I’VE started feeling a gnawing, visceral sensation whenever people I talk to give support to harsh, coercive lockdown measures and the emerging biosecurity state. I call this feeling ‘the Knot’ and at first I could not understand why this was.
After all, political disagreements between people come and go. I was a Remainer, many of my friends were Brexiteers. I have a different view of gender politics from many of my friends. In many animated discussions about such issues, I never felt as I do towards those who beg for the house arrest of themselves and others.
I decided to try getting to the root of why I felt the Knot. Perhaps this is what having illusions shattered feels like?
I had the quaint idea that those around me placed some degree of value on living a vibrant life, irrespective of what might happen; that there are worse things than dying. I thought that they placed a premium on real-world interaction, the nurturing of community and an appreciation that what is best for one person may not be for another. That our actions have consequences, both seen and unseen, and that the unseen can be just as profound as those that are seen.
Was the Knot there because I had realised that the most joyful of those I knew could be transformed into anxious, neurotic informants, provided they were exposed to the right stimuli via the TV? Was it from hearing some of the most agile critical thinkers I know regurgitating the same sloganised narrative, over and over and over?
Perhaps it was being confronted with the incredible levels of stupefaction? The knowledge that many of these people would be the first to analyse and risk-assess anything and everything in their lives, but were content to obey the edicts of our leaders without question? How they suddenly stopped caring about the quality of life for themselves and those they were seeking to protect, i.e. the elderly and newly isolated? Had I misunderstood why they were so free-spirited before? Was it simply because they were allowed to be?
Was it that with each affirmation of the lockdown measures by someone close to me my image of them was broken? Was it that I have experienced a form of bereavement a thousand times?
Maybe they always were secretly terrified of the uncertain. Perhaps this is why many who were apparently sceptical of authority now salivate at the prospect of the controlled, coerced, sanitised world we may inherit.
I’ve seen just how keen people are on immiseration, praising countries that ‘did it properly, with a HARD lockdown’, taking perverse pleasure in totalitarianism and oppression. They have suddenly jettisoned their principles like out-of-date food. They are all too happy to speak empty words about the importance of ‘rights and freedoms’ but never bother to appreciate that they still apply in a crisis. It all speaks of a total lack of desire to manage oneself. For the unspoken desire for an all-guiding hand. One could call it a God-shaped hole.
Indeed, inconsistency and a revealed love of oppression have much to do with the Knot. But it doesn’t end there. There is also the constant reminder that we are living in an absurd world in which a couple of things have been made clear. First is that ‘normal’ is no longer the property of the commons. It is from the state, to be given and taken away at its behest. Before March 2020, the only real way to reorganise a society so quickly was to bomb it to rubble.
The second is that the reach of the state is so deep that it sees fit to regulate physical contact between consenting persons. That has led to many people avoiding handshakes and hugs, showcasing an obedience to authority so total that It’s terrifying to think what they would do if they were told to do it. People have relinquished control over themselves and they are proud to have done so.
I still live with the Knot. I don’t think it will leave me. It is there even with people I’ve never met before. When they talk about a ‘new normal’. When they talk about ‘working together’.
On reflection, I think the Knot is there because my view of people has fundamentally changed in a way I have no control over. Our shared world has gone from one where we regard each other with a baseline trust to a baseline suspicion. So many interactions these days are a reminder of a loss of the old world.
Nevertheless, one must keep up hope, even in the face of great, unpredictable change. Scarcity brings value, and those who do stand up for themselves and others in thought and deed are jewels shining amidst the faceless sea of grey that may be our future. Like anything of value, what they’re worth is whatever one is willing to give for them. I am now willing to give a lot more than I once did.