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COLM MEANEY: Whose side are you on?

A person or an issue can cause a split in a community or even in a nation: examples are legion. Being pro- and anti-Treaty was a huge dividing point in Ireland a century ago, and the scars are still there. But still, the outcome was mostly to do with Ireland alone. Similarly, Donald Trump was the source of great division in the USA, and yet the question of his return (or not) to the White House, was mostly an American issue, however much it may spill over into international policies.

The Brexit campaign was extremely bitter and divisive, but, apart from some matters of trade & immigration, it remains essentially a British issue. But this Covid pandemic business is different. It has certainly occasioned a divide, but it’s not along tribal or even national lines; no, this one is global. A rift has been deliberately introduced, neatly dividing families, communities, countries into two polarized groups. Such a division has transparently happened in Ireland and many other countries since March 2020: society divides into two camps when it comes to anything to do with the “pandemic” and all that has subsequently transpired – not only the measures taken by government, health officials, the police, etc., but also with the manner in which they acted and the results which have ensued.

Perhaps this all goes back to the practice of “divide and conquer”: the phrase is attributed to Julius Caesar, but the strategy is probably as old as human aggression.  Once a society is divided, the controlling powers, who have some agenda to push or plan to instigate, have their work made much easier for themselves.

The gap between the two sides is so stark, that it’s hard to imagine any neutral ground; no, each person belongs willy-nilly to one of two camps. On one side are those, the vast majority, who accept all that has happened as essentially the correct course of action. They may voice the occasional complaint about some inconvenience experienced or express a worry that measures taken have been out of proportion; but for them, the bottom line is that, no matter how seemingly irrational a measure may be, it is ultimately for the common goal which trumps all others: we have to save lives. This mantra about “saving lives” is, for this group, unassailable, in fact unquestionable. The slogan has some emotional force because nobody wants to be seen as nonchalant when it comes to protecting lives; but based on what has happened since March 2020, the slogan rings hollow. Were the lives of the elderly in nursing homes being protected when other sick people were transferred to those very homes? No, and the consequences were scandalously tragic. Who was protecting lives when important medical procedures were either postponed or cancelled? Answer: nobody, and certainly not the HSE or NPHET.

Nonetheless, the mantra of “saving lives” is still accepted by this group, even when evidence is furnished that would cast it into doubt. The reason is that this group is firm in its belief that those “in authority” are dependable, trustworthy and right, whether it’s the government, the non-functioning opposition, the Gardai, but most especially the mainstream media. What they hear on the TV or read in the papers represents the full truth, an accurate portrayal of reality; and this news is deemed almost infallible when the speaker has a title: minister, doctor, professor, “adviser” or “expert”. (This, to my mind, is the quintessence of purblindness: a childlike, innocent, unquestioning acceptance of what our “leaders” say).

But accepting pronouncements without question or debate, especially those which have a serious impact on our lives and society, is essentially an abandonment of our critical faculties and represents a decision to exist on a level of blind faith; those making the decisions are in power, so therefore they must be right. It is this element of unthinking credence and obedience to the voices in power which renders largely fruitless any discussion around “pandemic” topics.

It is not as though each side suffers from some kind of mutual incomprehension: instead, one side favours belief: facts don’t have any currency here, though figures (aka: “cases”) are regurgitated endlessly; the other, while it has a very real element of emotional content (anger and abhorrence about the outrages which have been perpetrated since March 2020), is essentially based on reason (documentable evidence, statistics in the public domain, a desire to rationally question decisions and priorities detrimental to our basic liberties, etc.).

I am proud to belong to the other side, the questioning, doubting group. Our motto during this created crisis could be “Defy, do not comply”. We don’t shrug our shoulders and bemoan what has happened since March 2020, we pronounce it an unmitigated disaster which didn’t just “happen” but which was created – albeit at the beginning amid some apparent hesitation and consternation. But when the smoke of those early weeks cleared, we saw the script come into focus, the fear being spread unremittingly. And, since then, we have witnessed some truly horrifying scenes: for people to spend their last days on Earth in a hospital room, surrounded by Perspex, with no relatives allowed to visit them was a thundering disgrace; to deny them a Christian funeral was utterly outrageous, adding insult to injury. I wrote in an earlier article about the near-total silence of the Catholic hierarchy being a massive disappointment. The Catholic bishops haven’t been the most popular group in recent Irish history, but hey! popularity was never a gospel value – but speaking truth to power certainly is. This silence will echo quietly down the ages as an ignominious abandonment of the call to preach the word “in and out of season” (2 Timothy, 4:2).

Of the two sides in our polarised society, the one I belong to is clearly in a minority, up against powerful forces, who don’t hesitate to demean, degrade or demonize those who question them or refuse to comply. It is akin to David and Goliath (1 Samuel, chapter 17), where the latter was not only gigantic in size, but had armaments of an almost invincible quality; while David had merely his sling and some stones. Yet the account ends with Goliath defeated, the wily David victorious. There is still hope.

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