Photo credit: Department of Health

The danger now is mass resignation, not mass hysteria

It is a simple statement of fact that in Ireland, and much of the world, today, some policies are in place that would have been unthinkable, just 18 months ago.

If you are reading this, then, for most of your life, the idea that a person would have to show a Government certificate to enter a pub or a restaurant or a cinema, or to board a flight, would have been more at home in a dystopian alternative history movie than in the society in which we actually live. The idea that Governments could arbitrarily decide to close private businesses, or restrict their opening hours, would have seemed unthinkable. The idea that the defending Australian open champion might be denied entry to Australia on what – according to Australia’s own courts – amounted to little more than a whim by the Government would have seemed fanciful.

All of those things, now, are part of normal life. And more, to boot. Children are still wearing masks to schools, though, try as you might, you will not find any controlled experiments or trials showing, anywhere in the world, that masks amongst schoolchildren reduce covid infections. That data does not exist.

In my own writing, I have always tried to be careful about throwing around phrases like “mass hysteria”. As a general rule, they do nobody any good: At an individual level, the truth is that most people are not hysterical at all. It is, simply, always easier, and more rational, to comply than to object. Who, after all, wants to be the oddball who does not wear their mask in Tesco? Who wants to be the awkward parent who insists that their child won’t wear a mask in class? You can be guaranteed that you will get precious little support from those around you, because even those who quietly agree will, on balance, decide that it is in their own interest to remain silent.

What we are actually seeing is not really mass hysteria, but mass resignation. A sense of powerlessness in the face of the virus, and the public health authorities, in equal measure.

A fool – a literal fool – for example, can see that the covid 19 vaccines have done precious little to stop the spread of covid. Yet, the idea that our vaccine passports must all be updated with to reflect that we have taken a third booster vaccine is accepted with enthusiasm from some, and resignation from most. That’s just the way it is now, is the general response.

One problem, of course, though it will annoy some readers to hear it, is that many people just do not want to associate with those people. You know the ones. The oddballs. The troublemakers. The screamers. The kind of people who post in all caps on facebook and social media about some French footballer having breathing difficulties, and declare that it’s all “part of the plan”. Caught between those people, and nice Dr. Holohan in his suit, they know which side they’d rather be thought to be on. It is, regularly, difficult to blame them.

This, above all else, is the problem: In your heart, you know that something here is not quite right. But it is difficult, is it not, as a rational person, to articulate it properly? To sound reasonable. To not associate yourself with the fringier, conspiracy theorist element. The people who yell and protest and talk a lot about the new world order, and what have you.

All of this, of course, is to some extent deliberate. We hear so much about Ireland’s “far right” at least in part because the people doing the yelling about the far right know that 99% of people would be horrified at the thought of being considered a member of the “far right”. And as more and more ideas get labelled “far right”, so, more and more ideas are considered “unacceptable”.

And so we arrive at the position as it is today: Which is that, according to a poll in the Sunday Independent, 23% of the population want to abolish all restrictions today, and go back to normal. But those people are relatively poorly represented in politics, and the media, at least in part because the dominant narrative is that those who want to return to life as it was in January 2020 are, at least to some extent, far right extremists, anti maskers, anti vaxxers, and science deniers. And those with the ability, and power, to represent them are, to some extent, afraid to do so.

But those positions can be articulated reasonably, and fairly. Here, for example, is a question: Ireland presently (at the time of writing) has the highest case numbers for Covid 19… in the world. So, what would happen if we abolished all restrictions? Would we go from 20k cases a day (which, given testing limits, is probably a fraction of the total) to… 100k cases a day? 200k cases a day?

What are the restrictions actually restricting, aside from normal life? What are the masks in the classrooms actually accomplishing? What are the vaccine passports achieving? How different would our country look, today, if we abolished all those policies this morning?

In your heart, I suspect, you know what the answer to those questions is. Things would not look very different at all.

After all, at the present rate, covid will soon run out of people to infect.

And yet, there is no move, none at all, toward acknowledging the end of this pandemic. If anything, Government seems almost eager to keep it going. To keep the emergency powers, and the temporary vaccine passports, and all the other accoutrements of pandemic life. And to keep them, it must be said, indefinitely.

There is an old saying, from Benjamin Franklyn, which should be emblazoned on our thinking, at the beginning of 2022:

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.

That’s what we have in Ireland. Neither liberty, nor, for most of us, safety from the virus. And that’s, at least in part, due to our own unwillingness to stand up for ourselves. Unless that changes, the danger of many of these measures becoming permanent is frighteningly real.

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