In a comment on another post I mentioned this article in which the Observer’s science editor reports on a new piece of insanity published in the Lancet. As so often, the insane nonsense we’re being fed is only revealed for what it is when it’s in a scientific article taken apart by other scientists. It’s as if you can’t get your money back on a dead parrot without an attestation signed by three taxidermists and the chairman of the RSPB.
In rolling out his test and trace campaign, the People’s Johnson suddenly and surreptitiously changed the meaning of social distancing by defining contact as being two metres away from someone for fifteen minutes. On my recent visit to England I observed masked ladies swerving off the kerb into the traffic to avoid being 1m 50cm from me for three seconds. And then gabbing away with their neighbour in the queue for Sainsbury’s (through their masks) for hours. Johnson’s announcement meant that they were out in their estimate of the danger of catching anything from me by a factor of 300. Back here in France, people I’ve noticed in our local boulangerie tend to be sceptical about the expert advice leading to lockdown, and to hide their nervousness about flouting official advice by talking very loudly and laughing a lot. They are obeying the letter of the law – just – but they’re not thinking straight. They are emitting a thousand times more potentially virus-containing emissions than they need to, and they don’t care.
It’s not that people are stupid, but rather that our masters have assumed that we are stupid, and advice has been given in such a way as to make us seem stupider than we are. In the beginning the explanations were simple enough; transmission is from contact, (so wash your hands and don’t touch your face) or from exhalation. Easy. We know we breathe in what others breathe out from smoking and halitosis, and we know what to do about it. Avoid touching or breathing on each other as much as possible.
Then it got more complicated. Droplets or micro-droplets? Could a virus survive on a plastic surface five minutes or five weeks? (Answer: it depends whether it’s continually bathed in blood plasma at 98.4°F or not. Just don’t do that to your credit card, and you should be alright.) To resolve these complex questions, strict rules were deemed necessary: two metres distancing for a Brit, one metre for a Frenchman, and zero for Dr Ferguson of Imperial College. Suddenly, a simple instruction that a five-year-old could understand (don’t breathe germs on people) became a complex set of rules for a giant interactive on-line game of “Keep your Rs down, Johnson’s on the prowl.”
With exceptions of course. Forming a crowd to heave a bronze statue in the river is ok (just don’t breathe heavily on your neighbour. His life might matter.) Stopping to pee on the road from Barnard’s Castle is most definitely not ok.
The mystery of human behaviour in situations of stress was studied in depth by many wise people at the beginning of the 20th century. One of them was Dr Jane Harrison, who over a century ago in her “Prolegomena to a Study of Greek Religion,” summarised her insight into the origins of mythology:
First comes the ritual dance with the mask, then the monster to explain the mask, then the tale of the hero who slays the monster.
Except that in this case the monster (the virus) came first, then the hero (your Trump or your Johnson) and the masks never turned up at all.
Dr Harrison had read Freud and Durkheim, making her probably unique among Cambridge academics at the beginning of the 20th century. Her point was that it helps in analysing mythic thinking to reverse the normal logical order of things. Instead of asking: “Why did the Greeks tell the story of Perseus slaying the Gorgon, and how did her magic head get attached to the goddess Athena?” ask: “What kind of a story would you have to tell to explain a ritual involving a magic snake-haired mask?”
For half a century or more the gap between the rich and the poor has been increasing, to the point that the working classes in the richest countries have seen no increase in their purchasing power for a decade or two. The parties of the poor, who haven’t found an original thinker to express their needs and desires for over a century, have taken refuge in the insanity of identity politics and adjustment of the planetary thermostat. The sub-prime crisis of 2007-8 and the measures taken to deal with it have revealed the phoniness of supposed free enterprise capitalism. The only measures available to resolve the crisis simply make the rich richer.
We can’t vote for an alternative, because the politico-media complex ensures that no genuine alternative can emerge. We can’t strike against it, because our labour can be replaced at the stroke of a keyboard by outsourcing to India or AI. It took a virus to provoke the unconscious reaction of a society at the end of its tether to the system that controls us and is out of control: Close it down.
The official story is that a virus arrived from Elsewhere and the Authorities reacted (too late, not efficiently, but they reacted) by closing down the economy of the Western world.
Try seeing it like this:
Our society, incapable of solving the multiple problems facing it, seized upon the virus as an excuse to liquidate itself. Stop working. Take the government’s subsidy and hunker down until it’s over. Work from home.
(I’ve been working from home mostly since about 1967. It worked for me, but I’m peculiar. I guarantee that it will provoke mass suicide among the Guardian-reading classes within a year. Tough.)
Our society does nothing, produces practically nothing of value except pop music, protected by copyright, and medicine, protected by patent (yeah, patent medicines.) And weapons of mass destruction. For decades China has been producing everything we want, and has transformed itself into the world’s second, soon to be the first, economic power on the planet.
Try seeing our lockdown as a perfectly logical unconscious realisation that our work is worthless; so let’s stop working. Our schools are useless, so let’s close them down. Because Chinese and African kids learn as much and as well as our children, at a fraction of the cost, so lets employ them. Because it’s not the size of the teacher’s salary that counts, nor the investment in technology. It’s the desire of the kids to learn. And learning in China or Africa counts for something – a better future. What politician in the West could pronounce those three words without dying of shame? Study till you’re 18 in Europe and you’ll be lucky to get a job that pays better than social security.
So, view the account of our current crisis as a mythological tale, and don’t ask: “Why is Johnson, or Trump, or the committee pulling Biden’s strings, saying this or that?” Ask rather: “What kind of a story do you have to tell to justify a society, supposedly free and democratic, where the masters of our means of communication measure their wealth in hundreds of billions, while you and I wonder what our salaries or pensions will be worth tomorrow?”
It’s got to be a catastrophic story, that’s obvious. For a long time, the catastrophe has been climatic and virtual. Now it‘s upon us. We’re being told that our leaders will avert the catastrophe, as the mythic hero slays the monster. But without the monster, what’s the point of the hero?