Is it in the end all just words?
Thoughts on how we get out of this.
We must break out of the awful hygiene prison our societies have become. The problem, is how. I can’t figure out a way through the towering cement grey uninteresting stupidity of the bureaucrats. I can’t see how to change their direction or fix their vileness. And I will tell you another thing: While I am astounded by and immensely grateful for the response I have had here, by the many readers I have gained, by your interest in my ideas, and even by the volume of people who regard my views with hostility—in my own head, I have a very small hammer, and I am assaulting a massive stone fortress. I know a lot of other people are doing the same thing, but it can be hard to see them sometimes.
This is a post on how we might get out of this, and the first point is simple: However dark things look right now, we will get out of this. That is non-negotiable. You should never do their work for them by despairing of an end. It is supposed to seem hopeless. They manage the seeming of things, much more than the reality of them, and they work very hard to portray all resistance as futile. Probably more messaging resources go into casting the containment regime as invulnerable and undeterred, than anything else. This is important to them precisely because they’re not invulnerable.
A major aspect of this invulnerability propaganda, helped by containment itself, amounts to an enforced system of preference falsification. They want to compel or strongly encourage people to misrepresent their own desires and opinions all of the time. Masks are an excellent tactic here. Not only do they represent an effort to make the virus visible and omnipresent; they are also easily interpreted as a sign of belief in containment policies. If the medically indefensible and ridiculous community masking went away, we would be halfway to achieving our goals already. Social isolation and saturation press coverage are other important mechanisms for obscuring the true nature of public opinion and making you feel alone in your beliefs. Former Soviet-bloc countries also demanded that their citizens falsify their preferences, and we know from their experience that the project is a costly one, and the equilibrium it achieves is highly unstable and liable to unexpected shifts or even sudden collapse.
Dissent, therefore—even of the kind I engage in here—has a purpose. It is not just words, and it is not mere preaching to the choir. We have to sow doubt among true believers and ridicule the official line at every opportunity, but we also have to create a broader cultural space that is more interesting and more dynamic and more explanatory than their flat, boring world of interconnected largely false doctrines preserved in amber. Here the advantage lies wholly with us: The pervasive propaganda means many true believers on our side are intimidated into silence, while many false cynical followers on their side must always be goaded into miming sincerity. We want their true believers to be intellectually isolated, left on an island of absurd beliefs all by themselves. The more they seem out-of-touch, bizarre, and uncool, the more we are succeeding in this project. Here we have had substantial success already: Have a look at containment Twitter and see for yourself. It is nothing but a collection of the most unappealing, ridiculous, embarrassing people you could ever imagine. You would never want to be seen in public with any of them. They are a mess. We must have more of this.
Many object that our arguments are simply ignored or papered over by regime propaganda, and that nothing we say here gets anywhere. It is also common to hear about the futility of protests, and I have been known on occasion to express pessimism about the possibilities of legal challenges. This is the wrong view to take. They have to win every day, and we only have to win a few times. This is the great asymmetry at the heart of all dissident movements, it is why we seem small and powerless and yet they act with such inordinate rage and fear against the points we make.
Once they acknowledge more than handful of our arguments, once high courts uphold more than a few challenges, once a protest somewhere causes a country to back down on vaccine mandates, it is over for them. But it is a long way from here to there, and we can’t expect to get there immediately. Right now, we hope above all to increase the costs of containment and universal vaccination policies as much as possible. We want governments to pour more efforts into dumb fact checking, into awkward propaganda, and into enforcement. All of this has to be as expensive as we can make it. Most of our governments have already fully committed their resources. Effort spent on propping up lies is effort that the regime cannot spend on something more lucrative and interesting to them.
So that is what we can do. But the truth is that there are natural forces working also on our side, every minute. We aren’t alone in this, all of nature is bent against them.
To begin with, what is happening now is a self-imposed crisis. It a moment of transitional hysteria. I don’t know what things will look like on the other side, but periodic unannounced seasonal closures and forced mass vaccinations have never been part of the natural order of human society anywhere. This will end. This winter, it has been harder for the press to work up the hysteria they achieved last winter, and last winter they had to work harder to drive the hysteria than they did during the first infections of March and April. Next year, if they want to do this again, it will get harder for them still. One of the reasons the press love variants so much, is that they’re desperate for novelty. Corona more and more threatens to become uninteresting.
Here we encounter a simple truth of human psychology, that high levels of religious or ideological fervour cannot be maintained. These things wax and wane. The more intensely the initial mania is felt, the more likely it is to burn out before too long. The bureaucrats have been seized by the allures of containment ideology, and this has caused them to behave in very extreme ways. Sooner or later, however, their excitement will peak and begin to decline. They won’t abandon their beliefs, but after a time these beliefs will cease to be the most important thing to them. Corona will begin to compete with other priorities. Here Wokeness is an important comparison. A lot of Anglosphere faculty had long since signed on to the tenets of antiracism, before Wokeness ever took off as a cultural phenomenon. They balanced their concerns for equity with other matters, until Floyd’s death and cynical press agitation set off a parareligious revival. They entered a period of intense manic excitement, and they are now coming down from that. The same thing will happen with containment. Already interest in lockdowns has steeply declined, compared to Spring or even Fall 2020. The same thing will happen to the vaccines, I promise. We just have to hold on.
Remember always that it is an enormous help to us, that none of this nonsense actually works. It is a complete joke, everything that they do. This makes containment, especially at the political level, a very awkward constellation of policies. As I’ve said before, containment hardliners can win temporary support for harsh closures, but these alienate reasonable people and they also fail to do anything about infections, at which point hardline politicians find themselves in a self-isolating political death spiral. The CDU, Angela Merkel’s centre-right pro-containment party, was badly hurt precisely by this dynamic, and the new coalition government has moved very slowly indeed to take up the same disastrous policies, because they know where they lead.
A final reason to hope that this will end soon, is more powerful but also less positive. For reasons I don’t fully understand, the bureaucracies which rule us have grown vastly more volatile and erratic over the past decade. This is probably down to informal changes that occurred after populist backlashes like Trump’s election and Brexit. These encouraged tighter alliances among different bureaucratic factions in the press, the government and academia. Before 2010, these different sectors functioned like semi-detached silos, and it was genuinely difficult for a single mania to sweep the whole system at once. I remember an exasperated university administrator in 2009, rolling her eyes at attempts by the WHO to foment panic over the Swine flu. Imagine a conversation like that unfolding in our world, where all the public health recommendations are absolute gospel at every institution of higher learning.
This tendency towards erratic, unstable policy choices has an obvious downside, and we are living through it. But it also means that they are at any moment likely to be seized by a new mania, and abandon the pandemic hell they have created to its own devices. Containment fanaticism has done a good job of seeding all manner of incipient crises, any one of which might set off a new bureaucratic stampede. If you doubt this possibility, consider America, where mass containment never really recovered from the BLM protests in summer 2020. The United States is far from over this mess, but there is even political space there for some states, like Florida and Texas, to opt out of the circus entirely. This is unthinkable for continental Europe right now.
Here at the bottom of this overlong piece, two concluding points:
1) Look at what gets banned and censored. This is what they are especially sensitive about, it is where they feel the most vulnerable. Vaccine side effects are the locus of their greatest anxiety; it is here also that they blatantly withhold data and even lie the most. Note the great contrast with lockdowns and masks, which hardly anybody has ever been banned for criticising. This is a place to push, even though I’m not totally sure how right now.
2) Some words for those who insist that containment policies are centrally planned and directed by a global cabal: Not only is this wrong, but it risks blinding you to the broader, very human processes at work here, to their failures, and to the openings these failures provide. In my experience, these views also discourage among their adherents rigorous engagement with the facts of the virus (which almost always work in our favour), and in extreme forms they can be a thin disguise for resignation to the reigning political order, which is why I write against them now and then. But I also think that argument and dispute is generative more often than not, so I’m happy to disagree even harshly. I want above all to avoid a uniformity of discussion, of the kind they’ve created.