‘From many sides the hypothesis is now being formulated that in reality we are experiencing the end of a world, that of bourgeois democracies, founded on rights, parliaments and the division of powers, which is giving way to a new despotism; that, as regards the pervasiveness of controls and the cessation of all political activity, it will be worse than the totalitarianisms that we have known so far. American political scientists call it the Security State, which is a state in which “for security reasons” (in this case of “public health”), any limit can be imposed to individual freedoms. And the control that is exercised through video cameras and now, as has been proposed, through mobile phones, far exceeds any form of control exercised under totalitarian regimes such as fascism or Nazism.’
— Giorgio Agamben, New Reflections (April 2020)
Table of Contents
Part II. Normalising Fear
- Historical Precedents for the Biosecurity State
- Implementing the Biosecurity State
- The English Civil War
- The Global Safe Space
- The Use of Conspiracy Theory
- Collaboration and Resistance
Appendix: Acts of Resistance
What is fear? This is the question the Italian philosopher of biopolitics, Giorgio Agamben, asks in his recent commentary, published on 13 July, on the coronavirus crisis. And his answer is that fear is fear of the ‘thing’ — which is to say, of an entity that, because we have isolated it from and therefore lost its relationship to the world, threatens us. ‘The Thing’ is the threat from which we run in horror movies, not realising that we are instead running straight into the trap prepared for us by our own fears, that the danger is not that from which we flee, but the hopeless reality to which our fears deliver us. Engulfed by this fear, which surrounds us on all sides, any and every means of protection is adopted, from locking ourselves in our homes to wearing a mask whenever we leave; for the thing that threatens us is that smallest of entities — a virus. But in doing so we only reaffirm our fear, which grows to a constant feeling of helplessness before the thing. In despair, we reach out for the reassurance of those in authority — the policeman who arrives at the last minute to save us from the thing, or the doctor who will tell us how to kill it — but this does not rid us of our feelings of insecurity. On the contrary, the authorities never tire of telling us that the thing cannot be defeated once and for all, that its threat will always be with us — confirming our impotence in the face of the thing, and increasing its hold over us. Soon, we begin to desire this fear, unable to stop peaking between our fingers at what terrifies us, wanting to live in a permanent state of insecurity. Fear, constant and growing, anticipates and dismisses in advance any argument, any reason, any data that might dispel its illusion. Eventually, we only watch those films that terrify us, and close our eyes to anything that might risk restoring us to a world in which the virus — no longer as an abstract thing but in its concrete relationship to reality — would lose its terrifying aspect and be revealed, instead, for what it is. Such fear, argues Agamben, is distinct from the rational calculation of risk consequent upon our being in the world — the possibility of a falling tree, a flooding river, a sudden assault — against which appropriate precautions can be taken without falling into a blind panic. Worse, fear of the coronavirus has become the new foundation for the biopower of those who, by transforming an emergency situation into the ‘new normal’, have created the conditions under which they can remove the laws that guarantee our freedoms. And in their place, fear is first implementing and then normalising the political, juridical and ideological structures of the UK biosecurity state.
But then, we already know this. We’ve been here before. Or have we already forgotten what awaits us?
1. Historical Precedents for the Biosecurity State
Everybody knows Godwin’s Law of Nazi Analogies, even if they don’t know it by that name. Coined in 1990 by the US attorney and author Mike Godwin, partly as a counter-meme to lazy comparisons to Nazism as a way of denouncing something, partly as an experiment in memetics, the law asserted that: ‘As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.’ With the subsequent spread of the internet and its mutation into social media, on which every interlocutor is denounced as a Nazi as soon as they voice disagreement, this law is undoubtedly even more applicable now than when it was coined 30 years ago. But like a virus, the meme mutated, producing corollaries, perhaps the most famous of which, adopted by Godwin himself and often confused with the original meme, is that: ‘When a Hitler comparison is made, the thread is finished and whoever made the comparison loses whatever debate is in progress’. The popularity of these memes, however, and their widespread use not only on the internet but in policy on, for example, the IHRA definitions of antisemitism, has had some unintended effects. While Godwin has stated that the purpose of his experiment was rhetorical and pedagogical, and that he wanted people to ‘think a bit harder about the Holocaust’ before making glib comparisons; one of its effects has been to do the opposite: first, by reducing the role of comparison to equation (A=B rather than A∝B); and second, by removing the Third Reich from its political, juridical and historical contexts, and turning it into an incomparable act of apolitical, criminal and ahistorical ‘evil’, in the face of which we must stand in horror and silent reverence for its victims, but from which we must not dare to learn, lest in doing so we dare to compare anything to it, and thereby fall foul of Godwin’s Law. In this respect, the prohibition on comparing anything, anywhere, at any time, to any aspect of the 12 years of the Third Reich is comparable to the assertion, which I refuted in Part 1 of this article, that the period we are living through — the period I call the ‘coronavirus crisis’ to include both the disease and our responses to it — is unprecedented in its circumstances. In reality, just as the emergency powers under which the Government is implementing our transition to a biosecurity state have a long history in the laws and politics of the UK and many other countries, so too this emergent biosecurity state has historical precedents, the most important of which, and the one to which I want to begin by comparing it, is the Third Reich.
There are other examples of the biosecurity state I could use — the most obvious being those countries placed under a state of exception by US law, through the military invasion and overthrow of the governments of sovereign states, the extraordinary rendition of foreign nationals to countries were torture is legal, and the indefinite incarceration and torture of prisoners of war as ‘enemy combatants’ outside the reach of both international and US criminal law — but there are several benefits to comparing the UK today to Germany in the 1930s. The first is that, like so many aspects of contemporary politics, the Third Reich pioneered the politics, techniques, propaganda and programmes of the biosecurity state, and it did it in what, at the time, was the most advanced industrial, scientific and cultural nation in the world. The second reason is that everybody knows something about ‘Nazi Germany’, however inaccurate that knowledge may be, and has some notion of where such measures can lead once a Government has dictatorial powers over its population. And the third reason is that the 12 years of the Third Reich are very well-documented, so we have a precise record of how the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) came to form the democratically elected Government of Germany, how it made and enacted its laws within the legal framework of the Weimar Constitution, and how it implemented its programmes of biosecurity; and between these and the UK today there are striking similarities.
Godwin’s law, by banning any comparison to this historical period, has had the effect of removing it from history; but historical comparisons are made to draw lessons or issue warnings from a previous moment or period, not to reduce one to another or equate the two. The enshrinement of the so-called ‘Holocaust’ in Western historiography as an incomparable and therefore ahistorical event necessitates me having to say what should be unnecessary, which is that I am not for a moment claiming that we are heading for the same catastrophe — which from a historical point of view alone would be meaningless. Fascism and Nazism belong to a historical period defined by a particular formation of the state emerging from a particular crisis of capitalism. This isn’t to say that the state formation we’re heading for, as Giorgio Agamben warns us, won’t exceed the totalitarianisms of the Twentieth Century in its powers of surveillance, monitoring and population control, corresponding to the far more advanced state of the relevant technologies. But without yet having a word for it other than ‘the biosecurity state’, what I am arguing is that we are already in a completely altered political landscape from the one we lived in last year, that there are parallels and similarities between the legislative processes by which the respective biosecurity states were and have been implemented, and that the political and legal barriers to the increasingly dictatorial measures being imposed upon us are being as quickly removed. At present, the particular catastrophe we’re heading for is limited not by the outrage of a terrified, duped and largely compliant population, but by the wishes of our political and financial masters, and in the UK, at least in my lifetime, we’ve never had a more corrupt Government or a more spineless Parliament. Finally, therefore, my reason for choosing the Third Reich for comparison is that I want to wake people up to the reality of what we’re facing, and Nazism is a crude shorthand for the dangers of the ‘new normal’ that is being imposed upon us.
If you think comparisons with health and racial laws under the Third Reich are unjustified, last month the Daily Mail, the most widely-read newspaper in the UK, reported the findings of a study by researchers at the University of California titled: ‘Working memory capacity predicts individual differences in social-distancing compliance during the COVID-19 pandemic in the United State’. Published on 10 July in no less a forum than the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, this study claims that the choice to obey social distancing measures or to wear a face mask is determined by how much information can be stored in an individual’s ‘working memory’, which also, the authors assert, determines our ‘mental abilities such as intelligence’. According to this study, those of us with a low memory capacity have trouble making the decision to obey these measures, while those with a higher capacity are more likely to follow Government advice. In a statement reminiscent of the pseudo-science of Nazi eugenics, the authors of this study, doctors Weizhen Xie, Stephen Campbell, and Weiwei Zhang, state:
‘Noncompliance with social distancing during the early stage of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic poses a great challenge to the public health system. These noncompliance behaviours partly reflect people’s concerns for the inherent costs of social distancing while discounting its public health benefits. We propose that this oversight may be associated with the limitation in one’s mental capacity to simultaneously retain multiple pieces of information in working memory (WM) for rational decision making that leads to social-distancing compliance.’
The rationale behind this conclusion is that, since other psychological and sociological factors (among which the doctors include what they call the ‘mood, personality, education and income levels’ of the 850 respondents) did not affect the equation between non-compliance and lower memory capacity, the latter must, therefore, be the determining factor. Any student of logic could point out the flaw in this reasoning, in which the range of determinant factors has been delimited in advance, and omits the most obvious one, which is the respondent’s rational choice not to believe what the doctors, by contrast, take to be an unquestionable truth: that social distancing measures are proportionate and justified, so not following them must be an irrational choice. It’s from this a priori belief of the doctors, therefore, and not from their study of non-compliance, that they draw their inevitable conclusion that the more intelligent you are the more you believe the Government — which is hardly supported by everything we know about how the governments of the world operate.
A similarly flawed line of reasoning has been used in the UK to argue that, since Britons of black ethnicity make up a disproportionately higher percentage of deaths attributed to COVID-19, they must be at greater risk to the disease. The Office for National Statistics (ONS), ‘Coronavirus (COVID-19) related deaths by ethnic group, England and Wales: 2 March 2020 to 15 May 2020’, reported that for all ages the rate of deaths between 2 March and 15 May attributed to COVID-19 for males of black ethnicity was 3.3 times greater than that for white males of the same age, while the rate for black females was 2.4 times greater than for white females. Even after adjusting for what it calls ‘geographic location and population density, living arrangements, socio-economic profile and working conditions’, the raised risk of death attributed to COVID-19 for people of black ethnic background of all ages together was 2.0 times greater for males and 1.4 times greater for females compared with those of white ethnic background. From this the ONS concluded that black people in the UK ‘appear particularly vulnerable to mortality involving COVID-19’. Scientists haven’t been slow to propose biological explanations for this disproportionality, attributing it, no less, to a ‘vitamin D deficiency because they have darker skin’ — which will no doubt require the further tracking, monitoring and testing of ‘dark-skinned’ Britons in some future health regulations. Indeed, the lockdown of the North was justified by one Conservative MP, Chris Whittaker, as a response to ‘black, Asian and minority ethnic’ people not obeying social distancing.
One might ask why such a breakdown of deaths by ethnicity is even being carried out, and the answer is that race is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, and the Government’s response to the coronavirus must, therefore, be analysed for any signs of inequality. The absurdity of these conclusions becomes more explicit when applied to demographic groups defined not by their ethnicity but by their religion, with the ONS reporting that — even taking into account geographical, socio-economic and demographic factors, and what they call the ‘increased risks associated with ethnicity’ — Jewish males are at twice the risk of death attributed to COVID-19 as Christian males, with atheists having the lowest rate of death attributed to COVID-19. To understand what he confidently calls this ‘excess risk’, Nick Stripe, Head of Life Events at the Office for National Statistics, concludes that ‘additional data and analyses are required’. But either the gods — in order of disproportionality — of the Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians are enacting some kind of revenge on their believers, or the ONS analytical framework — which is limited by the Equality Act to considering the ethnicity, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, marriage, pregnancy and disability of the deceased — is completely inadequate to analyse the way deaths are attributed to COVID-19 in the UK.
What the ONS conclusion ignores is the conditions that make black people in the UK disproportionately poorer economically, therefore in poorer physical health, living in poorer housing conditions, including in overcrowded homes, concentrated in inner cities in closer proximity to other people, with a lower level of access to increasingly privatised and economically inaccessible health care, employed in jobs where they cannot ‘work from home’, under zero-hour and insecure contract conditions that mean they cannot claim furlough, where demanding private protection equipment means being dismissed by their employer or agency, and with far less support from the Government to pay their rent meaning they are likely to expose themselves to greater risk. In other words, conditions that have nothing to do with the biology of black people, and everything to do with the social and economic class to which they belong, which is not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act. And — as I have analysed at length in my article on Manufacturing Consensus: The Registering of COVID-19 Deaths in the UK — the Office for National Statistics is obliged to take the statistics on COVID-19 deaths at face value, without questioning the extraordinarily lax definitions and deliberately manipulated criteria by which deaths in the UK are attributed to the disease.
The real danger of these studies, however, isn’t in the flawed reasoning that produces their irrational conclusions, but in their reduction of political agency to biological determinism, whether that’s the inherent ‘memory capacity’ of the studied subjects or the colour of their skin. This is the essence of biopolitics, and why the most influential philosopher of its constitutional history, juridical framework and political application over the past 25 years, Giorgio Agamben, has repeatedly gone back to the legislative framework of the Third Reich — and in particular to the legal measures ostensibly imposed to protect the German ‘people’ — to analyse how the biosecurity state is implemented. In his books Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life (1995), Remnants of Auschwitz (1998), and State of Exception (2003), Agamben has been unafraid to draw comparisons between, and learn lessons from, the state of emergency under which the 12 years of rule by the NSDAP Government was administered and the increasingly widespread use of this suspension of law in contemporary politics, both of which equate protecting the biological life of citizens with the policing of their civic and political agency. In Homo Sacer, Agamben writes:
‘National Socialist biopolitics — and along with it, a good part of modern politics even outside the Third Reich — cannot be grasped if it is not understood as necessarily implying the disappearance of the difference between the two terms: the police now becomes politics, and the care of life coincides with the fight against the enemy.’
The last time I made this comparison between Germany in the 1930s and the UK in 2020, in the opening of my article Manufacturing Consensus, someone responded that doing so was ‘beneath contempt’. I presume he was affecting to protect what he took to be the sanctity of the Holocaust from being profaned by comparison with any other political situation. But what he meant in practice was that the legislative mechanics by which the biosecurity state is implemented was beneath his consideration. It’s not beneath mine, however. If we must — as we constantly tell ourselves — ensure that the political conditions under which the concentration camps, the death squads and the extermination camps were implemented never return, it is essential that we rescue the systematic killing of millions from the ‘evil deeds of monsters’, and understand how judicial procedures and other deployments of power created a situation in which, as Agamben writes, ‘human beings could be so completely deprived of their rights that no act committed against them could appear any longer a crime’. The Third Reich was not, as is often and inaccurately asserted, a ‘criminal regime’, but one legally and constitutionally mandated by a Government democratically elected to office and able to function for over a decade under a repeatedly extended state of emergency; and it is up to us to learn — and not to sanctimoniously or stupidly dismiss — what it has to teach us about the implementation of the UK biosecurity state today.
In the 3-part BBC series Rise of the Nazis, first televised in September 2019 before anyone in the UK had heard of COVID-19, Richard Evans, the former Professor of History at the University of Cambridge and author of a trilogy of studies on the Third Reich — the first two volumes of which are titled The Coming of the Third Reich: How the Nazis Destroyed Democracy and Seized Power in Germany (2003), and The Third Reich in Power, 1933-39: How the Nazis Won Over the Hearts and Minds of a Nation (2005) — reflects on this lesson:
‘Democracies require, first of all, popular support and popular belief in institutions such as a free press, an independent judiciary, democratic elections. The echoes that we find in our own time of the Nazi seizure of power are in a number of different areas. Emergency powers, for example, and emergency decrees, the state of emergency that allowed them to put their own plans into action without any serious opposition.’
2. Implementing the Biosecurity State
Speaking in the House of Commons on 7 July, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Matt Hancock — a former computer software salesman and economic advisor to George Osborne, and like the former Chancellor without any background in economics — said he would ‘consider giving badges to people who don’t have to wear a mask on public transport, such as small children or those with lung diseases’. That same day, presumably on cue, the President of the Royal Society of Scientists, Dr. Venki Ramakrishnan, announced that face coverings should be considered as ‘part of the new normal’, that wearing them is the ‘right thing to do’, and that not wearing them in public should be regarded as ‘anti-social’. Encouraged and validated by statements such as these from individuals occupying positions of authority, the UK public has not been slow to translate them into their actual meaning within the biosecurity state, with this anonymous Twitter post from 2 August representative of thousands of others in a similar vein:
‘If you don’t wear a mask, you should not be allowed to fly or ride in a public conveyance. If you persist, you should be arrested, fined and jailed. People like you are hurting other people, killing too many.’
It is on this concurrence of Government will, medical opinion and public compliance that the biopolitical state is implemented, as we’re seeing with the increasingly violent instances of police enforcement of regulations not only in the UK but across the world, with the recent assault by a police officer of a young woman in Melbourne, Australia, for not wearing a mask outdoors being an example of how rapidly liberal democracies are catching up with the brutality, unaccountability and impunity from prosecution of the police forces in the USA and France.
It’s with this growing ideological hegemony of the UK in mind that I want to review one of the forms by which Jews in the Third Reich and occupied territories were publicly identified, monitored, and ultimately banned from public life. This is the ‘yellow star’, which, like the mandatory wearing of face coverings and contact tracing enforced as a condition of access to public life in the UK, was introduced progressively — first by suggestion, then by imposition, and finally by regulations which — just like the coronavirus-related Statutory Instruments made into law since this crisis began — were introduced under provisions in already existing legislation.
Clearly, the legislative process by which Jews, communists, anarchists, socialists, trade unionists, pacifists, refugees, the homeless, Roma, homosexuals, prostitutes, the physically or mentally disabled, those with criminal convictions and the socially undesirable were progressively deprived of their citizens’ rights under the Third Reich is beyond the scope of this article; but we can follow the schematic history of the implementation and enforcement of the compulsory wearing of the yellow star by Jews.
Below is a brief timeline of the implementation of this instrument of the German biosecurity state, in which the Jew was branded as a threat to the body politic that had to be identified and banned from participation in the public life of the biologically healthy state, set alongside a parallel timeline of the implementation of the mandatory wearing of face coverings and other measures and technologies of the UK biosecurity state. Once again, what I am doing here is comparing the political strategies and ideological programmes deployed by the respective Governments, not to reduce the one to the other but to reveal the similarities between their use of the excuse of defending the biological health of their respective populations to justify the policing of those populations with regulation after regulation passed under emergency powers without legislative scrutiny or approval by their parliaments.
I’m not the only person to draw comparisons between the enforced wearing of the yellow star by Jews under the Third Reich and the mandatory wearing of face coverings in more and more places in the emerging UK biosecurity state; and, once again, those who have done so have been attacked and censored on social media, with at least one account that I know of suspended until the offending comparison was removed. There appeared to be no awareness on the part of the censors of the comparison they were thereby inviting between their own actions and those who censored anything that contradicted the ideology of National Socialism. Once again, the yellow star was being removed from history as an object of veneration to which nothing must be compared, and which can therefore teach us nothing in that lesson we’re supposed to have learned from that history. One of the more often repeated responses to this comparison was that ‘the Jews didn’t wear the yellow star in order to protect those around them’, with the implication being that those who wear a face covering today are. I won’t rehearse the reasons why this implication is at best contentious and at worst deliberately misleading, which I have discussed at length in The Science and Law of Refusing to Wear Masks; but this response is equally as wrong about the function of the yellow star.
Giorgio Agamben has discussed the inadequacy of ‘racism’ as a framework through which to understand the Third Reich, and the timeline above should have conveyed how instrumental the imposition of the wearing of the yellow star was with the juridical framework of the biosecurity state, the most rigorous formulation of which, Agamben argues, was these words of Adolf Hitler:
‘The new State knows no other task than the fulfilment of the conditions necessary for the preservation of the people.’
Within this state, in which care of the ‘life of the nation’ was coextensive with the policing of the ‘body of the people’, the yellow star was imposed on Jews to protect those around them from infection by this internal enemy. Thanks to the seemingly endless documentaries about ‘The Nazis’, it’s widely known that Jews were characterised in National Socialist propaganda as carriers of disease, as themselves vermin, who therefore had to be ‘exterminated’; but the titles of the legislation by which they were reduced to the legal status where this could be carried out should alert us to the biopolitical aims of the Third Reich that are not reducible to accusations of racism: the ‘Decree for the Protection of People and State’; the ‘Law to Remedy the Distress of People and State’; the ‘Law on the Unification of Health Care’; the ‘Law for the Protection of German Blood’; the ‘Law for the Protection of the Hereditary Health of the German People’; the ‘Decree on the Exclusion of Jews from German Economic Life’; the ‘Police Regulations on the Labelling of Jews’. Together, these constitute an epidemiological discourse no less legitimate under law for being entirely manufactured by National Socialist eugenicists: of protection from disease and remedy when infected, and of identifying the infected and isolating (and eventually exterminating) the diseased.
As a function of this discourse, the yellow star was the constant and multiplying visual sign of the presence and threat of what is described on every coronavirus-related statutory instrument made into law today as an ‘imminent and serious threat to public health’. This alone justifies the making of hundreds of regulations without them having to pass the prior scrutiny and approval of Parliament. Instead, just as Hitler did with the Nuremberg Laws, radically reduced sittings of Parliament are brought in after they have been signed into law to approve their powers by parliamentarians too terrified of being accused of not ‘doing their bit’ to combat this threat to challenge their lack of justification, their lack of proportionality, their lack of an impact assessment, and the ongoing bypassing of legislative procedure of which they are another instance. Like the yellow star, the face coverings being imposed upon us by regulations signed into law by the Health Secretary and being made mandatory in more and more places across the UK are the constant and multiplying sign of the presence of a disease whose threat to public health has been manufactured and grossly exaggerated by changes to disease taxonomy, practices of certification and methods of reporting that allow the Government to continue to implement the juridical apparatus and surveillance programmes of the UK biosecurity state I looked at in Part 1 of this article. Not only are comparisons between the yellow star and face masks justified, therefore, but they should alert us to the function the regulations imposing both had then, and are having now, in the respective biosecurity states they helped and are helping to implement.
In 1936, Karl Löwenstein, by then an Associate Professor of Political Science at Yale University, but formerly a lecturer on Constitutional and International Law at the University of Munich before being forced to emigrate by the election of the NSDAP Government, published an article in volume 45 of the Yale Law Journal titled ‘Law in the Third Reich’. Interestingly, his review covered legal developments in German up to 1 January 1936, yet even with the vast number, range and scope of new legislation made into law by then, Löwenstein, who is now regarded as one of the prominent figures of Constitutional law in the Twentieth Century, still had no idea of what was to come. This makes his comforting conclusion, which I quote here at length, uncomfortable reading, and all the more of a warning to those of us waiting for a return to ‘normal’ after the coronavirus crisis:
‘History reveals that revolutionary movements show the greatest co-efficient in celerity and weight in the enthusiasm of the start. Encountering the obstacles of tradition and habits, the movement slackens. Perhaps no other part of social life is less accessible to violent and sudden change than civil or common law, which formalises the daily habits of the people. On the other hand, the political form of the community may comparatively easily be overthrown. It would be tantamount to a refutation of historical experience, as well as of German mores, if National Socialism ultimately succeeded in reversing German law and jurisprudence. By tradition and disposition, German legal habits are based on rationality, formalism, and technicality.
‘It may be that National Socialist legal values will be at least temporarily accepted, perhaps in view of the amazing pliability of human nature under continued mental pressure. Undeniably the regime is masterly in utilising psychological techniques. But the prediction seems permissible that such a rationally created system of values will scarcely find a permanent foothold in the nation. The racial myth and its implications are not of organical growth; they are artificially invented and politically superimposed. Certainly, a new set of legal values might originate from the creative forces of the national conscience, but an artifice such as the crude romanticism of the racial philosophy cannot turn back the hands of the clock. There is so far no indication that the new legal values will conquer German jurisprudence.
‘With due reserve, therefore, we may say that National Socialist legal concepts are only an incident in German legal history. Perhaps a necessary and justified incident, since excessive formalism and technicality needs at times a tonic in the form of a dynamic and even “unjust” law. In due course, Germany’s legal structure is likely to return to a more congenial substance and shape, incorporating — as is usual in revolutions — such elements of the National Socialist experiment which correspond to the national disposition. In spite of or because of its rationalism, National Socialist legal philosophy is nothing more than an unspirited relapse into romanticism, not the first one and probably not the last one in a nation whose unbalanced nature vacillates between the extremes.’
3. The English Civil War
In his book Stasis: Civil War as a Political Paradigm, which is composed of lectures delivered in the USA in the immediate aftermath of the demolition of three buildings in the World Trade Centre complex in New York on 11 September, 2001, Giorgio Agamben wrote:
‘The form that civil war has acquired today in world history is terrorism. If the Foucauldian diagnosis of modern history as biopolitics is correct, and if the genealogy that traces it back to an oikonomical-theological paradigm is equally correct, then global terrorism is the form that civil war acquires when life as such becomes the stake of politics. Terrorism is the “global civil war” that time and again invests this or that zone of planetary space. It is no coincidence that the “terror” should coincide with the moment in which life as such — the nation (which it to say, birth) — became the principle of sovereignty. The sole form in which life as such can be politicised is its unconditioned exposure to death — that is, bare life.’
Agamben’s focus in this lecture is on what happens when the political state (polis) is reduced to the structure of a household (oikos), and the former is depoliticised as the economic management of national and global markets, as represented by, for example, the European Union or United Nations. We needn’t go into his complex discussion of the etymology of these terms, but the political context for his lecture is what Agamben sees as the ongoing reduction of the political agency, civic duties and human rights of citizens — the political life (bios) that constitutes the state — to the bare life (zoē) of their natural existence in the home. Historically manifested in, for example, feudal wars between aristocratic families competing for sovereign rule over subjects that have no political agency, from this tendency towards the depoliticisation of the state emerges the civil war (stasis) that Agamben argues becomes the paradigm of Western biopolitics.
Today, when neoliberal hegemony has reduced our politics to the management of citizens’ biological life — to a biopolitics — the form this civil war has taken is terrorism, in which the distinction between a state of war and a state of peace, between a foreign war and a civil war, is no longer possible to make. This is the legal state of exception in which prisoners of war are removed from the protection of both international and criminal law to be interred indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay, or Julian Assange is imprisoned in Belmarsh Prison awaiting extradition on a charge of espionage under the laws of a country of which he is neither a citizen nor a resident. But in another of his commentaries on the coronavirus crisis, ‘Medicine as Religion’, published on 2 May, Agamben updates the terms of this civil war to the global epidemic which, he says ‘is preparing to become the new terrain of world politics — or non-politics’:
‘It is possible, however, that the epidemic that we are living will be the actualisation of the global civil war that, according to the most attentive political theorists, has taken the place of traditional world wars. All nations and all peoples are now in an enduring war with themselves, because the invisible and elusive enemy with which they are struggling is within us.’
On the evening of 6 June, 2020, in response to a Black Lives Matter demonstration outside the Houses of Parliament against the police-killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, USA, almost the whole of London was placed under a curfew for 24 hours. The notable exceptions were the wealthy boroughs of Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea, and the more affluent and racially white South-west London. However, in the same way that the UK Government hasn’t formally declared a State of Emergency in response to the coronavirus, but has instead made legislation and regulations under emergency powers in existing legislation, so too the Metropolitan Police Force didn’t issue a curfew but placed large swathes of London under a Section 60 order. Legislated by The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, Section 60 is another provision for the suspension of the law — in this case, ‘in anticipation of or after violence’ — during which a police constable may ‘stop any person or vehicle and make any search he thinks fit whether or not he has any grounds for suspecting that the person or vehicle is carrying weapons or articles of that kind’. It also authorises a constable to direct a person to remove any item of clothing they suspect may be used for concealing their identity — such as a face covering — and to seize that item. With no recourse to the law to oppose, protest or issue a complaint the exercise of such powers, a Section 60 order effectively places us in a state in which our civil liberties under UK law are suspended.
To black citizens accustomed to being stopped and searched for being black, this will make little difference. If you’re black in London and out at night you will be stopped and searched by officers of the Metropolitan Police Force if they see you. The real purpose of the city-wide Section 60 was, first, to stop the protests against the police killing of George Floyd; and second, to demonstrate to white people to what lengths the UK State can and will go in order to impose its control over the population. In the UK, 68.8 million people were placed under lockdown for 3 months because of a virus that is overwhelmingly a threat to people over 65 years of age and, statistically, almost exclusively kills people with pre-existing illnesses. On the same lack of justification and proportionality, most of London was under a curfew because of a handful of shootings and stabbings resulting in two deaths in a city of 9.3 million people. This is like shutting down every road in England because of a fatal accident on the M1, except we have far more fatalities from car accidents in this country than from stabbings (1,870 in 2019 compared to 242).
The abuse of powers set by this precedent wasn’t long in arriving. Three weeks later, on 27 June, the Metropolitan Police Force reported that it had received information from an unidentified source about a ‘possible’ unlicensed music event in Brixton. This was sufficient grounds for it to place the whole of the Coldharbour and Vassal wards in South London under a Section 35 dispersal order for 48 hours. Under The Antisocial Behaviour, Police and Crime Act 2014, the issuing of a Section 35 dispersal order effectively removes a designated area from UK legal jurisdiction and places it under the powers of a police state. The order gives the police the power to direct anyone to leave a designated area based on their ‘suspicion’ that we are engaged in ‘anti-social behaviour’. They can set a time by which we must leave the area, and can even tell us the route we must take. If we have been issued with a ‘direction to leave’ but fail to comply, we will face arrest. It also empowers police to seize any item of property in your possession. To issue such sweeping powers, they must have reasonable grounds for suspecting that doing so will remove or reduce the ‘likelihood’ of members of the public being ‘harassed, alarmed or distressed’ or of ‘crime or disorder’ occurring.
It is unclear whether the organisers of the Black Lives Matter protests were aware, but on 31 May the Health Secretary had signed into law The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2020. Under Regulation 7, ‘no person may participate in a gathering which takes place in a public or private place outdoors, and consists of more than six persons’, with a gathering defined as ‘when two or more people are present together in the same place in order to engage in any form of social interaction with each other, or to undertake any other activity with each other’. The justification for these regulations, once again, was to stop the spread of a virus that by then had been in this country for 5 months. However, this Statutory Instrument was subject to a ‘made affirmative’ procedure, meaning that it would not remain law unless it was approved by each House of Parliament within 28 days of coming into effect.
On 13 June, the week after the Black Lives Matter protest, a counter protest was held in Westminster by a small group that was quickly identified by the media as ‘far-right’, and despite its small numbers received widespread coverage in the news and on social media, with 137 arrests being made. Recognising an opportunity when she saw one, Priti Patel, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, the following Monday, 15 June, led a virtual Parliament in what can best be described as a collective and sustained expression of class hatred — something like the Two Minute Hate in Orwell’s 1984, but lasting for over an hour — with protesters described as ‘abhorrent’, ‘abusive’, ‘aggressive’, ‘appalling’, ‘corrosive’, ‘criminals’, ‘disorderly’, ‘dreadful’, ‘drunk’, ‘extremists’, ‘far-right’, ‘hateful’, ‘hooligans’, ‘ignorant’, ‘intolerant’, ‘offensive’, ‘patently racist’, ‘prejudiced’, ‘shameful’, ‘sickening’, ‘terrorists’, ‘thugs’, ‘ugly’, ‘vandals’, ‘vicious’, ‘vile’ and ‘violent’ — a recital of the A.B.C. of middle-class disgust and revulsion — finally ending with the Home Secretary’s assertion that: ‘It is right that we continue to reinforce the message that mass gatherings — six or more people — are illegal and people should not be participating in them.’
If anyone were wondering what the point of this expression of class unity was, later that evening a sitting of the House of Commons dutifully resolved that the third amendment to the Regulations be approved. Before they were, however, on 25 June, they were presented for debate and approval by the House of Lords, where they came under criticism as another instance of the Government’s repeated use of the emergency procedure to bring regulations into force prior to them being debated in the House. These objections were led by Paul Scriven, a Liberal Democrat peer, who observed:
‘My Lords, we play a game of illusion — a pretence that these regulations that put restrictions on citizens and keep parts of the economy closed are enacted with the agreement of Parliament. No. These regulations stem from emergency executive powers. Like lapdogs, we are discussing regulations that we cannot influence, revise or halt. Ministers sit in an office and decide the law, knowing that they are immune from normal parliamentary procedures and cannot be held to account.’
These reservations didn’t stop both Houses approving the new powers, and two days before they were due to expire The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2020 were enacted in law, effectively banning protest and demonstrations in England. To clarify, these and other coronavirus regulations and amendments have since been superseded by and consolidated in The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020, which were made on 3 July, and which, under Regulation 5, reduced the restrictions to gatherings of more than 30 people during the ongoing ‘emergency period’; but the restrictions may as quickly be reinstated.
Three weeks before, on the morning after the first Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Central London, I cycled into Westminster and past the Houses of Parliament. There were more police than usual, but not enough to scare the tourists away. But around my way, Waterloo and Lambeth embankment, every back street was lined with police van after police van, scores of them, many belonging to the infamous Territorial Support Group or ‘riot police’. The Met is one of the largest and best funded police forces in the world, with over 44,000 personnel as of June 2020 — half the strength of the regular British Army — and an annual budget of £3.8 billion. It’d take about 10-15 minutes to get thousands of police anywhere in Central London. And where I live in Lambeth Cross, every weekend over the lockdown, and every day and night in the weeks when the Black Lives Matter protests moved to the US Embassy, at least one police helicopter, and often more, was hovering over us.
These are part of the National Police Air Service, which provides all police forces in England and Wales with air support. Their aircraft, the Eurocopter EC135 and EC145, are both fitted with two cameras: a day camera equipped with a powerful zoom lens that can see straight into our living rooms, and a thermal-imaging camera that can detect our body heat at night. Military variants of the EC145 are used in the Royal Air Force, as well as in the armies of the US, Germany and many other countries. In addition, it’s been reported that the Metropolitan Police Service branch of the NPAS has been secretly using US-made Cessna F04 aircraft for a number of years, and these are fitted with surveillance equipment capable of intercepting mobile telephone calls and listening in on private conversations. In addition to these manned aircraft, the Met also uses Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or microdrones, which can be fitted with video cameras, thermal imaging devices, radiation detectors, mobile-phone jammers and air sampling devices. Hovering at a height of around 60 metres, they are said to be virtually invisible from the ground.
The Met has refused to disclose how much it costs to keep their helicopters in the air, which is estimated to be in the region of thousands of pounds per hour; but on its website the NPAS justify the use of helicopters as follows: ‘In public order situations they provide — literally — an overview enabling commanders to make the most effective deployments and respond quickly to emerging problems.’ This was demonstrated on 18 August this year when the Greater Manchester Police released footage (below) from one of their airborne thermal imaging cameras showing an armed police raid the previous Saturday on a house party at which it claimed approximately 200 people were present, most, to judge by the footage, in the back garden. The initial 48-hour closure notice placed on the residential property was subsequently extended, at the request of the police, by Manchester and Salford Magistrates Court to 3 months, prohibiting access to the premises by anyone except the property owner and tenants. The Greater Manchester Police then took the opportunity to invite anyone ‘with information about illegal large gatherings’ to inform them. However, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gatherings) (North of England) Regulations 2020 under whose powers this raid was made, and which has placed 6.6 million people in the restricted areas under lockdown, have not even been debated by Parliament, and are only due for approval by 28 September, an astonishing 8 weeks after coming into effect. This is an example of Government by decree, without legislative oversight, enforced by our police forces using the technologies of the biosecurity state. And yet, in response to this dystopian demonstration of a police state in action, Councillor Nigel Murphy, Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council, had only this to say:
‘This was a particularly flagrant breach of Covid-19 restrictions, which are in place to protect everyone in our communities and must be respected. We welcome this tough action, which serves as a reminder that public health must be our first priority and that selfish breaches of the rules will not be tolerated.’
On 27 August, The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place and on Public Transport) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 doubled the £100 fine for not wearing face coverings where it is mandated to £200 for repeat offences, rising to a maximum of £3,200 for each repeat offence thereafter. This compares unfavourably to the fine of up to 150 Reichsmarks (about £660 today) for not wearing the yellow star in the Third Reich imposed from 1 September 1941. On the same day, The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions on Holding of Gatherings and Amendment) (England) Regulations 2020 increased the fine for organising an unlicensed music event, or an unlawful gathering of 30 or more people, to £10,000, with organisers facing criminal prosecution, and participants subject to fines of £100, doubling on each offence up to a maximum of £3,200. In justifying these measures, the Home Secretary reported that in London the Metropolitan Police Force had raided more than 1,000 unlicensed events since the end of June. * The real purpose of these Regulations was made clear on the weekend we published this article, when Piers Corbyn, at the ‘Unite for Freedom’ protest against coronavirus-justified regulations attended by 35,000 people in Trafalgar Square, was arrested by the Metropolitan Police Force for the third time, and, identified by them as the organiser of the demonstration, fined £10,000.
Presumably, these new, extraordinarily punitive regulations, with fines far beyond the financial means of most UK citizens, will be enforced with the help of the National Police Air Service and its advanced technologies of surveillance. If you live in Central London, you almost get used to the sound of helicopter engines, their buzzing the background to every thought. It’s become a permanent state to know someone is watching and recording you from the skies, ready to send in armed police at the first sign of disobedience to the latest regulations. Across the UK, there are 146,000 police officers enforcing the huge number of coronavirus-justified laws. Effectively, we’re under occupation by our own police and security forces, in a civil war we don’t even know has been declared. Under this occupation, we have been progressively stripped of our rights as citizens, and our bare life (zoē) — repoliticised, as Agamben wrote, through its exposure to death, first by the threat of terrorism that has ruled our political lives (bios) for the past two decades and now by the threat of coronavirus — is being subjected to the programmes and technologies of the biosecurity state. The NSDAP Government’s definition of the ‘subject of the state’ no longer as a citizen with rights and freedoms but as ‘a person who enjoys the protection of the state and who in consequence has specific obligations towards it’ seems increasingly applicable to our new status under UK law.
The standard response to this intrusion of the state into our private lives — or, more accurately, of the constitution of life as the object of a biopolitics — is that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear, and that the state already knows everything about us anyway through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Apple, Samsung, Pandora, Sony, Microsoft, Amazon, Grindr, Tinder, YouTube, Spotify, Netflix, our mobile phone providers, internet service providers, insurance providers, utilities companies, employers, banks, credit cards, lenders and landlords. But those who find comfort in this thought do so because they have nothing to say, nothing to do, nothing to think, that does not comply with — let alone opposes — this occupation; and it’s on their abject compliance and willing collaboration with the technologies of biopower that the UK biosecurity state is being built.
4. The Global Safe Space
In the UK today, the biosecurity state is being implemented not, as it was under the Third Reich, on fear of the Jew and the communist — although recent events in the politics of the UK have demonstrated the continuing hegemony of the British establishment when faced with anything even purporting to resemble socialism — or even of the Muslim and the terrorist — who in the 2000s fulfilled a similar political role to that of the Jew and communist in the 1930s — but on similar feelings of disgust (for the diseased body), fear (of the invisible virus) and hatred (of those responsible for spreading it). For some time now, the body under capitalism has been subjected to an industry of care that exists between the pharmaceutical and the cosmetic, partaking of the discourses of medicine and hygiene, in which all bodily secretions — whether sweat, skin, hair, odour, saliva, mucous, pus, breath, blood, urine or excrement — are considered as a form of waste that should be contained at source, concealed at the point of emission, cleansed from the surface of our skin and perfumed around the borders of our bodies. The clearest signifier of wealth in the UK today is not to have to be in proximity to other people, whether that’s expressed through the discourse of ‘exclusivity’ that describes everything from private gyms and trendy restaurants to first-class train compartments and segregated entrances to luxury housing, or through the obsessive cleansing and purification of the spaces we inhabit, beginning with our own bodies.
A noticeable phenomenon of the lockdown of the UK has been the sudden increase in adverts for online yoga classes, as if reducing the spiralling complexities of the world to the limits of our own bodies, which are then spiritualised through ancient and exotic practices, will defend us against the new and very material threats we face. When a population that spends thousands of pounds a year toning our bodies in gyms and yoga classes, smoothing our skin with a catalogue of powders and creams, styling our hair with exorbitantly-priced haircuts and shampoos, concealing our odour and breath with perfumes and mouth sprays, straightening and polishing our teeth with private dentistry, flushing out even our insides with colonic irrigations, spending our last pennies on holidays whose primary purpose is to get a tan — and generally turning our natural bodies (zoe) into a signifier of our social class (bios) — are suddenly told we’re subject to the same viral infection as the rest of the world, then social distancing as a civic virtue, face masks worn as a demonstration of good citizenship, directional arrows on the floors of supermarkets as a method of crowd control, acrylic dividers between tables and bars in pubs in accordance with Government guidance, and all the other new markers of social space, act to reassert our own fading sense of exceptionalism. It is from this disgust, fear and hatred — to which a brief visit to social media will amply testify — and not the altruistic sense of common decency and duty to others appealed to in Government propaganda, that our eagerness comes for the various test-and-trace programmes circling above our future like so many vultures competing for access to the COVID-19 carcass. Disgust, and hatred too — but fear most of all. And what greater fear than the fear of each other, the fear of ourselves?
After the stick comes the carrot. Having been terrified into compliance by the Government-imposed lockdown of the UK and Public Health England’s deliberately exaggerated daily reports of COVID-19 deaths out of any statistical or medical context, the ‘new normal’ is being implemented on the basis of our love for Big Brother. In behavioural study after behavioural study presented to the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) on how to manufacture public engagement and compliance with the raft of new measures and programmes being imposed upon us, the language of national duty, of ‘we are all in this together’, of social cohesion, community care and mutual support is consistently recommended as the best means to get the UK population out of our homes and back into work under the radically reduced rights and freedoms and new obligations and impositions under which we now live in the UK biosecurity state. And what is being prepared for us in our velvet-lined prison is the realisation, on a national scale, of our younger generation’s demand for what has come to be called a ‘safe space’.
In ‘Public Disorder and Public Health: Contemporary Threats and Risks’, the paper presented to SAGE on 2 July by the Policing and Security sub-Group of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behavioural Science (SPI-B), the authors, considering the previous month’s protests by both Black Lives Matter (BLM) and what they call the ‘extreme-right-wing (XRW)’, as well as to recent gatherings at unlicensed music and televised football events, advised that, faced with an erosion of police legitimacy:
‘The Government needs to reconstruct a shared sense of responsibility for public health which accentuates its positive virtues, rather than taking a punitive approach.’
And on 29 July, the SPI-B, in its ‘Consensus Statement on Local Interventions’, which responds to SAGE asking about ‘specific measures to take to achieve public buy-in and compliance’ with localised lockdown measures, recommended a change in terminology from a punitive to a remedial discourse, from the threat of prison to the care of the clinic:
‘Terminology should emphasise care, not punishment. Given the punitive connotations of the term “lockdown”, which can be seen to emphasise blame, terms should be adopted that emphasise care, concern and support for the affected communities. Procedural justice and community development evidence stresses that local emergency measures should be framed not as something that is done to people, but with and for them.’
These recommendations would bear fruit on 18 August when Matt Hancock, the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, announced the launch of the National Institute for Health Protection to administer this ‘new normal’. A replacement for the dissolved Public Health England, the executive agency of his own Ministry, and merged with both the privately outsourced Test and Trace programme and the Joint Biosecurity Centre, the new institute’s ‘single and relentless mission’, the Health Secretary declared, will be ‘protecting people from external threats to this country’s health.’ In case we were wondering what this new ‘terror’ was that threatened us, he went on to clarify that it included ‘biological weapons, pandemics, and of course infectious diseases of all kinds.’ In an echo of Hitler’s prioritisation of the ‘preservation of the people’ as the first task of the State, Hancock concluded:
‘The first responsibility of any Government is the protection of its citizens. And threats to public health are among the most important of all. Threats like this coronavirus pandemic can emerge anywhere and at any time. So we must be ready. Ready to beat this virus, and protect all of us, all of the time, over the years to come.’
In the UK today, the certainties and stupidities of Stalinist cultural orthodoxies have returned in the equal certainty and stupidity with which the politically correct denounce this or that person, work, statement or social media post as ‘racist’, ‘sexist’, ‘transphobic’, ‘antisemitic’, etc. For the dictates of Socialist Realism then we now have the orthodoxies of so-called ‘woke’ culture; for the Soviet Congress of Writers denouncing apostasy we have Goldsmiths College graduates trolling people on Twitter for political incorrectness; for the Moscow Show Trials of former Bolsheviks we have the indictments, confessions and forced retractions of public figures on social media. In June it was the sacking of Labour Party MP and candidate for party leader Rebecca Long-Bailey for pointing out what was subsequently established as fact — that the US police practice of kneeling on the necks of citizens — the same tactic that killed George Floyd — was taught to them by Israeli security forces. Before that it was the author, J. K. Rowling, who has been denounced by the former child actors of the films of her books for asserting that a ‘woman’ is defined by biology and is not merely a linguistic or cultural construct of patriarchy. Where university students under National Socialism burned books that contradicted their ideology, the ‘woke’ youth of today are deleting the Harry Potter books and other texts of the ideologically non-compliant from their online reading lists.
And just as Stalinism was an inversion of communism that created a totalitarian state out of a philosophy and practice of emancipation from capitalism, so too political correctness — which its acolytes claim to be a practice of liberation from discursive and institutional ‘systems’ that perpetuate inequalities in our society — has instead become the means by which thought, speech and action is policed online for heresy, corrected with enforced business programmes such as ‘diversity training’, expiated in corporate-funded spectacles like Black Lives Matter, and appeased, apparently, by the representation of Black, Asian and minority-ethnic individuals in positions of authority within capitalism, while leaving the economic relations of that authority unchallenged and unchanged. It would be interesting to hear whether the advocates of identity politics think the ethnicity of Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, or Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor, has altered the neoliberalism of their policies or their active implementation of the biosecurity state.
Our youth — for whom I have some residue of sympathy — raised on national decline, terrorist threat, fiscal austerity and social media in the political vacuum of neoliberalism that has subsumed their rebellion into the radical conservatism of identity politics, doubtless think they’re leading us into the promised land; but like the Hitler Youth, Stalin’s Komsomol and the Red Guards of Chairman Mao, they’re the foot soldiers of the new totalitarianism that’s being implemented by the governments of the world with their consent, even at their insistence. That the biosecurity state into which we have been led has been imposed in the name of greater equality, freedom and — that most important value of the ‘woke’ generation — ‘safety’ should be of surprise only to those who, like these kids, know nothing about history. Perhaps the clearest demonstration of this is the latest slogan to emerge from their ranks, ‘silence is violence’, which accuses anyone who does not repeat that, for example, ‘black lives matter’ of being guilty, by default, of racist violence against black people. Apart from betraying the understandable idealism of students who believe the economic forces sustaining racism can be overcome in language, this slogan also reveals something about the dangers not of censoring speech — the inaccurate accusation made against totalitarianism — but the far more accurate one of compelling it in others, about which Roland Barthes, in his inaugural lecture at the Collège de France, long ago warned another generation of would-be radicals:
‘Language is legislation, speech is its code. To speak, and, with even greater reason, to utter a discourse is not, as is too often repeated, to communicate; it is to subjugate. Language — the performance of a language system — is neither reactionary nor progressive; it is quite simply fascist; for fascism does not prevent speech, it compels speech.’
The dystopia of the biosecurity state — in which everybody is compelled to clap for the NHS; where everybody must be ready, all of the time, to beat the virus; and everybody display unwavering compliance with every new public measure dreamed up for our protection — is the utopia of the ‘woke’ generation, its dream of turning the entire planet into a safe space coming true. The face mask is as much its symbol as the Red Book was to the students of Chairman Mao, like it reducing the political complexities of the ‘new normal’ to easily-remembered social directives (‘Stay at home. Wash hands. Cover face. Make space.’). And now the new normal is here, everyone from shop owners, publicans, security guards and council leaders to mobile phone providers, gallery curators, school governors and the architects commissioned to design this dystopia are competing to keep us ‘safe’.
Just as multiculturalism was the ideological form of neoliberalism during its heyday in the 1990s, when the untaxed flow of capital through global markets via anonymous offshore accounts was presented as the freedom of movement of peoples between outmoded national borders, so the authoritarianism of political correctness, the radical conservatism of identity politics, the cultural terrorism of no-platforming, the youthful certainties of ‘woke’ culture, and all the other instruments for creating and policing ‘safe spaces’, are the cultural forms of biopolitics. Widely promoted, funded and implemented by the corporate financiers and government administrators of the biosecurity state, these cultural forms, which for some time now have policed behaviour and silenced debate in this country, have both prepared the way for and accustomed their adherents to the ‘new normal’ we are now facing. All that was wanting was some crisis to justify entrenching their radical conservatism in legislation. That opportunity has now arrived. The borders being closed by the coronavirus crisis are not only between countries but also between bodies. Police-enforced social distancing, mandatory mask wearing, contact tracing as a condition of access to public life, immunity passports to monitor and protect the biosecurity of the state, enforced quarantining of households, lockdown restrictions imposed on millions of people, and all the other programmes being implemented under the cloak of the coronavirus crisis, are the technical apparatus of this emergent political form.
5. The Use of Conspiracy Theory
One of the measures of the level of hysteria and lies to which the population has been driven by the coronavirus crisis in this country is that those of us who research the criteria for attributing deaths to COVID-19, or the process by which Government regulations are made into law without parliamentary approval, or what Government contracts have been awarded by Ministers to which corporations, or the number of citizens that have died from the suspension of health care under lockdown, are accused by those who rely for their opinions on the BBC and fear-mongering rags like the Guardian, the Telegraph and the Financial Times of being ‘conspiracy theorists’. As an example of which, I was recently accused of being such for stating that 6 months into the coronavirus ‘pandemic’, as of 19 August a total of 1,390 people who did not have a pre-existing medical condition have died in hospitals in England while testing positive for SARs-CoV-2, of which just 305 have been under the age of 60. This was so incomprehensible to my accuser that, without waiting for me to provide the proof, he deleted himself from the page on which I wrote this information, presumably to protect himself from hearing confirmation of something that would refute everything he believed about the coronavirus crisis. He would rather remain in wilful ignorance of the truth, in other words, than confront the level of lies he’s been told, and his own collaboration, therefore, in spreading them.
In fact, this is a very easy fact to prove, though not a particularly easy one to find. If you go to NHS record of daily deaths registered in English hospitals, then click on the fifth link down, COVID-19 total announced deaths 20 August 2020 —weekly file, it will take you to an excel spread sheet (to which I can’t link directly here, hence this long explanation). On there you will see that, in table three, ‘COVID-19 deaths by age group and presence of pre-existing condition’, and clicking on this will take you to the page from which I have made a screen grab below.
To summarise these records of the National Health Service, as of 20 August 2020:
- 29,485 people have died in hospitals in England with their deaths attributed to COVID-19.
- Of these, 26,962 have been 60 years and older, making up 91.4 per cent of all ‘COVID-19 deaths’.
- 28,095 of the deaths in hospitals in England attributed to COVID-19 died with one or more pre-existing medical condition, making up 95.2 per cent of the total deaths.
- Only 1,390 people who had their deaths attributed to COVID-19 died without a pre-existing medical condition, 4.7 per cent of the total.
- Of those, 1,085 were 60 years or older, 78 per cent of the total number of deaths without pre-existing medical conditions.
- 305 people, therefore, under the age of 60 and without any pre-existing medical condition, have had their deaths in English hospitals attributed to COVID-19, 1.03 per cent of the total ‘COVID-19 deaths’.
It’s on these figures that, as of 28 August, 188 coronavirus-justified Statutory Instruments have been made into law in the UK before being laid before or approved by Parliament, this being deemed necessary and proportionate by what the relevant Minister in each and every explanatory memorandum describes as ‘the serious and imminent threat to public health which is posed by the incidence and spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).’ The figures above expose this excuse to be so blatantly unjustified, disproportionate and absurd that I’ll try and anticipate some of the questions in response to this data. The coronavirus crisis has passed far beyond anything resembling reality in this country, where we are now ruled by fear and terror; but it is important that those of us who still read these statistics keep repeating their evidence of the reality of the ‘thing’ from which most of the population have long ago fled in horror.
First, the NHS records don’t include those who died outside of hospitals, with the Office of National Statistics, as of 14 August, reporting 31,253 people dying in hospitals in England having their deaths attributed to COVID-19, compared with 18,149 dying at home, in hospices, care homes, other communal establishments and elsewhere, making a total of 49,402 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in England.
However, 14,707 of these non-hospital deaths have been in care homes, largely because the NHS made the decision, made on 17 March, to discharge around 25,000 patients, many of them already infected with SARs-CoV-2, into care homes. Although there is no record — at least that that I know of — of what they died of, I think it’s safe to say that these deaths, and the 2,323 who died at home, were of elderly and frail people, almost certainly with pre-existing medical conditions, who died as a result of the Government’s decision to impose a ‘lockdown’ of the UK with scant regard, if any, to the consequences of doing so for changes to emergency, adult social, elective, primary and community care, which the ONS has estimated wil result in 56,000 excess deaths over the next five years. Very few of the deceased are likely to have been under the age of 60 without pre-existing medical conditions.
This is reflected in the ONS breakdown of the ages of the 52,026 deaths attributed to COVID-19 in both England and Wales, of which 43,145 have been 70 years of age or over, 83 per cent or the total; 31,546 have been 80 and over, 60 per cent of the total; and 11,217, 21.5 per cent of the total, have been 90 and over — over a fifth of all ‘COVID-19 deaths’.
If we, as a nation, instead of giving into the hysteria propagated by the Government and media, had examined the data from Italy, which I analysed in Language is a Virus: SARs-CoV-2 and the Science of Political Control, and which we were constantly being warned was our immediate future, we would have seen that COVID-19 does not constitute a threat to the vast majority of the population that is under 65 and in good health, but almost exclusively kills the elderly with existing illnesses, with the average age of death attributed to COVID-19 in Italy 80, and almost always with one or more pre-existing medical conditions. Instead of locking down our entire country in anticipation of an epidemic that never arrived, this data should have made us quarantine and protect this demographic, while at the same time continuing medical care to the tens of thousands of others who have died and will continue to die as a result of the lockdown.
Second, the NHS figures don’t include those who died outside of England. Again, as of 14 August, 4,216 deaths in Scotland (76 per cent of which were 75 and over), 2,543 in Wales and 863 in Northern Ireland have been attributed to COVID-19, making a total of 7,622 deaths out of the UK total of 56,503, or 13.5 per cent. I haven’t found data from these countries breaking down how many of these people had pre-existing medical conditions, but I’d be surprised if the percentage was significantly different from that in England.
Even calculated by the 1.04 per cent of deaths attributed to COVID-19 in hospitals in England that were under 60 and without pre-existing medical conditions, which is likely to be an exaggerated percentage of the total deaths so attributed, that only makes an additional 75 people. In the whole of the UK, therefore, 6 months into a supposed epidemic, maybe 400 people under 60 without pre-existing health conditions have had their deaths attributed to COVID-19 out of a population of 67.8 million. By any rational measure or risk not based on hysteria and fear, this does not constitute an epidemic justifying the lockdown of the UK.
Even the senior scientific and medical advisors to the Government who have participated in this deception of the public, Patrick Vallance and Chris Whitty, admitted in a press conference as far back as April, when fear of coronavirus was at its peak, that COVID-19 being mentioned on a death certificate as the underlying cause of death doesn’t mean the deceased tested positive for SARs-CoV-2. Having researched in some detail the extraordinary lax and deliberately manipulated criteria for attributing deaths to COVID-19, I have since always used the description ‘attributed to COVID-19’, rather than dying ‘of’ or ‘with’ COVID-19. To be included in the official figures of COVID-19 deaths in the UK does not require a positive test for SARs-CoV-2 (which in any case does not mean the patient had COVID-19), or even a medical diagnoses of COVID-19 by the examining pathologist, but merely the ‘suspicion’ of the doctor, or in the case of deaths in care homes of the care home provider, or even, according to the Coronavirus Act 2020, of a medically unqualified undertaker, that COVID-19 was the cause of death.
As I explained in detail in Manufacturing Consensus: The Registering of COVID-19 Deaths in the UK, on 5 March, COVID-19 was recategorised as a ‘Notifiable Disease’ and SARs-CoV-2 as a ‘Causative Agent’ by The Health Protection (Notification) (Amendment) Regulations 2020. Following which, on 20 April, the World Health Organisation issued ‘International guidelines for certification and classification (coding) of COVID-19 as cause of death’ stating that COVID-19 must always be listed on death certificates as the ‘underlying cause of death’ — as the WHO instructs doctors ‘whether this can be considered medically correct or not’ — while any other medical conditions the patient may have, such as dementia, heart disease, diabetes or cancer, will only be listed as a contributory cause. Even the figure of 1,390 deaths without pre-existing conditions attributed to COVID-19 in English hospitals is undoubtedly an exaggeration, therefore. Numerous NHS doctors have come forward in articles not published in the mainstream press to expose the exaggeration of COVID-19 deaths, but unless you seek them out you will most likely not have heard of them due to the censorship to which anything questioning the Government narrative is being subjected.
Just as damaging to the justification these figures constitute for Government regulations and programmes, on 16 July a paper by Yoon K. Loke, Professor of Medicine and Pharmacology at Norwich Medical School, and Carl Heneghan, Professor of Evidence-Based Medicine and Director of the Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine (CEBM) at the University of Oxford, titled ‘Why no-one can ever recover from COVID-19 in England — a statistical anomaly’, showed that Public Health England had been regularly looking for people who had ever tested positive for SARs-CoV-2 and, in the event of their death from any cause, listing them in their daily figures as a ‘COVID-19 death’, no matter how long ago the test was, and whether or not they had been successfully treated and discharged from hospital. ‘By this PHE definition’, they point out, ‘no one with COVID in England is allowed to ever recover from their illness’, when in fact, at the time of publication of their paper, more than 125,000 patients had been admitted to NHS hospitals for COVID-19, and 80,000 recovered remained in the community. Given the advanced age of most patients discharged, who have then died of other illnesses, this has led to an over-exaggeration of deaths attributed to COVID-19.
In response to this embarrassing evidence of what at best is incompetence and at worst deliberate manipulation, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, ordered a review of how the Public Health England figures have been calculated. The new criterium resulting from this review is that a death can now only be attributed to COVID-19 if the deceased has died within 28 days of a positive test for SARs-CoV-2. While this is still grossly inadequate in establishing the actual cause of death, it has resulted in the reduction of the number of official ‘COVID-19 deaths’ in the UK from the ONS figures of 56,503 we broke down above, to the Government’s current estimation of 41,449 — a reduction of over 15,000 deaths, 12,600 of them in England.
Even more of a barrier to the claims of a ‘serious and imminent’ threat to public health whose ‘urgency’ requires the passing of Regulations that won’t be approved until up to 8 weeks after they come into effect, is the rapid and sustained decline in deaths that, even on the mere suspicion of doctors, care home providers and undertakers, have been attributed to COVID-19. Having now dissolved Public Health England, the Government’s new ‘COVID-19 dashboard’ shows that, under the new criterium, between 1 July and 24 August, 6 deaths in Scotland, 8 in Northern Ireland, 77 in Wales, and 851 in England have been attributed to COVID-19, a total of 942 across the UK. In August this decline has accelerated, with just 196 deaths in England attributed to COVID-19. The COVID-19 dashboard doesn’t bother to break these deaths down by the age of the deceased, but according to the Office of National Statistics, in the first two weeks of August only 30 people under the age of 65 had their deaths attributed to COVID-19 in the whole of the UK; 55 such deaths were between 65 and 74 years of age; 89 between 75 and 84; and 134 were 85 years and older: a total of 308 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
To put these figures into context, in the same two weeks, 1,643 people died in England and Wales where the underlying cause of death was a respiratory disease (ICD-10 J00-J99) other than COVID-19 (ICD-10 U07.1 and U07.2), including influenza, pneumonia, bronchitis, emphysema, asthma and other chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases included under this taxonomy. 18,187 people have died of all ages from all causes in these two weeks, meaning deaths attributed to COVID-19 have constituted less than 1.7 per cent of all deaths in England and Wales. Yet in August alone, over 7 million people have been placed under lockdown restrictions on their movements and associations, together with the closure of their businesses and other public premises; the mandatory wearing of face coverings has been extended to more public places, including most recently to secondary schools; and the fines for non-compliance have been raised to punitive levels far beyond the financial means of most of the British public.
As can be seen by those who take the time to look and read, there is neither justification for, nor proportionality to, such measures to be found in these figures. As the deaths of even elderly and sick people fade to what is, statistically speaking, the end of a respiratory disease that posed no threat to the vast majority of the UK population, the Government is now terrorising us with threats of what it calls, with reference to its carefully crafted charts (below), a ‘second wave’ in cases. This is very much the focus of the new COVID-19 dashboard, which reports that, as of 25 August, 327,798 people have tested positive in the UK, with 1,184 reported that day. This has risen from a low of 352 ‘cases’ on 6 July, with a high of 1,441 on 14 August. However, there are several serious flaws in the desired narrative these figures are being used to construct.
First, ‘cases’ indicate infection with the novel coronavirus (SARs-CoV-2), not the development of the symptoms of the disease (COVID-19), which is a basic distinction of infectiology, with around 80 per cent of persons contracting the virus either remaining asymptomatic or developing only very mild symptoms, similar to a common cold. As I reviewed in Section 3 of The Science and Law of Refusing to Wear Masks, and as studies continue to show, asymptomatic transmission of coronavirus is very low, with an infection rate of under 1 per cent. Of the remaining 20 per cent, who develop severe symptoms, a smaller percentage again have to be admitted to hospital. To call all these ‘cases’, therefore, as the Government’s COVID-19 dashboard does, is a grossly and deliberately inaccurate representation of both the number of people with COVID-19, the degree of their illness, and the threat of infection those who currently have the virus represent to others.
Second, the figures say nothing about how many people have recovered from infection by SARs-CoV-2, or how many people are currently infected. As the paper from the CEBM at Oxford criticised, the impression still given by the Government’s dashboard is that no-one ever recovers from COVID-19. But from a peak of 3,563 patients with COVID-19 in UK hospitals on 1 April, on 25 August there were just 779, which is a better measure of the current level of threat to public health of COVID-19. Again, to put this in context, between April and June this year there were 118,451 hospital beds available in England, 92,596 of which were for general and acute care, of which 58,146 were occupied. Even at the height of the so-called ‘epidemic’, in other words, only 62.8 per cent of hospital beds for general and acute care were filled; while on 9 August, according to NHS records, the 655 patients with COVID-19 in English hospitals occupied just 0.7 per cent of such beds.
Third, the recent rise in daily increases in so-called ‘cases’ are a product of the parallel increase in testing (below). Unsurprisingly, the more tests are conducted, the more instances of infection are revealed. From 1 August the average daily tests have never fallen below a 7-day average of 170,000, while in July they fell as low as 130,500. Interestingly, this sudden rise in testing is also a product of the privatisation of the testing process by the awarding of Government contracts. To take 14 August as a typical example, 54,444 tests were conducted by the National Health Service and Public Health England, compared to 104,989 by commercial partners. It’s through this commercial incentive that the rise in so-called ‘cases’ justifying the restrictions on our freedoms has been produced, and which is preparing the UK public for the promised ‘second wave’ this winter. To represent the increase in positive tests consequent upon the long-delayed increase in testing as a second wave of infections justifying a second lockdown of the UK is, quite simply, a deliberate lie to the UK public that no medical practitioner should be party to.
As an example of this political manipulation of testing, on 8 August the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions on Gatherings) (North of England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020 placed 141,000 people in Preston City Council under lockdown restrictions on their movements and associations, as well as closures of their businesses and public premises because of a reported increase in ‘cases’ in the ‘Weekly Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Surveillance Report’ for the week ending 7 August. A summary of COVID-19 surveillance systems, this report, co-produced by Public Health England, the Joint Biosecurity Centre and the NHS Test and Trace programme — which is to say, what is now the National Institute for Health Protection, and an example of its function — showed that Preston, with 36 cases per 100,000 of the population as of 30 July, was one of 20 local authorities targeted for lockdown — now rebranded, as suggested the previous month by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Behavioural Science, as ‘intervention’. By the following week the BBC was reporting that in the 7 days to 4 August this rate had risen to 42.6 ‘cases’ per 100,000 people. What this meant in reality is that 61 people testing positive for SARs-CoV-2 in a city of 141,000 people was enough for police to enforce the catalogue of prohibitions and obligations with fines and other criminal sanctions. Under this national surveillance system, all of England lives under the same threat, which no rebranding can disguise as the arbitrary decree of a state of exception that suspends our rights and freedoms until such time as an equally arbitrarily set rate of infection — which bears no relation to level of illness or threat of contagion or mortality, and is a product of a rate of testing whose increase is motivated by commercial interests — restores them to us.
To dismiss the extensive, recorded and verifiable evidence of all this data as a ‘conspiracy theory’ is not only to remain in wilful ignorance of the truth; it is to collaborate in the lies that have already killed tens of thousands of UK citizens left to die alone in care homes, denied life-saving medical care by empty hospitals or those too terrorised by the Government and media to visit Accident and Emergency wards; that is estimated will push the UK economy into the worst depression in over 300 years; that has already bankrupted thousands of businesses; and which is predicted to push unemployment in the UK to 4-5 million; while covertly outsourcing our public services to multinational corporations and implementing programmes of digital surveillance and bio-security which, as Agamben says, ‘far exceed any form of control exercised under totalitarian regimes such as fascism or Nazism.’
I’ve gone into considerable detail in recalling these figures and discussing what they mean to show that it is not for those of us who take the time to do so to refute the accusation of ‘conspiracy theory’ thrown at us by childish, arrogant or frightened people, whether to take comfort in dismissing this evidence as such or to try to silence anyone who exposes the lies of the Government and media; rather, it is for them to show how these figures support the actions of the UK Government and, just as importantly, their own obedience to the increasingly dictatorial regulations and programmes it is imposing on the British population. For, once again, it is on their unthinking obedience, and on the blind fear that drives their flight into the arms of the Government and its private contractors, that the UK biosecurity state is being implemented.
If you have any sense of yourself as a UK citizen, with a citizen’s rights and some remnants of political agency in the administration of the state under which we live; if you have any thought for the tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths caused by the ongoing lies of our Government and media; or if you are concerned by the cynical use of a virus to expand the regulations, programmes and technologies of the biosecurity state in which our children will grow up and live for the foreseeable future — then the wilful ignorance, childish fear and blind obedience that has defined the UK public’s response to the coronavirus crisis must stop now. The question is, how?
6. Collaboration and Resistance
In a recent interview with the Austrian television station ServusTV published on YouTube on 3 May, Dr. Sucharit Bhakdi, Professor Emeritus of Medical Microbiology who served for 22 years as Chairman of the Institute of Medical Microbiology and Hygiene at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, one of the most cited research scientists in German history and one of the most outspoken critics of measures justified by the threat of COVID-19, when asked how long the coronavirus crisis will last, responded:
‘This crisis is caused by the politicians. The crisis does not exist as a real crisis, so the crisis will end when the politicians decide it will end. It has nothing to do with the virus. This crisis has never existed. This nationwide epidemic has never existed. Do you understand? It is a phantom. And if you ask me whether I know when a phantom ends, then all I can say is that a phantom never ends until you yourself end it.’
That was nearly 4 months ago, and since then this ‘phantom’ — Bhakdi used the German word Spuk, which has the sense of haunting — has become a terrifying reality for more and more people. The implementation of the UK biosecurity state, whose regulations and programmes I discussed in Part 1 of this article, relies on this spirit of fear and collaboration. In its negative aspect, this extends to the self-policing on which all totalitarian states have relied historically, and whose primary agents are the informers assembled from that society. Under the Third Reich, only 15 per cent of Gestapo arrests were a result of their surveillance operations; while 26 per cent began with the denunciation of a neighbour or family member by civilians. By the time the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, there were 189,000 civilian informants working for the Ministry for State Security of the German Democratic Republic. In the UK, little more than a month after The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 (the Regulations) were signed into law, the National Police Chiefs’ Council announced on 30 April that it had received reports from public informants of more than 194,300 coronavirus-related incidents in England and Wales — over 5,700 reports per day. In one weekend alone, according to the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police Force received information on more than 200 events across London made unlawful by coronavirus legislation. These are the neighbourhood curtain-twitchers, public-shamers, online video-posters, social-media trolls and police-informants that have emerged in vast numbers at the invitation of our Government, town halls, local authorities and police forces. And forming this active contingent of collaborators from the general public relies, as it always has done historically, on widespread and unrelenting programmes of propaganda and indoctrination on which even the most self-interested collaborator can fall back when justifying — to others or to themselves — their behaviour. As an example of which, the widely reproduced Government propaganda of a person in a mask claiming they are wearing it ‘for you’ has been universally adopted and parroted by the compliant; yet this mimicked signalling of biosecurity altruism hasn’t stopped the same people from accusing those who don’t wear a mask of being murderers and terrorists and demanding they be arrested. As Agamben said, politics has become policing, and the care of the life of the population is indistinguishable from the civil war waged against the enemy within.
Despite its voluntary nature, Government guidance on everything from social-distancing and self-isolating to contact-tracing and mandatory mask-wearing has been widely adhered to by the always obedient UK public, imposed by public establishments in the UK beyond the force of law, and enforced by UK police forces even when they don’t have the legal powers to do so. For those of us politically opposed to such measures — which have no medical basis, are wildly disproportionate to the actual level of threat to public health, are a violation of our human rights and civil liberties, and are instruments of the biosecurity state being implemented under the cloak of the coronavirus crisis — this guidance, and the regulations made into law following the public’s widespread adherence, is increasingly banning us from public life. This includes the public transport we can’t take, the shops and supermarkets we can’t enter, the pubs and bars where we can’t drink, the restaurants where we can’t eat, the museums and cinemas we can’t visit, the concerts we can’t attend, the events at which we can’t speak, the banks, post-offices and libraries we can’t use, the hotels where we can’t stay, the countries to which we can’t travel, the clinics in which we can’t consult a GP, the hospitals in which we can’t visit our loved ones, the schools to which we can’t return our children. Soon, this will include the workplaces in which we can’t find employment. Whether or not to comply with these measures, therefore, presents a dilemma whose response is not merely an ethical choice limited to the conscience of the individual or whether doing so fits more or less conveniently into our ‘lifestyle’, but a social and political choice with consequences for all of us.
We don’t have to turn to the gradual exclusion of Jews from public and economic life under the Third Reich for a comparison to this programme. Compliance with these measures, both guidance and regulations, is akin to entering a ‘whites-only’ diner in the USA in the 1960s, or drinking in an English pub with a sign outside saying ‘No Irish, no blacks, no dogs’ in the 1970s, or boarding a segregated bus in apartheid South Africa in the 1980s, or entering any of the myriad places in Saudi Arabia to which a woman is banned today, or using roads prohibited to Palestinians in Israel, or teaching in a Turkish school where use of the Kurdish language is banned — or, closer to home, using a socially segregated entrance to a luxury residential development in London — in that doing so affirms a system of exclusion and discrimination to which you, individually, are exempt.
One might respond that the black woman cannot change the colour of her skin, the Irishman his nationality, the Palestinian his lack of citizenship, the Saudi woman her sex, or the Kurdish child their mother tongue, while I can choose to hand over my personal details, wear a mask, upload my biological data, maintain the prescribed distance or stay quarantined at home. But those who refused to comply and continue to protest against such discrimination, both black and white, Arab and Jew, don’t seek access to such establishments; they seek to end a form of state control that binds all citizens — both those with access and those without — to a system of social, cultural, economic and political discrimination and exclusion.
One of the more contradictory aspects of the coronavirus crisis is that a Prime Minister who throughout his career — first as a journalist, then as London Mayor, then as the Foreign Minister — has been repeatedly exposed as a liar, who now sits at the head of a Cabinet selected for its venality and ambition, and who throughout this crisis has lied repeatedly to the public, is despite this taken at his word about the biggest lie of the Twenty-first Century. This isn’t quite true. Boris Johnson and his Government are constantly accused of lying, but about the severity of the crisis, not about its veracity. Since it began, the UK commentariat in mainstream and social media have consistently insisted that more people are dying of COVID-19 than the official figures claim, and have called for the Government to impose harsher restrictions, impose the lockdown for longer, make masks mandatory across public life, issue more punitive fines and punishments, and give the police forces more powers to take away our freedoms. Yet with a few honourable exceptions — in law Jonathan Sumption QC, in medicine Dr. John Lee, in academia Professor John Oxford, in journalism Peter Hitchens — no politician in this country, no mainstream media outlet, no head of a public institution, or other figure of authority in British public or cultural life, has dared to question the transparent lies, deliberate manipulations, blatant inventions and movie magic that have conjured the coronavirus crisis into the appearance of reality up there on the big screen of ideology. Indeed, it is this highly unlikely, factually baseless and empirically refuted ‘phantom’ that is the conspiracy theory we should all be denouncing. And yet, the vast majority of the UK public has chosen to go along with it, and throw their hands up in horrified delight at every new garment added to the Emperor’s new clothes. Why?
Why do people collaborate? Collaboration during the Second World War was widespread amongst the populations of occupied Europe. Some collaborated because they thought it would benefit them, either financially or in gaining more power under the new puppet government. By far the most denunciations to the Gestapo came from individuals settling scores with neighbours, but others did it for the financial rewards offered for selling their neighbours out. We’ve seen this revived today in the widespread denunciation of neighbours to the police for breaking lockdown regulations in the UK.
Many more collaborated out of fear, and the hope that by doing so they’d be spared. To justify this betrayal of their former compatriots, collaborators had to see their neighbours as threats to their security, so that they, and not the occupying forces, became the source of the threat, and therefore had to be eliminated. This has been repeated in the hysterical denunciation on social media of people without their faces covered, whether they’re on a protest, a train or at a party, and the calls for their arrest, imprisonment and even death.
Others collaborated in the hope that by appeasing the demands of the occupiers they would lessen the negative effects of that occupation, and with the belief that, if only they could survive this undoubtedly temporary suspension of their rights and freedoms, and continue to look the other way at the graver injustices, someone else would eventually come along and liberate them. This excuse is echoed today in the pleas that if we ‘only’ wear the masks, if we ‘just’ obey the regulations, soon everything will return to normal and the harsher restrictions will be lifted.
Still others collaborated out of agreement with the new laws. Antisemitism, like hatred and fear of communism, was widespread in Europe, and many nationalists and patriots looked to an occupying army to rid Europe of these ‘foreign’ elements where their own governments wouldn’t, and felt it their duty to collaborate with those who would do so. In the UK today, the division between collaborators and those who resist doesn’t fall into party allegiances, but undoubtedly many political scores are being settled, with what passes for the UK Left dismissing anyone who refuses to comply with lockdown measures as ‘alt-right’, etc.
Many collaborated because they were naive enough — or wanted badly enough — to believe what they read in the newspapers, heard on the radio, were told by their collaborationist government, heard in the gossip of their neighbours, were told by the propaganda agents of the occupying forces, and genuinely believed that all Jews were communists simultaneously running an international conspiracy of bankers. We had something of the same last year when the British press accused Jeremy Corbyn of being both a communist and an agent of Putin, presumably forgetting that Russia was no longer a member of the USSR, and everyone voted accordingly. Indeed, the excuse that ‘we were lied to’ was perhaps the most common one claimed by collaborators after the War, and there may have been some degree of truth in that given the years of propaganda, indoctrination and censorship. Today, with the sheer volume of evidence and arguments against the Government measures available online if not in the mainstream media, there can be no such excuse.
But the widest cause of collaboration, including the whole of Vichy France, was indifferent compliance with the prevailing authority and its new laws, no matter how contrary to logic, freedom, humanity, dignity or their own beliefs. The French may not have greeted Hitler’s triumphal march into Paris with the same glee they greeted De Gaulle’s five years later, but in between they rapidly settled down to collaboration, and the UK, had it been invaded by the Third Reich, would undoubtedly have done the same.
But whether, eighty years later, you collaborate with the biosecurity state being imposed by the occupying forces of the UK Government and its corporate financiers out of greed, spite, fear, hope, duty, ignorance, indifference or conformity, you’re still collaborating. If you wear a mask in public, observe social distancing, comply with contact-tracing programme, hand over your personal details to enter public spaces, submit a biological sample for testing, inform on your neighbours to the police for breaching coronavirus regulations, and, six months since the lockdown, continue to refuse to educate yourself about what is happening in this country, you are a collaborator with the UK biosecurity state. Under the current regime of surveillance and censorship, in which anything contradicting Government policy is deleted from the digital record, history is under lock and key in Belmarsh prison with Julian Assange; but if the history of this moment is ever written in the future, it will judge us as it did the collaborators with the Third Reich in the Second World War. However, I don’t think we should wait that long.
The childish exasperation with which willing implementors of the biosecurity state stamp their feet while telling us to ‘just wear a mask!’; the frustration with which those who unquestioningly obey every new Government regulation proclaim they ‘don’t understand’ why anyone wouldn’t follow suit; the distracted annoyance with which those who live their lives on social media insist they ‘don’t have time’ to read information that contradicts their views; the eagerness with which the Twitterati condemn dissenters as equivalent to ‘terrorists’; the rapidity with which comparisons between refusing to wear masks and drink driving are taken up and repeated across mainstream and social media by figures in authority, including doctors; the point-blank refusal of the loudest apologists for the biosecurity state to even consider the consequences of their actions; the vehemence with which self-appointed informants call on the Government to use the police, armed forces and whatever violence is necessary to impose the ‘new normal’ — these are all signs of collaboration with an occupying force, as familiar to the French living under the Vichy regime in 1940 as they are to us in the UK in 2020.
Part of the way collaboration works is through the willingness, when it comes down to making a choice, to trust those in authority. The commentariat that for twenty years has declared that everything our Governments have said was a lie — from the justification for the Iraq War to the charges against Julian Assange, from the necessity of fiscal austerity after the financial crisis to the causes of the housing crisis, from capitalist solutions to global warming to the liberalism of the European Union — has, when they’ve found the consequences of these decisions on their doorstep, chosen to believe everything the latest Government says about the most far-reaching political revolution of our time.
The internet, which has granted to everyone a speed and ease of access to information that was never available to me when even when I was a student in the British Library, has had the effect of relativising all knowledge. Without the analytical skills or even the attention span to make a judgement about the rationality and veracity of the arguments being made in any given article — whether my own or in the Guardian — the vast mass of non-readers, sifting through the internet for something to corroborate their beliefs and fears, choose to believe what they read based on the criteria of identity politics. That is to say, they make a judgement about their degree of identification with the author or the forum in which the article is published. A generation raised to believe that outing politically incorrect terms constitutes a politics, and only recently having come into positions of influence and power, require nothing more than the use of a prohibited word such as ‘hysteria’, an ‘offensive’ comparison to the Third Reich, a deviation from the orthodoxies of ‘woke’ culture, in order to stop thinking; while the older generation, faced with the hitherto unseen consensus of the entire UK media in propagating the lies of the UK Government, have apparently chosen to place their trust in the authority of those who, in every other aspect of their perception of the world, they distrust.
Very much as happened over the three-and-a-half long years of bickering that preceded Brexit, the coronavirus crisis has fragmented the illusory unity of the ‘British People’ into a multitude in which political allegiances, whether to party or newspaper, mean nothing. While the British Left is united in calling for the most Right-wing Government in living memory to impose stronger measures to protect the British People from an epidemic that presents no threat to it, liberals demand the arrest of anyone not complying with regulations unapproved by Parliament, socialists take up the Health Secretary’s claim that wearing face masks is an act of solidarity, and even communists affect to see in Government bailouts the precursor to an entirely imaginary vision of a communitarian future, those opposing these measures range across a similar political spectrum, with conservatives announcing their departure from the Party of Government in protest at the destruction of the economy, right-wing libertarians demanding their civil rights be restored, anarchists denouncing the lockdown as the Great Reset of capitalism promised by the World Economic Forum, and even one or two communists seeing in the response to this crisis the implementation of the biosecurity state. Like the upside-down man of Medieval imagery, who wears his boots on his head and carries an ass on his back, this inversion alone signals the revolution we’re undergoing.
There is, however, only one truth to this situation. Although knowledge is relative to the historical context of its discursive formation, the truth is not. There are not, as journalists like to hide behind, two sides to this national argument, which a balanced assessment must walk between. There are lies, and there are truths. The way Public Health England attributes deaths to COVID-19 and now, in its new guise as the National Institute for Health Protection, publishes information about those deaths is a lie. The factual records showing the number of individuals under the age of 60 without pre-existing illnesses that have had their deaths attributed to COVID-19 is a truth. The claim that the threat of COVID-19 justifies outsourcing our public health services to private companies is a lie. That the coronavirus crisis has been deliberately exaggerated in order to accelerate and extend the neo-liberalisation of the UK state is a truth. The claim that face coverings are necessary to protect us from a virus that is no worse than the flu for 99.8 per cent of the population is a lie. The truth is that, now the tens of thousands of excess deaths resulting from the suspension and reduction of medical care for life-threatening illnesses under the lockdown have fallen to levels insufficient to sustain public fear, the Government needs a justification for extending the ‘emergency period’ under which it can make what laws it wishes without the approval of Parliament, and an obediently masked public is the clearest sign of the consensus that COVID-19 still presents a ‘serious and imminent threat’. This truth must be recovered from the lies in which it has been hidden, learned, understood, and used to dispel the propaganda that has indoctrinated the UK public into compliance with the biosecurity state.
I’ve consistently described the regulations and programmes implementing this revolution being made ‘under the cover of the coronavirus crisis’; but in practical terms it no longer matters whether an individual does or does not believe the Government’s lies about the threat of COVID-19. The legislation required to make every future measure legal and enforceable has already been passed. There is no longer any other resort for civil disobedience to these measures than militant resistance; and the British people, who have passively watched the erasure of their democratic rights and forms of political representation while protesting about Brexit and institutional racism and other activities of mass displacement, are not even close to that, if indeed we ever have been. As the sight of Matt Hancock and other Government Ministers handing over billions of pounds of public money in sweetheart deals to national and multinational corporations confirms, there is no longer any accountability in British public life. Public opprobrium can reach hysterical levels on social media, but the UK Government is effectively beyond criticism by a universally compliant media. The Prime Minister’s general refusal to appear in public is an indication that he intends to stay well out of the firing line while allowing his subordinates to ransack the country on behalf of his financial backers and political supporters. And the British public appears content to distract itself with Black Lives Matter protests and other displacement activities that make us feel these old and long-outdated forms of political activity still have some influence on the world.
As I wrote at the very start of this article, the coronavirus crisis is a revolution, and it has been undertaken with the full collaboration of the UK State and its political allies against the British people. We are living under occupation by our own Government, with the collaboration of its corporate clients, the civil service, the financial sector, the media, the police, the security services and the armed forces. Whether the British people, collectively or as individuals, agree with the biosecurity state being imposed upon us no longer matters. This is the new normal.
Appendix: Acts of Resistance
I had planned to end this article with a ‘vision of the future’ designed to have enough of a foothold in the present to be believable and at the same time be sufficiently dystopian to convince readers of the seriousness of our situation; but the future is finally here, and it’s too late for pessimism. As Peter Ustinov once said, the pessimist is the man who wakes up every day to rediscover the world is run by bad people, while the optimist knows exactly how bad the world can be and does everything he can to make it better. As a contribution to which, I offer these acts of resistance. This is the hard bit, where words turn into actions or fade into silence.
1. Face coverings. The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2020, which came into effect on 8 August, have extended the places wear a face covering is mandatory to include public transport, transport hubs, shops, supermarkets, shopping centres, banks, building societies, post offices, transport hubs, places of worship, community and youth centres, crematoria and burial-ground chapels, public areas in hotels and hostels, concert and exhibition halls, cinemas, museums, galleries, indoor zoos, aquariums and other tourist and cultural sites, bingo halls, public libraries and reading rooms, nail, beauty and hair salons and barbers, tattoo and piercing parlours, massage parlours, storage and distribution centres, auction houses, spas, funeral directors, veterinary practices and premises providing professional services. However, if you wish to claim exemption from wearing a face covering, the fixed penalty notice for which is now £100, doubling on a second and subsequent ‘offence’ to a maximum of £3,200, you only have to state that you ‘have exemption’. I’ve done so to every shopkeeper that has asked me, and in general they have accepted this statement without question. To those few who ask what the exemption is for, you should answer that they do not, under the Equality Act 2010, have the right to ask you, as it may involve a disability, and therefore, under Section 26, constitute ‘harassment’, which is defined, under Paragraph 1, Section B, as ‘conduct [which] has the purpose or effect’ of either (i) ‘violating [your] dignity or’ (ii) ‘creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’. If someone continues to harass you, you may wish to respond that you claim it under Exemption (ii), Section A, Paragraph 1, Regulation 4 of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) Regulations 2020. That will shut 99 per cent of collaborators up. For the 1 per cent who ask what exemption ‘ii’ is, you may wish to ask them why they are trying to enforce Regulations they have not read and do not understand. Exemption ‘ii’ is that wearing a mask causes ‘severe distress’, but if someone doesn’t know that you have no legal obligation to inform them of the fact.
2. Social distancing. The former Supreme Court Justice of the Peace, Lord Sumption, QC, has clarified that Government guidance on social distancing, which was issued by the Department of Health and Social Care on 16 March, and which mandated keeping a distance of 2 metres between individuals not from the same household, goes beyond coronavirus laws and regulations, and cannot, legally, be enforced by the police. To clarify, under The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) Regulations 2020, the police currently have the power to order a gathering of 30 or more people to disperse — and to use ‘reasonable force’ to compel us to do so — if we are in a private dwelling, including in private gardens, or in public spaces not owned by a private business or run by a public body as a visitor attraction, and in particular in those outdoor places that meet the definition of a ‘rave’ in Section 63 of The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. But unless the outdoor place we are in is under a Section 60 order under The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, or a Section 35 order under The Antisocial Behaviour, Police and Crime Act 2014, or it has been targeted for ‘intervention’ by the Secretary of State or a local authority under The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 3) Regulations 2020, the police cannot legally order us to disperse. In short, under the UK biosecurity state there are now so many places and times where and when we can be physically stopped from socialising with each other, fined for doing so, and even arrested and prosecuted for such an ‘offence’, that you might justly and ethically conclude that it is our duty to do so when and where we can.
3. Contact tracing. Under guidance on ‘Maintaining records of staff, customers and visitors to support NHS Test and Trace’ issued by the Department of Health and Social Care on 2 July, the owners, managers and staff of public houses, bars, restaurants, cafés, hotels, museums, cinemas, hairdressers, town halls, civic centres, libraries and places of worship have been instructed to refuse entry to, service in, or employment by, their establishments to visitors, customers or staff who refuse to supply their personal details, including their name and contact number or e-mail, as well as the time of their visit, purchase or shift; and to share this information with the Test and Trace programme. However, once again, Government guidance is not law. As the guidance itself says, compliance with these measures is not mandatory but ‘voluntary’, and the establishment does not have to impose them as a condition of service. Any information you give does not have to be verified either by you or the establishment, and at your insistence any information given must be withheld from the Government’s Test and Trace programme. The staff or managers in the establishments where you are asked for this information may not be aware of this, and you may wish to take the opportunity to inform them of the fact, and that by denying you entry or service they are taking upon themselves the policing the public beyond the requirements of the law. This may result in them serving you, though it also may not. Any privately-owned establishment can refuse service as long as doing so does not violate your rights under the Equality Act 2010; and public establishments can impose new conditions of entry and use on the same terms. Should they do so, you may wish to choose another pub to drink in, eat in another restaurant, take a pack lunch and coffee flask, spend the gallery entry fee on a book, wait until the film is released online, get your hair cut elsewhere, or organise a protest of less than 30 people outside the town hall, library or museum to which you have been denied access, demanding to know why a public institution is enacting Ministerial wishes without the force of law. The situation is more complex for employees, which I will address in the next act of resistance.
4. Employment rights. Regulation 3, Paragraph 2 (b) of The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings in a Relevant Place) (England) Regulations 2020, which came into effect on 24 July, specified that the requirement to wear a face coverings in designated places does not apply to ‘a person responsible for a relevant place or an employee of that person acting in the course of their employment’. Even Government guidance doesn’t recommend employees wearing face coverings. Instead, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy recommends that employers carry out a risk assessment for their business addressing the risks of COVID-19. Face coverings for employees are not required under coronavirus regulations because employers already have a legal obligation to provide a safe working environment. Employers should therefore assess the use of face coverings on a case-by-case basis depending on the workplace environment. According to Law or Fiction, which was founded by the solicitor Stephen Jackson and describes itself as ‘a group of concerned lawyers dedicated to separating the Law from the Fiction, particularly in relation to the current Coronavirus lockdown’, this gives employees considerable leverage in resisting their imposition by their employers. Since it is unlikely, they say, that an employer has conducted such a risk assessment, they risk a charge of causing ‘severe distress’ to any employee they compel to wear a face covering as a condition of employment, and would therefore be in breach of contract. Should they try to do so, the employee should ask to see the risk assessment, and establish whether it reflects the information about the risk of COVID-19 given in this and my other articles, as well as the recorded risks of wearing a face covering, some of which may be found in The Science and Law of Refusing to Wear Masks: Texts and Arguments in Support of Civil Disobedience. An employer simply stating that they are ‘following Government guidance’ is neither sufficient nor accurate, as the guidance is to pass the decision and responsibility to the business. In the opinion of these lawyers, it is unlikely that a business will risk a claim for unfair dismissal for forcing an employee to wear a face covering, or for their insurance providers to risk them having to pay out compensation for doing so or against personal injury claims that may result from wearing masks. As they conclude: ‘Insurers might well turn around and ask the business why they required masks to be worn when no risk assessment justified it and when no law required it. Insurers might well be asking themselves now why they are exposing themselves to such claims.’ To help resist their imposition, these lawyers have provided further information about how employees can go about responding in writing to their employers, which you may wish to follow, as well as the offer to recommend specialist employment lawyers, which you may wish to take up should it come to this.
5. Smart phones. As I reviewed in detail in Part 1 of this article, 96 per cent of households in the UK have at least one mobile phone, and over 77 per cent of these are smart phones. Between them, Apple and Android phones monopolise 99.7 per cent of this market, and both operating systems are in the process of building a contact tracking function into their respective operating systems. The consequences of what we have known for some time — that mobile phones are tracking devices — has now become a reality, and is already being used to track our movements, record our contacts with other mobile-phone users — including their location, and the proximity, time and duration of each contact. In doing so smart phone are helping the Government compel us, for example, to go into self-imposed quarantine for two weeks after we return from a country designated, without any medical justification and purely for political reasons, as a biosecurity threat to the UK. If they are not already, these tracking devices will more than likely be used to track the movements of people detained by the police for attendance at, for example, an illegal gathering, in order to ensure they do not meet again either in the same location or with the same people from different households. According to Google and Apple, the tracking facility requires the user to turn on the Bluetooth function for it to communicate with other mobile phones; but that won’t stop the operating system functioning to identify the user’s movements, for example, away from their homes when quarantined. Again, the providers have stated that it is possible to uninstall the update through which the tracking device has been downloaded into the operating system of the phone; but how many of us know how to do this, and if we do, wouldn’t that require re-installing all the phone’s functions using a previous operating system? Anyone who has tried to run their laptop on a superseded operating system will know the technical problems this causes. Finally, as the old system becomes obsolete, we will face a choice between access to all the facilities to which we have become accustomed by use and habit and advertising, and the freedom of not being tracked and monitored by the device that provides those facilities. You may, therefore, choose to use a mobile phone that does not have an inbuilt global positioning system and Bluetooth function, carry an A-Z, learn to read a map, use a music player that does not have a positioning device installed or is integrated with Google Maps, only carry your laptop with you when you need it, and read a book or newspaper rather than be permanently logged on to social media. The difficulty of making what should be a clear and obvious decision shows how psychologically attached we have become to our ‘smart’ phones, but the time when their influence over us is no longer merely psychological and has becomes operational is here, and the choice must be made now if we are to resist the UK biosecurity state being implemented through our willing use of its instruments.
6. Biometric Testing. Whether uploading your health status into an immunity passport carrying your digital identity or submitting a biological swab sample for testing by a private company, handing over your biometric data to the state and its contractors is laying the foundations for the next stage of the biosecurity state. This is more than contributing to the medically meaningless thresholds beyond which the Joint Biosecurity centre locks down millions of people; it is building up the data base on which artificial intelligence systems will dictate where we can and cannot go, what places we can and cannot enter, whether we can leave our homes, use transport, go to work, visit our friends and family, or see our own children. Collaborating in doing so is not only, as I have shown, without any medical justification, and as meaningless as being tested for the flu, but is contributing to excluding those who don’t collaborate from public life and spaces as ‘potentially infected persons’. So far, I have suggested what you may wish to do in resistance, but for participating in the testing programme there can be no excuse. Biometric testing, for as long as it is voluntary, must be refused by anyone who is serious about resisting the UK biosecurity state. If that means being refused departure from the country, for example, and having to take your holiday in the UK, be glad that it does not yet mean being refused entrance to your workplace, or the freedom to walk the streets without an immunity passport.
Beyond these acts, there is the work of communicating them to others, both the how and the why of their enactment, so that they can begin to recover a properly political meaning from the biopolitics to which we are being subjected by the UK biosecurity state. Things are not going to get better; on the contrary, they are only going to get far worse. The regulations will increase, expanding their control over more and more of our lives. The fines for non-compliance will increase, and their enforcement will become more brutal, more unaccountable. More and more of UK society will be brought into their implementation. The surveillance and control of our lives will be more closely tied into the technologies of our day-to-day lives. As is already being promised, the winter ahead will be a giant step forward in the entrenchment of the programmes and technologies of the biosecurity state in the UK. An economy being brought to its knees is already being sold to the global corporations that increasingly run our lives, and every remaining province of public service is being outsourced to private contractors as impervious to scrutiny as they are unaccountable to criticism. Politics, in this world, will be nothing more than a televised game show for the credulous masses.
Karl Löwenstein was right about what he called, back in 1936, ‘the pliability of human nature under continued mental pressure’ when exerted by a biosecurity state ‘utilising psychological techniques’. By the time we emerge blinking into the spring of 2021, the world before the coronavirus crisis will seem like a distant dream. But he was wrong, as subsequent history proved, about ‘artificial inventions politically superimposed’ inevitably returning to ‘a more congenial substance and shape’, and we shouldn’t make the same mistake. There may come a time in the future when we look back at the present as the last chance we had to stop what is happening, to rise up now, not in hundreds or thousands or even tens of thousands, but in millions, to stop what is being done before it cannot be undone. If we don’t, the totalitarianisms of the Twentieth Century offer only a glimpse of the degree and breadth of control exerted by the UK biosecurity state under which we will live for the foreseeable future. Never in recent history has there been a threat to our freedom that more justifies, more demands, our civil disobedience and militant resistance to the disaster into which we are being led.
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