“The lockdown was an experiment in authoritarian government unmatched in our history even in wartime….Throughout history, fear has been the chief instrument of authoritarian rule. During the lockdown it was what enabled the government to silence dissent and inhibit discussion.”
In France I was for the first lockdown. I regret. We have lost our liberties and it was permanent infantilization and censorship.
‘You must stay at home.’ That simple instruction from prime minister Boris Johnson, issued before the first Covid lockdown in March 2020, changed the fate of the nation forever.
You might have imagined that in a democratic country such as Britain, a decision of this magnitude would not simply have been imposed by executive fiat. That the shutting down of schools, the economy and society might have been something worth debating and discussing. But for much of the pandemic, lockdown was never subjected to proper scrutiny, even though its harms were obvious from the start.
Indeed, the harms of lockdown are becoming clearer by the day. The near-collapse of the NHS, the crisis in education and runaway inflation can all be traced back, at least in part, to March 2020. And while the Russian invasion of Ukraine has since sparked a global energy crisis, lockdown is part of what left us so vulnerable to its effects.
After all, the lockdown was the biggest shock to the UK economy in the history of industrial capitalism. And in the words of one High Court judge, it was ‘possibly the most restrictive regime on the public life of persons and businesses ever’. Many of its awful impacts were predictable and predicted.
But at the time when lockdown was announced, anyone who raised a peep of complaint about this novel and draconian policy was shouted down or shoved aside. Any green shoots of dissent were trampled on. Fears about the economy were denounced as greedy. Fears about liberty were dismissed as selfish. Any and all calls for some relaxation of the rules were condemned as reckless and lethal.
Throughout the pandemic, the government and the scientists tried to hide their uncertainty. The media demonised dissenters and Big Tech cracked down on them. All of this was apparently to the end of showing a unified front, preserving the integrity of science and pushing a singular, easy-to-follow public-health message. We were essentially told that in times of crisis it is better to put up and shut up than to undermine the authorities.
But look where that has got us. An economic crisis, a health-service crisis and an education crisis are now engulfing the nation – all of which were, at least in part, fuelled by lockdown. We are standing in the smouldering wreckage of our elites’ terrible decisions. We have paid a heavy price indeed for suppressing debate and dissent.
My mother mourned her brother’s death the rest of her life. A Canadian, he died a month before WWII ended fighting in the US Army. He didn’t die, and my mother didn’t lose her beloved brother, for lockdowns. He died for freedom. Politicians & bureaucrats best remember that.
What about the faculty ranks? The same higher-education writers tell us that “neoliberalism” prioritizes job-centric disciplines with marketable skills, while devaluing holistic education in the humanities. If this is true, we should expect to see STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and professional degree programs such as business, accounting, and finance dominating the ranks of faculty employment.
The data tell a very different story. Between 1999 and 2015, faculty employment in the humanities grew faster than in most STEM disciplines. The social sciences and fine arts also added faculty to their ranks. Business and engineering showed modest growth by comparison. The natural sciences (with the exception of health sciences, particularly nursing and pre-med programs) briefly spiked in the early 2000s before flatlining about 2004, where they’ve remained ever since. The “devalued” humanities and social sciences have posted continuous growth in their faculty ranks despite the neoliberal poltergeist’s alleged grip. According to a survey of 2015 PhD graduates, recent humanities PhDs accounted for 19 percent of reported academic job commitments. Social science PhDs accounted for 17 percent. Math and computer science trailed at 6 percent, engineering at 5 percent, and physical and earth sciences at 3 percent. The answer to the question of which disciplines employ the most faculty in a typical university is seldom a STEM field—it’s usually the English Department, which enjoys an outsized presence on the mandatory General Education curriculum.
Congrats to everyone who didn’t have college debt. Now you do.