Thursday, May 23, 2024
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The unseen evil of Covid restrictions … a dehumanising denial of physical contact


THERE should have been more outrage at the inhuman restrictions placed on us since March 2020. 

The cat is now out of the bag about the psychological tricks used by the Government’s behavioural psychologists, with the collusion of the MSM – the terror tactics, the mixed messages creating uncertainty and insecurity, the successful attempts to polarise people, the gaslighting.  

However, the full significance of the physical restrictions – the ‘social’ distancing, the prevention of meetings, the covered faces, the outlawing of affectionate hugs or handshakes – has not, I believe, been deeply enough understood. 

The latter goes far beyond mind games, and has taken place in a modern culture that had already become increasingly depersonalised.   

Long before Covid, face-to-face contact, or even telephone contact, with banks and other institutions (including GPs) was made progressively difficult. Staff at railway stations, banks and supermarkets were being replaced by machines. Enforced online accounts have been reducing us to disembodied digits. ‘Faceless bureaucrats’ abound. 

In the streets, there was less and less eye contact or courtesy, with zombie faces headphoned, or glued to smartphone screens.  

Aversion to physical contact was implied in the everyday language of ‘personal space’,  ‘safe spaces’, and – in the cowardly euphemism for ending a relationship – ‘I need some space’.   

‘I understand/sympathise’ was being replaced with ‘I know where you are coming from’ (a locution which already presupposes spatial remoteness). 

Meanwhile, with online ‘socialising’ you don’t see or meet a person, you see a screen with an image, an increasing replacement for the real McCoy, a fantasy engagement devoid of the moral and emotional risks involved in engaging with a person ‘in the flesh’. 

And of course, you have absolute control, where this simulacrum of a human presence can be ‘ghosted’ at the click of a mouse. 

The upshot is that people are increasingly reduced to abstractions, which can obliterate the need for integrity in the way they are treated. A power-mad government can therefore easily reduce us to what Johnson called ‘pure mathematics’, or pieces on a chessboard.   

In proper human interaction, the reality of the other person consists in their physical presence. We are embodied persons, with all the moral implications that generates. 

Our moral imperatives are not mere mental abstractions. They are infused with references to our embodied nature, one sign of which is that our moral perceptions are not unrelated to our aesthetic sensibilities, which involve our sensory capacities.  

Our reaction to wrongdoing or evil is not simply cerebral disagreement, it involves visceral repulsion. There are overtones of our sensitivity to beauty and ugliness in being appalled at the repulsiveness of greed, the slime of dishonesty, the filth of obscenity, and the stench of corruption.  

We are not mere ‘rational beings’ (even Mr Spock has some feelings ). Our moral perceptions seem connected to a series of aesthetic contrasts between pure and impure, clean and dirty, savoury and unsavoury, harmonious and discordant, sweet-smelling and foul-smelling, and natural and unnatural (which are not for us mere ‘value-free’ biological categories).   

That is not to say that our morality can be reduced to aesthetics. I merely emphasise a point about our embodied condition. 

Professor Anthony O’Hear has reminded me of the significance of the following remarks of Simone Weil in her essay The Iliad, or the Poem of Force … 

‘The human beings around us exert just by their presence a power which belongs uniquely to themselves to stop, to diminish, or modify, each movement which our bodies design. A person who crosses our path does not turn aside our steps in the same manner as a street sign, no one stands up, or moves about, or sits down again in quite the same fashion when he is alone in a room as when he has a visitor.’ 

The reference to (physical) presence is what is vital here.  We meet people ‘in person’, and this presents a challenge to our self-centred tendencies in accepting the ‘reality’ of other people. 

There are some things which are basic and primary to any further sophisticated views we reach about human beings. In one of his philosophy lectures, Professor David Hamlyn once asked: ‘How does an infant acquire the concept of a person?’  

Pat came the answers from students about the ratiocination (the process of exact thinking or reasoning) involved in conceptual development. 

‘No’, said Hamlyn,  ‘the infant acquires it through being treated as a person. By being cuddled and burped, by being smiled at … and so on.’   

In his essay Eine Einstellung  zur Seele (An attitude towards a soul),  Peter Winch argues that our primary reactions to people are ‘unreflective and primitive’, that these reactions are ‘part of the primitive material out of which our concept of a human person is formed’.    

It seems to me that these instinctive reactions are present when we walk with someone and automatically match our steps to theirs, we harmonise with their facial expressions, and these reactions are not derived from ratiocination, nor from intellectually inferred beliefs about what it is to be human. 

Ludwig Wittgenstein, in his Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology, challenges the idea that we infer mental states from bodily behaviour by saying: ‘We see emotion … we do not see facial contortions and make the inference that he is feeling joy, grief, boredom.  

‘We describe a face immediately as sad, radiant, bored, even when we are unable to give any other description of the features – grief, one would like to say, is personified in the face.’ 

He also makes the telling observation that ‘we don’t see the human eye as a receiver, it seems not to let something in, but to send out …’ 

Again, our embodied nature is revealed in such expressions as ‘lending someone a sympathetic ear’, ‘being touched or moved by generosity’ or ‘my heart goes out to you’. 

In the 19th century, after the prison reforms of 1835, ‘silent treatment’ was used in some US prisons as an alternative to physical punishment.   

It consisted of forbidding prisoners from speaking to one another, calling them by numbers rather than by their name, and making them cover their faces – all to dehumanise them and break their will. 

The physical restrictions, the prevention of interaction, and the face coverings imposed upon us by this government are equally unethical, if not downright evil.  

But, for the reasons given earlier, so many people cannot see this. They have been forcibly alienated from their own nature and will no doubt uncritically accept their reduction to trackable digits on the biometric identity passes being planned – the price of their future so-called freedom.  

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Frank Palmer
Frank Palmer
Dr Frank Palmer is a philosopher and author. He was taught by Roger Scruton who was his PhD supervisor and during the 1980s was part of a thinktank of academics Roger formed to fight damaging trends in education. Frank’s last book was Literature and Moral Understanding (Oxford University Press).

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