It looks like, fingers crossed, the restrictions are finally going away on the 19th July. This article may, therefore, be irrelevant, but there are still people (and a lot of them, too) who wish for the restrictions to remain and for lockdown to continue. This article is for them. It’s something I started writing a couple of months ago, but then a little bit of freedom got in the way and I didn’t see the point. As I work on other material, here is “Lockdown for Dummies”.
About a week ago, the world leaders got on their private jets and gathered in Cornwall to discuss some important issues and pose for some socially distanced pictures before mingling like old friends, laughing and drinking like the issues they had come to discuss were all a joke. Face masks were only worn by the peasants serving them alcohol and clearing their tables. The so called “elites”, including the Queen herself, were enjoying each other’s uncovered faces like the Indian, Nepal, Thai and Delta COVID strains were all made up tales they had been telling us for months to keep us obedient. Kind of like that mother in the shop who tells her naughty toddler that “the man will tell her off” or “the man will take her away”, just to make her settle down. When I worked in retail, I often found myself in the position of “the man” and I never wanted to.
As they discussed, shook hands and posed for fake pictures, we learned that Boris Johnson was planning to postpone the “Freedom Day”. This was no surprise to me, to be honest. I must admit, however, since April 12, things for me have been rather normal. I’ve even seen people commenting on feeling the same – gyms are open, shops are open, pubs are open and so on. Some people even demand that people like me explain why we continue to protest and raise our voices when things are now more or less “normal”. This normality, however, is just an illusion. There are still many things we cannot do, jobs lost, and medical treatments delayed. Many people still fail to understand those real-life consequences of prolonging this nightmare called lockdown. For these dummies, I shall use a real-life analogy to illustrate how locking the country down to protect one group of people negatively affects other groups of people and nobody can or should really claim to know what sacrifice is required by us for the greater good.
(At the moment of writing this, so called experts are calling for another “Winter lockdown”, which makes it even more essential for people to understand why lockdowns are harmful and why they are a mistake we should not only never repeat but hold our politicians criminally responsible for it.)
Back in February of this year, Mark, the CEO of the gym I work at, well, I worked at before the apocalypse, called upon all his employees to give them the good and the bad news. Before I get to them, let me give you a little background.
The gym is only a small part of the well-established charity that operates nationwide. They run charity shops, provide housing, shelter for homeless people and support physical activity by providing access to cheap gym and other fitness activities for all levels and ages, including gymnastics for young kids. They do a lot for the community and they have been for many years.
Mark organised a Zoom meeting with everyone working at the Watford gym. He had good and bad news to tell us. The good news was that the charity was expanding and extending their helping hand to the local homeless people. The heads of the charity had decided to end homelessness in the local area. Everyone agreed that it was a Nobel goal. Unfortunately, the good news was also the bad news. The only way for this to happen was to transform the gym into a living area for the homeless. The idea was to turn the gym into a couple of dozen self-sufficient (and COVID19 secure) rooms for the homeless people already sheltering using the charity’s services to move on and step back into a normal life. In other words, what Mark was telling us was that we weren’t coming back when gyms would reopen, and our jobs were gone.
I was only ever a casual worker and I still had full time job waiting for me in April, but some people had worked there for a couple of decades. I remember Vicky and Joe both working there fifteen years ago when I first signed up to be a member of the gym. We had all felt connected to that place in one way or another and felt like part of us was being ripped out of us and slaughtered in front of us with no justification. Suddenly, ending homelessness wasn’t on our minds. Joe was the most vocal about his feelings. He was devastated. He thought it was unfair. He said that he thought us and the service we provided as a fitness facility, the community we had built didn’t matter to the people signing it all away. He brought up that mental health of people relying on our gym was being neglected and the decision to close us down was disrespectful to our two thousand members and staff. He complained that there was no impact assessment, no consultation and no easy transition and concluded that he had expected better. He acknowledged that helping homeless people was a great initiative but felt betrayed. He didn’t believe that creating twenty-four affordable rooms for rough sleepers justified sacrificing gym staff and members. Mark sat in front of his laptop and responded to Joe’s points in the manner of a politician and he wasn’t taking ownership of the decision and its negative impact on thousands of people, but we all agreed with Joe, who felt very passionate about his views.
After the first lockdown, we had to telephone every member to let them know we were reopening. I was given a list of people to call and welcome them back. Almost all the people on my list were born during WW2. The vast majority of them didn’t own a mobile phone or had an email address and access to the internet. Our gym was the only gym in the area that could accommodate people in that age group. It was quiet, bright and accessible. Most gyms have adopted online joining process, but at our gym everything was still done the old-fashioned way – by filling up the paperwork at the reception, a process a lot easier for people without a computer or a smartphone. Now, these people had virtually nowhere to go to remain physically active.
Our building was also home for local Gymnastic Club, who just over two years ago spent £100k on new equipment and have now been left with nowhere to go. Their small team provided lessons for hundreds of young children a week, who are now also left with limited options. Sure, their parents might find another gymnastic club in the area, but they might not. We were in the heart of our town – easy to get to by car, bus or foot. Other places might not be that accessible for many parents. Many children might also not like the new environment and will simply give up all together.
It’s tempting to say that the gym staff, the gymnastic club team, the elderly gym members and the children and their parents simply must adapt, find a new job, new gym and new venue. It seems easy enough. But it’s not. This place meant something to all these people. They’ve invested their life and career in this place. They’ve committed to it. And for the members and the children change might not be that easy and might never come. It’s not as simple as signing up at a different place. If you’ve ever lacked motivation, focus, determination, passion, willingness to change, found it hard to adapt to a new situation, even temporarily, then you know that a lot of things have to happen inside of our minds for a simple change in our behaviour to take place. Simply put, many of these people will never resume their fitness journey.
The cause – to save the homeless people – was very generous and virtuous, but it came at a cost. It meant that people would lose jobs, careers, way to maintain good mental health and physical wellbeing and quite possibly, the only place where they could make friends. Imagine for a moment that we are not talking about saving every last homeless person in Watford, but about protecting the vulnerable from catching COVID19 or the NHS from becoming overwhelmed. To achieve these goals, the government acts like Mark, the CEO we met earlier. They decide what people need protecting and at what price. This price has been paid by many of us in multiple currencies. We’ve been told to put our own mental and physical health on hold so that we wouldn’t “pass it on”. We’ve had our cancer treatment postponed, delayed or cancelled. We’ve lost our jobs, not been able to pay rent, mortgage or simple bills because of furlough pay cut. Our marriages have suffered, relationships ended. We’ve dived deeper into loneliness and depression. We’ve lived in a state of constant fear and guilt. All this to protect a small number of people who may suffer from coronavirus. All to protect them by treating them like they all want the same thing and COVID19 is their only Kryptonite and nothing else could possibly hurt them. Many of them, just like many homeless people, simply don’t want help. They want to be left alone and do their own thing. They don’t want any authority telling them how to live and that they need their help. It’s insulting.
There you have it. Lockdown for dummies. Looks nice on paper, but in the end, behind the scenes, people suffer greatly as a result of decisions made by government who treat us like a concept, like a collective and not individuals with individual goals, wants, needs and fears. We can’t all be treated like sick people because we won’t all react to coronavirus the same way. We can’t all be protected from coronavirus if the price of this protection is too high and we end up losing valuable time and experiences just to stay alive. That’s why the best policy has always been personal responsibility. Don’t wait for the government to restrict or ruin the lives of everyone so that you can be safe. Take ownership of your life and your health and simply restrict your own life to keep yourself safe. You’ve done it for a year with government’s orders, you can now continue doing it voluntarily. Sure, you might lose your job for continuous self-isolating, but many of us have. Sure, you might lose your relationship because you don’t want to go out, but it’s ok, many of us have. You might get fat because you refuse to go back to the gym, but it’s ok, many of us have.
The choice is yours. Always has been. Are you going to be a dummy?
“Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”
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“
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“
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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