of more than two pedestrians at a time outside their homes, but who have taken it upon themselves to take more direct action. I suspect the same yahoos who regarded 5G masts as evil transmitters of the yellow peril are responsible for the latest guerrilla tactics in the unlikely environs of North Yorkshire. Home-made ‘man-traps’ – gruesome blocks of wood packed with nails – have been discovered in various woodlands in Cleveland that are now routinely used as locations for allocated daily strolls and meanders by householders needing to get out of their houses. These horrible objects have led to warnings for the public to be vigilant when venturing into the likes of Margrove Woods and Guisborough Forest; and police in the region have apparently spoken to an unnamed ‘former parish councillor and retired teacher’ who admitted to being responsible for what was described as a blockade of branches and rocks on a cyclist trail.
I have a feeling the North East probably isn’t unique when it comes to such OTT means of preventing people from making the most of what little outdoor life they can grab. Police have apparently stepped up their patrols of the affected locations, but the initial online police ‘shaming’ of isolated dog-walkers wandering the vast open plains of Derbyshire perhaps didn’t help matters and only served to fuel the fire in the bellies of the easily unhinged. A steady diet of corona-news, whatever the media medium, is not especially healthy even for those of us not prone to hammering nails in blocks of wood and then scattering them in woodlands frequented by more members of the public than usual; but the relentless cycle of doom ‘n’ gloom on a loop becomes for some a disturbingly addictive justification for their antisocial actions.
Personally, I can handle all this stuff in small doses. I haven’t cut myself off completely from news outlets, for it’s helpful to know what’s happening out there – and it’s obviously necessary when it comes to writing one of these posts. But you can have too much of a bad thing. Whatever our individual circumstances, we’re all living with aspects of this on a daily basis even when we’re not checking headlines; and we need a breather – well, many breathers, to be honest. It’s just a bummer if we decide to take a breather by strolling through the woods and end up in A&E, no doubt occupying a bed that could be occupied by someone infected with a certain virus that the lockdown fundamentalists would regard as more deserving. Now, that’s ironic, Alanis.
© The Editor