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.
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.
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”.
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
“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 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.
“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.
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.
Who knew that our mobile phone would be the device that would keep us safe from the big and hairy claws of the Coronavirus monster? Turns out it was that simple. All you have to do now is just download the government app and let it do its magic. And it is so simple. You can get your life back, go shopping, visit your friends and go to the beach.
All you have to do is download the app that will track your every step and warn you when you’ve been in contact with a person who tested positive for COVID19. In order for this to work, you will have to be closer than 2 meters with that person for more than 15 minutes. When that happens, as it stands, you will receive a phone call ordering you, or maybe just advising you to stay home for 14 days. At the moment, the app is voluntary, but Hancock has said they won’t hesitate to make it mandatory if not enough people do the right thing and download the app.
I have a few problems with this whole idea. I am sure it was well thought of by smart and sneaky people, who after all have good intentions and our health, wellbeing and safety in mind.
As it stands to work now though, you will call your Corona consultant if you suspect you have the symptoms of this deadly disease. You will be advised to stay home and you will either be visited by your advisor or sent a test kit I believe. If you test positive you will then be called, by your friendly Contact Tracer, who will politely ask you details of your recent interactions. They will need to know people’s names, phone numbers, possibly their email or even home address. On top of that, for the safety of the public and yours, they will ask you what places you’ve visited recently. What train you’ve taken and when. The exact time you went food shopping last. They will then use the data you’ve provided to contact as many people as possible starting with the friends you’ve met and tell them to self-isolate for 14 days. I don’t know how much choice they will have but I can imagine their workplace might be contacted too and they will be told by their employer to not come in and take unpaid time off.
They are also talking about tracing our phones. Now if your phone is close to a phone of someone who has tested positive or who has been in contact with someone who has been in contact with someone who has stood in a queue to Tesco next to someone who tested positive, you will be contacted and advised to stay home for 14 days. The word advised is just a moderate way of saying ordered, really.
I have seen a few different news stories about the contact tracing and how it would work. Some say it would require everyone to download an app and it would be voluntary. Some say it would rely on Bluetooth regardless if the app is downloaded or not. There is however an even darker and scarier version of it which I will get to in a minute. If you own a smartphone and you have installed the most recent system update, you will find your phone now has an option to enable a COVID19 tracing app to work if you choose to download it. If you have an Android phone, all you have to do is go to settings/Google and you will see COVID19 exposure notifications. I assume Apple users can find it in their respective settings too. This new feature still requires an app but who knows how long this will be up to us? I read a Men’s Health article the other day that said smart watches can also pick up COVID19 symptoms. I understand that if you’re genuinely scared of getting the virus then giving up your privacy like this is a small price to pay. But we have to ask ourselves, where will this stop? How can we be sure our sensitive data won’t be shared with advertisers or worse, used against us? Maybe not now. But one day. Think about it.
First let me tell you what a trained Contact Tracer in California has to say about it. I know what you’re thinking, “California? Why would I care about it if I’m in the UK?” Well you said the same thing about the virus 4 months ago when it was in China, so let’s think clearly here because the draconian measures and freedom restrictions have followed the virus around the globe and they aren’t about to stop now. I’ll attach a link to the video so you can take a look. Some of the things she said are already making their way into our lives as we “go back to normal”. The lady in the video, who is a trained and certified Contact Tracer, says that if a person’s test comes back positive, they need to self – isolate for a minimum of 10 days. Isolation in this case means, they are not allowed to be around anyone of their household and they have to have access to their own bathroom. So, if they don’t live alone and have only one bathroom, they may be asked to go to a hotel. What happens if they refuse? Well the authorities threaten the use of force. The Contact Tracer can also request a video proof showing that the infected person has access to their own bathroom to successfully isolate in their own home. It doesn’t stop there. The Contact Tracer will also ask who this person spent time with recently and even if those people are healthy, the Contact Tracer will ask them to quarantine themselves for 14 days. She says that if the person who is self – isolating or the person who is self – quarantining has kids, and nobody to take care of them, they will come and take the kids away. Can you imagine the government overstepping that much? All this even if you’re healthy and someone sick was near you at some point. Not to mention that when you come out of the 14-day quarantine and go to a pub or a restaurant and someone has symptoms or tested positive again, guess what? You have to go into quarantine again. They will take your kids if you have them and it can go on forever. If this sounds like it would never happen or be allowed or that people would rebel against it, let’s just look back at the last 4 months and see what’s happened, what has been allowed and what people haven’t rebelled against. I mean we’ve had police patrolling parks and harassing people sitting on benches and fining couples for Netflix and chilling. Government has taken away your right to make informed choices and take your own risks and now they are also telling you to cover your face and take your right to breathe fresh air away from you and you have stickers, some traffic Marshalls and police on the High Street restricting your movement. Five or six months ago this would have sounded like something out of a sci – fi movie about a failed utopia.
You might be asking yourself how they will know what pub or restaurant you went to and when. This brings me to what is already being introduced in the UK as well. Let’s start by explaining that going to the pub is not going to be the same. You will be required to stay at your table, order drinks through an app (Wetherspoons have had an app-based table service for a while now). No more going up to the bar, dancing or flirting with members of the opposite sex. Before you even go to the pub, you will be required to register with your mobile phone number or email address and that is how they will know where you are and who with. I know what you’re saying. Maybe you will give out a fake phone number or email, or you will create a fake email address and even go as far as buying a cheap mobile phone if they send a confirmation text or something you have to present to the bouncer. But how many of your friends will do the same? What if they do tell the Contact Tracer you were there with them? What if you get caught on CCTV or tagged in somebody’s Instagram post?
Hair salons, barber shops, cinemas, maybe even supermarkets eventually, will all quite possibly adopt the same system where in order to use their services you will have to confirm your attendance with a valid phone number. If you are a member of a gym, then you can expect similar restrictions. Most gyms already have a system in place that helps them monitor who is in the gym at any given time so a Contact Tracer would just need to request details of people who attended the gym while a confirmed patient was in the building. They may not stop there at all. If you don’t want to quarantine yourself for the third time in the space of 3 months, they may not call the police on you but they can contact your employer who will then order you to stay home for 14 days and if you are seen outside or aren’t careful with your social media, you can lose your job or the time spent at home will be unpaid. I can’t be sure but if I have thought of it then I am sure they have too.
I encourage you to watch the video which can be found here https://youtu.be/9Yoa4zCeHAc where it is explained in a greater detail how dangerous contact tracing really is. Chinese citizens live under such regime on daily basis. They are under constant surveillance, spied on everywhere they go by the social credit system, which is like credit score but much more sinister. I learned about it a long time before the pandemic and already saw signs of similar things taking place in the UK, but I believed and hoped it would never get to that stage. Yet here we are. Three months into lockdown and the government is introducing a tracing system that looks a lot like the one in China. Someone commented on a link I shared to my Facebook wall a couple of months ago. He said, “We’re not turning into China”. I wanted to reply but the comment disappeared as he deleted me. If there is one thing I’ve learned from the pandemic is that there is a small step from advice to mandatory.
And even if government doesn’t find a way to make sure everyone has an app on their phone, there are other ways. Think of it like going through a gate at the airport. You don’t have to have your boarding pass on your phone. You don’t have to do everything electronically. You can print your boarding pass but how many people will choose the convenience of having all their details on their smartphone? The same thing might be done with the app. You don’t have to download it but going about your life, like going through an airport gate, will become more difficult. Cinemas, gyms or pubs will require people to prove they aren’t supposed to be self – isolating or quarantining and if they can’t, they may need to find another pub or gym. But for how long? How long before they give in?
If you have an Android phone, then you probably noticed that it’s impossible to remove Facebook app. Up until recently it was even impossible to delete your Facebook account on Facebook. Think about it. Your Samsung phone comes with Facebook as a default app and best you can do is disable it. Who’s to say that every phone from now on won’t have some COVID19 app on it and you will not be able to delete it?
Whether it will be convenient for you to have the app or if it just comes with your phone or next system update, it doesn’t matter. What matters is you won’t be able to go about your life without constantly proving your quarantine status. Maybe even police officers will have the power to look at your phone when you’re outside. Kind of like a random stop and search. This happens on daily basis to every Chinese citizen. Everywhere they go. Phone checking by the authorities multiple times a day. If you want to learn more about the Chinese social score, I suggest using your search engine, preferably different to Google, to look it up. Some people have to scan their face to be let out of their gated housing. You might think this is great technology but what if you are asked to stay at home for 2 weeks but think this is bollox and want to get on with your life, go for a run or exercise? In a system like in China, the camera controlling your gate would refuse to open it for you.
One thing that is really bugging me as I write this, is what about the old people? Old people who don’t have a smartphone? See, all this time, throughout the lockdown we have been reminded over and over again, to think about the old people and their safety. Even if our approach to the tracking and tracing doesn’t turn out to be as harsh and tyrannical as in China, the old people without smartphones will still be left out. Not only from tracking and tracing but also from participating in their social life. They won’t be notified that someone next to them on the train tested positive. They also won’t be able to enjoy a movie in the cinema without a smartphone. What about the old people then?
Unless… unless it was never about them. If it was, then we would create a system that protects them. Instead we put everyone on house arrest. Instead we create tracing system that will leave a lot of them to fend for themselves until they die. Maybe that is the whole point? They will die within the next 10 to 20 years and will be replaced with generations raised with smartphones. Let’s think about it. They created this illusion that we have to protect the elderly. They have shamed everyone who opposed the lockdown so that we can just sleepwalk into this tracking and tracing future still believing we are helping. But I ask, how does this system help older people or people without smartphones in general? If they aren’t able to confirm they aren’t ill or ordered to self – isolate, they won’t be allowed to go to the cinema, a restaurant, maybe even hospital or get an uber, definitely not on the plane, but who cares, right? They will die soon and their old brick mobile phones along with them. Their fragile final years on this planet have been weaponized against us and taken away from them at the same time. Maybe protecting them was never the plan. After all they already suffer from other illnesses and life-threatening health conditions and haven’t been able to get any appointments throughout this lockdown. Some of them didn’t even want to see their doctors because they were scared of catching the virus or they didn’t want to be an inconvenience for the busy medical staff.
The way I see the tracking system is this. It relies on people having smartphones or being accurate and honest about places they’ve been and people they’ve seen. What if a husband or wife visit their lovers? They may not be willing to share that information but if it’s not up to them, they will get caught. Cheating might be immoral but it’s not illegal but a Contact Tracer has the power to end marriages or perhaps in the future even blackmail unfaithful spouses into giving up the details of their recent contacts while promising confidentiality. It may not even be a Contact Tracer anymore. Some other company might get hold of that sensitive information too. Unfaithful partners aside, it looks to me like this tracking system is designed to control the population and not isolate people who are sick. Old people without smartphones will not have the app and will be left to die and live the rest of their days in fear of others. Their children and grand children will reduce visits to keep them alive without realising that staying alive is not living. While the people who contribute the least to the society, slowly die off of old age, neglected cancers and other diseases, loneliness and depression, the young and healthy workforce will remain under constant surveillance. Their privacy taken away along with their freedom of movement and right to take risk. All that will be taken while they are distracted by the illusion of having a choice. And this is only a beginning.