I bumped into an old acquaintance I hadn’t seen for a while a few days ago; the current climate was naturally unavoidable as a topic of conversation, and some of what was said showed how a distinct scepticism has certainly crept into discourse now. He echoed reports that emerged last week when he spoke of a friend working in the NHS who’d confirmed the stats over Covid-19 deaths were definitely being doctored. One report I’d heard of even before this chat essentially stated that anyone finding themselves in hospital with the mildest coronavirus symptoms could depart with a clean bill of health, be run over and killed by a bus outside the building, and the death would then be registered as a Covid fatality. It’s difficult not to conclude that a high death doll is necessary in order to justify the more severe curbs on civil liberties, so a high death toll is therefore manufactured.
History suggests conspiracy theories tend to thrive whenever society is destabilised by events that seem inexplicable; such events invariably emphasise the powerlessness of the people to dictate their destiny, which is never reassuring. Add mistrust and suspicion of official explanations and it’s easy to see how this void of reassurance can give credence to any wild speculation in the craving to find meaning. Back in the days when God was credited with every calamity to befall mankind, the Almighty himself was immune from prosecution because he’d only ever act if provoked by man; therefore man – or woman – had to be punished in His absence. In the 17th century, God’s law enforcers often ended up at the doorstep of witches. By enacting the ritual of hauling any nominated spinster before a kangaroo court and inevitably proclaiming her guilt before executing her, the masses found a momentary means of regaining control of a narrative that had been stolen from them.
Widespread illiteracy amongst those not employed by the Church meant the controllers of knowledge had the power to weaponise the written word; if the people didn’t trust their leaders, they had no option but to trust God’s representatives on earth. Interpretations of ambiguous passages from the Holy Book could vary according to the context; but those in search of something usually found what they were looking for – as interpreters of all Holy Books continue to do. In an age of mass communication and far wider literacy, the controllers of knowledge may now be largely secular, but the weaponising of the written word is just as commonplace – and the room for wild speculation remains as potent as ever; ongoing conspiracy theories surrounding JFK or 9/11 are testament to that. And now we have a fresh source for the conspiracy theory industry as the extreme measures supposedly taken to combat a killer virus that may well have killed far fewer people than we’ve been led to believe are being questioned.
Yes, many of us were doubtful of how serious this virus was before lockdown, but the unprecedented actions of government made a few think again. For me, the suspension of the football season for only the third time in its 130-odd-year history was a significant signal that this was serious; after all, it had taken two World Wars to cause that before. And then Boris’s broadcast to the nation and the sudden transformation of every major UK city into a ghost-town – one came to the conclusion that this wouldn’t have been done unless there were sound reasons for it. The overnight construction of the Nightingale hospitals, the deification of the NHS, the abrupt solitary confinement of millions, the closing of school-gates, the deserted workplaces, the empty supermarket shelves, the socially-distanced queues of those desperately seeking loo rolls, TV shows reduced to Zoom chats, people with unlimited time on their hands and no idea what to do with it – but we were assured there were sound reasons.
Our glorious leaders have gained greater powers over the people than they could ever have imagined, and all without a shot being fired in anger. Of course, some corners of the country have tried to extend their control via legislation – the SNP’s proposed hate crime laws currently being scrutinised at Holyrood are merely the latest draconian efforts by an especially nasty little administration; but even Sturgeon’s tartan army couldn’t have expected to get away with the measures coronavirus has gifted them. This is for our own good, we are told. So we comply. As I write this paragraph, ‘Final Score’ is on the TV and the images are of Aston Villa players celebrating avoiding relegation; there must be over a dozen of them clambering over each other in a euphoric, hugging mass. Yet no supporters are allowed in the stadium to mirror their heroes’ behaviour; and when they do so outside the ground, they are condemned for breaking social distancing rules. None of those Villa players are wearing masks, yet we must when we go shopping and we won’t be acting like celebrating footballers in the aisles at Sainsbury’s either; we’ll be keeping our distance.
When my local florist reopened, I popped in because I’d missed the scent of fresh flowers. However, intending to pay by cash – i.e. ‘dirty money’ – was something evidently frowned upon; but it was cash or nothing. In my attempts to place said cash on the counter, I literally overstepped the mark and the shop assistant backed away as though I had a pistol in my hand. I’m not someone who gets off on scaring people; fear in the eyes unnerves rather than bolsters me, so I immediately retreated and did my best to stretch to the counter from the furthest distance I could manage. What might be called ‘all this palaver’ is enough to make me not bother going into shops at all; and if I didn’t need to eat, I probably wouldn’t.
The argument against my reaction is that I’m making a big deal about nothing, and that doing as you’re told via following the official guidelines means you’re saving lives. What lives, exactly? Surely not those with genuinely life-threatening conditions that are being denied necessary medical treatment because everything has been put on ice to accommodate the imaginary avalanche of coronavirus victims; in other cases, the avoidance of hospitals has been self-imposed due to the fears of catching that which we’re not allowed to call ‘the Chinese lurgy’ because that’s racist. I hate myself for thinking, ‘I bet there were some in Nazi Germany who were informed they suddenly had to wear the Star of David on their jackets and said it was no big deal ‘cause everyone else was wearing them’. But that’s the problem with a situation as strange as this; the reference points tend to tap into the outrageous claims of the dreaded conspiracy theory mindset and once you’re there, anything is possible.
Some of the statements to have grabbed clickbait headlines of late suggest certain public health ‘experts’ would be more than happy for even the minor relaxation of measures to be reined in and for the more severe ones to be reinstated for the foreseeable future. Talk of the end of the year or the middle of next year before any resumption of genuine normality can be achieved supports the plague narrative; and without that narrative, the justification for the last four months utterly evaporates. It’s no wonder many who derive their newfound public profile from it are continuing to pedal the propaganda. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what the f**k to believe anymore; I’m just as dazed and confused as everyone else on this flat earth. See what I mean?
© The Editor