So, I guess we’re all Spinal Tap now – furtively looking for the door leading to the stage and always ending up back where we started in some anonymous concrete corridor. The perennial state of déjà vu we’ve been living through ever since the very first lockdown is one upon which many words have been lavished, not least on here; yet one reaches a point where it feels as though there’s little new left to say on a subject that has reshaped all our lives to varying degrees over the last couple of years, simply because there isn’t; it’s like watching a recording of the same football match every day and having to write a completely new review of it after every viewing. As we take one step forward and then two back over and over again, the sense of fatigue and utter exhaustion with this never-ending cycle can either push one into resigned compliance whereby there’s no energy remaining to resist, or it can equally intensify one’s anger with the authorities constantly imposing a lifeless design for life mandated by those exempt from living it; but any such anger of this nature generates its own despair, for it has nowhere to go and is ultimately doomed.
In order to maintain any kind of facsimile lifestyle that bears a passing resemblance to life as it used to be, compliance is compulsory – otherwise, you’re out in the cold. The examples of Australia, Austria and Germany are ones that until very recently most would have decried as characteristic of regimes in North Korea or China, certainly not allegedly free democratic societies in Western Europe or the Anglosphere – yet so few critical voices are raised to denounce these outrageous abuses of human rights and civil liberties, least of all from elected leaders of nations founded on the kind of principles that separated the free from the enslaved. The ambivalence of shrugged shoulders at best and the hysterical demand to go even further at worst have provided a real-time history lesson as to how all those distant purveyors of totalitarianism managed to get away with what they did to their people. Anyone who has read books or watched documentaries on the Nazis or the Soviet Union over the last half-century has always been able to do so with a smug detachment that made the crimes committed under those systems typical of a less civilised culture in which the public were somehow not as sophisticated as they are now, because (of course) we’d never fall for any of that.
Stoke fear and panic, introduce emergency measures, ensure the co-operation of media, generate an Us and Them mindset to quell opposition, saturate the population with an advertising campaign to normalise the abnormal, rebrand the meaning of ‘freedom’ so that it comes with oppressive accessories contradicting the former meaning of the word, grind people down to the point where they have no option but to obey and accept the unacceptable, and before you know it we have witnessed a first-hand demonstration of how it’s done. And still there will be millions who cannot see it – just as millions couldn’t see it in the 1930s. Yes, that is how it’s done – and that’s how it was done by all those far away regimes we read and watch documentaries about, all the ones we used to think we would never fall for because we’re so much more sophisticated now.
Perhaps the further time travels from the moment when Hitler or Stalin or Mussolini were present tense, when those to whom such figures existed in living memory are surrendering to mortality, perhaps that’s where the real danger resides. We maintain respectful remembrance by placing wreaths at the foot of monuments every November, yet we cannot recognise those same forces of evil in our own time because they’re nothing like those strange characters our forefathers sacrificed their lives to vanquish; they don’t have comedy moustaches or dress in pseudo-militaristic outfits, for one thing. No, how can one compare Boris or Biden or Macron or Merkel or Trudeau or Arden to Adolph or Uncle Joe or Benito? What they’re doing they’re doing for our own good, with our best interests at heart – they’re not invading other countries or dropping bombs on each other, are they? Of course not; they don’t need to. Their weapons of war are psychological, for what they really share with the old-school dictators is absolute moral certainty, an unshakable conviction that they are right and anyone resistant to their worldview is wrong. There is no middle ground, no myriad grey shades. And only psychopaths have absolute moral certainty; that’s why they’re so dangerous.
Any lingering pretence that either Left or Right is somehow ideologically superior to the other and has exclusive ownership of the moral high ground has been rendered utterly redundant by events since the spring of 2020. In Blighty we supposedly have a Government of the Right, yet an opposition supposedly of the Left has been clamouring for even more repressive measures throughout this period, ones that are utterly at odds with the beliefs the Left has traditionally stood for and extolled. When those beliefs are expressed now, they are shouted down by the Left even louder than the Right – in fact they are reclassified as ‘Right-Wing’. Any critique, however reasoned, is immediately consigned to the flat-earth basket case department housing the rabid anti-vaxxer, the 5G conspiracy theorist, and the Mr Icke range of exceedingly good fruitcakes. One cannot acknowledge the seriousness of Covid to the most vulnerable in society, accept the necessity of vaccinations in keeping the coronavirus to a more manageable level, and yet simultaneously air concerns over the anti-democratic tactics of democratically-elected governments. If you go along with the first two, you have no place going along with the last.
It increasingly appears that those who have profited – not in a financial sense (though many have) – from the situation since the first lockdown are reluctant to relinquish the source of that profit. Why, though, would governments that now have previously-unimaginable control of their people want to let go of it? Why indeed would media outlets that have thrived on the drama of the pandemic saga want to see the final credits roll on a franchise that they’ve done so well out of? Like a lover incapable of accepting a relationship is over desperately struggling to rekindle the romance of its beginnings, the beneficiaries of pandemic Britain see no reason why we cannot carry on instead of moving on; what we wake up to find ourselves confronted by today is effectively the second honeymoon, the lamentable attempt to recapture the halcyon days that are beyond salvaging. Both parties are no longer the same people they were at the start.
Anyone with half-a-brain could foresee that where we are now was inevitable. A new variant pulled out of the hat like the proverbial magician’s rabbit was the most predictable of plotlines, as was the sudden reversal of restrictions being lifted and a kind-of normal life being lived again. So, we’re back to bloody masks and the double-jabbed are being emotionally blackmailed into endless boosters that this new variant is apparently immune to, and the few current exceptions from the resurrected rules will no doubt be added to the list within a matter of weeks. And then maybe Christmas will be cancelled again and we’ll be back to having no more than six people in our homes and then it’ll be one more lockdown and we won’t know if we’re living in 2020, 2021 or 2022. And anyone who points this out will be demonised as some sort of unpatriotic fifth columnist with the same lazy ease with which a critic of Identity Politics is labelled a racist or a Transphobe or a homophobe or an Islamophobe or a Fascist or a Nazi. And however hard we search for that elusive stage, we’ll only get so far before we find we’re back at the same point we started at – and all we want to do is shout ‘Hello, Cleveland!’
© The Editor