Cancel Culture, Face Masks, and the Libertarian Cranks in Our Midst
In his imperious work, Moscow 1937, Karl Schlogel mines as perhaps no other writer has the tragedy that befell the Russian capital at the height of the Great Terror unleashed by Stalin at a time when the dark night of fascism had begun to descend over Europe. The paranoia which gripped the diseased mind of the Soviet helmsman determined that countless thousands were arrested, tortured, and executed in the name of defending the coming communist utopia that had been bequeathed to the Soviet peoples by the great Lenin, set to arrive in their midst at some undefined point in the future.
The way that so many became infused with the belief that the multiple accidents that were taking place in factories and plants across the country during this period was down to the wrecking activities of Trotskyist cells, rather than the inevitable result of hyper-industrialisation at breakneck speed, stands as a warning from history of how great societal, political and/or economic crises can destroy the collective mind and rationality of an entire country, leaving it open to turning in on itself and devouring its own.
What makes the year 1937 so terrible, however, is not merely the number of victims. Few of those who were persecuted and killed knew why they had been singled out for this fate. The allegations were incredible and fantastic, and even more fantastic was the fact that the accused repeated and reproduced them in their confessions.
Compare and contrast Moscow during the Great Terror in 1937 with the UK during Covid19 in 2020. Here the abandonment of reason is the product not of totalitarianism but libertarianism — in other words in service to an ideology of rampant individualism and selfishness. Evidence for this is the hysteria that’s been whipped up by some over the mandatory wearing of face masks in supermarkets and other retail stores.
At time of writing, face masks have just been made mandatory in Scotland and will likely also become mandatory in England sooner rather than later. Being resident in the former, I can confirm that the vast majority of people have readily complied with what is by any objective measure a common sense attempt to minimise the transmission of a highly infectious virus for which there remains no vaccine or known cure as we emerge from lockdown.
It is neither the harbinger of fascism in our midst nor part of some devious plot to destroy our ‘ancient liberties’.
What it boils down to is whether you believe there is such a thing as society or whether you do not. That there are so many anti-face mask libertarian cranks in our midst who clearly do not believe in an entity known as society is further proof that most infamous proponent of ‘there is no such thing as society’, Margaret Thatcher, did her job well. In taking a cudgel to collectivism and collective ideas, Thatcher and her free market Hayekian disciples paved the way for the deep well of conspiracy theorist claptrap that has now become so ubiquitous that it now poses a threat to public health.
In normal times, this tinfoil hat brigade could be safely ignored, allowed to witter away on the margins like 5-years olds in a school playground. But now, in the midst of a pandemic which in the UK has accounted for over 655,000 souls and counting across the world, their wittering has taken on a more sinister aspect, constituting as it does a clear and present danger to public health.
Along with the current controversy surrounding something known as ‘cancel culture’, whereby supposed victims of social media pile-ons, many of them celebrities, are being metaphorically forced out of the public square by the mob for the crime of voicing unpopular and controversial opinions on the issues of the day, resistance to the wearing of face masks in supermarkets reflects a lapse into extreme solipsism and grotesque narcissism.
The inconvenience of wearing a small piece of material over your face for the short period of time you find yourself in a shop or supermarket is as nothing compared to the inconvenience of being intubated in an intensive care unit with Covid19. This, you might think, would be obvious to even the most resolute anti-face mask zealot. However you’d be surprised.
Here’s the World Health Organization’s guidance (WHO) on the issue of face masks:
The general public should wear non-medical masks where there is widespread transmission and when physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport, in shops or in other confined or crowded environments.
This guidance was issued by the WHO on June 5th, which confirms that the issue in the UK is not the mandatory wearing of face masks but the fact that again Boris Johnson’s government has been behind the curve when it comes to tackling this virus. This being said, for anti-face masks libertarians the WHO is part of some lurid plot to usher in a new normal of authoritarianism, doing so in partnership with governments across the world. Johann Goethe’s timeless words on the prevalence and existence of ‘disordered minds’ outwith the ‘madhouse’ are here ineffably germane.
This virus has tested all of us in ways we probably could not have envisaged prior to its arrival. The stress it has placed on families, communities and the country as a whole has been inordinate. Such a crisis brings out both the best and the worst of human traits — kindness and compassion on the one hand and selfishness and cruelty on the other. It is the job of right thinking people to ensure that they remain on the right side of this divide and do not descend into the pit of irrationality and conspiracy theory, driven there by an ignoble denial of reality just because it interferes with your ability to do exactly what you want when you want and fuck you Jack, I’m alright.
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