Band of Brothers
In his novel, Galápagos, Kurt Vonnegut points out what a nuisance it is to be intelligent. The oversized human brain, he says, is a burdensome object, ripe for shrinkage by means of natural selection. You and I, dear reader, are cursed with big brains, which insist on generating unhelpful thoughts that keep us awake at night. How much simpler to be a more basic life form; a vegetable marrow, or a coronavirus, or Gavin Williamson.
One of the many advantages of stupidity is that it makes people easier to organise. When you think about it, to be organised in any way at all is to give up autonomy and agency, following the direction of another, even if that other is your former self, who made the plan yesterday which you are following today. An army in which every soldier has his own battle-plan is a disaster waiting to happen, and it will not have to wait very long.
Anyone who discerns and denounces the iniquity of lockdown is, almost axiomatically, a nonconformist. There may be some families, even a few very small communities, where lockdown scepticism is the norm, but in most places and situations, to stand up to the propaganda and hysteria takes a certain obduracy and strength of mind, even a bloody-minded satisfaction in going against the grain. One is reminded of Giles Corey, crushed to death beneath heavy stones for refusing to answer the inane charge of witchcraft at Salem. His last words, at least according to Arthur Miller in The Crucible, consisted of a single defiant demand: “More weight.”
Organizing lockdown sceptics is, therefore, rather like herding cats. Each foot-soldier has already demonstrated the potential for leadership, no one is prepared to be a mindless automaton. This makes for interesting company, but poor strategy, as splinter-groups, or splinter-individuals, break off from the corps like icebergs from a calving glacier. One schism which has opened up is between those who intend to take the vaccine, or have taken it, and those who have refused, or plan to do so. There are violent attacks on both sides. The vaccine-takers say that refuseniks are spoiling things for everyone else by delaying the return to normality. The opposite argument is that those who agree to be vaccinated are capitulating to government bullying and betraying the cause.
The government, of course, is thrilled by all this bickering. Minsters go skipping about their houses, waving the oversized union flags they all have now, Michael Gove gathers a bouquet of thistles for Priti Patel to eat, while Matt Hancock kisses Robert Jenrick with more than a hint of tongue. Then they all get together to plan another terrifying propaganda campaign, accompanied by a sweepstake on how many pensioners they will manage to scare to death this time.
Their strategy of divide and rule is working brilliantly. For my part, I do not know quite what to think about the vaccine, or vaccines. I have never refused a vaccine in my life, and generally regard vaccines as a great benefit to humanity. On the other hand, I am suspicious about the speed with which these vaccines have been developed, and my doubts have been greatly increased by the hysterical tone of the government and its allies. The decision about whether to take the vaccine is a complex one, in both practical and philosophical terms, and I for one am not inclined to condemn anyone for coming down on either side of the argument.
Where I shall draw the line is at vaccine passports within Britain. Even if I do decide to have the vaccine, I shall not be providing evidence of my medical history to landlords and restauranteurs. Given the number of people who are accepting the jab, the constituency of those who take the vaccine but refuse the passport will be essential in preserving this particular slice of liberty.
More generally, it is important for those of us who are fighting for freedom to retain our focus. One of the many failings of the political Left is its insistence on finding ideological soulmates rather than pragmatic allies. Here, intelligence and an independent mind may actually be of some use. Do you agree with every statement ever made on any subject by Toby Young, Peter Hitchens, Laura Perrins, Jonathan Sumption, James Delingpole and Charles Walker? Of course you do not, your head would probably explode if you were to try. All that matters is that, in this particular fight, we all share approximately the same objectives. I would not dare try to formulate these for everyone, but here are my own aims:
1. I want lockdown to end as quickly as possible, and to be widely recognised as a disaster.
2. I want it to be generally acknowledged that lockdown is not a legitimate tool of policy, and should never be used again, whatever the circumstances.
3. I want all the freedoms that British citizens enjoyed before the current crisis to be returned.
4. I want the coercive powers of government to be curbed severely.
5. I want a public enquiry into the conduct of ministers, and into how the corrupt institutions of this country can be rebuilt in such a way that they merit public trust.
There may be some disagreement even about these points, particularly about how realistic they all are. Beyond them, however, I really do not care about the beliefs and eccentricities of my allies. They may never have taken a vaccine in their lives, or they may be positive pincushions. They may be leavers, remainers, apathetic, or have forgotten about Brexit altogether. They may be Christians, Muslims, Hindus, atheists or Melanesian frog-worshippers; Tories, Socialists, or even Liberal Democrats. They may be people who pronounce the letter “h” as “haitch” or Barcelona as “Bath ALONE er”. Henry V, if you recall, took a similarly liberal approach to the band of brothers who fought beside him at Agincourt, and we all know how that turned out. After another forty years or so, the war with the French was over, and they have scarcely bothered us since.