There are new mask mandates in Southern California and talk of them coming back in various spots around the country, including a university in Atlanta. Contact tracing too is back, even though that never works for respiratory viruses. Rumors are swirling about new lockdowns for some new variant that is being touted by the World Health Organization (WHO). The predictable CNN is interviewing Pfizer employees about the glories of their new booster just rubber-stamped by the FDA.
And Fauci is out and about defending lockdowns and suggesting that we could have more.
The first time is tragedy, said Karl Marx, and the second time is farce.
We might be headed into the realm of farce, as masks that everyone knows don’t work are mandated and shots that everyone knows don’t work to stop the spread are widely encouraged. Mandates for them could easily be next. In fact, not one government policy from the entire pandemic period achieved anything but destruction.
Now we see the problem with the failure to have a real reckoning over the COVID response. It means that the whole panoply of failed and brutal policies could come back again.
As NPR reminds us on a daily basis, we now “have the tools” necessary to combat another pandemic or even the spread of seasonal viruses—and never mind that none of these tools actually work and all of them demoralize the population.
At the same time, the hashtag #donotcomply is trending. Many people swear that they will not go along this time. Maybe that’s right but I’m not prepared to predict mass refusal. There were many times during the last lockdowns and masking that I refused to comply but that can create awkward situations.
The store owner and I agreed that masks are dumb and we both went without. The next time I went in, he told me to put one on. I asked why. He said that passersby were looking through the windows and noticing we were not wearing masks and reported the store to the local government. The health inspectors arrived demanding answers.
That was enough to convince him. He was not going to risk the well-being of his shop in what he considered to be a trivial issue of mask compliance. He would not die on this hill.
I totally get it. I respect very much people who swear that they will not go along but I also understand those who comply. It’s a tragedy but not everyone wants to be a martyr for the cause of freedom. To be sure, if no one went along, all the lockdown regulations would effectively be null and void. There aren’t enough enforcers to bring about compliance if the whole population doesn’t go along.
But that’s not usually how it works. Typically in these cases, the government can always count on a portion of the population to do the work of coercion for them. That’s why it is called totalitarianism: the whole of society involves itself in its own self-destruction. We saw it under China’s Cultural Revolution where the Red Guard did most of the killing, and we saw it in the COVID lockdowns when average people felt moved to rat out their fellow citizens to the health police.
All of this takes me back to the writings of Étienne de la Boétie and his important essay “The Politics of Obedience.”
The author is a French aristocrat and the year of writing was 1552.
It’s as powerful then as it is now.
“I should like merely to understand,” he wrote, “how it happens that so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him; who is able to harm them only to the extent to which they have the willingness to bear with him; who could do them absolutely no injury unless they preferred to put up with him rather than contradict him. Surely a striking situation! Yet it is so common that one must grieve the more and wonder the less at the spectacle of a million men serving in wretchedness, their necks under the yoke, not constrained by a greater multitude than they.”
Perhaps it is cowardice? Boétie answers:
“If a hundred, if a thousand endure the caprice of a single man, should we not rather say that they lack not the courage but the desire to rise against him, and that such an attitude indicates indifference rather than cowardice? When not a hundred, not a thousand men, but a hundred provinces, a thousand cities, a million men, refuse to assail a single man from whom the kindest treatment received is the infliction of serfdom and slavery, what shall we call that? Is it cowardice? ... When a thousand, a million men, a thousand cities, fail to protect themselves against the domination of one man, this cannot be called cowardly, for cowardice does not sink to such a depth. ... What monstrous vice, then, is this which does not even deserve to be called cowardice, a vice for which no term can be found vile enough.”
Instead, he counsels mass non-compliance or civil disobedience. He says that even the most powerful government is rendered powerless by the mass refusal of the public to go along. If that happens, government simply ceases to have authority and power. All the guns and weaponry are rendered useless. The state lives off the people’s willingness to be bullied. If they stop being willing, the state simply falls.
“Resolve to serve no more, and you are at once freed. I do not ask that you place hands upon the tyrant to topple him over, but simply that you support him no longer; then you will behold him, like a great Colossus whose pedestal has been pulled away, fall of his own weight and break in pieces.”
That’s a powerful and brilliant vision, one that has inspired me for a very long time. In addition, the 20th century saw some powerful implementations, particularly those led by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
But how plausible is it that something like this can happen in our time? Government does everything in its power to make sure that it does not happen. The most important tool is propaganda. That can take many forms. It could be preachers yelling about eternal damnation of the refuseniks but it could also be fancy Pfizer executives calmly explaining how a new potion will protect the population against a pathogen. In both cases, the government is able to tap into the mortal fears of the public.
And to make sure that only one message gets out, censorship becomes an imperative.
This is why the CDC and NIH, along with the DHS and the CIA, involved themselves so heavily in social media and search engines to make sure that the public did not hear any voices of dissent. This way people will be discouraged from resisting.
Also important is restricting gatherings.
This was the real point of “social distancing” restrictions, not to protect you against viruses but rather to stop people from meeting others who were similarly incredulous. The goal was to isolate people so that they become demoralized and feel like crazy people.
A major problem for all of the non-compliers this time is that we are still very much in the minority. This is partly owing to the propaganda. Google and YouTube, which make up 90 percent of both search and video traffic, are heavily censored by government. YouTube has even stated that it will not allow any content that contradicts the World Health Organization, which is the entity that started all this lockdown stuff to begin with.
I commend everyone who swears they will not go along. But every circumstance is different.
It is not always so easy to refuse. Everyone has jobs and income needs. People also seek social approval and thus cave when it matters most. Like Étienne de la Boétie,
I long for a time of mass non-compliance. We are closer to that point now that we were three and a half years ago but I seriously doubt we are there just yet.