Just following orders

When I started this blog, back in 2019, my plan was to write about a variety of subjects and express, what I hoped to be, thought-provoking opinions. It was never my intention to focus on a single issue. The pandemic, however, interrupted my attempt at exposing the world’s truths and life’s meaning. I also never thought that I would witness the collapse of human dignity, compassion and consciousness. I didn’t dare to think that I’d see our basic freedoms arrested and our fundamental rights crushed, and our very nature denied to us and debunked, our humanity ripped from our mother’s arms. But here we are – year 2021. It’s beginning to look a lot like Nineteen eighty-four.

part 1

The ordinary world

Six O Four

Malbork, Poland, 2002. 
I am fifteen. It’s a warm Summer afternoon. My friends and I have just been playing football and we are now hanging out at our favourite spot – the bench under the rowan tree by the road leading to our estate. As we sit here, minding our business and causing no trouble, a police van pulls over and two bulky, bald police officers step out. They can’t be a lot older than us. Early 20s, I think. They come up to us and start asking questions. They demand that we give them our details, starting with our full name, date and place of birth, and full names of our parents. They look like they’re enjoying themselves. They talk to us like we’re guilty of some crime they’re investigating, but we haven’t done anything wrong.    
In fact, we are just a bunch of losers and everyone knows this. Girls want nothing to do with us, cool kids don’t want to shake our hands in school and to top it off, there is this one guy, probably around the age of Bulk and Skull over here, who always kicks our ball away when it ends up anywhere near him and his friends – the real troublemakers of our estate. They smoke and do drugs, while all we want to do is play football and sit on a bench looking at nice cars and girls who are out of our league.
One of the cops orders me to take my hands out of my pockets. I know it’s disrespectful, but he hasn’t earned my respect. It is clear that they are trying to intimidate us. They must hold some kind of grudge against guys like us or perhaps they used to be bullies themselves and they’ve never grown out of it. Proud of themselves, they now get back into their van and drive off. We take a note of the number, it’s 604.
It happens a few more times this Summer. It’s always the same scenario and the same oversized idiots with shaved heads, trying to teach us respect through intimidation. We’re never guilty of anything, but just in case, whenever we see a police van approaching and whenever we see the number 604 on the side of it, we try to move along to avoid another humiliating encounter with the law. By the time we see the number, however, it is usually too late.

March 2021

It’s my fifteenth year in the UK. My experience with the British police has been drastically different. Not only that, but I’ve also never felt threatened or intimidated by a police officer. This has been the case until lockdowns began twelve months ago. Sometime in April of last year, my respect and admiration for the British uniform started to fade.

Great Britain – the country that gave us democracy, the country that many Eastern Europeans like me escaped to in search of a better tomorrow – had begun to turn into the authoritarian regime and police state many of us ran away from. I know, as a foreigner, I should probably not speak negatively of the country I’ve settled in, but whatever was once Great about Britain, has died of COVID, I think. And I mean this about the police who forgot their oath, government officials who seem to have turned into tyrants who do things to us instead of for us anymore and think we are their property, as well as people of Britain, who have exposed their true nature of spineless cowards who play dead on the battlefield.

*

I sat on a bench today, just outside the library and the Town Hall which has been turned into COVID19 vaccination centre. I sat there for about an hour waiting for my wife and our three-month-old son to finish at the doctor’s. He was having his blood taken as part of the ongoing investigation into his hearing loss. I’ve attended a couple of initial appointments when we were given the diagnose and crucial information. Then, both because of their One Parent Because of COVID19 policy and my lack of challenging it when the appointments were no longer scary but routine, I just waited outside or took a walk.

Today, I decided to sit on the bench instead of waiting outside. I felt like such an outlaw. For the past few months, doing such a thing has been unthinkable. Sitting on a bench has been viewed as a dangerous crime and health hazard. I sat there and listened to Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record on Audible. As I listened to Snowden’s confession what led him to expose the US government’s betrayal of their citizens, I was looking at groups of college kids laughing, talking, hugging and chatting, eating takeaways as they walked to town or back to college. If it weren’t for the fact that the majority of them wore masks, I’d have thought it was just an ordinary day in an ordinary world where COVID19 never existed.

I used to sit on this particular bench a lot when I first came to the UK fifteen years ago. I would look at the people, couples holding hands, young guys and girls getting out of taxis and refusing to wear coats (presumably to avoid leaving them behind in the nightclub), runners, guys with gym bags drinking protein shakes, you know, all these ordinary things happening every day in the ordinary world. A world where I, sitting on that bench, could afford to struggle with my own identity as I measured the behaviour of the herd. I could afford to sit there as long as it took me to collect my thoughts, write poetry and dream. Back in the ordinary world.  Back when I had my whole life ahead of me and I took it for granted. Back when I could sit there until my skin shivered or until I found the missing piece of the puzzle. What burden was I carrying? What mystery of my mind was I trying to solve? How unaware was I of what was being plotted behind the scenes? How blind was I to the strings attached to all of our shoulders? Perhaps, as I sat there unaware, ignorant and small, handshakes were being exchanged, signatures given, funds transferred, things arranged, alibi prepared, consent manufactured – all to one day take away every dream I had dreamt on that bench, crush every plan I had thought of, dispose of everything I had held dear and precious.

Today, I don’t have that luxury, that freedom. Doing such an ordinary thing belongs in the past. “The rules” say so. As I sat there, a lone police officer emerged from the underground passage. When I saw him, I had a familiar feeling. The feeling a man only gets to feel a few times in his lifetime. When he sees the love of his life, the most beautiful woman, object of his love songs and poetry walk in the room and he has to tell her how he feels. And when his great nemesis or his army charge at him and he has to fight. It’s about fear and conquering that fear. It’s a quick, sharp excitement and anxiety in his chest that make him focused yet paralysed, ready to fight and ready to hide.

That’s what I felt that moment I laid my eyes on the policeman. The sharp feeling in my chest was gone before I knew it, yet it expressed so many things all at once. ‘Is this the time I get confronted?’, it asked, exposing my lack or preparedness for the confrontation I had been anticipating and rehearsing for months. More importantly, it reminded me of the time I last felt it about the police. That summer I was harassed by 604’s Bulk and Skull. It also made me realise that as a thirty – four-year-old father, husband, legally employed and a law-abiding citizen I should never feel this about the police. After all, they are not my enemy and I’m not guilty of anything. My body should not turn on and prepare to flee or confront them. But because of how many of them have behaved over the last year, I now feel like a fugitive, who must always be ready to run, resist and sees them not as public servants, but as the enemy. Enemy of human nature, freedom and dignity.

Luckily, the cop wasn’t interested in my suspicious activity. It was just me and Edward again.

The lift

Malbork, Poland, 2002.
Finally, they get what they wanted. They’ve created a monster.
My friend, Adrian, isn’t a member of our group, but he hangs out with us occasionally. Part of the reason is that he lives in a tower block in a different part of town, and he prefers homework than sitting on a bench. Not all of us have mobile phones, so there are only two ways for us to all get together. We either specify time and place of assembly when at school or we pick everyone one by one by calling at their address until everyone is accounted for. Since Adrian goes to a different school and lives so far for us to get him, we simply don’t bother most of the time. When we do, however, we make his neighbours’ life a living hell. 
The lifts in those buildings are old, nothing like you might be imagining. The doors aren’t automatic. You have to pull or push them to open. Once the floor number is pressed and the door shut, you’re on your way.  Our favourite thing to do is getting in the lift on the ground floor, pressing the button and holding the door slightly open for the next person who walks into the building. It’s often someone old. We stand there, holding the door, showing we’re waiting for them. We never hold the door wide open. Instead, we leave the smallest gap and that’s crucial to our prank. They always look very grateful as they show their appreciation and perform their mini jog to get in the lift with us. At the last second, when they are about to grab the handle on the other side, we release the door and watch their gratitude turn into disappointment as we fill the inside of the lift with mocking, knee - slapping laughter. We’ve done it countless times, but today, we’ve done it to the wrong man.
He’s just chased us out of the building and as we’re in a safe distance, I extend my right arm and show him the middle finger. We are still laughing at the look on his face when his hope to get in the lift turned into embarrassment, when he appears out of nowhere and grabs me by the arm. Huffing and puffing from under his thick, unkept moustache, he looks particularly angry with me for giving him the finger. He’s not even mad about the lift thing. It’s the middle finger that bothers him. My friends abandon me, accepting that I have taken it too far and am now on my own.
‘Where do you live?’, he asks. 
‘Just around the corner’, I lie, thinking he will let me go. Instead, he squeezes my arm tighter and demands I take him to my parents. ‘I’m lying, I don’t live around here’, again thinking he lets me go.
I try to release myself, but my teenage strength is no match for his manly grip. His friend approaches on his bike and together they come to the conclusion that it’s best to call the police. I tell them both to fuck off, which gives the friend the permission to suggest that they “rough me up a little” before cops arrive. He does nothing. I struggle, but his hand doesn’t let go. The old man must be producing his whole strength from his front porch, I think. The police arrive and Moustache releases his sausage fingers from my arm. His grip made my coat all wrinkly. He lies to the officers, saying I “threatened him with violence”. The friend nods and confirms. I can’t see my face, but I feel angry and as I make my way to the back of the car, I call him a fucking liar and demand my version to be heard. They don’t wanna to know.
It’s a short ride home in the backseat. What crime have I committed that I am being taken home for it? We drive past the rowan tree bench and it’s occupied by my friends who were quick to abandon me. Few minutes later I am being dragged upstairs and for the first time in the last half an hour, I feel anxious. I didn’t care about Moustache and his fat, sweaty hand. Not even about his courageous friend who threatened to beat me up. Hell, I didn’t even care about them calling the police. It is my mom who I am really afraid of. The police do the talking, I am just silent and embarrassed.

Just follow the rules

You can’t torture an animal forever without it lashing out

Jordan Peterson

If you are reading this, I’m sure I don’t have to explain in great detail what my feelings toward the police are based on. I suspect, what brought you here is the same resentment I feel after having watched hours of social media clips of police abusing their power, enforcing COVID rules. If you’re like me, these videos make you feel sick, angry and upset. They wake within you the unfamiliar rage and fury you had no idea you were capable of feeling. Maybe it even frightens you what you might do if these feelings are left unchecked. You imagine yourself punching, kicking and spitting your way out of the unlawful arrest while simultaneously knowing this would never end well for you. But it helps, doesn’t it? It feels so good seeing your fists land on their faces, making their surgical masks turn red. It feels good visualising, even for a minute, defeating the bad guys, serving justice and coming out as the hero. I know it works for me. It silences this desperation burning within me as I see people being tackled to the ground in their own homes for the crime of having dinner with their family. If you’re anything like me, this sense of injustice overwhelms you because you know these bastards get away with it every time and only their consciousness will ever be their judge and their executioner.

A few weeks ago, the government requested every concerned citizen to express in their own words the negative effects lockdown had on various aspects of their life, including mental health. I don’t know what I was hoping it would achieve, but I decided to submit my evidence, in which I say:

I imagine myself being dragged into a van after attending a protest in the near future. Then put in a cell and the rage, I am not supposed to feel as a father, returns. I shouldn’t feel like this. These emotions have come out of nowhere. In the first lockdown, I was fine. I was reading a lot, I was outside a lot. Now I feel like a ticking time bomb. These negative emotions – anger mixed with desperation, anxiety, heartbreak, rejection, bitterness – they don’t even have an outlet…

I described myself as a ticking timebomb. Probably not the wisest choice of words in a letter to the government, but I didn’t care. Perhaps I even wanted them to come for me. Take me into a room and play good cop and bad cop, asking me what I meant, who I worked for. What did I mean? This next fragment explains it well:

I should be the happiest I’ve ever been, but recently, I find myself feeling emotions I’ve never felt before. I feel anger, resentment and hopelessness. I feel powerless and desperate to the point where I want to cry or break something and who knows what I will do if I’m caught off guard? These negative feelings aren’t directed at my family. But this anger turns into rage within me, and I never knew it was there. This desperation I feel inside makes me so depressed sometimes and I feel I have no control over what happens to my life

The only time I ever feel anything close to how I’ve felt for the last few months is whenever I see a movie where the character is being kept hostage, tortured, isolated and made do things against his will by his tyrannical captors. When I see the scenes of this injustice, I boil inside, crave revenge and imagine what I would do to them if I managed to set myself free. In my mind, I do unspeakable things.

I see the same injustice when I watch a video of police attacking protesters, mothers with children, friends having coffee together and families in their homes. People often say that to avoid being fined or arrested, all we have to do is just “follow the rules”. Just follow the rules, they say. Never mind that the rules intrude and trespass on our rights, ruin our freedoms, criminalise choice and oppress people’s needs and interests. These cowards who welcome this invasion with open arms often defend their submission by pointing out various laws that they claim already take away our freedom. Their best example is usually something to do with speed limits (because of course, given the freedom to do so, everyone wants to drive like a maniac).

These people don’t understand the meaning of personal rights, where they come from and why no other person, no matter their position, can take these rights away. They don’t understand the concept of personal responsibility and that they themselves are the only ones who they should rely on to stay safe, not just from COVID19, but from any threat.

Another thing they love to say, especially to me since I am a foreigner, is something along the lines of, “go back to Poland, if you don’t like the rules of this country”. This easily translates to: if you want your freedom; if you don’t want to live in an authoritarian regime; if you don’t agree that police should have such powers; if you want to have rights then go to a country that provides them. They love to ridicule and belittle you for valuing freedom over safety and individual rights over collective duty. “Grow up!”, they often tell me. As if holding these values is immature and childlike, while theirs are morally superior and wise.

“Without rules there is only chaos”, they also say, which of course is a fallacy. It implies that people would just go crazy if the rules weren’t written down. But laws, at least the criminal laws, exist mainly to discourage and punish criminals. Most people are not criminals. Laws might be printed by man, but man’s morality is the ink. Most people not only recognise that murder is wrong but are unable to even picture themselves killing anyone. The law against murder, then, exists to discourage and punish the very few who are able to commit such an act. These men, who are a small fraction of the population, who don’t share the morals of the rest of us, who don’t value another man’s life, who aren’t scared of pulling the trigger are the reason why laws are written down. I would argue even in absence of certain laws, most people would have no desire to murder, rob and rape. Most men, as an example, find the idea of rape repulsive (widely available porn only confirms that) and that’s why they don’t do it, not because they are afraid of getting caught.

Most people simply want to live and let live without causing any harm to another person and his property. Other laws exist merely as reminders how to live in the community, guidance for businesses and protection of individual rights. Furthermore, laws and morality don’t always go hand in hand. For example, in some countries, prostitution is illegal, but it’s not immoral. Lying to your friend or cheating in your relationship are immoral, but they are not illegal. Not paying your debt is not a criminal offence, but it may be considered immoral. I would argue that forbidding lovers see each other for months on end is immoral and criminalising it is unlawful. Yet here we are.

It’s also interesting to see how many people simply needed new rules to be written down to completely abandon their empathy for another person. They just needed a rule to exist to see a normal, harmless activity as a crime for which someone should be put to death. They turn into totalitarian boot lickers happy to snitch on their neighbours for having guests for dinner. This tells a lot about people in this country.

a few bad apples

Just as people needed new policies and rules to turn on their neighbours and fellow citizens, to a number of police officers they were simply an excuse to become tyrants they always had been. Perhaps the surgical mask they now have to wear provides them with anonymity they needed to disconnect from their actions towards other men and women.

They may be in a small minority, but it doesn’t change the fact that the rest of them just follow along and turn the other way. That small minority is enough for there to be hundreds of videos exposing their abuse of power during lockdown. It has been happening here in the UK and all over the Western World. In Australia, a woman was arrested in her own home, in front of her children for organising a protest on Facebook. Another man had his front door kicked in for the same reason. A video from Poland shows officers tackling a man to the ground for refusing to wear a mask and threatening his friend with a gun for attempting to intervene. Just the other day, I saw a footage from a grocery store in Netherlands, where the security man not only attempts to forcibly remove an unmasked shopper from the store but gets assistance from a man wearing a mask like a good boy. There are many more examples, way too many to list them here. In Germany, the country that should know better, the police are seen using water to disperse the crowd of protesters. Not only that, but their government also introduced the concept of quarantine camps – places for people who refuse to self–isolate after testing positive or returning from abroad. Funnily enough, a number of people in the UK fully support the idea and think it doesn’t go far enough. They think people like me should be put in prison.

What really makes these people betray their integrity and commitment to others? Is it the moral superiority of doing the right thing? What about the men in uniform? What triggers in them the brainless, unconscious and detached android mode, incapable of own thought, compassion and reasoning?

You know, I’ve been writing this for a few weeks now and I feel like I still have a long way to go. It seems like every week there is another story in the press, another video on Twitter, showing police officers intruding people’s lives and disturbing their peace. There was a video a while ago, in the Midlands I believe. A man got called an idiot by the officer and thrown in the back of the police car. The reason? The cop didn’t believe the man’s trip was essential. He didn’t believe him when he said he lived around there so he arrested him in a very disrespectful manner. If the man were a suspect of a crime, it would have been a different story, but he was only stopped, grabbed and harassed for the officer’s assumptions and misunderstanding of the law and his powers. This is not the only video I’ve seen where the police officer acts disrespectfully, threatening and patronising towards a member of the public who is just going about their daily life. And this is the crucial part – going about your business is not a crime, no matter how they put it. If you’re exercising your freedoms (in this case, the freedom of movement) and there is a law that forbids it, it is an unjust law, and your duty is to break it and resist those who come after you to enforce it. As Nelson Mandela famously said:

When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw.

Nelson Mandela

In other words, if the government tells a man he can’t see his loved ones, can’t start a relationship, sit in the field and listen to the voice of nature he has no other option but to defy the government for they have no business telling him how to live his private life. And I don’t buy that “what you do is affecting others because you’re spreading the virus” nonsense. Everyone is responsible for their own destiny. We are all independent human beings and need to take responsibility for our life and ownership of our choices. We don’t exist to ensure others never fall ill, go hungry or homeless. We don’t exist so others can live. We aren’t on this planet to fulfil other people’s needs. That is at the heart of freedom – it gives each individual the right and more importantly, the power to take necessary steps to protect himself from harm, because he can’t control others. In freedom, everyone gets to make choices to live the best, happiest and healthiest life available to them. The moment you let go of that freedom, hand it over to the state, who then believe they have to take everyone’s freedoms for their safety, you end up with no responsibility for yourself and no ownership of your life. Your safety and your health, your very survival depend on what others do or don’t do. What if, one day, people simply choose not to follow the rules anymore? You will have no choice but to rely on yourself. You must understand that you wash your hands for yourself. Imagine, if you lived your life always counting on others washing theirs and relying on them doing it properly.

And now we have muzzled police turned against the public. They patrol our streets, they “hide in the shadows” and sneak up on us in parks like we’re all criminals. They stalk us, flying drones over our heads if we dare to take too long of a walk. They demand we tell them where we are going and why. They are rude, dishonest and brutal.

Part 2

The grip never relaxes

People cringe when I use the word tyranny to describe our current situation. They hear the word regime and imagine Germany in 1943, when Nazism was already well established. They never think to look beyond the dates they know from history books. They forget that tyranny comes about gradually and introduces itself in small, careful steps. The tyrant pushes the people to their limit or very close to their limit. He lets them settle, get used to the “new normal” and then pushes them further, lets them settle again and repeats.

Similarly, when you look back at the past year, you’ll see that the restrictions have been piling up on top of each other and we never, even after the first lockdown, went back to the pre – lockdown state. The government claimed almost full control of our lives and gave back very little of it. Then did it again and again, giving us back just scraps of the life we used to know. This is in essence how tyrants rise. They rise from the ashes of our humanity and they thrive in the flames of our desperation, fear and blind obedience. They take and very rarely give back.

We’ve created a system which pushes us further into becoming passive spectators and not active participants in social affairs and one that creates an illusion of having control of our lives. We have done it without asking questions, without looking back and without resisting. In this system, we aren’t taught how to lead, but how to follow. We have become a nation of sheep who are convinced they need a shepherd; we have convinced ourselves that we can’t make rational decisions for ourselves; we trust neither ourselves nor other individuals in the herd but will follow the majority led by the shepherd into our doom and slaughter.

Boris Johnson and his fellowship of the virus, put us in lockdown in March last year, taking almost full control of our lives, making them masters of our daily rituals and activities. They served us with a strict list of things we were and weren’t allowed to do. They pushed us to our limit by taking from us as much as they could. They then returned some of our freedoms, but their boot remained in the door. We were allowed to go back to work, but still lived very limited and restricted lives.

They then intimidated, threatened and coerced people into cancelling their Christmas plans. They trapped students in their student accommodations, miles away from home, set up police checkpoints outside towns on Christmas Eve to make sure people weren’t seeing their families. They terrorized our minds, intimidated us with bullies hoping we would not find a way and strength to nourish our relationships and do what we felt was right anyway. And many of us did.

The tyrant, very much like Mr. Unkept Moustache who captured me all these years ago, once he grabs you, never relaxes his grip.

We have the luxury now, to go back in time, browse through history, listen to the testimony of the survivor reliving her horrors and we can look the tyrant in the eyes. We can witness him rise from the ashes of people’s defeated courage and thrive in their desperation. We can follow his steps from his first day as the ruler to the brutal end. We swear we would have done something, that we would have refused, rebelled and stopped him. We are baffled why nobody did. Today, as we find ourselves in the midst of tyranny, we welcome the tyrant and baffle future historians with our inaction.

Run, fat boy, run!

Malbork, Poland, 2004
A knock on the door wakes me up. I roll over on my mattress, which is all I have to sleep on, and check the time. It’s just gone seven o’clock. I don’t need to be up for another hour to go to school. After last night, however, I am surprised I even slept at all, to be honest. Times like these I wish I had a mobile phone to check on my mates and see if they’re alright. See if they all got away too.
My mom gets the door. I can hear a man’s voice, but I don’t recognise it. It could be a neighbour or a postman, I don’t know. We’ve just moved here. Is it possible, though? Could it be…?
I can hear my mom’s footsteps. They’re fast, they’re angry and loud. She storms into my room and kicks my mattress, sending my pillow across the room.
‘The police are here for you! Get up! Get the fuck up and get dressed right now!’, she screams through her tears.
I pretend I have no idea what this is all about, but it’s a lie. The promise I made to her last time I was brought home by the cops is broken. I swore that was the last time. 
I am taken back to that evening we were chased by the police outside the church and I almost got away. Almost. The cop caught up with me outside the kindergarten.
‘Wait here while I run after your friend’, he said. Of course I didn’t wait. I’m not stupid.
I ran. I ran only to be caught again by the other cop. Next thing I know, the one who caught me first is dragging Andrew by his collar, which kind of made me – the fat one of the group – feel better cause he is the group’s athlete.
‘I thought I told you to wait there!’, he looked at me with disbelief and anger as I shrugged my shoulders and looked at him amazed that he really thought I was just going to wait there for him. What an idiot.
This was months ago now and we weren't even doing anything wrong. We were just fooling around and ran when we saw them. But for her it is still a fresh wound, a broken promise.
‘Hurry up!’, she brings me right back to the present and says I have five minutes to get ready. The men are waiting and will drive me to the station. I’m only seventeen, what’s the worst that can happen? Oh who am I kidding? I am shitting myself.

Seventeen years later, I expect a knock on the door and prepare for it to be kicked in. The amount of times I tweeted at Metropolitan Police calling them fascists and pathetic is more than I can remember. In the country where people get charged for things they say online, for offending others, I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens one day. Who will be the men at my door? Just some good men, men who joined the force to protect the innocent, defend our rights? Maybe. Or maybe it will be one or two tyrants who love their newfound powers? Or maybe it will just be some ordinary officers who are just following orders, right? Just doing their job. Just taking me away from my family for having an opinion or for spreading misinformation. Have you seen V for Vendetta? Asking for a friend…

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Related reading:

The Cult of COVID Nineteen

If you feel it, it must be true

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

One book, thousands of interpretations

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

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

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

Everyone has a compelling story

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

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

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

Can they all be wrong?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Personal relationship with COVID

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

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

COVID is a demanding Father

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Dark Side of The Greater Good

Why I will not Comply

People don’t understand why I refuse to surrender my life to coronavirus mandates. They call me selfish for not accommodating their fear of COVID19. They call me irresponsible for not doing as I’m told by the government. They think all I care is me. I have vulnerable people in my family, including my asthmatic wife and my mother. Not once, during this pandemic, have I been worried about their health. I have been worried about another threat. This threat does not expose itself in a form of high temperature and a cough. This threat poses a far greater risk, in my opinion and this is why I will not comply…

*

Locked down in the darkness

When Italy went into lockdown and the UK shortly after, I, like many others, felt the crushing weight of the situation. Coronavirus had crossed our borders. Cases started rising and soon turned into deaths. It was real. My brother had just returned from a school trip in Italy. Many kids, including him, returned ill. People had emptied the supermarket shelves of everything they thought would help them survive the approaching apocalypse. Soon after my wife told me she was pregnant. She was scared and uncertain. We both were. The doctors had previously told us it was very unlikely for her to ever get pregnant. Even I had accepted the possibility of never becoming a dad.

And there I was ready to abandon everything I stood for, my principles and my dreams of fatherhood. I was ready to throw it all away by convincing myself that I couldn’t possibly bring a child into this world. A world which I believed would, by the time he or she was born, turn into a dystopian nightmare. Everything around me was pointing in that direction. I believed there was no way out and we were all doomed. It was not the mass death I was worried about. I was certain I was witnessing democracy and freedom taking their final breaths. I saw around me the symptoms of the disease that had infected them both – the disease of fear. The disease that, right before my eyes, was bringing the Orwellian future into our present.

I had never believed in abortion, yet there I was, trying to convince myself that it was the right thing to do. I was convincing myself that my baby would be born in chains of tyranny which I saw this country evolving into every week of the lockdown. My wife didn’t share my concerns, but I kept them to myself. She had her own worries. She knew this was most likely her last and only chance to be a mom. She also didn’t want to be one, not now anyway. She also didn’t want to take this away from me. When the doctors told her she would probably never become a mom, she asked me to promise this would never come between us. I reassured her that it would never happen, but I don’t think I fully believed it myself.

A few weeks had passed. I had convinced myself that I was doing it for her, and I was saving the baby from the life of misery I knew was coming for us all. I also knew that she would never… I knew it had to be me to say it. That evening I held her close. The uncertainty and fear sent tears down her cheeks. Even now, as I write this, I try to convince myself that what came out of my mouth next, was for her and the unborn baby, but I know it was just as much, if not more, for myself. I held my tears and said what she dared not to speak. It was truly the darkest moment of my life. We spent the next couple of days deciding. The deciding was mostly about us and what impact the outcome would have on our lives and how it would make us feel. Dark, dark moment. The baby had almost no say in this debate of Good and Evil. I did most of the talking. Eventually, we made the phone call. The woman on the other side was ready to take our details and arrange a quick and discreet appointment. In forty – eight hours it was promised to be all over, but would it ever be forgotten? Would it ever be forgiven? Blame the technology, fate, the universe or God, but we got disconnected. My wife collapsed into tears. The safety of my arms was not enough this time. The promise of a better tomorrow was a lie. The comforting silence was interrupted by our demons banging on the door. This next chapter would be the beginning of another human being’s story. And we were one phone call away from ending it.

But we never called back. We are now two weeks away from welcoming our son into our world. We’ve decided to name him Oliver. Every time I feel him move, kick or high – five me through the belly, I am glad we never went through with it. If I’d known then what I know now, if I’d felt then what I feel now, if we both had, we would never have gone to that dark place. And my wife? She feels the same way. It’s been interesting and beautiful to watch her transform from someone who used to say she didn’t want to be a mom, someone scared of becoming one, someone who at one point didn’t want to keep that baby, to someone who is so full of joy and love for that little human she’s been nurturing in her belly. Sadly, many people don’t give themselves a chance to see their uncertainty and hesitation in this light. They deny themselves this overwhelming joy and love. I might forever hate myself for lowering my guard and abandoning my principles in a moment of weakness, but I know I would hate myself even more if we had allowed the fear and selfishness to rule over us. But, maybe had we not been in lockdown, had our future not been uncertain, we wouldn’t have gone to that dark place in, what should have been, the happiest moment of our life. I wonder how many children never got to see the light of day because of lockdown, furlough or the doomsday predictions of our experts and fear mongering of the media…

*

My 6th sense – the legacy of tyranny

My grandad has told me chilling stories of his life in Poland before the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s. My grandad, who had lived through it over half of his life, remembers food shortages, limitations, oppression, endless queuing to the butcher’s and grocery stores like it was yesterday. Some people, says my grandad, would sleep outside the shop for many nights to reserve, as you’ll soon find out, a very precious spot in the queue. Here is just a sample of what he’s shared with me:

‘Each month you’d get paid for your work. After the war there was no cosy desk jobs. People had lost loved ones, homes, communities, businesses and hope, you understand? The Soviets said they were there to help. So, with your paycheck you’d get a few vouchers, coupons, stamps, whatever you want to call them. These vouchers stated what you were allowed to buy from the butcher or from the grocery store that month. Some vouchers would have “2kg of potatoes” printed on them. Others would say “1 loaf of bread”, “1kg of flour”, “1kg of sugar”, and so on, you understand? You could use these throughout the month, but usually shops got empty pretty quick. That’s why people queued overnight. So, even if your stamp gave you allowance to buy, say, 1 kilogram of pork meat, there was no guarantee the butcher would have it for you or that it would be good quality. You had to get there early. Remember, there was hundreds of others who had similar stamps. There were no other places to buy these things. There were no supermarkets, you understand? You also had no choice what stamps you got. See, as you know, me and your nan don’t smoke. We never smoked, thank God! But every now and then we’d be given the cigarettes voucher. So, we traded these items with the smokers who happened to have what we wanted. The state decided what was essential for you and what wasn’t, understand? Coffee? Forget it! It was so hard to get. Sometimes we went months without it. We had to make it all last a month, and we couldn’t spend our money on things we didn’t have vouchers for, you understand? They only allowed us to buy those ‘essentials’. Bloody bastards! They only allowed us to buy what they said were those essentials. So, we didn’t go shopping. We didn’t buy clothes, and when we did, they were only what the vouchers stated. Don’t forget we all had families to raise, mouth to feed, so many times your monthly allowance wouldn’t be enough. You had to make things last.”

Sitting there, at dinner, listening to my grandad made me understand his ways a little more. My grandparents’ fridge is never empty. They never let things run out. They make things last. They save money. My grandad still works despite renting out two flats. He gets his fruits, vegetables and meat from the same places every week. At breakfast, lunch or dinner he encourages us to eat more – this is common in all Polish households, no matter how poor or wealthy they are. Growing up I found it extremely annoying, especially when he would offer me some meat I hadn’t had before. Now that I know how he had lived for decades before 1990’s, I do understand. Now he can enjoy anything he wants, and he can keep fruits of his hard labour without the fear they will be taken away by the state. But the heavy boot of Communism has left a mark in my grandad’s mind. He may not think like this, but it seems like what drives him to make sure the fridge and stomachs are full, and things never run out, is that he remembers when things weren’t so. When things did run out. When you never knew what you’d be allowed to buy with your money next month. He might even subconsciously fear of bad times coming back and of all this being taken away from him again. Maybe he has, in the last thirty years, learnt to appreciate everything he had missed out on for four long and not very prosperous decades, when the Communist Russia ruled over Poland, spreading misery, hunger and poverty disguised as “The Greater Good”.

People queuing to buy butter

My mom was in mid – twenties when the revolutions took place and Poland became independent. I was only a couple of years old. She also remembers stamps and constant queuing which, more often than not, ended with disappointment. To this day she has kept one of the vouchers she never got to use. She’s had it for over thirty years, and she’s brought it with her to the UK where she has settled. It’s a reminder of the dark days. It’s a reminder of what happens when tyrants decide they know what’s best for the people of a nation.

This is not panic buying. This is people trying to buy their essentials

One of my oldest memories is queuing for a pint of milk in, what must have been, early 1990’s – a few years after Poland became independent from Russia. So, these things didn’t just cease to exist one day. It took time for both the economy and people’s mentality to settle into the new way of life. The newfound freedom might have even been treated with suspicion by people who thought it was a trick or a short-term victory. Some people, to this day, think life was better when the Communists were in power. These are almost always the people who are too young to remember what it was like or people who worked for or had relatives who worked for the government. The milk man would park his truck and we’d all come out with our bottles and wait for our turn. I remember feeling excited when I got to hold the bottle and hand it to the man as my grandad stood next to me. Like a child pressing the button in an elevator, I enjoyed the rewarding sight of milk being poured into my bottle and when the lid was back on, I felt a sense of accomplishment. I contributed. At the time I had no idea that this regular activity was one of the legacies of tyranny. Some of that legacy is carried in my grandad’s mentality, and it is carried in my blood. And maybe it endowed me with a sixth sense, allowing me to recognise the early symptoms of an authoritarian regime. Or maybe it is not a sixth sense at all. Maybe I am just paranoid?

My mom tells me about her experience. She remembers the curfew, the police state, the officers out on the streets every night arresting everyone who was out after 10PM without a valid permit. Police were looking into your shopping bags, approached travellers and questioned them about the reasons of their journey. One evening my mom was returning from her aunt, who lived in a nearby town. She was only a teenager. She missed the train, which meant she’d be back after 10PM. She had no valid pass, I think it was only given to people who had a valid or essential reason to be out, like work or something. I don’t know the full story, but my grandmother had to pick her up so she wouldn’t get arrested. It was all, of course, for their safety. Let me just point out that the police were not Russian. They were Polish men just following orders and enforcing rules which subjected their fellow men and women to oppression.

Somebody’s allowance of sugar, alcohol and cigarettes

*

Freedom is an asset, safety is a luxury

What world will my son take his first breath in? Will he be born free? Or will he be born in chains? Will he be born enslaved to the algorithm, the pattern, the expectations? Or will he be born into a world that gives him a chance, a choice? A world that promises opportunity and rewards hard work and talent? Will it be a world of prosperity and equality, or will it be a world of corruption, deception, censorship, and authoritarian government? Will my son be born in, what I call – The Chains of Freedom? The chains represent suppression, censorship, inequality, government power, digital enslavement, restricted movement, and lack of ownership of one’s life. The chains that are disguised as freedom, as the greater good. The chains that have been put on us for our safety. The chains that we consent to when we give up privacy and liberty in exchange for safety. Those chains restrict and dictate how we pay for goods, how we travel, how we communicate. We said yes to them because they didn’t seem that heavy at first. They were not a burden and to many they still aren’t. But even if we seem to be free, our every step and our every move are constantly being tracked, measured and evaluated. Whether we are browsing the internet, making a phone call or walking our dog, we are under constant surveillance.

I can’t let this happen to my child

In the last few months, many people have given up responsibility for and ownership of their lives and handed them over to the state. With them they’ve given up their freedom and accepted various restrictions of their lives to feel safer. Not safe, safer because we can never truly be safe. Life is full of risks and the world is full of threats the state can’t keep us safe from. And feeling safe does not necessarily mean being safe. (Just ask yourself, after 9/11 the travelling experience has never been the same. Has it made terrorism disappear? No, because extremists find other ways to terrorise us and the government can never put a lid on them. The travel restrictions, the limitations on what you can and cannot bring on the plane have made us a little bit safer, but not safe. Euston station or Heathrow airport can still be a target of a delusional maniac. The government cannot keep us safe, only a little bit safer. I was once at Euston station. Me and my friends are going down the escalator to get the tube. About halfway down we hear screams and footsteps of a terrified herd coming from the corridor at the bottom of the escalator. Everyone panics and tries to run up against the moving escalator. The people are running from something. It’s all happening so fast. Someone apparently has a gun. First thing I do when I get to safety is I call my wife and my mom who are both somewhere in London and let them know to be careful. It’s been a few years and I’ve taken a train many times since then. The risk is small, but it exists. It can’t, however, stop me from living.)

 But I digress. Back to people exchanging their freedom for safety. It started when the government announced the first national lockdown. Most people have submitted, and they have dragged us along with them because they have been asleep. So asleep, in fact, that they are sleepwalking into an authoritarian nightmare. There are many reasons why the majority of the population welcome the government into their homes. Fear of COVID19, blind faith in the experts, generations raised without ever having to take responsibility for their lives are only a handful of reasons. But I think something else plays a significant role here. I think the majority of these people fail to think long term. They want to feel safe now, they don’t care how the governments of the future might abuse the powers we have just given them with our obedience.

Let’s take the Track and Trace app. Today you can choose to download it on your phone, and if you do, you scan the QR code when entering the pub to just register your attendance. Who’s to say that in the future you won’t just have to register your presence in the pub, but you’ll also have to use the app to be able to board a train? What if the app is, in the near future, used to monitor your quarantine status, and if you’re meant to be self – isolating, you won’t be able to purchase a train ticket or order Uber?  This is what I mean by short term vs long term thinking. Today it’s a harmless app, tomorrow it turns into freedom restricting, sinister tool of control. If this sounds too much like something out of Black Mirror to you, then just think that in China this is reality. If you think China’s sinister credit system can’t find its way into our cosy Western lifestyles, then think again. China’s draconian measures have spread around the globe almost as quickly as their virus itself.

Around eighty years ago, when Russia crossed Poland’s eastern border and said they were there to help and they were there for our safety, my grandad didn’t have too much to say in the matter. He was born into it. He was raised in the system that was designed to hold him back, keep him in line, make him productive just enough to contribute to “The Greater Good”, but not enough to be better off than everyone else. It took forty years for Poland to snap out of the Communist nightmare. Three decades later almost every country in Europe and in the world looks a lot like that nightmare. At the time of writing, in Wales, people can only travel if they have a good enough reason. They can’t buy books, toys and clothes for their children. In Melbourne, Australia, people are only allowed to leave their house for 1 hour of exercise per day. Not too long ago, some citizens weren’t allowed to leave their homes for any reason for two weeks of quarantine. If they tried, they were met with hundreds of armed police officers telling them to go back inside “for their own good”. Students in Manchester were forced to self – isolate against their will. For months we were told to only go out to buy essential items, shops were closed, police even looked in people’s bags to make sure only essentials were bought, supermarkets introduced queuing and limits on the quantity of goods people were allowed to buy (which was largely due to idiots panic buying, of course). French people must carry a form that states the reason of their journey. Greeks must send a text message to a special number stating reasons for leaving their house and they must carry documents on them at all times. Men and women in Ireland were, not too long ago, not allowed further than five kilometres of their homes. If you’ve been paying attention then you know this sounds a lot like tyranny described by my grandad.

Seeing all this unfold in many parts of the world is rather scary. I spoke to my grandparents. They are staying safe. They are doing what the government tells them is best for them. I will be honest with you. I don’t know how strict the coronavirus rules and their enforcement are in Poland. I know the guidelines are similar to those of the UK. But I remember what my grandad told me. I remember the look on his face when he described the way he used to live. I remember him telling me of over twenty-one thousand Polish prisoners of war being murdered by the Soviets in April 1940. This mass murder had been kept secret until 1990’s to make sure everyone believed the Communist promise and the Communist lie – that they were there to help.  I remember my grandad telling me about a Catholic priest who was murdered by the police because he dared to give people hope. Because he dared to talk of the power greater than that of the state. He was thrown into the river. His feet and hands tied as he was left to drown. His death is mourned to this day by those old enough to remember. His life still gives them hope. What would my grandad say, if I wrote to him of the recent events in Great Britain? Would he think there is anything great about it anymore?

Dear grandad,

It’s been over seven months since coronavirus arrived from China and with it brought their totalitarian rule, restrictions and tyranny. They remain disguised as good intentions, the greater good and safety and many people welcome them into their lives. They are willing to exchange their freedom for safety. Their privacy for security. I saw it creeping in from the week one of the lockdown. One step at the time our lives were being transformed, choices taken away, rights were slipping through our fingers and freedoms we took for granted were disposed of by the state, possibly never to be returned again.

The NHS was used as a weapon. They made us worship it. They knew that we were not like North Korea, Communist China, Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia, whose leaders were the subject of worship and praise and made the nation submit to their rule in the name of the greater good. Something else was needed in a nation so politically and socially divided as the United Kingdom. “Save the NHS” slogans appeared on every billboard and every window. We were made to clap and praise the NHS every Thursday at 8PM. Not by force, though. Social pressure was the cold steel on everyone’s temple. The NHS became the god everyone could unite for. It was then used by the charlatans in the government who swore to protect this newfound deity in exchange for power and control. The false prophets who claimed that only through them could we ever be saved. And people gladly agreed, fell to their knees and expressed their submission on their front porches every Thursday evening.

The ritual started as something voluntary. It just emerged somewhere one day and spread nationwide, but after a few weeks it was ended by the government. They announced one day that the coming Thursday was going to mark the final NHS clap. And so, the clap came to an end. People did as they were told.

I wouldn’t dare to claim that my time spent in captivity of lockdown has been anything like what you lived through. I wouldn’t dare to pretend that my road to unfreedom follows the same path you once walked. But the road signs are the same. They all tell me where this road leads. The New Normal is not far away now. There is a check point ahead. The officers have warrant to take my rights, my freedoms, my consent, my free will, my dreams and my plans and dispose of them all. They are illegal beyond that point. Their uniform is different, but their commands, their practices would send shivers down your spine taking you back to a familiar place. They disguise themselves as the servants of the people and say they are here for our safety. They say we cannot be trusted with our judgement, our freedom, our rights are irrelevant, and consent is not valid. They promise a better place in exchange for obedience and following the signs.

I’m almost at the check point. Should I give them what they want and be forever enslaved or should I drive through them and feel their bones crush under the wheels and spend the rest of my life as fugitive? At least I’d hold on to my truth. My wife’s contractions are getting stronger. Our son will be here soon. I owe him something, you know? I don’t know what tomorrow holds. I might be wrong about The New Normal, but this road I’m on and the signs all point in the direction of tyranny and unfreedom and to me this is a bigger threat than COVID19. My son deserves to be born free and right now I see everyone gladly handing their freedom away to the officers.

I am sure you can relate. The state storms into our lives and makes themselves at home. This time they just waited for our invitation so they could, like a vampire, feed on our will to live and our strength to fight back. All with our initial consent that is now no longer needed. They are in our homes, they sleep in our beds, they dine at our tables. All for our safety, of course. Seems like we can only remove them by force. If this is what it takes to protect my son from the claws of tyranny, from the chains of the state then I will fight. I will not let them take his innocence, his future, his dreams, his pure curiosity and his right to be a free human being who belongs to mother nature and is protected by her and governed only by her laws.

Others can hide forever under their beds, lock their doors and beg the government’s agents to keep them safe from the invisible monster known as Coronavirus. My duty, as a man and as a father, however, is to protect my child from what I believe to be a genuine threat. This threat, as learned from you grandad, is The Greater Good. I will keep him safe. I will teach him everything I know. I will never exchange his freedom for his safety…”

History – a fading memory. Consent – the alibi of tyrants

Many people don’t understand why I am so passionate about disobeying the coronavirus rules and mandates. Why I refuse to let the state put a mask on me, tell me who I can have in my house, how long I can exercise, define my essentials and take away my ability to put food on the table. To me the lesson from history is simple. We don’t have to look very far to see that freedom is a valuable but fragile asset. People seem to think that we have learned that lesson, but they are wrong. The Second World War happened so recently that there are still a few men and women alive today who were ready to die to defend our freedom eighty years ago. This shows two things. One, that it’s really not been that long, and we might not have grown enough to not make the same mistake again. Two, that once the only people who remember the horror, the struggle, the threat of losing their freedom, people who had the courage to defend it are all dead and with them the memory of the battle, we may repeat the mistakes thinking we will do something differently this time.

I’m not even talking about another war, as I think it is very unlikely. I am talking about the death of democracy and the rebirth of tyranny. There are among us people who believe Communism can be done better. There are people who think equality is more important than opportunity. They call it Socialism and they want it to emerge after the death of Capitalism. Equality (which means everyone is equally poor) VS Opportunity (which means everyone can make something of themselves and improve the quality of their life). These people are ignorant to the horrors, hunger and poverty of Communism and they want to bring it all back because they think it can be done better. There are also people who don’t like free speech and label every advocate of it a Nazi. These people also fail to recognise the weight of this word and what it meant eighty years ago. Nazis put people in gas chambers. Today the snowflake generation uses this word to shame someone who voted for Trump. Soon the word Nazi will be so diluted, it will lose its meaning and its burden. History will be forgotten and with it its valuable lessons.

We are never too far away from stepping into this unfriendly territory. All it takes is people’s consent, which they give when there is a crisis. I do not consent. The future of my son depends on it. I almost refused him this future and it is my duty to fight for it. I am not denying that people are dying. But I am not sacrificing my child’s freedom to live the best quality of life he can for you to feel safe now. It is your job to take care of yourself, take safety measures you deem necessary. You can stay at home, order everything online and we never have to meet. My duty is to defend my child’s dignity, rights, freedom and leave a legacy that is based in truth. I can never resign because it’s more convenient to do so. I will stay out of your way, but do not take me down with you.

You may not agree. You may call me crazy for thinking we’re destroying our liberties. I don’t care. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve heard and read all about it. It doesn’t always take a tyrant. It takes the people who demand safety in exchange for their freedoms. The leader knows if he does nothing, people will blame him for the consequences of his inaction. He restricts people’s lives. People call him out for not going far enough or for doing it too late. They see others breaking the new rules, so they demand more control, more enforcement, more power given to authorities, they even demand suspension of some basic human rights, they demand punishment and persecution of the rule breakers, they demand everyone to suffer so that they can feel a little bit safer. The leader gives in. He takes stronger, more intrusive measures. He threatens the public with punishment if they don’t do as he says. He bribes the public with a promise of a better tomorrow if they do. Many people cheer. Many think it is still not enough. Others feel cornered, surrounded, afraid and angry. They feel overpowered and alone in their outrage and resent towards the government. Their only defence against the intrusive rules and the invasion on their liberties is to protest. The leader then bans protests and sends “good men who just follow orders” to do his dirty work and arrest and fine as many rebels as possible. He now faces the wrath of rebellion and feels the chilling breath of judgement on the back of his neck. If he backs off, he will be criticized. If he pressures on sending boots and batons to the battlefield, he will be hated. But anger can be beaten, he thinks. Anger can be met with force, he convinces himself. Judgement of hopeless people who are afraid and look to him for guidance can’t be avoided. It can’t be beaten. It will follow him to his retirement. Declaring war on his people will, however, follow him to his grave. He doesn’t think about it. He knows that public opinion is everything and right now most people are afraid and upset and others are angry. The angry can be dealt with by tackling them to the ground to teach them a lesson and to show the fearful his power and control. Call them selfish, ungrateful so that everybody cheers when they are met with force and riot police. He doesn’t even know when things got ugly. When things got out of control. He doesn’t remember when he crossed the line, but he can’t admit the mistake. It would be a sign of weakness. Or maybe he enjoys it. Maybe he enjoys his newfound powers. Either way, he can’t stop now. The people count on him. He knows he can’t persuade those who are out on the streets. They need to be dealt with. Hit them where it hurts. Arrest them for so much as criticizing his rule. Fine them for so much as even organising a protest. He can’t scare them with the COVID19 statistics. They can see right through them. He threatens with arrests, enormous fines and hopes this puts people back where they came from and restores the order. He was pushed to it. Or maybe he just needed a trigger. It doesn’t matter. From now on the people are not to be trusted with having their freedom. Freedom is the root of disobedience. People aren’t ready for freedom. They are corrupted, irresponsible, selfish, naive, deluded and impulsive, confirm the leader’s advisors. Their freedom can, from now on, be suspended any time there is a crisis or when the government says there is a crisis. Freedoms are never fully returned to us, haven’t you been paying attention?

Just following orders?

Dave Cullen on You Tube illustrated it quite clearly. If you think of the governmental control of your life in a scale from 1 to 10, before Coronavirus we were at maybe 2 or 3. There were laws in place, as always, but you were free to travel, go to the pub, or work. Now and during last lockdown we jumped to 9 on the scale. Do you think that after the pandemic is over we will just go back to 2 or 3? No. The government control of our lives will go down to 5 or 6, maybe even 7. Some of our freedoms will be returned because we can’t be trusted with all of them ever again. Isn’t this what happened after the “first” lockdown? It ended and we were able to go back to work, but we still could have a limited number of guests at a birthday party, we still couldn’t protest, we couldn’t enter a pub without providing our contact details. Our lives did not return to normal at all. And now it seems like we are just going to live from one lockdown to another unless people, both in their homes and in the parliament wake up. Will we ever get our freedoms back? Will we ever go back down on that scale? It is up to us, and I owe it to my son to fight for his right to be a free human being. I may fail. I may be wrong about this, but I have to try.

If you’re still asking yourself why won’t this guy just follow the rules or get back to where he came from, I can’t help you. I’ve written enough. What I’ve written here might sound trivial to you. Wearing a mask, queuing to shops, essential travel? These aren’t that bad, are they? I should just suck it up and do the right thing. The horrors or Fascism and Communism have been widely documented, so I don’t need to get into them. What I’ve written here are, what I believe to be, the early signs and symptoms of these horrors and of that misery. What the people were and still are subjected to in communist regimes can come for us all. It can be disguised as convenience, safety, equality, a pretty smile of a politician, protection and security and before we know it, we will lose all our freedom because we consented to it one small step at a time. I value freedom, therefore I cannot sacrifice it to make you feel safe. Thank you for reading.

I value freedom more than safety. This is what drives me
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Wear The Damn Mask!

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

Benjamin Franklin

What follows might be bollox, so be warned.

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

The exact look masked people give me on the street

The ancient instinct

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

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

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

The older you

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

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

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

Who do we save?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The argument

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

Jonathan Swift

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

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

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

Mark Twain

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

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

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

The tribes we belong to

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

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

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

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

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

Something tells me this is correct
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