Among the most insidious and widespread harms from lockdowns has been the atomisation of communities. People were virtually confined to their homes for weeks at a time for almost two years: threatened with arrest for going out, often too frightened to do so anyway thanks to bloodcurdling government propaganda.
Tocqueville summed up the consequences of such isolation:
Each person, withdrawn into himself, behaves as though he is a stranger to the destiny of all the others. His children and his good friends constitute for him the whole of the human species. As for his transactions with his fellow citizens, he may mix among them, but he sees them not; he touches them, but he does not feel then; he exists only in himself and for himself alone. And if on these terms there remains in his mind a sense of family, there no longer remains a sense of society.
The symptoms of the post-lockdown fragmentation are all around. The demise of millions of friendships; the empty, dystopian workplaces, while millions pretend to hold ‘meetings’ on Zoom or Teams; the collapse of so many clubs and loose associations – fallen into abeyance during the years we all rotted at home, glued to screens.
Aggression in the public realm has increased markedly, from cyclists tearing along the pavement as if pedestrians no longer existed, to the loutish behaviour so common among audiences now in theatres during performances. Perhaps after two years of solitary confinement we no longer know how to conduct ourselves around others.
Many people seem to rate their pet dog more highly than other human beings. It is quite obvious that the huge increase in pet ownership and worship is a substitute for human relationships which have deteriorated on a vast scale. Yet research shows that almost the single most important ingredient of well-being is proper social interaction – not just intimate family, but extended circles of acquaintances. For so many, these connections withered during the permafrost of lockdowns.
No wonder people are so angry and divided. Bad habits of misanthropy took hold when we were all forcibly separated, under the false illusion that such brutal measures would ‘stop the spread’. While the large majority of the population were at minimal risk from Covid, we were all incarcerated and made to feel lonely and bored. Talk to people now and it is often as if a black hole exists during the years 2020 and 2021. Essentially we gave away the best part of two years of our lives for absolutely nothing. The authorities severely undermined civilisation in a fit of panic, shutting down the whole population without any scientific basis for such an incredibly drastic step.
Of course, all this low level misery is piled on top of the more obvious collateral damage from lockdowns: the untreated cancers and heart disease; the impaired learning from closed schools; the £400 billion of wasted taxpayer resources; a public sector in complete disarray – one could fill pages with all the unnecessary distress caused by the self-inflicted wound of lockdowns.
Many might say that to recover we need to forget and move on. Others still cling to the fantasy that lockdowns were unavoidable and effective. I say that we must never forget the awfulness of lockdowns, the totalitarian removal of our very basic freedoms under the guise of public health, the blasé dismissal at the time of the many obvious, devastating harms. Because there must never, ever, as long as we all live, be a repeat of such a catastrophic government intervention in the everyday lives of ordinary people. Only by constantly highlighting the stupidity and destructiveness of lockdowns will we stop such wrecking measures even being contemplated again. They were a disaster on an unforgivable scale – constant reminders of this are an absolute public duty.
Luke Johnson is a British entrepreneur who is currently part-owner and Chairman of the Gails bakery and cafe chain. He is a Director of Skeptics Ltd, the company that publishes the Daily Sceptic.