The political lessons of 2021 are a series of warnings that stem from the problems of 2020. This is entirely due to the ideology of Team Lockdown dominating the zeitgeist. Because that ideology can be seen, and I don’t mean this lightly, by every decent person as fundamentally evil, the lessons from life in its grasp are as follows
1) If someone says “we don’t have time to think”, you absolutely do. This is a classic gaslight. I used to have to contend with this.
When the argument first took shape, the argument was that we didn’t have time to think about the consequences of the lockdowns and mandates because people were dying and there were no arguments that could change the fact that an immediate lockdown was the best course of action. All interactions of any kind were verboten and arguments about domestic violence, drug abuse, isolation, mental health and suicide could be hand-waved with essentially “we’ll deal with that later”. “Later” apparently being 2 years at minimum.
Welp, all of those things got worse, and the lockdowns didn’t work. California, New York and Illinois, the most stringent in the country, have had rolling lockdowns, as has most of Europe, including the ostensibly conservative government in the UK. Which brings us neatly to our second point
2) The past did happen. It impacts the future. Both of those things need to be acknowledged.
As the argument tries to maintain the moral authority it lost about 3 months into this party, the orthodoxy seems to want to start from today as ground zero. It doesn’t understand why people aren’t taking the vaccines or why people don’t “trust our experts” or something like that. Why, the ideologue will complain, do people not have faith in the ability of our ideology to protect people? Listing a few reasons off the top of my head:
2a) Because the people who instituted these policies regularly broke them. It became a meme as the California governor and the legislature, the governor of Michigan, the mayors of Chicago and Austin, as well as the Democratic side of the Texas legislature and a member of the Allegheny County Council all broke the rules. Whether they were meeting dignitaries at a high-end restaurant, absconding to Hawaii, flying to see family over thanksgiving, getting a haircut, flying to the Caribbean, fleeing the capitol in protest before taking a maskless group selfie on a private jet, or taking a maskless selfie at a Bills game respectively, all broke the rules they ostensibly support. Since Twitter is not real-life, you can assume the blue-checkmarks did the same. There were several instances, for example of major Hollywood parties. Also, I’m not a Marxist, I don’t think it was just rich celebrities and politicians advocating isolation but not practicing it while the average person was clean as a whistle. The rot transcends all lines.
2b) The messaging is so inconsistent it felt deliberately cruel. Taking into account the aforementioned hypocrisy, we must not forget that the orthodoxy has a rolling expiration event. Initially it was two weeks, then a month, then after we got a vaccine, then after we got a safe vaccine, then an effective vaccine, then after 50, 60, 70, then 80% of a given state was vaccinated, then 80% of the country, then a policy that was put in place that went “take it, or else”.
3) Whatever noble cause Team Lockdown had at their core, they have made impossible to achieve through their own messaging
Step 5 of that list, the point at which YOU got the vaccine was supposed to be, and was taken by most, as the point where they could gather and take off the mask and go back to a life outside of Zoom and Netflix. But then they “needed” a booster, and they might need another, and they need to wear the mask “regardless of vaccination status”. And while all this is happening, Dr. Anthony Fauci continues to give both extremes of the argument ammunition at the same time. As a recent example, he is now saying that, even with the vaccines, all three/four or however many of these “very effective” vaccines we ultimately “require”, masks on planes may never go away because “the risk is never zero”. The implication being that until we have a perfectly sterile environment, we are always one breath away from catastrophe. If you want live in that headspace, go ahead. My head is dark enough and I know there need to be limits, but you do you.
It is noble to want to get people protected against a virus. The problem for the advocates of the vaccine, especially the moderates who The endless moving goalposts for when people can finally take off the religious veil known as the mask and see each other again and sneeze without being glared at, eventually registers in the mind as “nothing we do will functionally change anything, so why bother getting the damn thing?”
Also, on CNN, one of their “experts”, Dr. Leana Wen, spouted that cloth masks weren’t effective for Alpha, Delta or the Omicron variant (which, in a stroke of divine irony, is actually “just like the flu”). This, of course, only fed the cynicism. Many experts pounced to reiterate that the current form of veil was effective in protecting someone from COVID, but like the state lines argument in the Rittenhouse case, you can’t put that genie back in the bottle.
There is no nuance in the ideology. In the beginning, Team Lockdown vilified restaurants and gyms. The former was hated because of their social aspect (Team Lockdown orthodoxy is one of enforced, long-term loneliness under the guise of health), the latter because of their physical aspect (all you need is a mask, you’re healthy just the way you are), when it turned out that both were NOT vectors of disease and were actually GOOD for people’s overall health, one would reasonably assume that these places would be embraced by an ideology that is, in theory, all about helping people stay healthy.
They are, in some cities and states, being restricted to only those who are “fully vaccinated” a term that can change at any point. For the industries, it points to the cruelty of the ideology; “we called you evil, we shut you down, we called you non-essential, but now, you’re not that because you’re useful.” For the individual it says that being social and being healthy should only be for healthy people
There’s also this weird logic in the lockdown mind where unvaccinated is equivalent to being a perpetually imminent viral threat. Life in the lockdown mindset must make one literally scared of everyone around them. This ideology seems to erode one’s ability to assess risk to the point where a .03% chance of an issue (like you have on a plane) is just too much to bear without everyone being vaxxed and masked, possibly double or triple-masked.
And maybe a hazmat-suit isn’t a bad step because, you know, “abundance of caution” isn’t synonymous with “absence of thought”
For all the talk about being “about health”, the lockdown/mandate orthodoxy seems all too eager ignore co-morbidities like obesity, diabetes and mental health especially as it pretains to isolation and cutting off all avenues in which any of those problems can be mitigated. It has also led to increases in late-stage cancer diagnoses as well as addiction for drugs, alcohol and pornography. This is why lockdown/mandate ideology should be seen by “decent people” as foundationally evil. It is based in gaslighting and it sees every other form of damage as collateral.
The most rational position to take, especially in light of the weakness of the omicron variant, is to be in favor of the vaccines, but not to mandate them. To mandate them can only come from a position that believes the messaging of the last year has not irredeemably poisoned the well. Dr. Fauci and the mandate/lockdown advocates need to see that there is now, because of their own messaging, legitimate reasons to see the vaccines as pointless. If people need THREE vaccines and maybe a FOURTH one, and they STILL need to wear the mask, then one of two things is true. Either the vaccines don’t work, or you are looking to a future with an utterly sterile environment that is scientifically impossible, but without which you just won’t leave people alone. In other words, you’re either lying about the vaccines you are mandating, or you are delusional for reasons one dare not speculate.
Despite all the gaslighting and bullshit, nothing is better and nobody is happy.
The lockdown ideology is quite clearly one based in misanthropy and irrationality. It’s about distrusting everyone around you, leaping in fear at a sneeze, avoiding all human contact and remaining convinced that all you need to be healthy is a mask and a long walk. In terms of its eschatology, it is not enough that you are vaxxed and masked (the inward and outward signs of righteousness), but that everyone else is vaxxed and masked, because if they’re not, YOU are GOING to DIE. Except, none of that is healthy, let alone true.
The importance of in-person connection has been made apparent to me month after month of this pandemic, and it was becoming clear even before hand. It is simply not the same talking with a few friends on video as it is being surrounded, for instance, by the warmth of their home and the unique, direct connection that I have with them and no one else.
Humans are, despite my initial hopes to the contrary, social creatures and communicating on the same cold device that we worked, worshiped, played, read, and wasted time on is not and could not have been a substitute for any longer than “just two weeks”.
If people had taken the time we apparently didn’t have to think about the consequences of the lockdown and the ideology of fear, then we wouldn’t be facing the exacerbated alcohol, drug, pornography, domestic abuse and mental health crises that we are. There could have been a full-spectrum campaign on physical and mental health (“healthy at every size” might have a problem with that, but screw it), and there could’ve been, as the South demonstrated there was, a way to balance the needs of the economy and the need for in-person connection with trying to ascertain the threat we were facing. But this cruel ideology took the Northeast and the West in particular to see all of that as collateral damage, and they couldn’t even protect people effectively. COVID patients were sent to nursing homes which resulted in the feds getting involved, PA set up a red, yellow, green phase metric it didn’t have any intention of sticking to, and the arguments were that live sports and live events and restaurants were not coming back for at least a year.
Conclusion: “I told you so” doesn’t remotely say it
As 2021 wound down, TIME comes out with a bit saying a return to gyms is “bad for Peleton, but good for mental health”, stories have been out every week this year about the increases we’ve already mentioned that just happened to spike during the lockdown era, the omicron variant is exceptionally weak, the messaging is worse than it’s ever been and it was never good, and, as an article in the Atlantic noted and as holiday travel statistics show, the people who trust others and want to be together, are no longer concerned as much about COVID as they are the rest of their physical and mental health. This positive upswing could’ve started a lot sooner. As it stands, the anti-mandate argument can stand on three pillars.
There are some degrees of risk that do not justify the sacrifice of life as we know it. If someone is vaccinated, then this is fairly obvious. IF the vaccines work, and I believe they do, (but again, the messaging has worked hard in the opposite direction), then the risk is so minute as to not justify canceling Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Years Eve plans. And just to be pre-emptive about it, you should also gather for the Super Bowl if you are so inclined and go out with your significant other on Valentines Day, and just to widen the net, you should gather with him/her and/or your friends on any other day you see fit.
If you are not vaccinated, I understand some arguments as to why not, and I don’t think you are perpetually carrying the Black Plague, but I strongly suggest getting the vaccine, at least the two and the booster.
Regardless, if you’re not already, get the hell out of the house. See people and lift weights. The messaging on the benefits of those activities is and has always been clear.
Second pillar: “We told you so” is the anti-mandate slogan for 2021. Every single step the lockdown/mandate crowd has taken has worked either to the detriment of their own messaging, their moral legitimacy or both. To just say “get the vaccine” and to create a consistent message of their effectiveness would have solved a lot of problems that now confound them. It is not the “anti-vax” movement that is the primary issue, they’re actually not. The primary issue is that the pro-mandate argument, being founded on moving goalposts and gaslighting, has made the anti-vax case stronger. There IS, I should point out, a distinction between anti-vax and anti-mandate.
Everything the pro-mandate argument told us we were foolish, selfish, cruel or paranoid for suggesting would come to pass, like the worsening of every other health problem in the country and how it wasn’t “just two more weeks” has not only come to pass, but it’s worse than we could’ve imagined. People are angrier, sicker, lonelier and more afraid than they were beforehand, and we didn’t do anything to facilitate that. We said assess the risks, then gather, work out, be with friends and enjoy life on those conclusions. The pro-mandate crowd said “stay in the box, on Zoom and Netflix” before adding “regardless of vaccination status”.
Lastly, it didn’t have to be this way. It simply didn’t, and it doesn’t have to continue. For most in the South, and it seems like a fair few in the Northeast, it won’t. But the lessons of Team Lockdown should not be forgotten. You always have time to consider, especially when you are told that you don’t. There are other killers out there, including isolation. Life in a box is something that awaits us all but is not something to emulate.
And finally, and most important of all, in-person connection IS essential. The denial of this fact alone is the cause of all of the problems that, once again, didn’t need to happen. There is simply no substitute for the kind of connection that comes from being in the same space as other people and we should question those who would suggest otherwise, especially over the long-term
There are examples throughout philosophy, science and our own experience that affirms there is something irreplaceably good about the power of in-person connection. Dietrich Bonhoffer wrote in “Life Together” that “the physical presence of another Christian is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer”, the writer of Hebrews implored his readers not to shun meeting together, Aristotle observed that friendship is the one thing with which, were all else lost, a person would still go on living. There is now study after study on the impact of isolation and the response to the pandemic on mental health and addiction, none of which are positive. The news media, of course, only blames the pandemic generally and never the response to it that is ultimately responsible.
More immediately, how good did it feel to gather with people again? I know it was an ironic meme for introverts that “we’ve been training to stay away from people our whole lives”, but those didn’t last very long, did they? There seems to be an inherent knowledge that any belief system that advocates for long-term isolation is inherently unhealthy, so why did it become a virtue and why does it still persist?
The problem of the lockdown/mandate argument is that it is fundamentally anti-human, it can’t be anything else. Between the pro-mandate, anti-vaccine and pro-vaccine/anti-mandate arguments, only the third party is more beneficial than not. It is important to learn the lessons of what not to do from this misanthropic ideology and use those lessons to repair the significant damage it has caused and be ready for the next time that government tells us “we don’t have time to think”.
We do have time to think. We always do. And it is the best interests of everyone that we do so. We’ll close with this from C.S. Lewis
“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”