On February 7, the Department of Homeland Security issued a National Terrorism Advisory System bulletin that sounds more like a plot from a dystopian sci-fi novel than a sober assessment of America’s enemies and their capabilities. The bulletin begins by stating, “The United States remains in a heightened threat environment fueled by several factors, including an online environment filled with false or misleading narratives and conspiracy theories, and other forms of mis- dis- and mal-information (MDM).” Note that the DHS is not here talking about speech actually coordinating or inciting violent terrorist actions. Such conduct is clearly criminal and is discussed elsewhere in the bulletin. Rather, the DHS makes clear that purely lawful speech and opinion is now the number one contributor to the current threat environment and cites “misleading narratives” regarding Covid-19 as a leading example of this terroristic threat.
The DHS defines Covid “misinformation” as being “false, but not created or shared with the intention of causing harm,” and defines Covid “malinformation” as being “based on fact, but used out of context to mislead, harm, or manipulate.” Under these definitions, you can be guilty of contributing to terrorism without any bad intent or by disseminating known Covid facts if you omit what the DHS considers proper context.
Fear is so much easier to incite than to dispel. We were reminded of that when the prime minister announced what is likely to be the imminent end of the last remaining restrictions on normal life in England. The farrago of public criticism was, by the standards of recent hysteria, mercifully small but it still had the intended effect on public discourse. Because it was now likely to happen earlier than first predicted, the removal of those last rules was described as “premature”.
Even though the original planned date had never been anything more than an estimate based primarily on how severe the omicron variant turned out to be, it had now taken on the sanctity of a revealed truth which must not be contravened. This analysis was taken seriously by the media and thus inevitably by a significant proportion of the population.
More specifically, and damningly, the announcement was derided as a “political” decision, rather than a “scientific” one. Well yes, of course it was a political decision in the strict literal sense of the word, because it was a decision made by elected political leaders which is the way, at least for the moment, we still do things in a democracy.
What this meant was that it took in a much wider set of considerations that impacted on society and the economy than the (rapidly diminishing) effects of Covid which were the specific focus of those scientists – whose advice had now presumably been placed in a broader context than it was at the height of their influence. But what the scientists who queued up for their broadcasting appearances were implying was itself very “political”.
There is now a proportion of the population which is, in effect, refusing to leave the imprisonment which it concluded was the only safe refuge. What is more, many people are arguing that nobody should be released until some undefined state of absolute safety for everyone (even the seriously ill or vulnerable) can be guaranteed. This demand is both logically impossible and morally unacceptable and yet – in the bizarre state of mind that has been induced over the past two years – it is being seriously entertained.
We know how we got here. By a brilliantly sustained orchestration of opinion-forming techniques that was so blindingly successful that it took even its designers by surprise. What needs to be discussed now as a matter of urgency is just how dangerous the result has been. What happens when people become truly terrified – so fearful that they are prepared to sacrifice much of what makes life worth living? They become obedient, docile and passive – which was the whole point of this programme after all. If that passivity – that relinquishing of free will – persists long enough, they become incapable of making individual choices, of taking initiative, of inventing brave advances that might alter their own condition and that of others.
I’m Kiwi-born, with British citizenship. But planning a trip to catch up with friends and family in the UK never used to be such a big deal. That was before the advent of “Fortress New Zealand”, which has seen my country almost completely separated from the outside world for nearly two years now.
Except for a brief, ill-starred travel bubble with Australia, my archipelago in the South Seas has been in the gulag ever since the New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, announced a snap closure in the early weeks of the initial Covid wave.
It has left politicians – including former prime minister Sir John Key – despairing at how our country has been turned into a “hermit kingdom”. But a hermit kingdom with newfound attitude, too, if the thousands of protesters who this week brought parts of Wellington, the political capital, to a standstill are anything to go by.
But there has always been another team milling in the shadows, the team of one million, the expatriate Kiwis stranded abroad who have paid a heavy price for their home country’s Covid elimination strategy.
On a per capita basis, New Zealand has one of the world’s biggest diasporas. The nation makes much of its bona fides as a stickler for international law and protocols, but Fortress New Zealand has been one of the few places not to allow citizens to return home as a birthright. Instead, intending returnees have taken their chances with a lottery system that has seen most applicants unable to secure a ticket.
With the zero-Covid zealots in Beijing pulling the strings, Hong Kong has just introduced its harshest measures yet in response to the worst outbreak of the virus across the territory. It threatens to turn the streets into something from a zombie apocalypse B-movie, virtually drained of human life.
Shopping centres, restaurants, grocers and markets are now on a list of public places where visitors must register with an official contact tracing app and have proof of vaccination.
Fines for not following mandatory testing orders have been doubled to nearly $1,300 (£955). All hairdressers and places of worship were forced to close for a fortnight from Thursday.
No more than two households are allowed to meet in private; and the most punitive of all perhaps for any medium-sized company or above – no more than two people gathering in public.
In the words of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, this is what a “dynamic Covid strategy” looks like, despite restrictions being more draconian now than when they were first introduced nearly two years ago.
One of the most frustrating parts of the pandemic response is the Left sanctifying middle class privilege as though it’s a moral virtue
Being able to WFH & get your shopping delivered does not make you a better person
You’ve spent 2 years outsourcing your risk to poorer people
Mark Stephen Nesti decries mask mandates. Two slices:
The requirement to wear masks is seen by many as one of the less arduous regulations we have faced. Compared with the psychological effects of lockdowns and vaccine mandates, it doesn’t look a huge imposition.
However, therein lies the problem. I am convinced that face masks, not least because they seem so innocuous, are much more psychologically harmful than we might think.
We know human communication involves much more than speaking, hearing and listening. Psychologists have spent decades studying the importance of what they refer to as non-verbal communication.
Evidence confirms that our gestures, facial expressions, tone of voice and even the way we move and walk, convey huge amounts of information. Sometimes this communication is carried out consciously, but more frequently it takes place without our knowing.
Our bodies, and most importantly our faces, can’t help but express our hates, desires and loves.
The psychology of totalitarian regimes, as Erich Fromm wrote about in 1942 in his book Fear of Freedom, is always centred on undermining the individuality and uniqueness of human persons.
Masks have also been used to generate fear, and this fear has led to many suffering chronic anxiety. This reaction is quite easy to understand. We associate masks with threat and danger, the sort of thing surgeons and nurses wear in the operating theatre. Masks tell us in no uncertain terms that there is something very wrong and worrying out there.