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  • Alastair Cavendish

Banging the Drum

“You know what I haven’t done for a while?” I asked a long-suffering friend the other day, “Inveighed against the collapse of Western civilisation.” It had, in fact, been almost a week since I had written something scathing about the government, and several days since I had even bothered to harangue my Member of Parliament. I was torn between the need to vent some ire, and the equally strong desire to stay in bed and eat too much.

Another dilemma was which subject to choose. On one hand, there was violence at protests, an important topic on which I have nothing interesting to say. The gist of my argument was to be: “Well, what did you expect to happen?” and this did not seem like enough. On the other hand, I could write about flags, a subject on which I had several shrewd and original insights, but, frankly, who cares about flags?

“To write about anything that matters is merely to keep repeating oneself,” I said. “I feel as though I do nothing but continually bang the same drum.”

“Well, that drum needs to be banged,” my friend replied. “The answer to insanity is sanity, not originality.” I could not think of a good answer to this. It was a reiteration of a lesson I thought I had learned twenty years ago, when I worked in an office for the first time. Every week, it was someone’s birthday, and a card would be passed round, whereupon I would try, and fail, to think of something clever and original to write. This went on for months before it occurred to me that all I had to write was “Happy Birthday”. The point of the card was not to make me look clever, it was to make Jemima or James feel appreciated. No one was looking at their birthday card thinking that I was so much more amusing than all their other co-workers. They were thinking: “Hurrah, lots of people signed this. Perhaps I’m more popular than I thought.”

It is my view, by the way, that the anti-lockdown case is more popular than most of us think. While the government attempts to gaslight us with incessant propaganda, amongst which opinion polls feature prominently, I seldom actually meet anyone who is enthusiastic about lockdown. Perhaps part of the point is that we seldom meet anyone at all, limiting opportunities to compare notes and discuss the misleading nature of opinion polls.

The drum is not the most glamorous or tuneful of instruments, but it is useful for waking people up. There is every reason to think that the events of the last year will one day be regarded as an extraordinary popular delusion, a global outbreak of hysteria with all the logical rigor of the Salem Witch Trials. Consider the following statement, in which there is nothing new.

I am against imprisonment without trial or, for that matter, even accusation. I think individuals generally make better decisions for themselves than the state makes for them and, even if they do not, that these decisions are theirs to make. I have never reacted to the news that there was a nasty disease going around by thinking “Oh, that sounds bad, I must ensure that the government prevents me from catching it.” I do not expect or ask children to sacrifice their education or young people their future so that I can be exempt from the risk of illness. I do not think that sucking out all the colour, drama, excitement and beauty from a society and turning it into a chilly clinic is likely to be very good for anyone, young or old. I notice that wealthy countries with strong economies tend to have better health services, and healthier populations. I do not think that being continually terrified is very good for anyone’s immune system or general health. Nor is staying inside all day and eating takeaway pizza. Nor is keeping friends and family at arm’s length and being continually lonely. I do not think it is good for the soul to be afraid of everyone around you, viewing your fellow human being as a vector of disease and a carrier of plague, rather than a miracle, a spirit, or a spark of divine fire. I do not think it is gracious to shy away from other people in the street, or hide and mumble behind a face-mask. I do not approve of murder. I do not think that driving the mentally ill to suicide is a good idea. I do not think that refusing to treat sick people because their illness is insufficiently fashionable represents the peak of medical ethics. I do not believe that the arts are expendable, and that anyone who has devoted a lifetime to the creation of beauty and meaning should have to retrain in a discipline of Gradgrindian practicality. I do not think that personal relationships are expendable. I think it is cruel to force people to live alone and die alone, far from their loved ones. I do not wish my life to be a government experiment. I love freedom, and want it for myself and others.

You might not agree with all of the above, but a sane person would have to admit that it is not an expression of hatred or lunacy. When this opinion or anything like it is voiced anywhere in the public sphere, however, the usual response is a sanctimonious chorus of “You have blood on your hands. How do you sleep at night?” For Piers Morgan, Ian Dunt, Owen Jones, James O’Brien, and a host of other voices in the media, emphatically not excluding BBC presenters, taking a stance against fascism and mass-murder is evidence of moral degeneracy, not merely wrong, but evil.

We need to keep banging the drum to remind ourselves how bizarre and insane this really is. One of the more egregious tactics I have encountered from religious fanatics is a refusal to admit that their opponents can possibly believe their own arguments. From at least three different religions, I have encountered variations on the theme “you know you are wrong, but you want to continue sinning, so you pretend you do not accept the truth”. Covid 19 now has all the trappings of a religion, and its zealots are determined to dismiss any dissent as not only misguided but malicious. It is simply impossible, they repeat, that anyone could disagree with their determination to eradicate the coronavirus from the face of the earth, even if in doing so they exterminate everything and everyone else as well. These are people who would treat headlice with sulphuric acid. In such times, and against such fanatical certitude, continuing to state the obvious becomes a moral duty.

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