It’s been difficult finding the words to express my worsening mood and deepening depression. I’m referring specifically to my subconscious responses to altered public behaviour and the marks left by social reaction to Covid-19. For the first time in my life, I’m noticing increasing anxiety and, with the stress, a direct link to declining health. I’ve been struggling with this worsening dynamic over the last month or two, trying to get to grips with it. Trying to better understand its cause. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.
We struggle to find the words, because so much has been normalised. But can anyone tell me what is normal about sensory deprivation, about denying human contact?
Ask any child psychologist and they’ll tell you it’s abusive and extremely harmful behaviour. At its most extreme, sensory deprivation, such as in solitary confinement, is a form of torture. Even at its most banal, the emotional banishment of ‘sending’ a family member or loved one to ‘Coventry’ is an act of denial and exclusion, an act of retribution designed to hurt; ultimately it is always used as a manipulative tool of coercion.
The current emotional assault may be experienced differently according to one’s constitution and personal life, but my main sensory social interaction comes through playing music together in the pubs or singing in the local men’s choir.
I’ve been suffering withdrawal since the clampdown began. My only other ‘real life’ social interactions are sparse, consisting of a few words with neighbours or meeting friends when out shopping. That’s it. And the choir, due to its somewhat elderly composition may be cancelled altogether. It also hurts me, as I know that playing traditional music is a major part of my younger daughter’s life, and that her main source of income has been shut down.
So whoever says anti-social distancing is a moral necessity and a small price to pay for the social good is either lying, or themselves suffering from a kind of emotional detachment: adults, who suffered neglect or emotional deprivation as children, are often more reactive than proactive, presenting with hidden insecurities and exaggerated fears brought on by poor self-esteem. They are not only the first to accept this kind of abusive behaviour, they are also the first to dish it out.
Even if it’s due to one’s own fears, enforcing sensory deprivation and other limitation on to the freedoms of others is still nothing other than abusive control, and commonly passed down generations, from parent to child.
The Strong Hand
There are many examples of this kind of control operating at higher social levels.
When communities suffer the cruelty of war and social dysfunction, they frequently seek stability and safety through the strong hand of government, generally expressed in religious terms.
Thus whenever the Black Death – an incomparable ‘plague’ to Covid-19[i] – reared its ugly head, there were unquenchable calls to save us from ourselves, from the wrath of God, from unbelievers, and from witches and other forms of black magic; including wisdom, common sense, and science; anything at all suspected of having brought the pestilence upon us.
In return for this security in times of war or plague, the unfortunate majority are forced to endure loyalty-based protection, inflicted not by cruel warlords, but by religious elites with a strict and predictable moral code of conduct.
For example, the likes of the Taliban enforce compliance in people’s daily lives not through unpredictable violence, but through implementing dogma and complimenting that with a strict orthodoxy in regard to public discourse. This is invasive social control with severe limitations on human contact. A strict moral code and definitely no frivolity or overt displays of human affection. Under the more oppressive or Puritanical regimes, even music or dancing are forbidden. Indeed, to an extent this was evident in the cruel Catholicism of independent Ireland arising out of the Great Irish Famine.
Anyone not abiding by such exacting protocol is very easily recognised, singled out, and made an example of. By default sinners, heretics, or unbelievers, conspicuous individuals are to be censored or eliminated. With such a depressive shadow constantly looming overhead, it is a subtle rule by terror, yet generally accepted as being for our own good.
If a choice lies between endless suffering due to the constant warfare of brutal and unpredictable warlords or living under the tight protection of religious zealots, one can understand why people in Afghanistan chose the Taliban. Likewise, in times of extreme superstition and plague, we can understand why our ancestors preferred the protection of the Church, despite its ominous shadow and cruel inquisitors.
So what of the current situation? Have our social coping mechanisms in times of danger, real or imagined, really changed that much? Clearly, many of us willingly accept the new restrictive social order and its open threats of violence (fines or incarceration): we are now more afraid of facing our own mortality than we are of facing the actual risks and rewards of living in the natural world.
Ignoring the Data
We all must die, but the timing is never according to a smooth average. Personal health and safety varies considerably, as do external circumstances. This is why it is quite normal to see wild fluctuations in charts concerning excess winter deaths.[ii]
The process of increasing a population’s life expectancy, however, has unexpected consequences for data regarding death rates. In other words, living longer affects the data compilations concerning when we die.
Increasing the life expectancy of the entire population will obviously delay the timing of death of the entire population. This will lower the recorded rate of death for any given year that this occurs. Irrespective of spikes and troughs in the data record, it is visible as an underlying trend, as life expectancy relates to all deaths, both winter and summer.
Normally, after such a delay we’d expect the death rate to catch up and return to ‘normal’. If, however, we increase life expectancy year-on-year, this will show up as an accumulating lowering trend on any graph depicting excess deaths. And when we reach a point – where life expectancy can no longer be improved upon – the delaying effect will disappear.
This means people will once again start dying again at rates befitting the size of a population, only this time they will die older. Of course, in terms of depicting this effect in a graph, the delay in dying functions like a backlog, a holding back of the waters with a dam. It’s a circumstance partially expressed by the term ‘ageing population’. The dying cannot be delayed forever and so that will show up in the graph as an increase equivalent to the previous decrease.
Therefore, excess deaths is a bit of a misnomer prone to public misinterpretation, as one can only die once. A better term would be the ‘Rate of Death’ or the ‘Timing of Death’. These deaths are to be expected, possibly with a greater rise to come, if one also considers historic population growth.[iii] In effect, by creating a delay, we only messed around with the timing.
A U.K. government publication outlines this phenomenon with the appropriate chart and data going back seventy years (see page 50). For an overview, I suggest reading the first three introductory sections: Main Findings, Conclusions and Further Work, and Trends in the Numbers of Deaths.[iv] This report also introduces another important consideration unmentioned thus far: since 2010, deteriorating social circumstances are also contributing to the ongoing rise in death rates.
By contrast, if the current pandemic had been anything like as extreme as the Black Death, the chart would have looked dramatically different. The mass dying would have shown up as an ‘off the chart’ astronomical rise: it would have had to be redrawn to cope with such exponential increase. However, there is nothing exponential in the current situation, when compared to long term developments over the last seventy years.
The only event that was exponential was a brief period when Covid-19 came from nowhere. However, once established, it settled in and simply became an additional cause of death affecting, overwhelming, those already at the end of life.
In effect, Covid-19 has not caused extra death, but simply stepped in and replaced the prevalence of more common causes. Indeed, Irish life expectancy will not have been changed much by this particular threat: the median age of Covid-19 related death was 82, which is pretty much the same as Irish life expectancy recorded before the outbreak.[v] The relevant data can easily be accommodated on linear charts, as nothing out of the ordinary has occurred.
Spooked into a Stampede
So now we have a ‘new’ disease, notwithstanding immunity provided by exposure to other coronaviruses.[vi] Any novel disease can be frightening, but pretty early on, the hard data showed that this one had little effect on life expectancy and was fatal mainly to those already nearing the end of their lives. And yet, somehow, the charts on ‘excess deaths’ were misinterpreted to look as if society was facing a major disaster, when there were other perfectly good reasons accounting for the spike in recorded deaths.
Our politicians – not known for adopting the precautionary principle when it comes to other threats such as climate change – suddenly took on the role of the strong hand at the behest of the WHO, which had recently grown more powerful through corporate backing. Seemingly, encouraged by powerful corporate interests, the unprecedented actions taken by a majority of world governments quickly turned authoritarian.
Never before has such a social experiment occurred on such a global scale.
Even if government actions around the world were taken in good faith – which seems highly unlikely – we are entering completely unknown territory, socially, politically, and scientifically. We are engaging in an unprecedented social experiment without knowing anything – anything at all – about its efficacy. Neither have we, or those governments around the world, considered the likely consequences of such monumental social engineering.
The psychology underlying all these recent occurrences bears all the hallmarks of us being spooked into a stampede. Both the public and the government are being dragged along, to the point that with increased momentum the stampede is now being legally enforced with fines and threats of incarceration for non-compliance. No turning back. Who knows how many will be trampled underfoot. Who knows if a cliff lies ahead.
While appealing to our basest instincts, this undertaking is utter social folly. Even if there were a few lions attacking the herd, our reaction may destroy civilisation as we know it.
The cynic in me says that governments and the relevant corporations know full well what they are up to, in keeping with the simple etiquette of disaster capitalism: the ability to profit from chaos at the expense of all others, whilst throwing the occasional spanner in the works to make it more profitable.
Do you think this all sounds far-fetched? Think again.
These events require no conspiracy theory, just self-serving greed on a grand scale, peppered with a fair amount of ruthlessness.
After 2008, we had ‘too big to fail’, and immediately following that, ‘too big to jail’. Instead of that observation triggering an insurmountable crisis within global capitalism/communism, it simply was absorbed and shrugged off as ‘business as usual’. And the general public just swallowed it.
Stripped bare of all pretence, this was nothing short of a monumental admission that the main powers within our governments, the banking system, the corporations, and even the upper echelons of the judiciary were all operating as a single criminal cartel.
Although there are no leaders in this loose cartel, they all share many of the same objectives. Operating above the law and with total impunity, they pulled off the largest heist in the history of mankind: the Bailout; together with establishing bad banks as corrupt asset management agencies; the cannibalising of entire countries; and unforgivable vampiric austerity measures in advanced economies, whilst wealth continued to be extracted.
And they haven’t gone away. Over the last ten years, more wealth than ever has been siphoned-off by the top 1%.[vii] And more wealth means more power and influence, more networked control: the cartel is only just getting started. With no opposition whatsoever (other than their own infighting), nothing is safe.
Everything is up for grabs. The only flicker of light in all of this is that these power brokers do not represent a cohesive whole. They are an unstable alliance based on shared interests. However in their struggle for dominance, they’ll quite happily devour one another. This is their weakness, as their eyes are not always on the ball. The takeaway is that both effective and efficient tactical responses are possible, should the public develop the courage to take on these oligarchs and deal with the current social dysfunction.
Friday Papers: US economy contracted by 32.9%, the most in postwar history, in second quarter; Silicon Valley giants Amazon, Apple & Facebook earned record profits in pandemic; & German economy shrank 10.1% in the second quarter at fastest pace in 50yrs. https://t.co/hmuTFojsob
— Citywire Funds Fanatic (@FundFanatic) July 31, 2020
Returning our attention to the pandemic, it would be mindbogglingly naive to think we can trust these untouchables to manage our communities other than in their own interests. Judging by their extraordinarily successful track record, it is highly probable that they’ll deliberately worsen this crisis in order to follow through on diverse, yet extreme, ulterior motives, whatever these may be. We are yet to see how they’ll play their cards.
As to my own mental state, I have no serious concerns. I’ve been here before and know how to look after myself; digging deep and unearthing the root causes play a major part in relieving anxiety, stress, and depression, even if I have little or no control over what is being inflicted on our society.
So whilst I have my own coping mechanisms, my very real concern is for those of a less robust mental constitution, for whom this powerlessness in the face of sensory deprivation and community-wide social coercion can cause devastating stress and lasting trauma.
Above all, I fear for the effect on children. For God’s sake, what are we doing to our children!? FMRI scans mapping childhood development clearly and undeniably show the permanent neural damage caused by emotional and physical deprivation.
Furthermore, it is through activities, such as close contact and rough and tumble that children, particularly boys, learn empathy, fairness, and trust. They acquire mental resilience and self-esteem. It’s a visceral kind of learning beyond the realm of words.
The degree to which these qualities will be impaired also depends on the mental state of parents and teachers: how they are dealing with their own stress and anxiety and the ways in which they are projecting their fears and fear responses onto those in their charge.
Considering all the uncertainties contained within this monumental human experiment, we really must ask ourselves: what kind of future generations do we risk creating? Nowhere in the scientific or the political world have human experiments ever been accepted as ethical. Why now? And why on such a scale?
Seducing us into an artificial sense of community, these measures are creating bad blood and driving uncontrollable and increasingly aggressive polarisation within civil society.
These self-inflicted wounds were orchestrated
In this writing, I have concerned myself primarily with the psychological aspects. Now I will briefly touch on the social and economic costs inherent in this unprecedented social experiment.
Fear seems to have also erased our short term memory. Does no one remember our health services being near to breaking point before the panic, with sick folk lying for days on trolleys in the hospital corridors, with almost 700,000 on waiting lists for appointments[viii]? What happened to them? Clearly, that crisis didn’t just magically disappear.[ix] Are these unfortunates now simply left to waste away at home, whilst the waiting lists grow and grow: out of sight, out of mind?
As far as I know, there is no empirical evidence to prove, once and for all, that measures such as lockdown, social distancing, or the wearing of cheap masks will extend lives over the years to come. Neither is anyone taking into account factors such as innate imperviousness on the one hand, or the necessity of growing and ensuring one’s natural immunity to infections on the other.[x]
We now have a situation where both the government and a large proportion of the public seem convinced of both the efficacy and necessity of these unproven precautions, instead of looking at the deeper problems of civilisation’s growing ill-health and worsening susceptibility to infections, notwithstanding our longer lives.
To be clear, we have a hidden crisis, yet all the government is doing is ordering us to wear masks, whilst in the meantime their continued neglect of public health care means a growing number of people are not only vulnerable to Covid-19, but other infections too.
How easy it will be for those in power to deflect all culpability from themselves: they will likely blame the looming collapse of our health services on the pandemic and attribute future deaths to poor compliance with mask wearing and distancing.
What we really need are workable solutions such as a new generation of fever hospitals. Here and in the U.K., we had such hospitals until not so long ago, but over time they were closed down.[xi] It is far more wholesome and cost efficient to keep the infectious safe and cared for in such isolated and isolating facilities. This allows the rest of the health services to remain free and fully functional. Disease specialists may be talking of such things, but such a proactive approach is of no interest to our government.
The material costs
Adding to the psychological and physical harm is of course the social and economic damage. At no time did those making the rules consult us in regard to their legally enforced dysfunction, with thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of lives and livelihoods being torn apart and destroyed. And for what?
The imposed logic is all back to front. The more vulnerable people are to disease or circumstance, the more effort it takes to keep them safe, to provision them, and to care for them. This requires a healthy and active community, not one with their guts ripped out.
If the economy is forced into a state of collapse or near collapse, who is going to care for the vulnerable then? The whole idea of community is to share the work and the responsibility. And if that entails serious risk, then so be it. This is what we do. Yet this time it was not permitted and, in many areas, is still not permitted. In following the official line and breaking this fundamental principle, both young and old will suffer the consequences: the entire nation will enter a very-difficult-to-reverse state of decline, possibly for generations to come. In terms of a creative, self-sufficient, and self-sustaining economy, none of this makes any sense, but then again, as noted above, I guess our interests do not align with those who hold sway.
So what do they stand to gain? Destroying independent commerce increases both the influence and the market share of the large concerns.
Furthermore, a broken society is likely to become increasingly dependent on – and beholden to – the state, the landlords, the corporate world, and the financial sector. In effect, we are abdicating our personal agency: dark times indeed.
What do we do now?
Once we recognise what is being done to us, we suddenly possess options we didn’t have before: we can choose to either walk away, or – if that is impossible – we can choose not to comply and face the consequences.
Being hurt or punished for doing what we believe to be both healthy and necessary is often far more wholesome for a person’s emotional wellbeing than the destructive and stress-inducing powerlessness of fearing to make any decision at all.
Indeed, being true to oneself in this seemingly ineffective way is deeply, deeply empowering, as long as we don’t let anger or a victimhood mentality get in the way. To be clear, in standing tall we have tapped into the font of life: this is the true source of all power. From it is born a certain resilience, an infectious fearlessness. It is from this place of inner conviction that we regrow the primal strength of the community.
It follows that such non-compliance is the starting point for rebuilding ourselves and our future: it is to stand for voluntarism at its most extreme. It is born out of an innate sense of being unbreakable and ungovernable. This is what it takes to be incorruptible. We will once again become indigenous, both to ourselves and to the land.
The ancient mantra is that you can break my body, but you cannot break my spirit. This mental attitude is how some people survive solitary confinement. I don’t know if I’d have such mental fortitude, if incarcerated, but this is no time to nurture such fears for the future. Instead, it is enough to say that I’ll know when I get there, and I’ll live or die by the consequences.
[i] About 60% of the population generally died in the first months of a bubonic plague visitation www.bandolier.org.uk/booth/Risk/plague.html, whereas Covid-19 appears to have an infection mortality rate below 1% even with aged populations (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01738-2), with over half of the population enjoying cross or innate immunity to the extent that they are impervious to the disease
[ii] “Excess winter mortality in England and Wales: 2017 to 2018 (provisional) and 2016 to 2017” (final)https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/excesswintermortalityinenglandandwales/2017to2018provisionaland2016to2017final
[iii] 5. Highest number of deaths registered in England and Wales since 1999 https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/deaths/bulletins/deathsregistrationsummarytables/2018#highest-number-of-deaths-registered-in-england-and-wales-since-1999
[iv] Public Health England: ‘ A review of recent trends in mortality in England’ https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/827518/Recent_trends_in_mortality_in_England.pdf
[v] ‘Updates on COVID-19 (Coronavirus) since January 2020’, gov.ie, https://www.gov.ie/en/publication/20f2e0-updates-on-covid-19-coronavirus-since-january-2020/
[vi] Zaria Gorvett, ‘The people with hidden immunity against Covid-19’, BBC, July 20th, 2020 https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200716-the-people-with-hidden-protection-from-covid-19
[vii] Michael Roberts, ‘The top 1% own 45% of all global personal wealth; 10% own 82%; the bottom 50% own less than 1%’, Committee for the Cancellation of Irresponsible Debt, November 9th, 2020, Re https://www.cadtm.org/The-top-1-own-45-of-all-global-personal-wealth-10-own-82-the-bottom-50-own-less
[viii]Jack Horgan-Jones, Martin Wall, ‘More than 677,000 on hospital waiting lists last month, new figures show’, Irish Times, February 14th, 2020, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/ireland/irish-news/more-than-677-000-on-hospital-waiting-lists-last-month-new-figures-show-1.4174195
[ix] Connor Gallagher, Almost 700,000 people waiting on a hospital appointment at end of May, new figures show’, Irish Times, June 12th, 2020, https://www.irishtimes.com/news/health/almost-700-000-people-waiting-on-a-hospital-appointment-at-end-of-may-new-figures-show-1.4277937
[x] Steve Bird, ‘Lockdown and social distancing could make our immune system weaker, says scientist’, Daily Telegraph, June 27th, 2020, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2020/06/27/lockdown-social-distancing-could-make-immune-system-weaker-says/
[xi] Tom Jefferson, Carl Heneghan, CEBM, May 11th, 2020, ‘COVID-19: ‘Fever Hospitals’’ https://www.cebm.net/covid-19/covid-19-reestablishing-fever-hospitals/