Monday 26 April 2021

Sorry, not sorry.

Wearing a yellow star at a protest, according to Twitter, is strictly off limits. No debate allowed.

I would agree that it's in very poor taste but groupthinkers will always declare contentious assertions to be in poor taste and off limits rather than engage with the substance. It's a highly effective way of discouraging people from airing contrary opinions. Whenever I'm at the centre of a Twitter storm, which is at least every three months, it's usually because the blue tickers of polite society have declared something I've said is far beyond the pale. I'm not just wrong... I'm evil.

I'm of the view, though, that if your protest isn't prickling the sensibilities of polite society then you might as well go home. Protests are meant to spark debate. It's not for blue tick luvvies to dictate what is and isn't offensive or off limits.

I suppose though, that if you are going to invoke the Holocaust, as the protesters did, they can expect a rough ride of it. Invoking one of the worst human rights atrocities of all time over what could be described as "first world problems" is crass.

But then as free thinking adults we are able to park our revulsion and interrogate the assertion made. The protesters clearly think there are parallels, and it is for us to judge  if they have a point. Of course the polite society mob is highly selective. As illustrated above, liberal progressives feel able to recruit the Holocaust in service of their anti-Brexit cause. 

In their minds, though, I can see why they think what they do. At the time we were negotiating a new legal status for EU citizens against a backdrop of rising "recorded hate incidents" (for whatever that's worth), and quasi-fascist propaganda from Arron Banks's Leave.EU. There are parallels with 1930's Germany but only if you rob the circumstances of any context or nuance, so they have to stretch a point to absurdity in order to make it.

The more pedestrian truth is that a spike in recoded "hate incidents" is statistically meaningless and nobody in charge of delivering Brexit had any intention of formally discriminating against EU citizens beyond that which is commensurate with leaving the EU citizenship framework. Remainers then invoked Windrush as evidence of a racist agenda, but that's largely the dead hand of bureaucracy at the Home Office as it attempts to meet impossible targets on immigration.

But this is hardly the first invocation of the Holocaust in reference to Brexit. Remainers repeatedly assert that our departure from the EU is the leading edge of a wave of right wing populism consuming the country, where even Theresa "field of wheat" May is cast as a fascist demon. Remainers have whipped themselves up into a frenzy of paranoia, and built up a web of ever more outlandish conspiracy theories ranging from Russian bots and shadowy computer algorithms through to outright vote rigging.

This peddling of conspiracy theories in polite society raises no eyebrows, nor does anybody take responsibility for whipping up sweet little old dears who take to the streets wearing yellow stars. In fact, it's considered award winning journalism.

But then I don't get prickly about the use of yellow stars. I'm hardly one to condemn for making a point in poor taste. It's a highly effective to make a point, hence the runaway success of South Park. And if we really do mean "never again" we always have to evaluate the slippery slopes in our politics to ensure we don't repeat mistakes of the past - and the Holocaust is certainly a relevant benchmark.

In this the anti-lockdowners see their own parallels in events. And they're not conspiracy theories. What started out as a series of public precautions has mutated into an incoherent bidding war between politicians to see who can be the most draconian, contributing to a climate of fear and paranoia. What we're now seeing is aggressive demands for absolute conformity with the most absurd whims of these politicians. That's where the very frightening parallel is.

There is nothing quite so casually brutal and dangerous as a mob imbued with the idea they are acting in the greater good when they take vigilante action against individuals. I've seen that zeal up close and it cannot be reasoned with. It is exactly the same fanaticism of the SS. Leaving aside the politics and the historical context, the behaviours on display are absolutely identical.

Most Covid measures seem to make sense on paper but you can't help but notice that in real life, outside of the cities, it's just risible, indefensible bollocks. London imposes its stupid rules on the country yet the further from London you are, the less necessary they are. But Britain being what it is, the further north you go, the stricter the implementation and enforcement. So Easingwold is enforcing covid rules best confined to London and city public transport while London flouts the rules it sets. It's ridiculous.

I'm fine with wearing a mask in our tiny low ceiling village co-op, but in a deserted Boroughbridge Morrisons at 10am on a Wednesday morning you can't help but notice that Covid controls strictly enforced by staff are just daffy. You'd like to think that people would use their common sense but it's actually not that common. Little Hitlers lurk behind every supermarket aisle, and with your average plod being thick as mince you defy your own good judgement just for an easy life.

And that's the danger. Nobody wants to risk a confrontation with a paranoid lunatic or end up on a police cell for talking back to a plod, so we comply. Nobody wants an argument so if a vaccine passport is demand, even by those who have no right to make such demands, we will simply show them our papers. Anyone who then doesn't have the right paperwork is a legal other, and a threat.

We all want to take sensible precautions but the British jobsworth mentality simply cannot be trusted with more powers. It enjoys being petty, and the most unhinged and paranoid among us are the enablers of it. If they can't allow themselves agency, they'll ensure nobody has it.

I don't know where the off ramp for all this is, but I'm pretty sure we have to get off it now before it goes any further simply because it can and will deteriorate the long people are drip fed with a steady diet of scare stories even though we are not longer at the epicentre of the pandemic. It's summer, we have a vaccine, hospitals are now adept at treating Covid, and with it now being endemic, like it or not we now have to manage the risks. We can go into lockdowns to save granny but while we're saving granny, we're killing aunties, brothers and nephews waiting for cancer treatments, while we steal the best years from young people who should be living. 

If then we have to take to the streets and trample on the sensibilities of polite society and Twitter's blue tick luvvies then so be it. As it happens I am not anti-masks or anti-lockdown but we constant have to reassess and re-evaluate measures that were right at the time and ensure we are not building a prison for ourselves, losing liberties we will have to fight to reclaim. A lot of this stuff; masks, social distancing, the lockdowns felt on balance the right path, but that doesn't mean it feels at all necessary now and those saying so seem unable to assess and reassess a fluid situation.

As the use of yellow stars by anti-lockdown protesters is condemned on Twitter, there is an attempt to misframe the argument as though it's just people whining about marginal inconveniences - and comparing it to genocide is simply unacceptable. This is an attempt to shut down the debate. There were Germans after WW2 who confessed to being able to see what was happening. It didn't happen overnight. It was done by small increments over time.

At any point people could have spoken out but chose not to. Like anyone, they kept their mouths shut for a quiet life. Where the parallel falls apart, is that the consequences for speaking out are not quite the same. Speaking out against the Nazis and the persecution of the Jews would see you rounded up as one of them. Speaking out was too dangerous.

Thank goodness, we are nowhere near that and for the most part we still have freedom of speech, but this is a country where making a quip on Twitter can see PCSOs knocking on your door, and you can be heavily fined for the crime of being "grossly offensive". We are drifting into a culture of censorship where by social media companies can and will shut you down for expressing an opinion counter to the groupthink, and forces on the left are working to ensure there are irrecoverable consequences for falling foul of their ever mutating framework of what is permissible to say in polite society.

The convergence of this culture of censorship with growing demands for absolute conformity with the whims of politicians in their ham-fisted attempts to control Covid ought to alarm any lover of freedom. In respect of that, the Holocaust as a historical benchmark of tyranny cannot be off limits to public discourse - on this or any other matter. Every re-examining of the Holocaust not only informs our present day debate but also keeps those memories alive. As is our obligation to do so. 

Sunday 25 April 2021

The Twitter mob is at it again

I've stirred up a hornet's nest on Twitter. Again. This time regarding the people who showed up to the anti-lockdown protest wearing yellow star badges.

Straight off the bat I said it was crude and "perhaps inappropriate" which is not unequivocal enough for Twitter so all the blue tickers have piled in to call me an antisemite for pointing out that there are certain parallels, assuming that the point pertains to vaccine passports.

Just for clarity, I have absolutely no animosity toward Jews or Israel except for the horrible paint job on their F15s which caused me no end of problems when I attempted to model it.

The thing about Nazi Germany, though, or indeed any authoritarian regime, is that it did not happen overnight. It happened by way of salami slices over time to which the public largely consented, or did not offer any outright opposition. Though the motivation comes from another place with Covid measures there are two similar patterns. One of casual acceptance and secondly, herd conformity.

The concern with vaccine passports is that they could be used as a mode of bureaucratic coercion, and as with masks, if you don't conform, you are then singled out and ostracised.

No vaccine passport? You can't shop here.
No vaccine passport, you can't come in this GP surgery.
No vaccine passport, you can't apply for x benefits.
No VP, you cant...
Where does it stop?

You then see individuals and mobs taking vigilante action against individuals, especially so in a climate of irrational fear - which is going to happen when the media is running lurid scare stories and the government is at it as well. When you formalise it by way of vaccine passports, essentially creating vaccine apartheid, you enable irrational prejudice.

The more pedestrian truth of the matter is that someone in a beer garden who isn't vaccinated or isn't wearing a mask in a beer garden is unlikely to kill you. Especially not with half the population vaccinated and in what we can essentially call summer.

At no point have I said it is directly comparable with the Holocaust, only that the exact same authoritarian human behaviours are on display. So that leaves the question of whether such parallels are proportionate. Perhaps not but do recall that we went from handwashing advice through to partial lockdowns through to politicians openly debating compulsory vaccination, curfews and putting soldiers on the streets. It could happen because politicians pander to the worst instincts of curtain twitchers unless there are enough people willing to speak out.

As ever, the reaction on Twitter largely confirms much of what I fear. Today I've been called everything but a child of god, with subsequent demands to simply "wear a mask" even though that's not actually what the debate was about. I'm not unequivocally anti-mask as you know. Or anti-lockdowns for that matter.

As usual people are piling in to register their disapproval and disgust. This isn't about safety. This is about their self-righteousness and a demand for conformity. And that really IS the point. They demand I obey, do not question, and insist that dissent is off limits and indeed debate is simply beyond the pale.

It is precisely that kind of herd conformity and thought policing that makes people hesitate to express a different opinion. In my case it doesn't matter because I've already been cast as an "actual nazi" for having expressed far right opinions such as joining Efta, increasing the foreign aid budget and clamping down on people smugglers. It's a wonder I'm tolerated in polite society at all.

But when you successfully silence people you are then free to take whatever freedoms you like, There were plenty of Germans who could have spoken up but didn't.

I am told this comparison is strictly off limits. Far beyond the pale and utterly offensive. But of course offence is subjective. The protesters have certainly highlighted the the issue and started a debate - which is what protests are supposed to do. No protest has ever succeeded by minding its manners, being careful not to tread on the sensibilities of polite society. I doubt I would have gone that far, but if there is a lesson from the Holocaust it is that things you didn't think were likely or possible in your country do happen, the people who think they're the most virtuous are usually accomplices to it, and it always happens with public consent.

I've seen for myself on Twitter multiple videos of individuals harassing people in shops for not wearing masks. When people are living in fear, their worst instincts take over. Ordinarily good, decent people will give way to their fears, and they will gang up on anyone they've been told is a threat. We therefore have to be very careful about any government measure that effectively codifies a basis for such prejudice.

It all comes down to how much you trust British jobsworth bureaucracy with your freedom. I'm not a Covid denier, nor especially a lockdown sceptic or an anti-masker, but I do think twice about lending government powers they are unlikely to return. That above all is the lesson from history.

Britain is at the end of its Covid tether

There was a huge anti-lockdown demonstration in London yesterday. About this time last year I was saying the people led us into lockdown and they will lead us out again when the time is right. I do not know for a fact if that time is now, but I generally trust the instinct of the crowd if not their arguments.

The facts are that Covid is generally a winter virus. There is a vaccine the powers that be thinks is going to work, masks are of limited use, and people are fed up with it all.
So is that latter factor reason enough to open up? To a point, yes. Government has to be by consent. A partial lifting of controls for many is no different to a complete lockdown. Particularly business owners. There is little merit in waiting for the young to be vaccinated. For the most part they don't need it.

The protest most certainly had its crank wing, and the civil liberties complaints do seem a little unhinged, and on balance I probably wouldn't have joined the protest, but I am glad they did it all the same if only as a gentle reminder that there is only so much we will take. I don't want to see vaccine passports and the sooner we can put our masks in the bin the better.

What one should note about the protest is the lack of silly face painting, SWP placards and Unison banners. This was no orchestrated middle class white whinge. This was 100% authentic. And it was massive. There were no rich lobbying organisations paying to bus people in like the so-called People's Vote marches. This is only going to grow and it's not going to ask for permission.

I think the government will likely take note of it and it will probably influence policy unless we see a new surge of the virus in which case we will probably see a continuation of current controls but no tighter restrictions. Anything over and above what is presently asked of us will likely see repeated demonstrations which could evolve into a yellow vest style movement across the country.
In the meantime we will no doubt see every "expert" and his dog chiming in to condemn it, but like Brexit, people will ignore the hectoring and come to their own conclusions.

My hunch is that it's all a bit premature and there is no room for complacency but by the same token, the government has had its window to get its act together and if it hasn't by now then it never will. The virus is now endemic, and to a point is controllable. The public cannot be asked to make further sacrifices to make up the shortfall of government competence. We're going to have to manage the risks.

Over the summer months I think we can afford to ditch social distancing, and masks in most instances save for public transport and small shops. Depending on what the numbers are doing in late October should inform the next move, but I'm inclined to think, given people's natural propensity to semi-hibernate over winter, further lockdowns are not required and cannot be sustained politically. The government is going to have to devise a coherent shielding policy if only for propaganda purposes.

We will likely see panic in some quarters as India and Brazil struggle to cope with a Covid surge but it should be recalled that it works globally the same way it does nationally as a series of outbreaks bubbling up all over concurrently. There are no "waves" as such. Just outbreaks of varying concentration and intensity.

As to whether we have now established a national "herd immunity" is well outside my capacity to comment, but it is reasonable to assume we have being that it has now swept through every town and village. The job of the government is now to ensure hospitals can cope with surges. With new established treatments and the vaccine, the rationale for further lockdowns looks weak. At this point it should be able to cope. If it can't then it's a management issue, not a medical issue.

I'm not quite ready to join them at the barricades just yet but I am certainly leaning in that direction. This is as much a political assessment as a medical one and on balance we have to consider the growing mental health crisis along with cancer backlogs. As a public health issue, we can no longer afford to give Covid the exclusive priority and the young need to live. We need to see from the government that the direction of travel is away from sledgehammer measures especially when it keeps missing the nut.