ACCORDING to an article in the Economist,‘Is torture ever justified?’, the answer in international law is categorically no. The ban on any cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of others is absolute, even in times of war. Torture (along with genocide) is a crime that every state must punish, and this is defended on both moral grounds (it degrades and corrupts the society that allows it), and practical grounds (people will do or say anything to get it to stop).
Yet, in the case of the national lockdown, torture is being inflicted not just on an individual or a small group of dissidents, but on the entire population. Everyone is having to suffer, with no end in sight. This is especially unacceptable with regard to the most vulnerable in society – the very old and the very young, as TCW has exposed. Nicola Lund reported how an elderly aunt was taken to hospital and marked down as DNR (Do not resuscitate), which she vehemently denied having agreed to. Fear, Lund says, is overtaking logic to an unfathomable degree, and if older people are too afraid to go out to buy food, or visit hospitals, it is no wonder many are dying at home, uncared for. Alice Bragg revealed fears that while young children are being denied the play and social interaction crucial for their development, parents are being forced to accept the tragic reality that they may not be able to give their children the start in life they had planned. The Covid crisis is being harnessed, in an unprecedented way in our modern society, to generate fear for political purposes.
In a Telegraph column, Allison Pearson has written about the overwhelming fear, generated throughout the media, that is affecting almost the entire population. She quotes a report from the Royal London Hospital made for BBC News, which she likened to an expressionist horror film. Distressing scenes of individual patients suffering, a gravedigger busy at work, even following a corpse on a trolley into the mortuary. ‘We’re all scared,’ went the narrative, ‘dying and dying and dying’. Pearson vented her anger at this ‘juggernaut of panic’ broadcast into family homes, night after night. Fear is being disseminated deliberately, and with careful planning.
The fearmongering appears to be working well. A YouGov poll in January found that almost 80 per cent of the public supported another national lockdown, which was 8 per cent higher than in the previous month.
The terrible irony is that this fear is being deliberately spread among the general public by ruling elites who are themselves seriously afraid of the people. This is certainly the case in the US, as reported by TCW in the interview with Catherine Austin Fitts, who was clear that her ‘Mr Global’ was very afraid of the general population. The Gatestone Institute has also recently commented on this theme, citing the terror felt by The Swamp towards Trump and his supporters, which explains their obsession with eradicating Trumpism from US politics. As evidence, Gatestone instances the military occupation of Washington, ongoing claims of insurrection, Russian conspiracy theories, serious discussion of re-education camps for Trump supporters, marginalising and criminalising all things Trump, censorship and shutting down of pro-Trump platforms – all expressions of fear: the desperate fear of losing power, which had already happened against all their expectations in 2016.
All this is an attempt to place Trump-supporting Americans into a state of acute anxiety. A similar process is evolving in the UK in the political response to the Covid pandemic. The political economist Robert Higgs has written extensively on the ‘ratchet effect’ – the way in which government growth occurs in sporadic bursts during emergencies. Politicians enact ‘temporary’ programmes and regulations which are never fully abolished. Writer John Tierney drew on this effect when discussing the current political practice of exploiting crisis to the point which he calls the ‘Crisis Crisis’ – the never-ending series of crises, real or imagined, which are hyped by the media and lead to cures too often worse than the disease. According to Higgs, writes Tierney, ‘no government could endure more than 24 hours without popular fear’. He believes this crisis will produce a net increase in the government’s size, scope and power, including regulations. It is already happening in the UK. The only way to curtail this is to limit the power of the state, though this is unlikely at a time of unprecedented shutdown of the economy and abrogation of civil liberties – mostly done, as observed, with widespread popular approval. The bigging-up of impending climate catastrophe has enjoyed only a limited success. With the Covid crisis, almost the entire population is on board.
The worst of the torture is almost certainly yet to come – the financial consequences. As usual, the suffering will be inflicted mainly on the little guy, while Mr Global carries on regardless. The likelihood of full-scale depression following the economic downturn, massive unemployment, destruction of small businesses, the threat to the tax base – all point to a scenario where middle-class incomes stagnate and savings disappear, where low-paid employees lose hours or jobs altogether, while the rich just keep on getting richer. In the US, a report confirms this, showing that while lockdown has closed many small and medium businesses, billionaires such as Bezos, Gates, Musk and Zuckerberg have increased their wealth by nearly 40 per cent since the beginning of the crisis. With their wealth also grows their power.
These billionaires are among the Mr Globals who have benefited from the crises of first Zero Carbon, and now Zero Covid. But as Allison Pearson has pointed out, everyone has their breaking point. Reports of widespread mayhem throughout Europe blame the chaos involved in the vaccine roll-out, but how much more is really due to the frustration and despair being cause by unending lockdown and financial hardship? These riots are being put down by force of arms, reflecting the claim by Catherine Austin Fitts that in the struggle between the elites and the general public, it is the side with ‘the biggest guns’ that will prevail.
People’s ability or desire to withstand, even resist, the current instruments of torture and emerge unscarred from these repeated lockdowns is limited. As Robert Higgs has written, he remains sceptical that the outcome of this crisis will be any different from others that have preceded it. The overall result is likely to be dreadful. Any regulations which may have been scrapped during the pandemic will probably be reinstated once the crisis has waned – witness the slew of laws by Executive Order enacted the moment Biden assumed power – and new restrictions will largely be retained.
Tierney, however, suggests we can still learn from history and re-interpret the famous quotation from Roosevelt – ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’ – by constantly remaining aware that we should fear leaders who exploit it during a crisis. Unfortunately he doesn’t suggest how.