No Refunds

Don’t let a lap dance cost lives

About eight years ago, I went to a strip club for the first time. So far, it was also the last time, but not because of what happened. It just hasn’t been that big of a deal anymore.

It was late Autumn, 2012, me and Jeff had been planning it for a while. Not wanting to spend too much, we figured we’d go there as soon as they opened at 9 p.m. when the entry was still free. So that’s exactly what we did.

I had bought a new shirt for that night. A shirt I didn’t really have money for. I had money, it just wasn’t the right time to be buying a new shirt. Especially with the night I had planned that Friday.

We’d had a couple of pints at our local and at 8.50 p.m., we headed to Beavers. Jeff had had some experience, so I thought I’d follow his lead, but when we got there the gullible strip club virgin inside got the better of me.

It was just Jeff and me and a row of about twenty strippers sitting on tall chairs, not looking busy and almost surprised to see anyone in so early. We ordered two beers and found a table. I don’t know what I was expecting since we were the only customers, but I guess I had thought it would be like in the movies – one girl always dancing and taking her clothes off, while men throw dollar bills at her feet promising they can get her away from all this.

It wasn’t long before two ladies joined us and started flirting. Both very attractive and hot. They were prepared. They had their strategy all planned out and I fell for it. The Thai looking girl chose Jeff as her prey and the curvy blonde with northern accent worked on me. I say worked, but it didn’t take long for me to accept her offer and part my ways with £20 to enjoy her company somewhere more private.

As Yasmin led me to a separate room, she never stopped flirting. She said I looked like some guy from the X Factor. ‘I bet you say that to every guy’, I joked in response to one of her compliments. She reassured me that it wasn’t the case.

She tried to convince me to upgrade the lap dance and go to the private room with her, almost suggesting that anything could happen in there, but I decided to go for the cheaper option since I was already wearing my weekly budget.

Turned out we had all the privacy we needed in the end. The room she took me in was dark and had private booths separated by thin walls. There was nobody there anyway because it was still early. She danced to the music and undressed, rubbed her curvy body against mine and made sure I would never forget my first visit at the Beavers.

Around 4 minutes and £20 later, I was back at the table with Jeff who didn’t give in to the tricks of the well-trained exotic beauty. He laughed at me for falling for it. He was right. Within minutes, two other beautiful girls wanted to join us at our table and no doubt tell us how handsome we both were and that we looked like someone famous. We kindly asked them to come back later so we could enjoy our beer.

Only – there was no “later”. We left as soon as we had finished our pints. Glad I’d had my first lap dance, I was also disappointed that I gave in to the very first stripper who approached me. Jeff knew the whole time. He’d tried to warn me, but I was blinded by Yasmin’s booty and deafened by her compliments.

I don’t know how much of Yasmin’s flirtation was honest and how much was just part of a well rehearsed routine. All I know is, when I stepped out of that club, I was ready to take on the world. I wasn’t sure if I should use my new superpowers for good or for evil, but the night was still young, and anything was possible. We headed back to our local where we’d arranged to meet another friend.

The band was already on the case, playing all the pub classics. I’m not much of a dancer, but that night, I was a different man. Still under Yasmin’s spell, I jumped, sang along and made eye contact with the girls, almost forgetting about Jeff and Anthony.

Eventually, the spell expired, and, like Cinderella, I had to go back to who I really was.

The next day, I realised that it was silly of me to have spent that money. ‘Was it really necessary?’, I asked myself. I wasn’t at all talking about the lap dance! No, that was worth every penny. The second thoughts I was having were about the shirt I had bought the day before.

I smelt it and thought, ‘Hey, I’ve only worn it for a few hours, maybe they’ll take it back’. Yeah, I was about to become one of those customers who return worn clothes. I know, women do it all the time. They simply leave all the labels on the dress, wear it on a night out and return it the next day.

Confident that I would get away with it too, I headed to River Island and went straight to the men’s section. With a bag in my hand, I found a guy with a lanyard and told him I wanted to return something. ‘Sure, no problem’, he said.

With the receipt on the desk, he was now carefully inspecting the shirt. The shirt that no less than twelve hours earlier saw the inside of a Strip Club, experienced a private lap dance, rubbed against Yasmin’s skin, whose perfume pierced through its material mixing with the sweat of my embarrassment, excitement and anticipation of her next move. ‘Hold on one moment, please’, he said and walked across the floor and disappeared behind the “Staff Only” door.

He came back a few minutes later and said he couldn’t take it back. ‘It’s been worn’, he said. ‘I’ve only tried it on and worn it for about half an hour at home’, I nervously attempted to convince him of my innocence, but he knew that I had worn it. The shirt was soaked with Yasmin’s sorcery. The sweat from the dance floor must have also given away my guilt. What an amateur!

Embarrassed and ashamed, I accepted defeat.

The shop is your life, you are the shop keeper and the shirt is everything your life is made of. Everything that makes your life worth living. A customer comes in, let’s call him Boris, and says he wants that shirt. You say that this particular shirt is not for sale, but in the end, Boris not only convinces you that you must sell him the shirt, but also give him 20% discount. You agree.

Your return policy clearly states that everything must be returned unused and unworn within three weeks. Three weeks have passed, and Boris asks for more time. You agree. Then he asks for another extension and you agree again and again.

He also pulls some strings and makes sure you’re not open for business so that your other shirts are available when he comes back one day.

A year later, Boris comes back and says, ‘hey, I changed my mind, I’d like to return the shirt, please’. You open the bag and immediately smell the whores, the sweat, the sex, the vomit, cigarettes, damp, guilt and countless walks of shame. The shirt looks like it has shrunk about two sizes. ‘I’ve tried it on a few times, but I realised it didn’t work’, he says confidently, while sanitizing his hands, ‘I’d quite like to try something different this time, so I might just do a straight exchange, if that’s alright’, he adds as if nothing is wrong.

Wouldn’t you agree that your life should be returned to you in the same condition as it was taken?

When it is returned to you, however, you will be poorer, older and fatter. Your life will have lost all the ingredients that once made it happy, turning it into a meaningless and tasteless existence.

Unlike me, Boris will not be ashamed or embarrassed when he tries to return this shirt to you after completely destroying it. No, it will be up to you to get on with it. But if you allow him to just get away with it, he will just pick another shirt, but this time he will take a tie and a belt too, explaining that he needs them. He’ll even say that it’s good for the business. That he’s helping you.

You know he’ll be back, don’t you? The tie will have tomato sauce all over it and the belt will have a few extra homemade holes that accommodated his growing belly while he was still “deciding” on these.

Every time he comes back for a refund or exchange, he returns the items he has taken from you in unsellable condition and doesn’t consider how it affects your business which is your life. In the end, your once prosperous and profitable shop turns into a junk yard filled with Boris’ failures and lies.

This is your life. What is your returns policy?

The Cult of COVID Nineteen

If you feel it, it must be true

In the mid – 2009, as a twenty-two-year-old atheist, I joined a local church. It wasn’t just any church. It was the Pentecostal Church, often condescendingly described as “happy – clappy”. I had been an atheist for a number of years by then. I denounced my faith in God when I was a teenager. This wasn’t what many teenagers did in Catholic Poland, where I grew up. Church had, and still has, a big influence on the way we lived and how we were supposed to view the world. There were four big rituals meant to confirm your subscription to the Church and your relationship with God. By the time you were a teenager you’d participated in three of them.

First, your family gather in the local church to witness your parents sacrifice you to God in the form of Baptism, our first ritual. Then, around seven years later comes the Holy Communion. It is almost like graduation. You spend months practicing, attending lessons in church, memorising prayers and songs. Your parents invest in a nice suit or a white dress for girls, and you get a haircut before the big day. You also must be pure of sin for this occasion, so you are made to memorise a template of the Holy Confession and confess your sins to the Priest. I remember desperately trying to make my sins realistic, but what could a seven-year-old possibly be guilty of? Not tidying his room? This was the first and last time I confessed, and it made me a bad boy among my peer group who kneeled and asked for forgiveness on regular, even weekly, basis. On the day of the ceremony, you are old enough to accept the body of Christ. Your whole family gather again to witness the renewal of your subscription to Catholicism. This is such a big deal that nobody comes empty handed. Everyone gives you more money than a seven-year-old knows what to do with.

Third ritual, called Confirmation, comes when you’re a teenager. It also requires effort, such as spending your Saturday mornings with a church group preparing to “confirm” your ongoing membership with the Faith. Failing to do so prevents you from completing your fourth assignment – getting married in the presence of God. I skipped the Confirmation and therefore freed myself of the obligation to participate in any further rituals, including a big, glamourous wedding in a church.

The education system was also infected with Catholicism. We had math, geography, history and biology, all coexisting with religion. Religion class didn’t teach us about the history of religions, different faiths or even the origins of Catholicism or Christianity as a whole. It was pretty much reading the gospel, praying and being indoctrinated. I had one teacher in the later years, who didn’t practice what he preached. He frequently sent me to the bookies to place football bets for him. Not only was gambling a sin, illegal for under 18’s, but sending me across town when I was supposed to be under his supervision was irresponsible. Maybe he calculated the risks and liked those odds.

Poland also gave the Catholic world John Paul II, who served as the head of the Catholic Church for twenty-seven years – the second longest time spent in the Vatican by any pope. He was worshipped by everyone and his death devastated Polish Catholics like the Queen’s death will, without a doubt, devastate the UK one day. You can imagine, I bet, that escaping a nationwide cult, as described above, was not the easiest thing to do. But I made it.

Apart from feeling liberated to think freely, leaving Christianity didn’t affect me that much. For the first time, I was able to question the world around me without the fear of punishment and go with my mind to places no god-fearing man ever dared. In my early twenties, I became what people called a militant atheist, meaning I would gladly debate any religious person and attempt to convince them that God, most likely, didn’t exist.

Around that time, I became good friends with a Hungarian girl at work who was the exact opposite of me. She was super religious and was a member of the Pentecostal church I mentioned at the beginning. One day, after many discussions she invited me to “see it for myself” and come to the church.

That Sunday I went to the service. It was composed of two parts – Bite Size, attended by families with kids, and the main, more intense service during which kids usually stayed in the play area. The full service took around four hours and I stayed for all of it. I went out the night before and my phone had died and failed to charge overnight. Still, by some mysterious force, I managed to wake up right on time. The session was very strange to me. Catholics, while wearing their Sunday best to every service, tend to be modest, quiet and moderate in the way they worship. This was a whole new experience to me. The group was singing, dancing and at some point a man collapsed to the floor and started mumbling in a made-up language. Speaking in tongues, they called it. It’s when you want to express your love and admiration for God, but you simply know not the right words that can capture your feelings. When you speak in tongues, it is believed you are composing a superior message that is intimate between you and God. I witnessed it on many occasions because I went to that church every Sunday for six months without missing a single service. One night, after a couple of weeks, I had a dream. The devil himself paid me a visit. I was in my bed and he was standing over me holding me down like I belonged to him. I never told anyone about it, because I knew they’d believe this to be a sign or a warning of some kind, while in reality, it was most likely just my brain making sense of the recent events.

By the second or third week, everyone knew my name and that I was a non-believer. They welcomed me with open arms and hearts hoping I would find God with their guidance. They didn’t know my true intentions. I was there to investigate, to understand, to educate myself, to research and, when possible, ask tough questions and point out flaws in their beliefs. I even attended Alpha Course – a ten-week program where we studied various lessons from the Bible which were relevant to the teachings of the Pentecostal Church. It was hosted by Trevor and Helen and I intended to ask them questions that would make them doubt their beliefs. Trevor was a scientist with a very Nobel goal of one day finding a cure for cancer. He was a runner who believed that when we die we get brand-new bodies. He believed, just like everyone else in the group, that the only way to get to heaven was through accepting Jesus and having a personal relationship with him.  

As much as I wanted to ask hard questions about their beliefs, I realised soon enough that there was no converting anyone. I carried on going mainly because it felt good. I suddenly had a lot of friends, I was invited to birthdays, Christmas and New Year’s Eve celebrations.

Although I didn’t ask those questions, I found the answers I was looking for. Every Sunday, I showed up, but I didn’t participate. I dressed casually, I didn’t dance, didn’t sing, I did not clap once. I most certainly did not speak in tongues. I remained true to my convictions even when I was surrounded by people who knew in their hearts, not only that God was real, but that their way of communicating with Him was the only way. I did not compress my personality to fit the group who tolerated me, considered a friend, but never accepted as their own, because as soon as I stopped attending the church, the ties I’d had with anyone began to loosen. There were, of course, plenty of opportunities for me to try to blend in, do what everyone else was did and be accepted. I’d, by now, be married to one of the good-looking girls who were part of the group. I am now happily married and just became a father, but I’m just saying, there were incentives of singing up for the full membership. I, however, had seen enough and moved on with my life.

I remember Trevor’s face light up when he spoke of his relationship with Jesus Christ, even as he tirelessly worked on destroying cancer – one of his creations. He played the guitar in the church band by night and wore a white lab coat by day. With the guitar in his arms, infecting everyone with the melody of worship, he needed no evidence for his beliefs. He felt it in his heart and no amount of reason and logical thinking would convince him that what he felt was most likely not real. In the lab, however, he had to arm himself with scepticism and critical thinking, there was no room for feelings. Trevor, wherever he is now, was happy. The relationship with God made him happy. It brought him joy I did not understand and he didn’t need anything else. This is true of all truly religious people I’ve met over the years – they are genuinely happy. They don’t need approval, they have it, they feel it inside. Who was I to ever think I had the right to debunk that?

***

Isn’t it interesting that people can pick up the same book and conclude different, even contradictory, things from it? Trevor might have never read the Bible in its entirety. All he needed was a feeling inside his heart and a voice inside his head to be confident that God was real and that he knew exactly what God wanted. I asked Trevor once, why Catholics had a different path to God. I asked him why thousands of different denominations of Christianity existed, and all claimed they knew the one and only true way to reach the Kingdom of God. For example, The Pope has absolutely no authority for Trevor and the Pentecostal Church, but is the most important person in the Catholic hierarchy. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is another example. To millions of Catholics around the world, she is holy and has the power to listen and to answer prayers. When I asked Trevor about it, he said he believed Mary was just a woman who gave birth to Jesus and was, therefore, not qualified to answer prayers. He couldn’t answer why millions of people, reading from the same book, believed she was.  To many different faiths within Christianity, in fact, believing Mary has all these powers is not only wrong, but blasphemous. Blasphemy is probably the biggest sin one can commit in all religions. But how can millions of people be both right and wrong at the same time? They are reading from the same book but come up with different recipes. Trevor wouldn’t admit it, but he believed that over one billion Catholics were simply wrong and that they would only get to heaven if they had a personal relationship with Jesus, much like the one he claimed to have. Trevor knew that those who didn’t accept Jesus would burn in hell. Somehow that never stopped him from believing that he would be truly happy by God’s side knowing that some of his friends and loved ones were burning in hell because they didn’t get the memo. Trevor also believed that no matter what bad things you had done, as long as you accepted Jesus as your lord and saviour, you’d go to Heaven. Still others, more casual believers, would say that all you needed was to be a good person and all bad people ended up in hell regardless of their beliefs.

One book, thousands of interpretations

Some Churches, like Westborough Baptist Church for example, preach that God hates homosexuals and many others also believe that homosexuals, as well as other sinners and nonbelievers, are directly responsible for God’s wrath. The wrath that manifests itself as earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes. This is another characteristic of a cult – blaming the outsiders for God’s anger and disappointment. Then there are other Christians who think this is not in God’s nature and he loves us all no matter who we are attracted to. The contradictions are endless.

In the end, if God does exist and prefers one form of worship over other, then millions of Christians are screwed because of their misinterpretation of the Bible. If, however, God doesn’t really care, everyone who is a good person and/or calls themselves a Christian will go to heaven. The problem is that all these Churches claim they got it right and others are wrong.

I’ve often been accused of being stubborn. I left Catholicism and I wasn’t seduced by the happy – clappy Pentecostals despite being a part of their community for six months.  In both cases I was presented with convincing evidence and personal experiences. Enormous churches in Poland, indoctrination from early age, participation of entire families and the whole country. Then ten years ago, a small church where the Pentecostals held their Sunday ritual, where everyone swore they felt God was real and that he loved them. Is it stubborn to remain yourself and stick to your values and beliefs even, or especially, when everyone around you is under the same spell?

Everyone has a compelling story

Gary was one of the first people who introduced themselves to me that Sunday I attended the service. He was immediately able to pronounce my name correctly and said he had visited Poland many times. He was in early twenties, but looked a little older and had a lot of tattoos. I made an assumption that we both had the same taste in music and that we were both the outsiders at the church, so we talked during the tea break between Bite Size and the main service. He told me that day that he had lived a selfish and careless life, abusing drugs and alcohol until he got to know Jesus. “Jesus saved me”, he said to me. Before he knew Jesus, he had spent his life pursuing short term pleasures and following false prophets, he said. “I now know the meaning of the true happiness and love that I didn’t know before”, he admitted.

To many people, Gary’s success story was a powerful evidence of the glory of God. Gary’s feelings and affirmations were enough to convince him that what he believed was real and nothing would ever contradict his beliefs. A reasonable person would suggest that perhaps the actual thing that saved him from drug abuse was the support of the group and the feeling and sense of belonging they provided. I’ll admit, I felt that too. After all, I joined them every Sunday for six months. I enjoyed being part of something bigger than myself too, but I recognised it as being nothing more than a community. After all these years, even though I don’t believe his feelings were the accurate representation of the reality, I am glad that Gary found a way out of darkness and I hope, wherever he is now, he is still as happy as I remember him.

Gary’s story is not unique. People who survive car crashes often speak of their near-death experiences. I say “often”, but it is only an illusion because we never hear from people who have no such experiences to report. Those who do, however, always seem to describe seeing the god that happens to be worshipped by those around them. That’s why in Catholic Poland people tend to see Mother Mary in their visions and not Zeus. There is a very little chance that I, as a non-believer, would ever, on my deathbed, convert to Islam. I would, in the moment of uncertainty and weakness, possibly, accept Jesus into my heart just to be safe. It wouldn’t prove Christianity to be right, just like Trevor’s feelings and Gary’s beliefs don’t. It would only prove that out of fear of the unknown, a person might accept the God they’ve been exposed to the most.

Can they all be wrong?

In 2020, I found myself in a similar situation. A spell of fear has been cast on the entire population who, without question, submitted to the demands of COVID – the new deity and his prophets – the world leaders. This god of 2020 demanded lockdowns, separating families, suspending education of the next generation of fathers, lawyers, scientists and politicians. He spoke only through his prophets who swore they and only they knew how to please him.

The majority of people were thankful for the politicians who were able to guide them through the process of understanding the demands of COVID. It was the “stubborn” and “selfish” few who took a step back, distanced themselves from the fear and looked at it all with a sober eye and said they didn’t believe this was right. I was among those few and I have been this whole time. Not seduced by the propaganda, not pressured by the majority we said that what was demanded of us was too much and that COVID wasn’t as big and powerful as his spokesmen had introduced him to be.

Moses went up the mountain, so the story goes, and spoke to the burning bush. He returned to his people with the list of ten rules for humanity to obey to please God. The Ten Commandments were thus created. Some of these laws were based on already existing laws of human nature. Respect your parents, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t cheat – these more or less predate Moses and his Commandments. It is easy to follow rules that you already follow voluntarily because they reflect your nature. Sure, those were violent times, but people understood that stealing or murdering felt wrong and was wrong for one reason or another.

Boris Johnson, back in March 2020, didn’t speak to a burning bush on the top of a mountain, but that didn’t stop him from claiming the higher ground and presenting us with his list of Commandments and saying we “must” obey them. Some of them were pretty easy to follow because they were things we had always done already like hand washing or staying away from sick people and staying home when feeling ill if possible. As the first lockdown continued, the list of Johnson’s Commandments expanded to more intrusive rules. Rules that went against our nature. We were told that seeing our family, sitting alone on a bench, holding hands with our partner displeased our great deity, COVID. The Corona Police force was deployed onto our streets and parks to make sure everyone was obeying Prime Minister’s laws. He banned families from meeting, people from protesting, Christians from celebrating Christmas, and suspended young people’s education and cancelled their plans for the possible future and careers. And what was the majority of people’s response? They asked for more restrictions. They still believed COVID was displeased with people’s actions and selfishness and demanded more sacrifices and restrictions on the infidels and heretics.

Here we have a perfect example of another cult like behaviour, blaming others – in this case the non – cult – members, non – followers of its rules and COVID deniers – for angering and disappointing their deity. Or to put it in simpler terms, blaming them for the rising cases and delay in returning to normality – whatever that means anymore. Just like various religions blame the sinners for the humanity’s misery and God’s anger, Covidians blame the non – mask – wearer or a grandma who, against all odds and risks, decides to witness her grandchildren grow. The fault always lies with the “others”. Sound familiar?

Meanwhile, other world leaders also locked down their citizens. “How can all the world leaders and their experts be wrong?”, say the supporters of lockdown and haters of freedom and personal responsibility. We have already seen earlier that a large number of people believing the same thing can still be wrong. It is important to note that, although many countries implemented a lockdown of their population, they did so with many different measures. To name a few examples, in Poland, Spain and in Melbourne, Australia facemasks have, at one stage or another, been mandatory outside, but that’s never been the case in the UK. During the most recent lockdown in Greece, people had to send a text to their local authorities before leaving home, but Poles, Germans or the British never had to do it in their countries. In part of Australia, people weren’t allowed to leave their house for any reason, even to walk their dog or to exercise for a whole week. Such strict measures were never introduced in the UK. So, while the world leaders had the same initial goal, they had a different idea of how to get there. Why, for example, is it safe (for now) to go outside without a facemask in London, but in Madrid you risk being fined or arrested for doing so?

It’s the Pentecostal beliefs VS Catholic beliefs all over again. They both believe in the same God, but they both believe he expects different things from us. Ultimately, both of them believe the other ones are wasting their time. The same way the Spanish authorities might look at Boris Johnson and think he is never going to please COVID, unless he mandates facemasks outside. Boris, on the other hand, follows the words of SAGE – his burning bush – and thinks facemasks outside are nonsensical. Greek leaders salute Australians for enforcing a very strict lockdown, but think they are missing one crucial element – the text the authorities part of the equation. How can Brits feel safe from COVID’s wrath knowing that all these different measures exist elsewhere, but not in the UK?

Can they all be wrong? In my opinion, they can. And by the looks of it, COVID is never truly satisfied. Peruvians have lived under the world’s strictest lockdowns and suffered the highest death rate. Melbourne was on lockdown for months, with very strict mask rules and police presence on the streets. They then celebrated victory over the virus, only to see it return in December. I won’t even mention Sweden, where the government imposed almost no rules on their people and trusted them instead. The alternative to lockdown doesn’t have to be ignoring COVID completely, but it has been almost a year and he still hasn’t been satisfied, so maybe, just maybe it is time to rethink our relationship with him.

Personal relationship with COVID

COVID works in mysterious ways. For example, if the charlatans who call themselves politicians didn’t tell us about it, most of us wouldn’t even know of his existence. Most of us would confuse him with the flu and that would be a blasphemy. Somewhere in the middle of this world, dominated by the COVID cult, are people like me – those who have read the book, went along with the recipe for a while before realising this was not the way to go. When lockdown became the status quo, we questioned it. We wanted out. We weren’t happy that the beliefs and fears of the COVID cult ruled our lives as well. We had other worries, other values and other priorities. Sacrificing them to COVID was no longer an option for us. For me, the moment of realisation came early, back in April 2020. Others are slowly beginning to wake.

Of course, for every sceptic, there is a Trevor or a Gary – those who have seen the light and now have an undeniable personal relationship with COVID. They have experienced his power and his wrath in one way or another. They’ve seen what he can do to an old person with a weakened immune system or multiple underlying health conditions, who would otherwise live up to a hundred years if it weren’t for COVID. These born again Covidians, want more sacrifice. They want to please COVID by destroying jobs, killing cancer patients and lonely and desperate people through neglect and suicide. They demand their leaders to implement more restrictions so that these sacrifices can be made and COVID be satisfied. For now.

COVID is a demanding Father

Covidians use the same flawed logic as members of other cults. They think that their personal experience is proof of what they believe to be true already. Just like my old friend Gary, they have a compelling story of how they came to know COVID and now believe we should all sacrifice our freedoms to him. I’ve seen someone share a story of a nurse, working in New York, who claims to have seen people die way too many times now. Her story sounds like a fabricated propaganda to persuade people to stay at home and wear a mask, but I don’t doubt there are nurses who, in between their TikTok routine rehearsals, have experienced tough times. Then again, we could find an overwhelmed nurse anytime and anywhere in the world, I’m sure. We could also find thousands of nurses who, apart from going viral on TikTok, have had a rather boring and uneventful pandemic.

The difference is that the stories like the one above, find their way to the surface precisely because they are rare, uncommon and, most of all, shocking. Recall from earlier the example of near-death experiences and how we never hear from people who nearly died, or even came back from the dead and saw absolutely nothing on the other side. We always hear from those who see their dead relatives or the god they happen to believe in. The reason is, nobody cares that an accident survivor hasn’t seen anything on the other side, just like nobody wants to hear about a nurse’s boring day taking urine samples.

In another example, four weeks ago I spent a day in the maternity ward at my local hospital. My wife was in labour with our son. Tina, the midwife who was looking after her, seemed to have had everything under control. The labour, however, didn’t go as planned. It was taking too long, and my wife’s contractions weren’t getting any stronger or more frequent. The baby was getting tired and Tina’s shift was coming to an end. When she had left, we were told our son had to be pulled out for his and my wife’s safety. They were both fine in the end, but let’s focus on Tina. She might have gone home that evening and told her husband that she’d just had a lady with a really long labour, the baby didn’t want to come out and she was really starting to get worried. Or maybe this was a normal shift to her. No doubt, she loves what she does but delivering babies might just be a routine to her and usually end with happy endings that have become such common place that she doesn’t inform her husband about every single baby she delivers. When he asks her how her day was, she just says it was busy.

Now imagine Tina having a really bad day. In 2017, according to World Health Organization, around 810 women worldwide died every day during childbirth. Of course, many of the deaths happened in developing countries, but let’s put one of these mothers to be on Tina’s bed. Now, her slow Tuesday turns into a nightmare she hoped would never happen to her. A woman dies in her care. It doesn’t even have to be such dark scenario. She might have a woman who’s expecting triplets and that is also very unusual and worthy of sharing with her husband. The point is, we aren’t interested in the average, only the extremely good or extremely bad and that’s exactly what we get and demand. If this happened to Tina, however, it wouldn’t prove that these things happen all the time. It would only show that they happen occasionally, but by collecting stories like Tina’s extremely bad or extremely good day, we could create an illusion that the work of midwife is full of twins and triplets and mothers dying at childbirth when, in fact, they only happen sometimes.

Let me give you another example. When I was a teenager I had a group of friends. We used to hang out all the time for a few years. One day, our group split after a minor argument and we never really got back together because adulthood got in the way. Some of us got jobs, girlfriends, went away to university and I left the country and came to the UK. For the last fourteen years, I’ve kept touch with half of the group and almost forgot about the other guys. I haven’t heard from them or about them, so their lives have most likely been uneventful or, in other words, not worthy of gossiping about. Just regular guys getting jobs, starting families and going on holiday to Turkey and Spain.

Until one day, in December of 2018, just before Christmas, I received a message from one of my friends. “Have you heard about Andy?”, he asked. As I later learned, even my aunt had heard about Andy by then. Andy, who I hadn’t seen since our group’s disagreement sixteen years ago, stabbed his girlfriend to death after a drunken argument and was then on the run. To make it worse, it all happened in front of her kids. I couldn’t believe it even when I saw the article with his picture and his name in it. Even though we parted our ways as teenagers, I remembered him as calm, shy, responsible and reasonable boy. As I then learned, his life had taken an unexpected turn and he fell a victim of alcohol and drug abuse.

It is no wonder that I hadn’t heard about him until that December morning. His daily life was no headline. I didn’t need my friends to update me whenever Andy went on holiday, got a new job or bought a car. These are all normal things that don’t need to be talked about. But when he did the unexpected and the unspeakable, horrible thing, everyone was going to find out.

Stories like this emerge out of nowhere, because they happen in the sea of school runs, nine to fives, birthdays and other regular and boring activities and routines. It is easy to fall for the illusion that these events shape the world around us. We are also hardwired to seek out the unusual. Our brains don’t like surprises. We are drawn to sensations and extremes, both good and bad. It is part of our survival mechanism that dates back to when our ancestors had to know the surroundings and anticipate the unexpected to be prepared for a threat. The legacy of that instinct now comes in the form of a shock when our old friend commits a murder and excitement when the horse we bet on wins the race. This is why after sixteen years of living his average life, Andy only made the headlines on my screen when he did what he did. And you know what is really messed up about his story? He will now spend the rest of his life paying for what he did, and I can’t help but feel sorry for him. I remember him as a charming and innocent seventeen-year-old, who we all looked up to, and I know that whatever led to that drunken argument with his girlfriend, he didn’t choose it. It happened to him. Somewhere along the way, he took the wrong turn and it led him to destruction and to the night when he took another human’s life.

COVID stories follow the same rules. Whether it is the “my uncle died of COVID” or “I had it back in June and it was horrible” or “I am a nurse and I’ve never seen so many sick people in my life” story, it is all the same. It is the extreme taken out of the sea of average experiences. We won’t hear from people who’s relatives haven’t died during the pandemic. That’s not news. The news needs to shock, surprise and scare. That’s where the money is. We won’t hear from nurses and doctors whose pandemic days have mostly been just another Tuesdays. No, we will hear the testimony of the overworked nurse who has seen people die even if her experience doesn’t reflect the experience of thousands of other nurses around the country. Whenever we see a compelling story of an overwhelmed nurse asking us to stay at home, because she has seen what this virus does to people, it’s worth remembering that one gambling friend we all have. He always seems to tell you about his winnings, but never tells you about his losses. It doesn’t mean he always wins but losing is so common it is not even a shock or a surprise anymore. It happens all the time, it’s the default, the status que, he loses regularly, possibly every day or every week, so it’s not newsworthy.

Early in 2020, Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash. It’s not everyday that a basketball star and his family die in such a way, so when it happened, nobody was glad and relieved that Michael Jordan was alright. This is yet another example how we pay attention to the extremes and the unexpected and this is what the media serves us all the time. Next time a celebrity dies, the headlines won’t read “David Beckham is still alive” (status quo), but “So and so was found dead in his mansion” (the unexpected). When Chadwick Boseman died of cancer, nobody knew he had battled with, last year, the headlines reported exactly that, not “The Rock doesn’t have cancer”.

When a celebrity dies, nobody talks about those who are still alive

COVID nineteen will always have his Garys, Trevors, Andies and Tinas. They will make it easy for the untrained mind to fall for his spell. He will have compelling stories told by survivors and relatives of the deceased. But when those emerge we have to remember about the scepticism and look at the bigger picture and realise that these stories are just the highlights of a mostly boring and uneventful pandemic which does not justify sacrifices that have been demanded of us. Personal relationship with COVID is a delusion that does not excuse the attention we have, collectively, given this newfound deity. It is time COVID, just like other cults, gets left behind. The leaders, the charlatans, who tell you what COVID wants and what he doesn’t like, need to be held accountable for their lies and deception. And those who claim to have had a personal experience with COVID need to understand that their experience does not define the reality we all live in and that we all have to move on and live our lives. Lives we have all earned with freedoms we have all been given by the one true god – the Flying Spaghetti Monster

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Tieranny: Who stole Christmas?

On Saturday, Boris Johnson told Santa Claus he wasn’t welcome in London and surrounding areas. Not only that. He ordered every man, woman and child in, what he calls, Tier 4 to stay home and not visit their families over Christmas. If this wasn’t bad, oppressive and intrusive enough, he threatened these families with fines and arrests if they broke these new and sudden rules. Leaving or entering London after midnight that day was criminalised to the point where even the mainstream media compared the packed train stations across the city to war time evacuation. This time, however, they were not escaping explosions and destruction, not even from the mutated virus, but from the tyranny of their own leader.

Many people would use the word incompetence instead of tyranny, but I do not see Boris Johnson as incompetent. At the moment of writing #BorisFailedBritain is trending on Twitter, but I do not believe he failed Britain, at least not in the way he is being accused of. He has failed and he has failed us dramatically by destroying our lives with continuous lockdowns and other restrictions designed to make us pretend COVID19 is our only weakness and the only thing we should worry about. Truth is, we are not Supermen and COVID19 is not our Kryptonite. There are other things that can and have killed us over the course of this year, and some, like cancer, growing depression and unemployment will claim more victims in the coming months and years and the blood of these men, women and children will be on Johnson’s hands, as well as on the hands of everyone who pushed for more lockdowns and other restrictions that came with them. I don’t even think Boris is a tyrant or a dictator. I think the majority of the public are so scared and incapable of making their own decisions that they need not simple guidance, but a clear list of rules to follow.  If the majority are scared of that one thing – the virus – then they will hold him responsible for the handling of this virus. He then gets to pull the lever, like in the trolley dilemma, and in hopes of saving a few elderly people from dying of COVID19 and the NHS from being overwhelmed, he chooses to let the trolley run over cancer patients, anxious and depressed people, obese people, unborn children, business owners and economy as a whole. He pulls the lever because he knows people will not blame him even if in the end more lives will be lost. By then, however, it can be attributed to something else. So, he may not be a tyrant as we know it, or he may not have always been one, but that doesn’t mean that with a little help of the public he can’t become one.

His response reminds me that of every major corporation when facing a possible backlash or boycott. When corporations fail to accommodate or acknowledge an identity group it almost always leads to outrage of activists. Companies want our money, they want to survive, so they choose to avoid bad reputation and put rainbows on their displays. This strategy works because it pleases the minority who would otherwise loudly voice their outrage. So, it’s best to keep them quiet by appearing virtuous and inclusive. Those who accuse them of “bending the knee” to wokeness will be called bigots and no corporation wants to be associated with bigotry. And this is what The Prime Minister has done. He pleased those who are likely to make the loudest noise of disapproval. Fear of COVID19, in this case, is the wokeness he has to please. The anger and desperation of people like me is the bigotry he can deal with by force and nobody will feel sorry or voice their outrage in our name.

Just like corporations, our politicians just want to survive

Christmas saving lockdown that ended in Tiers

“The only way to save this Christmas”, government officials said back in October, “is to introduce a four-week national lockdown”. And so, on the 5th November, we closed our businesses, cancelled our plans and worked from home if we could. Some businesses, however, did not close their doors. Before the November lockdown was announced, some parts of England had already been hit with major restrictions when they were put in Tier 3. All non-essential businesses in Tier 3 were ordered to close until further notice. This gave rise to resistance of gym owners in Liverpool, the city where the Tier 3 restrictions were in place in October.

Nick Whitcombe, one of the gym owners in Liverpool, became the face and the voice of the resistance. His gym remained open despite daily visits from the police who were delighted to fine him and the members of his gym. Nick, along with other local gym owners, campaigned to make gyms essential for mental health reasons. His mission was science and evidence based. The government data clearly showed that gyms were “part of the solution, not the problem”, which later became the slogan of the campaign. His argument to, not only allow gyms to stay open, but to make them essential, was based on the low infection rate in the gyms and huge mental health benefits of physical activity. This, he believed, could not be neglected especially in the dark, cold and depressing winter months, when many people, especially women, may not feel safe to workout outside.

The Liverpool gyms were visited by the police multiple times a day threatening their owners and members with fines and arrests. Soon after, the rest of the country faced the same fate as the North. A four-week national lockdown to save Christmas was announced. This time many gyms across the country showed solidarity with the cause and refused to bend the knee to the lockdown rules. Gainz Fitness and Strength in Bedford and Zone Gym in London were among the many who vowed to defy the lockdown rules. They were soon joined by other business owners who simply had had enough. Restaurants, beauty salons, tattoo shops and local gift shops were just a few that made themselves heard on social media and made it to the news. Police visited all of them, fined and arrested when they refused to shut.

Beauty salon owners, who put their foot down, played a big role in the movement, but it was all about the gyms. This issue became a worldwide story and Nick Whitcombe was interviewed by media and invited on London Real TV. Over six hundred sixteen thousand people signed the petition to prevent gyms from closing again. This number simply could not be ignored by the government. Supplement company, Grenade, joined the campaign and many other fitness-oriented names and brands soon followed. Many remained quiet until getting called out or boycotted by fitness enthusiasts. Gymshark, for example, remained largely silent about the importance of gyms despite having no problem whatsoever getting involved with other political issues in the recent months. They even changed their Twitter handle to Homeshark during the first lockdown to support the #StayHome cause and later joining the activists in posting black squares on their Instagram to support Black Lives Matter. It took weeks of #makegymsEssential campaign for the CEO of Gymshark to express his support for the gym industry, but in my opinion it was just to avoid backlash, especially since black Friday was just around the corner and Gymshark needed to sell as many skinny tracksuits and leggings as possible.

Stand Up X was formed independently to organise nationwide protests

What happened after the lockdown surprised everyone. Boris Johnson introduced a new and redefined Tier system. Tier 3 remained the highest level of alert with the toughest restrictions, but this time gyms and beauty salons were allowed to stay open. Pubs and restaurants were delt the worst hand. Another thing people noticed was that most of England left the November lockdown worse off than they entered it. Millions of people came back to more restrictions than they had in October. Many joked that this was just another lockdown disguised as Tier System.

It was, however, a small victory for gyms. and it meant that people like me, who work in fitness, finally had some sort of certainty in their lives. Athletes could finally set their long-term goals and adhere to their fitness regime to get to them. It was a small victory because gyms were still not made essential, which meant that in case of another national lockdown, we’d be back to square one. It was, on the other hand, a huge victory for all of us and I will explain why.

To obey or to disobey?

In one of my previous posts The Dark Side of The Greater Good – Deserts of Mars (wordpress.com), I addressed the communist regime that swept through Poland and Eastern Europe for four and a half decades. Russia, after defeating The Nazis in World War 2, deceived Poles into accepting communism as their saviour. The next forty years were filled with misery and foreign oppression disguised as the greater good. The disguise came in slogans like “collective good”, “equality” and “we’re in this together”. Of course, these exact words might not have been used, but it was just a cover up for the lies, deception and war crimes committed by the Soviets. It took rebellion and resistance to end this in the late 1980s. The Communist cloud was removed and for the first time in over forty years forecast for Poland looked brighter than ever before. Maybe the Soviet Union would have collapsed regardless of Polish rebellion, but maybe not. It took resistance to release Poland from the power-hungry claws of the Soviets, who used the war as the crisis and Nazis as the threat. Together they formed the excuse to invade Poland without tanks and bombers, without actually invading them.

Today, COVID19 is the threat and the pandemic is the crisis and lockdowns disguised as solution are like the Soviets disguised as the saviours. Russians agreement with Poland was based on a lie. First they murdered twenty-one thousand Polish prisoners of war and kept this crime hidden for nearly fifty years. The officers and other prisoners they shot were, if released, a potential threat and an obstacle to absolute control. Today, the government is willingly sentencing thousands of people to die of cancer and suicide, only to offer solution to the pandemic.

Today, nobody gets shot in the back of their head for refusing to believe COVID19 is a genuine threat that justifies continuous lockdowns and assaults on our liberties. As we have seen, however, the most prominent voices out there are the target of censorship online and police brutality on the streets. The police keep a close eye on those with large enough following on Instagram and whenever an anti-lockdown protest is organised, those are the people who are always the victims of arrests. The police tactics here are so transparent – find the leaders and make an example out of them. Piers Corbyn has been arrested at every protest he attended. Andreas Michili or @g00nbag on Instagram, the owner of Zone Gym in London, is another person who has been targeted by the police at two anti-lockdown protests. They deliberately searched for him in the crowd of thousands of protesters. Ellie Grey or @officialelliegrey on Instagram is another anti-lockdown activist with sixty thousand followers. She too has had bounty on her head for spreading information about the upcoming protest.

Zone Gym Owner was fined £67,000 for trying to make a living

Why them? In my opinion it is as clear as day. The authorities hope their arrest will discourage their audience from attending the next protest. If I got arrested at a protest, I’d share it with my couple of hundred followers. It would most likely reach up to 25% of them and it would not make a huge impact. The police know that arresting someone who they know has thousands of followers, is like arresting all of them at once. With every arrest, more people get discouraged from attending the next protest. What other possible reason could there be? If all protesters are breaking the same rules, then should it matter who gets arrested? As long as the constables don’t come back empty handed, right?

I have recently read “On Tyranny” by Timothy Snyder who, apart from believing Donald Trump is a dictator (if this were true, the book, as well as all other Trump criticism, would never see the light of day), made some good points and observations. “Protests”, he says in one of the chapters, “can be organized through social media, but nothing is real that does not end on the streets”. He continues, “If tyrants feel no consequences for their actions in the three-dimensional world, nothing will change”. It doesn’t, however, require a tyrant for protests to be needed. Whenever a group of people have witnessed or experienced injustice, oppression or inequality they almost always brought about a positive change through protests or some sort of resistance or strike. You can’t talk about gay rights, women’s rights, end of slavery, racial equality or even animal rights, and not mention that they were all achieved through protests and even riots. These activists took to the streets to question the status quo. They took a stance for what they believed in and spoke against injustice they either experienced first-hand or witnessed all around them. This is the driving force behind every protest – it is a group of people who believe they are being oppressed and they don’t see any other way but to gather and make their voice heard.

Today, many people believe our freedoms are under attack and lockdowns and intrusive rules take away our rights to be human and our access to prosperity. These people question the status quo. They believe lockdowns are unjustified and politicians enforcing them corrupt or incompetent. These people are not convinced by the pandemic argument. The government created rules banning protests because of the pandemic and for many people this is good enough. The protesters, however, some of whom are business owners who have lost everything, fathers who have not seen their children because of lockdowns, young people whose education has been interrupted and people who have lost their job, gather precisely to protest those rules that assault freedom of assembly, freedom to make a living and live with dignity. If you don’t support the protesters, you can’t quote the rules they are protesting to stop them from protesting. It would be like telling women to not demand the right to vote because they don’t have the right to vote. You may not agree with their cause, but their right to stand up for what they believe in is your right to do the same when you believe you have no other choice. I should also mention that not a single protest resulted in a spike in cases or COVID19 deaths. If you believe in freedom, in rights, in progress, in power, in corruption, then you must also believe in the right of the people to defend themselves against bad politicians and their policies.

“The freedom to protest is the oxygen of democracy”

What happened after November stay at home order then? Boris Johnson released us from our chains only to tie our hands and feet. In other words, the Tiers returned, only this time harsher and with more restrictions. Many areas went into lockdown from Tier 1 and finished it with Tier 2 or 3. Watford, where I live, was considered lucky to start December in Tier 2, only to move into Tier 3 – highest level of alert – a couple of weeks later. So far lockdown worked perfectly, didn’t it? Then, after Johnson put us all through a lockdown to save Christmas and after he promised Christmas would be saved and after he put us into Tier 3, he announced, just days later, that London and surrounding areas would go into an emergency Tier 4, of which we had never heard of before, of course. But I’ll talk about that later.

First, what changed and why in Tier 3 since October? This time, gyms and beauty salons were allowed to open across all Tiers 1 – 3. This is before the introduction of Tier 4. Before lockdown, Tier 3 meant gyms and hairdressers had to shut. Now, this was no longer the case. The government responded to over six hundred thousand signatures and rebellious gym owners. They still hadn’t recognised gyms as essential businesses, which meant that in case of yet another national lockdown, they would be told to shut again, but it was a start. Why did the government have a change of heart? I have a theory.

I believe that the government knew that fines for gyms and other businesses were unenforceable and arrests were unlawful. They knew that men like Nick Whitcombe or Andreas Michili would continue to disobey the orders. They knew that any successful resistance would expose their weakness and empower people. The resistance didn’t just come in form of protests and disobedience of business owners. It evolved into educating people about their rights and how to handle themselves in the event of an arrest or what to do when being fined or how to legally refuse to shut their business. People learned about their human rights and the laws that protect those rights from the state and that no other human, no matter what authority they have, should have the power to suspend those rights. So, the government, knowing they would eventually lose (either because of mass disobedience or loss of public support due to inability to enforce coronavirus rules), decided to “allow” people to do what they were going to do anyway. Gyms were allowed to stay open because many of them would stay open anyway. Nick Whitcombe’s campaign had by then gained a worldwide attention, hundreds of thousands of people signed the petition to save gyms so the government had no choice but to bend the knee to our demands. This is my opinion anyway. According to the experts, for example, supermarkets are the places that produce the most cases and gyms, restaurants and pubs are at the very bottom of the list, resulting in next to no cases per hundred thousand visits.

In Tier 3, however, pubs and restaurants had to shut. This meant that restaurants in Hertfordshire, for example, reopened their doors on the 2nd December, fully equipped in PPE, cleaning and sanitising stations, social distancing measures in place, reduced capacity (all of which cost money, effort and job losses), had to close again on the 16th December, as per Tier 3 rules which allowed take away only. The difference between the restaurant or pub owners and gym owners is that the former, in good faith, closed their doors in November, while the latter disobeyed and made it known to thousands of people on social media. This resulted in a win for the gyms and a loss for pubs and bars who, previously could stay open in Tier 3 provided their customers ordered a “substantial meal” with their drink, now had to shut.

As we entered Tier 3 on the 16th, people like me, fitness instructors or personal trainers still had a job to go to. Pub workers went into pretty much another lockdown just two weeks after the taste of freedom and a hope for a normal Christmas was returned to them. The promise that was given to them in November was broken. For now, however, we still had Christmas to look forward to. Then, out of nowhere, came Tier 4. I should mention here that a COVID19 test centre emerged in Watford, just on my way to work. Coincidentally that led to more cases which led to Tier 3 and then 4. No article I’ve seen mentions any deaths or even hospitalizations, only cases. My wife gave birth almost four weeks ago and the midwives, as nice as they all were, told her she “had to” have a COVID19 test before giving birth. Her test was negative, but I can imagine a lot of people’s tests came back positive even if they themselves had never felt better and could be in the hospital for a completely different reason. My sister, who gave birth on Christmas Eve, in Luton, was also forced to have the test. Tier 4 arrived to save us, in other words, from cases.

2 + 2 = 5

The announcement by the Prime Minister on the 19th was a breaking point for thousands, if not millions, of people. Everyone, including those who hadn’t previously expressed their views on coronavirus lockdowns, had something to say now. I had made my opinion known long ago. By the third week of the first lockdown, I’d already sensed something was not right about it. Police issued warnings that they’d be looking in people’s bags to see if they were buying essentials. They’d patrol parks and tape off benches and outdoor gyms. They made it criminal to sit alone in the field or take your dog for a walk in the middle of nowhere. Where I come from, this is known as the early sings of a democratic country turning into a police state. A police state voted in by fear and compliance.

When Johnson finished his announcement, which resulted in pretty much another lockdown in London and surrounding areas, the lockdown disguised as just another Tier, the whole hell broke loose. People were outraged and had every right to be. One particular group of people believed they knew who stole Christmas. Only now it wasn’t just about Christmas. For millions of people, it meant at least two more weeks of not working and not seeing family. Typical human response is to find someone to blame. I guess I have done it myself by holding those who blindly obey and never questions the orders they are given responsible. But one person, who I know personally made a statement that I believe represents the views of a growing number of people. He blamed the rule breakers for Tier 4.

“To all those who broke the rules, didn’t wear masks, and I know some of you personally, this one [Tier 4] is on you!”, said one of my friends on his Instagram. I don’t blame him for being angry. I applaud him in a way. He’s been, until now, quiet about lockdowns, but they affected him significantly. He has lost most of his clients and considered just getting a normal job for the guaranteed income. He has the right to feel angry and I am glad that he does. But I think he should aim his anger and outrage at the government and not that one occasional person without a mask he sees in the cereal isle in Tesco. Truth is, I’ve been out in the shopping centre twice in between September and October and both times I was the only person without a facemask. Most people, for one reason or another, follow the rules, so Tier 4 can hardly be blamed on that one guy here and there.

I sensed desperation in his words, which just like anger, is alright to feel. I believe he speaks for a lot of people, so it is not just about him. These people don’t seem to be too concerned with saving lives, they just want their lives back and believe the only way to do that is by pleasing the government with total obedience. He added in his post that in New Zealand, people just did what they were told and now live a normal life. He attributes that to strict lockdown and people following the rules, but I would say geography played its part too. Chances are, there is, on average, a lot less flights going in and out of New Zealand than there is in the UK. Truth is, there is always more factors at play, and simply saying “lockdown did it” is dishonest. It’s also interesting how people love to mention places where lockdown “worked”, like New Zealand and Melbourne, Australia, but fail to mention Sweden which achieved similar results without lockdown. They fail to mention countries that imposed strict lockdowns and changed absolutely nothing. Peru, for example has had the world’s toughest lockdown and still one of the worst death tolls in the world. Spain, France and Italy have also had tough lockdowns and have achieved almost nothing. In short, lockdown is a lottery – it may work this time, it may not and whatever the result, there are always other factors at play. For example, Peru might have a really poor healthcare system, which is why their deaths have gone through the roof. I don’t know if that’s the case, but it could be. People love to discredit Swedish approach by talking about their population density i.e., why lack of lockdown wasn’t the “real” reason for their success, but when they talk about countries where lockdown “did work” they forget to look into other factors that played a role or made the lockdown possible in the first place.

Boris’ lockdowns caused even Santa to lose his job

So, no, locking down too late is not the problem and locking down early or at all is not a solution. Even World Health Organisation urges the world leaders to not rely on economy destroying lockdowns. My friend blames the restrictions on the rule breakers. He thinks the only path to freedom is through obedience. He has accepted that most of the rules make no sense and that government has control over his life, but his only choice is to comply and hope this will end soon. I don’t blame him. He, and others like him, is a person who has sacrificed and lost a lot this year and is desperate to blame someone or something for why this keeps happening. I sympathise with him, but I do not think giving up our freedoms should be the only way to get them back one day. People he represents would go to a park, beach or a Christmas market to enjoy themselves and pretend everything is normal, only to then complain about other people being there too and call them selfish, irresponsible and lacking common sense. These people will follow some rules, bend and ignore others if they think they don’t apply to them only to then shame those who don’t follow rules they follow. It’s the mindset that says, “I wash and sanitise my hands, so I will have a workout with my friend, but if I see others enjoy aspects of their lives they aren’t willing to give up, I’ll assume they are dangerous and irresponsible granny killers”.

It takes resistance to stop tyranny, but it only takes compliance to allow it to exist and take over every aspect of our lives. We have seen politicians and media suggest what we should and should not be allowed to do in the privacy of our own homes and how we should and should not interact with out loved ones. Some even go as far as claiming they have the power to “ban sex” between partners who don’t live together. We have also seen that business owners can successfully stand their ground and win the right to remain open without harassment.

Those brave men and women who didn’t close their doors, who have been fined and have spent a night in jail showed that the only way to get back to normal is through resistance. Allowing the government to play lockdown lottery with our lives only encourages them to continue doing so. We have to show them we suffer, and we are angry, otherwise they will never know and will never change. Other businesses, both big and small, should now do the same and show our leaders that they too are essential. You and me should also make the government aware that COVID19 is not the only threat and there are long term side effects of lockdown that we will all have to live with long after those who put us through it, have resigned or retired.

It is time to stop pretending, like the media want you to, that two plus two equals five, and that lockdowns are and have always been the only way to fight a virus, or that herd immunity is just a “theory” and can only be achieved through (mandatory) vaccines. Even WHO have recently changed the definition of Herd Immunity from exposing people to a virus to protecting people from a virus. I don’t know about you, but I know that if you always lift the same weight, you will never get stronger and if you never expose your body to germs or viruses, your body will never build defence mechanism against them also known as immune system. The media just approvingly repeat the slogans, like “Christmas IS cancelled this year” without hesitation convincing viewers that it is normal and that there is nothing strange about politicians thinking they have the power to cancel a religious celebration and that they have always had this power. Oceania has always been at war with Eurasia. Time to resist or this will never end, and lockdowns will claim more victims than COVID19 could ever dream of. The age range will also be a lot wider as we will die and suffer of unemployment leading to crime and suicide, cancer, poverty, loneliness and more in the coming months and years. Time to realise that we are in a toxic relationship with the government and the “rule breakers” aren’t to blame for this, it is the compliance of the masses.

When Big Brother hits you again, don’t pretend he didn’t mean it, fight back or he will do it again.

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Wear The Damn Mask!

“Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”

Benjamin Franklin

What follows might be bollox, so be warned.

Me and my wife went to London the other day. It was the first day out since lockdown started. It was also the first time either of us used public transport. It was a nice day, but it would have been nicer if it weren’t for the constant dehumanizing reminders that we are all dangerous, potentially infectious, dirty bags of germs. Before boarding the train in Watford, everyone masked up like a good, responsible citizen. Everyone apart from us. My wife had kept two masks in her purse in case we were told off, but I was not going to put one on no matter what. My wife, who is asthmatic, was willing to suffer a short-term discomfort to avoid confrontation. I wasn’t. The people in Euston stared at us like they had just seen Bonnie and Clyde – that couple they recognized from the “Wanted” posters. Some eyes spelled fear, while others expressed disgust, and confusion – how are they getting away with this disobedience?

The exact look masked people give me on the street

The ancient instinct

As the quote above suggests, I am not willing to sacrifice my liberties for temporary safety. I am responsible for my own safety and you are for yours. This should be where the mask debate ends. But it doesn’t so, if you’re persuaded by the government’s advice and “the science”, then by all means, wear a mask, gloves, goggles, and a top hat if you want. My problem is with the government trying to take my right to take responsibility for my own life away from me. I don’t need the state to be my parent. I can make my own informed decisions about my health and safety. I can take risks and those who don’t want to take them can, just as well, stay home and “stay safe”. This has been my stance throughout the lockdown. The belief that it is OUR job to take responsibility for ourselves and our immediate family and keep them safe from harm. It’s not up to me to keep you or your grandad healthy or alive. As harsh as this sounds, this is true, and no amount of online shaming is going to change that.

We care for our own. Countless scientific research, as well as common sense, confirms that we, as humans and as mammals, value the health of our own family members more than that of strangers. Our own children and children of our siblings are the priority because they carry our genes. And even though we don’t think about it like this, our genes want to survive by being passed on to our offspring. So, the genes make us love and care for our children and protect them from harm. We share genes with our brothers and sisters, so their kids are, by definition, successful copies of our genes. Unlike our parents, who have already contributed to the growth of our family tree. The job of the next generations is to continue that expansion. That’s why we love our children and want the best for them. Anyone who has children or is expecting one, like me, knows how important it is to keep them safe and everyone else, including our own parents, becomes less important. It’s not that we stop caring. Poor health or the death of a parent definitely does hurt, and we never fully expect it even when we have every reason to. It’s that we know that as they age, the chances of them getting seriously sick skyrocket and we are wired to accept that. It’s tough to think your mom or dad will die one day, but this day will come, and you know it. We never think in these terms about our children. Because we know the circle of life by now. “No mother should bury her son”, I heard once in a movie.   We, as parents, should be the first to go and it’s up to us to make sure the natural order occurs.

This instinct is hard wired so deep inside our subconsciousness that we can’t control it. We think we can. But we can’t. In the end, there is an order in which we value human life and what we are willing to do to protect, save, or defend it. This means risking our life, health or even principles, beliefs and values we hold to save somebody’s life, depend on our relationship with the person and what danger face. Another factor also plays a role. It is the hypothetical victim or a number in the statistic VS a real person we know or can relate to. Smoking illustrates it perfectly.

The older you

Research finds that approximately seven thousand non-smoking adults die from lung cancer in The United States each year because of inhaling second-hand smoke. It is not a big number in a country of three hundred and thirty million people. Nevertheless, it’s over seven thousand people whose lives are cut short because of other people’s unhealthy lifestyle. How many smokers would be willing to quit smoking if it helped lower that number? I’d say no one would when presented with a simple statistic. How many would quit or be more mindful of others if the statistic turned into real people with names, families, dreams and plans? I’d say more people would consider quitting. What if quitting smoking meant saving someone they knew? Someone they were close to? I’d say the number of quitters would rise significantly.

It is for the same reason we don’t really think or care about starving children in Africa, but we would care more about a single African child with a name, face, and dreams even if we only met him in a documentary, charity advert or a leaflet from the same organisation. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s what we do. We think it’s upsetting and unfortunate, but we aren’t willing to do anything that would cause us discomfort to help those in need.

According to the Telegraph article from 2019, six thousand non-smokers die of lung cancer in the UK each year. The article however links the deaths to pollution. How many of us, honestly, are willing to give up certain luxuries, like flying or driving to save six thousand people? My guess is this number doesn’t impress anyone even if it’s so close to home. The truth is, in my opinion, that we don’t want to give up our comfort because we convince ourselves that our effort has little to no impact on the lives of those six thousand men, women and children. It is the same with smoking. Cigarettes pose a threat to the smoker and those around him, but he is not convinced to quit. Why? I believe it’s because he doesn’t see the direct correlation between his actions and the health of his friends and family. And smoking doesn’t always lead to death of lung cancer and when it does, it takes years or decades. If cigarettes killed or caused cancer in 99% of smokers within months and not decades, then less people would smoke. Smoking however, doesn’t always lead to lung cancer and smokers often live to a very old age. In fact, cigarettes can just contribute to poor health with the help of other unhealthy habits like eating junk food and lack of exercise. So, even though there is addiction involved, many smokers just don’t see a direct threat. The damage isn’t done in a day or a month and can’t be observed in real time. One day you may or may not develop a cough and may or may not die prematurely, but the “may or may not” is not convincing enough to make a lifestyle change. This is, I believe, the reason why people start smoking even though there are no health benefits. It’s because they don’t have to deal with the consequences right now. They come later. When they are older. When they expect to be in poor health. When it almost doesn’t matter. The fact of the matter is, we all make choices in the present, pursue short term pleasures and let our older selves deal with the consequences. Cigarettes, in my opinion, fall into that category. If we deliberately sabotage the health of our older selves, how can we ask others to care for the anonymous members of the risk group? Just like I stated above, as species, and as humans we prioritise the youngest among us and the fact that we are willing to destroy our bodies from within and let our older selves deal with it, shows it perfectly.

Who do we save?

Recall the scene from “Titanic” where women and children were prioritised to take the limited number of spaces on the rafts. It makes perfect sense, if we think of humans as one big organism that grows with every child and can’t afford to lose women of childbearing age and children. The same instinct, among certain social and cultural factors, sends young men to war. It’s because even a hundred years ago, when the world population was only two billion, we could afford to lose men, but not women. Once a woman is pregnant with a man, she can’t get pregnant with another man, while a man can make multiple women pregnant. Obviously, this is not what usually happens, because we are governed by many other laws of human nature, but if you think of us as mammals, and males and females, you can see how reproduction can be a big deal for us subconsciously. We are more than animals, so I am not suggesting we sacrifice the elderly because they won’t have anymore kids. No. I am saying, if we are one big organism that wants to grow then it makes sense why we don’t care how our older selves will deal with the consequences of the choices we make today. This can also explain why we may not be willing to do certain sacrifices for the “high risk” people, who are mainly the elderly, when they are presented to us as soulless and anonymous graph or statistic. I also realize that we don’t think if these categories, but I believe there is a more powerful force at work, and it promotes certain feelings and supress others to trigger a certain behaviour. It makes us feel discomfort when we experience or are about to experience something bad for our health. It makes us feel pleasure when we do things that are good for our survival or survival of our genes, like eating or sex. It makes us love our children, so we protect them and make sure they survive. In a way, this force will trick you by making you feel different things physically or mentally, to make you do what it wants you to do. Imagine picking up a pencil and piercing it through your hand. Could you do it if you wanted to or is something stopping you?

So, how does all this relate to face masks? For some people it’s just a mask. No big deal. Others, however, are clearly against it to the point where it angers and upsets them and makes them feel anxious about trying to live a normal life again. They say the new rule is invasive and the government is overstepping by taking away their freedom. They refuse to comply and prepare for war on the 24th July.

This brings me back to the previous paragraphs where I highlighted what level of discomfort we are willing to suffer for others and how it depends on our relationship with them and the level of danger they are facing. For example, if someone were drowning, we would be willing to jump in and get our clothes wet. Would we jump in if it were a frozen lake and there was a huge possibility of not making it back to the surface? What if someone were drowning when the infection rate was at its highest? Would we jump in and save the life, or would we hesitate because of the possibility of getting coronavirus and infecting our loved ones?

You must be calling me mad for even suggesting we would hesitate for the fear of the virus. We might hesitate for other reasons, including not willing to risk our own life. Nevertheless, it is a valid comparison. When facing immediate life or death situation, we are more willing to risk our life or health, sacrifice our belongings, suspend our beliefs, and suppress biases. But we wouldn’t distribute them equally. So, we would risk getting coronavirus to save a drowning child, but we wouldn’t risk drowning to save a child from getting coronavirus. Why? Because drowning is an immediate threat and the child may or may not get the coronavirus. Same applies the other way around. If we don’t jump in, he is definitely going to die, and the risk he is infected and will infect us is unknown just as how our immune system reacts, and it is just as likely for us to be carriers.

I know, I know! Nobody is drowning. Nobody has to make that decision…

The government telling me – a healthy person to wear a mask, is like telling me how many people drown each year, therefore I shouldn’t take my family to the beach or lake. The government telling me to wear a mask is like telling smokers how many non-smokers get lung cancer as a direct result of breathing their cigarette smoke and expect them to quit. In the end, I am responsible for my children at the lake, and non-smokers have a choice of waiting outside. A parent might make a good choice to never smoke around her children, but she doesn’t need to quit to contribute to lowering the statistic and save some hypothetical lives which she may or may not affect. We don’t think we are all equal. We value life according to our relationships, unconscious and conscious biases and we make sacrifices according to that hierarchy. For some of us the mandatory face covering is too much to ask to save hypothetical people who may or may not get a virus. Especially when the data about the benefits of masks is conflicting to say the least.

The argument

You can’t convince someone out of something he convinced himself into

Jonathan Swift

We could sit here all day and argue about COVID19. You’d tell me it’s killing people. I’d tell you, so do influenza and pneumonia. You’d quote the latest number of deaths. I’d ask, “Where did the flu deaths go?”, and tell you how hospitals around the world have been exposed for quoting COVID19 whether it was the cause of death or not. (One of my colleague’s relatives died recently after a hundred years old. They never had or tested positive for coronavirus, but the hospital classed them as COVID19 death – as if they were expecting a hundred-year-old person to live another twenty years if it weren’t for the pandemic.) You’d tell me how many experts say this is serious and I’d tell you about many other experts, who don’t get interviewed by the media, who suggest otherwise. You’d tell me I wouldn’t be saying all this if someone I love died or were on the ventilator. I’d say that personal experience or emotional blackmail are not arguments. I could say the same about cancer patients who have had their operation postponed. First time moms who haven’t received the same care they would have if access to hospitals and midwife service were normal. My wife, for example, is pregnant for the first time and just noticed something concerning on her breast. It could be nothing or it could be something serious. Before getting an appointment with the doctor, she first has to describe the problem to them on the phone so they can just disregard it as nothing to worry about and nothing worthy of a doctor’s time in these “uncertain times” when everyone could be a danger to others. English is not her first language, but only she knows how she feels and the sensation of the area she that worries her. What if she gets nervous when describing it on the phone, and her description of the problem will not be taken seriously? Since when do we self-diagnose mysterious lumps on our bodies? In other circumstances she would have it looked at right away.

So, the quote above perfectly illustrates our situation. You think you have every reason to believe that you need to be in the panic mode and live in fear until told otherwise, and I believe there is no pandemic, in a sense that the virus seems to be lethal to already seriously weakened immune systems. The defence systems are down and the virus attacks. We both look at the same data but see different information. I think I am the one with the glasses on and see the subliminal messages and you think I am crazy. I am convinced the only way for you to see the truth, is to put the glasses on, but you aren’t interested. We are both certain we hold the right position.

It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they’ve been fooled

Mark Twain

The quote by Mark Twain illustrates how hard it is for people to admit they’ve been fooled (and I may be guilty of it too), even in the face of new evidence. Especially when they’ve been emotionally invested in the matter. You have spent four months trusting the government and their experts, who broke their own rules, like Neil Ferguson, the man who gave us lockdown and social distancing. You are unwilling to even think that all this has been unnecessary. Even more so, you are unwilling to let your sacrifice be all for nothing. It’s like discovering your partner cheating and lying to you after you’ve invested and sacrificed so much to be with him. The realisation that it didn’t mean anything to him is hurtful. So, you block the idea that the sacrifice you’ve made for the last five months for the greater good has been for nothing, unnecessary, unreasonable. Furthermore, you might not even be willing to accept that the government is lying to you or doesn’t know what they are doing in this crisis. Between you and me, I don’t know what’s worse, lies or incompetence. Living in denial or voluntary ignorance.

All I know is that I don’t believe the threat is real. Because of that, I don’t believe I should be required to wear a mask. I would really wear it just because you are scared, and I refuse to cover my face with your fear. Remember when we talked about what sacrifices we are willing to make for others? Well I, and many others, based on our independent research, believe it is unnecessary for us to give up our bodily autonomy and right to breathe, because someone, somewhere may or may not get sick. Even if masks worked perfectly, which they don’t, their effect can’t be witnessed in real time and it is not clear whether they have stopped the virus or if the virus has simply  gone away for the Summer, as they do. We simply don’t want to let the government have the power to invade our privacy and freedoms to such extent as to mandate what to do with our faces. You, on the other hand, have come so far, haven’t you? Four months of living in fear and feeding it through your TV screen. You can’t give up now. How do you, Brits say it? In for a penny, in for a pound? Others like me refuse to join this madness and in four months wake up to a headline that says, “Research finds masks have been a waste of time”. For me and others, the evidence is not sufficient. Whether we are talking about the masks or the danger of the virus itself. So far we just have evil or incompetent government who are either executing their evil plan perfectly or are too scared to take strong initiative or unwilling to admit they were wrong to enforce lockdown in the first place. The lockdown that was enforced only because of Ferguson’s inaccurate prediction of how many would die. When he lowered his predicted number of deaths, we continued with lockdown. We continued with it even when he, himself had broken the rules and his excuse was “I thought I was immune to it because I had got it already”, which was the opposite of what the government officials had been telling us about the virus and immunity to it the whole time.

Fragment from The Checklist Manifesto explains how masks only make sense for medical staff who work with patients

The tribes we belong to

When 9/11 happened, it brought the citizens of New York together. The crisis created a sense of belonging and meaning in the community. Both the crime rate and suicide rate dropped following the attacks. New Yorkers felt they were part of something bigger than themselves. Everyone wanted to do their part even if it seemed insignificant. The Blitz made people feel the same way. People depended on each other mentally and physically. Coming together in a time of crisis is not new to our species. We evolved in small tribes for millions of years and living in big cities, often alone and away from our families (our tribes), robs us of that feeling of belonging and contributing to a community. Crisis, according to the war journalist and author of “Tribe”, Sebastian Junger, awakens our ancient instincts that helped our ancestors, who lived in tribes, to survive. Junger describes many other instances where crisis brought strangers together and points out how all men and women become equal in the face of crisis. Why can’t we come together during this pandemic and agree on a seemingly small issue like wearing a mask? I have my own theory.

It is based mainly on the fact that, in my opinion, it is almost impossible for people to relate to, let alone, care about a death toll or death rate. An anonymous graph of daily infections and weekly deaths. A death toll of a major earthquake is more relatable as it claims thousands of lives in a single day and it doesn’t discriminate based on age, race or sex. It makes all men and women equal. Maybe that’s why it’s more relatable. If the COVID19 graph is made up mostly of older people with underlying health conditions, it’s not easy to relate to it. An earthquake, however, doesn’t take hostages. The death toll might still be anonymous, but we can see the devastation, and imagine the horror of mothers looking for their children in the ruins of their homes. The COVID19 deaths aren’t, at least to people who have been against the lockdown, that scary. The fact that people don’t care too much about an anonymous graph, is supported by how we usually react to the death of a celebrity. We mourn because we have invested so much time getting to know them, watching their movies or listening to their music. We relate to them. We know their name, their face and voice. We have seen them get married, have kids or throw tantrums on live TV. The death of a celebrity is so hard to process that we even create conspiracy theories suggesting he or she is still alive somewhere or that their mysterious suicide is just a cover up for something bigger.

Final reason why COVID19 pandemic has failed to bring us together, in my opinion, is that we have spent too much time dividing ourselves. Coronavirus is so invisible and weak that it simply cannot remind us of our ancient instincts. You, me, your sister and your friend Joe, all belong to groups. We all wear many labels. We all have unconscious biases towards members or our own groups and against those in the outgroups, even if the biases are subtle. This is an evolutionary trait related to tribalism. We (our ancestors) needed to be suspicious of strangers because they could be dangerous or carry unknown disease. Something that gets developed over millions of years, doesn’t disappear overnight just because we now have skyscrapers and smartphones and don’t live in small tribes. The unconscious bias is just a tiny legacy of our ancient ancestors and their lack of trust to strangers. Research shows that while we may not always treat others differently, different areas of our brain respond to members of our group and members of the outgroup. The groups can be anything from race, accent, to political views or even star sign or shared name. Of course, we have developed other traits alongside, like empathy, being social and many others which overrun the unconscious biases in most people. The recent decade, however, has seen the rise of identity politics which divided us into Us and Them. Feminism, Black Lives Matter, the election of Donald Trump, and Brexit divide us into categories. White, black, men, women, racist, sexist, homophobic, gay, straight, and so on. Even now, during, what’s supposed to be another Spanish Flu, we have managed to divide ourselves into black and white, BLM supporters and racists. Brexit vote and the election of Boris Johnson and his delivery of Brexit, divided the UK into Leavers and Remainers. Not only are we divided, but we also view each other as enemies. How can one relate to a death toll so diverse?

Speaking of diversity. I am an immigrant. I came to the UK fourteen years ago. That’s almost half of my life. Would I die for this country? No. Do I care about the royal family? Not really. I would help my community in the time of crisis. I have a family now. Would I stay here if the country turned into an Orwellian police state or socialist Venezuela? No, I wouldn’t fight for this country. What I am saying is, that this pandemic is too weak to convince everyone to come together. Diversity isn’t our strength. When you have a multicultural society, it is harder to come together to fight a virus what has 99.96% survival rate. Whether we like it or not, we care for our own. We respond better to real victims rather than graphs. We are willing to suffer different levels of discomfort for others and the more related we are to the (potential) victims, the more discomfort we are willing to suffer. The graph below demonstrates how we measure the sacrifice against the relationship when facing an immediate threat.

You’ll have to excuse my amateur skills at making a graph, but as you can see, we would risk our own life to save or protect our loved ones but the more unrelated we are to the people who are in danger, the less we are willing to do to help them. I’ve actually seen countless videos where a fight breaks out on the train (often between a man and a woman), and the other passengers choose not to intervene. Some even remove themselves from the area. I think there is a lot of people who would sacrifice more to save their mobile phone than another human. The sacrifice isn’t always physical. If someone doesn’t believe the masks are necessary, and believe the government is overstepping by making them mandatory and threatening them with fines for disobedience, then they will not make that sacrifice for anonymous people in a graph. People who don’t want to wear masks, whether they have or haven’t looked into their risks and benefits, are already angry with the government and the police for how they have been treating all of us for the past four months. They have been treating us like children. From how often to wash our hands and what song to sing, to what to wear on our faces. Not to mention the contact tracing system which has made a lot of people question the intentions of the government. I am not going to wear a mask and I will sooner be arrested than accept a fine for it. For people like me, being unmasked is a statement. We want to be heard. For some it is just a mask, perhaps providing safety, anonymity, comfort. For others it is infringement of our freedom. It is too much to ask and maybe, if it weren’t for Trump, Brexit, Black Lives Matter, identity politics, we would have a different response and would come together. Instead the rich of this world have just got richer during the pandemic while the poorest got poorer and this alone can create rebellion against the establishment even if it comes in a form of unmasked smiling face of a free man or woman.  

Something tells me this is correct
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When things go back to normal

Do you ever text your friend and suggest you should get together and they say “Yeah, when things go back to normal, we should go to the pub or something!”?  Do you ever scroll through your social media feed and see people making holiday plans for when things go back to normal? Do you ever visit dating sites and see people looking to date after the lockdown? I bet you have come across at least one of these people. Or maybe you are one yourself. Making plans for when we are given thumbs up to get on with our lives. What if planning and arranging your life from now on will never be the same? What if things don’t go back to normal? What if lockdown ending is not what we should be anticipating but what comes after?

Are we in control? Are we truly in control of our lives? Are we the authors of our story or are we just narrating it? Are we making the decisions or are we just choosing between the options provided for us? Maybe we are all enslaved by the algorithm that advertises careers, products, lifestyle choices and romantic partners to us and we stick to choosing between the options provided. The endless chain of choices creates the illusion of freedom while be become dependent on the state or corporations to give us what we think we want and need.

We never needed Netflix. Nobody needs Netflix. Think about it. I am sure a lot of you can relate. You want to watch a movie but now you are bombarded with choices and none of them seem to scratch that itch. You scroll through recently added and the most popular. Then you move on to comedies and then maybe you check another category only to find nothing. You’ve just spent twenty minutes deciding or rather choosing between the options provided by somebody else. More often than not, it’s too late now, you have to be up early and if you started watching something now, you’d not get enough sleep. Sometimes you might settle for something just for the sake of it. Either way, your time has been wasted and you are not satisfied. Do you think people who run Netflix, waste their time on watching movies or lose sleep to watch entire series overnight? Isn’t it ironic that the more options you have, the less happy you become? The options are almost limitless. You know you can watch a certain movie any time and unlimited number of times and yet for this very reason you are restricted. Back in the day, when I was younger, we were restricted by the number of options. We had to go to the video store and rent VHS tapes. We had less options but enjoyed more freedom. More isn’t necessarily better.

But I digress.

Do you think fast food chains are ran by unhealthy and obese CEOs or that cigarette manufacturers by heavy smokers who are on the brick of getting lung cancer? No. For the same reason why a drug dealer is not a junkie himself. They want you to buy and use their product. Time, money and health are their resources and they won’t waste them like they want you to. They need you to rely on them while their mind is clear and they continue to make money because you are willing to waste your resources – money, time and health on useless subscriptions, alcohol, cigarettes, unhealthy food, drugs, trainers and expensive clothes. You submit to their rules. They don’t live by them. I’m not saying they are all evil. I am saying that a CEO or a founder of a clothing company, doesn’t spend countless hours walking around shopping for trainers and jeans. Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t spend his days scrolling through Instagram seeing what other people are doing with their life. He has a whole team of spies to do it for him. But seriously, these people spend every waking hour trying to improve their product, their company, their life and to find ways to make more money off you. In a way they don’t care that you are wasting your money on their products or life on their platforms. Just know that they don’t. They think of more ways to get to you. To get to know you. To advertise to you. They live by different rules. They’ve earned it or sold their souls to the Devil to get there. You choose.

We have seen the proof with our own eyes as soon as shops re – opened. People queuing to buy, to browse, to consume to enslave themselves and submit to the will of the elite. This is what we have become. Defeated and braindead. Crawling through the High Street abandoning our purpose in life for a new pair of Nikes believing they will help us walk into happiness. They don’t realize that happiness is going to pass them by as they are distracted and seduced by a temporary fix. They are even willing to accept the New Normal and sacrifice their sanity by waiting for the security guy to let them in. Public toilets are now guarded too. Can’t have too many people using the facilities now, can we? The town is full of arrows and footprints that must be followed and there are people in uniforms enforcing the one-way pedestrian system which drives me mad. Police walk around enforcing it too and making sure people don’t gather in groups while shopping. I could not go through it just to get a new pair of jeans.

But the New Normal has arrived. It seems to be here to stay. Don’t make the mistake of assuming this New Reality is everyone’s reality. No. Just like the founders of Netflix don’t waste time endlessly browsing through it, the people who introduce this reality are not the ones who will live in it. Your politicians don’t go shopping. They have assistants doing it for them. I know someone who does it for a living. She works as a personal assistant of a wealthy family and up until recently she worked for an Arsenal player. She does the bills, food shopping, walking the dog and everything else in between that distracts the rich and successful from making money. Nothing wrong with that but just remember, they live in a different world and pay others to do the dirty work in the real world while they focus on their careers and expanding their wealth.  

Politicians are no different. They are creating a world for us, not themselves. People think things are going back to normal, but they are not. Try going to your favourite pub when it opens. Try to get a haircut on the 4th July. Try to have a wedding or arrange a funeral. Everything that you used to take for granted is gone or changed forever. Modified to fit the New Reality. The reality of the common man and woman. While we adapt to the world with no handshakes, no affection, no singing at weddings, no socialising in pubs, the life of the elites will, for the most part, remain the same. Like I said earlier with Mark Zuckerberg. He doesn’t check his phone all the time for a new Facebook comment, Instagram like or Whatsapp message. He cares that you do. He is in business of making you waste your time seeking approval of others on his platforms. And while the world changes before your eyes, the rich, powerful and famous people will carry on as normal. Some of them might have spent the last few months on a yacht surrounded by supermodels and don’t even know that 99.99% of the world population were absolutely not affected by some Chinese virus.

I was just reminded of Dark City, a great movie I recommend everyone to watch. It tells a story of a man who finds himself in a city ran by powerful entities who rearrange the city and the lives of its citizens when they sleep. Every morning they wake up not remembering who they were the day before. They have a new family, new house, new job and don’t even know it. He discovers the truth. The entities he is up against create new reality every night. New rules that don’t affect them in any way. They execute their plan and the people of the dark city are just subjects of their experiment. Have we just woken up in The Dark City? Some of us act like we barely remember our life before the quarantine. Others act like they never want things to go back to the way they were. Yet others live in denial and think this is still only temporary. A handful of us are awake and try to take on the powerful entities who are ruling over us and are rearranging our lives with an illusion of our consent.

Are powerful entities in control of your lives?

On the bright side though…

Football is back, isn’t it? The excitement and passion are back… well, not quite. You can’t go to a match. Are you ever going to be able to? At least the way it was before? Shoulder to shoulder with the fans of your team. Jumping, singing and celebrating together? Are you ever going to be able to go to a game without being treated like a big bag of germs? Probably not. So, this aspect of your life is gone. Sure, you might try it for a while but eventually you will get sick of it. Just like we all are of queuing everywhere and being reminded that we are all murderers if we don’t wash out hands or cover our face with a mask or a cloth (they both seem to be equally useless but while they cover your mouth, they signal your virtue). While your employment is still a big question mark, football players are back to work. Kicking the ball and getting paid millions. Not much has changed for them then. Empty stadiums are nothing new in football either. But even when fans are allowed back in (in reduced numbers to observe social distancing), most players will not notice the number of supporters and they probably won’t care what you had to go through to get to your seat. They play, you watch. They don’t queue. They play while their assistants are queuing for their groceries and after the game you will have to queue for yours.

Is there room for this in the New Normal?

Movie production is probably going to resume soon too. Do you think we will see the new normal there? I doubt it. Movies will remain normal and will ask for your money and won’t care how dreadful your trip to the cinema is. I realized this when I watched Dave Chapelle’s most recent stand up. It was filmed a few weeks ago in America. It was outside. He was on stage, doing exactly what he did before. The audience’s experience was different. The seats were spread. I assume they could only sit together if they arrived together and they all wore face masks. Not just any face masks. They had Chapelle logo on them but that’s beside the point. I think Dave Chapelle is a great comedian and this has nothing to do with him. The point I’m trying to make is that stand ups, musicians and other live performers will at some point resume their lives. The key word is resume because they won’t be affected by the new normal. Not that much anyway. For the past few months, they have been in their mansions with their lives paused. They’ve earned it so I’m not having a go at them. What I am saying is that soon they will all be back performing while who knows what their audience have to go through to see their shows.

The movie industry will return in the new normal too. Are we going to see social distanced Hollywood productions? Or will the movies look like nothing ever happened? While you and I walk around our High Street following arrows and avoiding eye contact with strangers, avoiding conversation and touch with them as they are all potential asymptomatic murderers spreading the deadly disease with their breath, cough and hands, the movies will continue as if there is no pandemic. The fantasy world will be here to entertain you while you live in this nightmare and walk through a maze everywhere you go. Their convincing trailers with explosions, car chases will trigger emotions in you and Hollywood stars will invite you to go to the cinema and contribute to their lavish lifestyles while your life is a living hell and you a ticking time bomb. You will pay the same price or more for your ticket as you did before you even knew you could put “social” and “distancing” together and it would make sense. In other words, your cinema experience will not be the same. You will queue, walk through a maze, queue to go to the toilet (if going to the toilet will be at all possible during a movie, given you will have to be in a close proximity with other germ carriers when leaving your seat). Saying that, going to the toilet during the show might actually be banned. What about leaving the room after the movie? Will you be able to just walk out or will everyone have to walk out in some kind of sequence. What if you have an emergency and you have to leave halfway through? Can you see what I mean? Your experience will be sabotaged while the whole movie crew gets paid and carries on as normal. They won’t care how you get to the cinema and what your experience is like. As long as you tap your card and buy that ticket. Somehow, I can’t see cinemas lowering the prices because of your inconveniences.

When things go back to normal…. What? Like going to the pub and not being able to interact with strangers? Like going to the pub and not being able to stand at the bar? Like waiting for an appointment with your hairdresser only to find out they aren’t allowed to talk to “control the virus”? Like not being able to sing at weddings or fathers being banned from walking the brides to the altar? Like having to follow arrows anywhere and being followed by people with job titles that didn’t exist a month ago? You know, those who enforce the social distancing and one-way walking system? Do you think it’s going away? When? When we’ve flattened the curve? When we’ve saved the NHS? When we’ve made sure there is not a single patient at any hospital? When we’ve protected every single elderly from dying?

No more singing comrade!
I suggest you make your own rules at your own wedding!

I know what you’re thinking. “No singing at the weddings? Nobody is going to follow that!”, or “No small talk with your hairdresser? I’d like to see them enforce that!”. Of course, nobody will follow these stupid rules. The point is, we shouldn’t have to be intimidated into thinking that singing at a wedding is against the rules, but we will do it anyway. We shouldn’t have to question the morality of it and fear that the antiterrorists will crash our wedding or that the Thought Police will arrest you and your barber halfway through the haircut because he or she asked you if you have any holiday planned. We shouldn’t have to sneak out. So, the point isn’t breaking the rules. The point is these rules being there in the first place and the only way to have some kind of normality is breaking. Rules which again, will not apply to those making them. And in case you aren’t aware of what The New Normal has in store for us, then all of the above paragraph are genuine headlines I’ve seen in recent weeks leading up to July 4th. Another one that caught my attention read Experts say women should cut their hair short to prevent the spread of COVID19. If you’ve ever shamed anyone for not wearing a mask or not social distancing, then I wonder if you would cut your hair short or advise women in your life to do so – for humanity’s sake.

Are you ready to enter The New Normal in style?

The media is trying to convince us that The New Normal is inevitable and we need to adapt. But you know what? I think the New Normal is faulty and I’d like to see the manager!

Mike Tyson is planning his return to the ring too. How exciting! He will make his millions along with organizers and promoters no matter how you experience his return. While you have to social distance yourself from everyone you love, boxers and other contact sport athletes will continue exchanging punches, sweat and blood. This kind of reminds me of The Hunger Games. Regular people lived in awful conditions while the elite enjoyed the luxuries of The Capital. This is the difference between us and the elite – the celebrities, politicians and billionaires. All of them like to tell us how we should live, they make rules and virtue signal all the time, desperately trying to stay relevant and say the right thing. All from the comfort from their mansions guarded by armed security while we have to live under the regime of their false virtue. In the movie, the difference between us and them was extreme. The Capital was glamourous while the districts were filled with hunger and poverty. Back in the real world The Capital is not a physical place. It’s a state of mind combined of the number of social media followers and big bank account status, power and influence. We, living in the District, are the consumers of their existence, subjects of their power and influence. They do not live in the world they are building for us. We have seen this during Black Lives Matter riots. Number of celebrities bailed out the looters and rioters when they got arrested and many Instagram personalities voiced their support of burning buildings, destroying livelihoods and communities in the name of BLM. It’s all fun and games when it is not your house that’s on fire. It’s all fun and games when you’re rich and famous and live hundreds of miles away. These people don’t have to live with consequences of their words and actions.

The Capital – detached from reality, yet full of wisdom how to live in it

Politicians are no different. Do you really think they care if social distancing is doing more harm than good in the long run? Their kids go to private school.

When things go back to normal you will have all the fun in the world, won’t you? You will get your life back. You will get that body of your dreams. You will go for that career you’ve been dreaming about. Unless you live in Leicester. You will have to wait a few more weeks. See, the lockdown is never going to finish. It is no longer about “flattening the curve”. Now whenever the government decide, they can put a single city on a lockdown and then all your plans and dreams have to be put on hold as well. If you have a business, you will have to close again. Maybe for good this time. If you are self – employed, then you may need to consider applying for a permanent job at Tesco. In Melbourne, an entire building block has been put on a local lockdown or a house arrest. Can you see it? This is not going away.

You can forget about being spontaneous. More and more gyms and pubs are introducing booking systems which means you won’t just be able to walk into a pub or gym whenever you feel like it. You will have to book your slot and I bet that won’t be easy.

Let me leave you with this final thought.

Arnold Schwarzenegger used to be constantly told he wouldn’t be successful in Hollywood because of his accent and his size. He was told they were his disadvantages. He used them to his advantage and his accent gave us the Terminator. He also took English lessons, speech lessons, accent removal lessons and even lost some muscle mass for one of his early roles in a record time. He took control of what he could. I know. He was up against his own accent and muscles, not against billionaire elites who use their resources to put you in a Skinner box and control your behaviour. I know it’s hard to be optimistic if you don’t have a safety net, if you live alone and have bills, rent, mortgage and other things to pay. I know but maybe we can all come out of this lockdown better than when we were dragged into it. It’s not too late to give up a bad habit, start reading or listening to audiobooks, listening to podcasts, find an online course and get qualified. It may feel like we have lost control. It may feel like we never had it, but there are still aspects of our lives which we CAN control. We can control what we learn. If you don’t want to wait for your country to turn into China, learn a language and a skill that will let you live somewhere else. Let’s not wait for them to do it to us. They are all just people who’ve read books. One thing I’m going to research when I finish this post, is what part of the economy, what jobs are likely to never return or change forever in the coming months or years. I work in the fitness industry but if there is good reason to believe this sector will suffer, then I’d like to be ahead and prepare myself. I am not suggesting joining them if we can’t beat them. I am saying we should take control of what we can and continue to fight for what we believe.  The New Normal is here, we need to resist and push back against it as hard as it pushes against us. Defeat is not an option, but it is a possibility we should be prepared for.

What do you think? Tell me how you are coping with the new normal. Do you need someone to talk to? You are not alone. Get in touch