Animal Farm was a staple of the GCSE English curriculum. Animal Farm taught the young to fear the USSR. Animal Farm taught us about the ‘inevitable’ collapse of revolutions into tyranny.
That the intellectuals would cower in fear, the workers would be exploited, and the rhetoricians and CEOs would smugly enslave the population whilst “watching over our welfare”. It taught us that “several of them would have protested if they could have found the right arguments”. But that in a climate of fear, “no one dared speak his mind”.
We read Nineteen Eighty-Four as teenagers. And realised that “no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it”. That the “whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought” making free thinking “literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it”.
That “there was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad”. That “sanity is not statistical”.
Writers are the prophets of our age because they are bold enough to see through the smog of everyday existence to those recurring patterns of history and human nature. At a time when we are too terrified to peel off our masks and speak out – when it becomes simpler to conform than to question – I turn back to the prophets of the past who wielded their pens as swords.
Throughout school, students are relentlessly taught about the rise of fascism; we read books such as Animal Farm, and are told to ‘think critically’. But this is, to use Orwell’s phrase, ‘doublespeak’. Students are taught what to think, not how to think. We are all duly shocked and dismayed at how quickly an entire population can obediently fall into line; how quickly friends are divided; how neighbours readily denounce one another; and how liberals are more than prepared to sign away their freedoms – freedoms that were won arduously and lost heedlessly.
We are a population placated.
Goethe once wrote: “the human race is a monotonous affair. Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it”. Our freedom is a heavy weight to bear.
We leave school “as little parrots and small calculating machines” (Charles Dickens), brimming with facts and figures, ready to receive our next dosage, which will be just enough to sedate those angsty years of early adulthood. And when we become adults – responsible and dutiful citizens – we will use these facts and factors as the mortar with which we seal up our cells. ‘The Science’, politics, and the home will become our papacy, our pulpit, and our cloister. And we will willingly buckle-in for the ride. We know that the road is safe and straight, that the fields are dark and savage. We stay vigilant because this is what we’re told; but if we were vigilant we would be mindful of what we are told, and who told us, and who told them. And why.
It is commonly said that you are what you eat. Our age consumes a strict diet of memes, tweets, and three-part slogans. We are a generation of malnourished thought, subsisting on fast-food consumerism.
The Trinity of Newspeak
See it, say it, sorted
Catch it, bin it, kill it
Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives
Do we ever think to pull apart the pieces of the trinity and consider how they are actually connected? Or question why the same slogan that was used to control terrorism on public transport could be so effortlessly applied to the grand pandemic of our time; how it all rests on the puny, ambiguous pronoun ‘it’. It is clear that these adverts drum in one unchanging message – that whether you carry a bomb or a virus, you are a threat. These are the adverts of fear and fear is viral.
Our Government knows this and their war against COVID-19 plays mercilessly upon this fear. Their tactics are all too clear. In a paper submitted to the SAGE committee in late March 2020, the following advice was given under the unabashed headline “Persuasion”:
Perceived threat: A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened […] The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging. To be effective this must also empower people by making clear the actions they can take to reduce the threat.
In essence, this reveals the Government’s reliance on the rhetoric of fear – on ‘hard-hitting emotional messaging’ that makes people feel personally threatened. This is exactly what has happened: we now live in a society in which the vast majority of the population – of all ages and backgrounds – are inculcated with fear. And fear makes one submissive; fear makes one abandon community, identity, and freedom of expression. Fear makes one manipulable and fear makes one forgetful. We have largely forgotten, for instance, what the original motive for lockdown had been: to protect the NHS from being overwhelmed. The reason was not the complete eradication of the virus and the prevention of all deaths – this is not possible. But the motive has been changed because of the subtle re-direction of “hard-hitting emotional messaging”.
The article also suggests that people should feel ‘empowered’ by their ability to follow basic rules, thereby reducing citizens to nothing more than virtue-signalling sheep.
Of course I’ll hurt you. Of course you’ll hurt me. Of course we will hurt each other.Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
But this is the very condition of existence.
To become spring, means accepting the risk of winter
Anyone who ventures out onto the high street will see long queues of masked and muted figures. They probably cannot breathe but, we are told, breathing is dangerous. So we hold our breath. These flimsy shields have become the marks of subservience to a policy that, no one can deny, is bewilderingly inconsistent. The Government has stated on numerous occasions how ineffective face-coverings are; in one document, published on 23 June, it stated: “the evidence of the benefit of using a face covering to protect others is weak and the effect is likely to be small”. And yet, after only a few months, this symbol of conformity is now normalised and unquestionable. We have become literally silenced and distanced from one another. Why? Because scepticism spreads through communication and scepticism is contagious. According to one official within my university: “If you are comfortable talking to someone, then it is likely that you are not socially distanced”. Our statistical language cannot and does not speak to the sanity of human interaction.
Jacques: God be wi’you. Let’s meet as little as we can.William Shakespeare
Orlando: I do desire we may be better strangers.
Dancing has become a criminal act because dancing is a defiant act. Collective enjoyment is taboo because collective action reveals the power of people when they come together. We have become the foot soldiers to policies that spit in the face of any sort of culture we once knew.
And what evidence is there to convince us that these anti-social actions are actually worth it? The question of ‘worth’ requires a little perspective. According to the Office of National Statistics, the “mortality rate of deaths in July due to COVID-19 was 21.0 per 100,000 people in England”. That is, of course, a lot. But how many of them died from Covid as opposed to dying with Covid in their system is a different question. We might recall that the number of deaths from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, influenza and pneumonia, and heart diseases far surpasses Covid deaths. About 450 people die of cancer each day. We should remember that the sidelining of treatments for other illnesses in order to provide ‘focused’ attention on this particular virus will lead to thousands of preventable deaths, justified under the banner of ‘public health’. Each day the daily news boasts – somewhat triumphantly – that the number of Covid ‘cases’ has increased dramatically. The mortality rate, however, continues to decline (it began declining before lockdown). This is because those who queue up obediently in supermarket carparks are the recipients of an appallingly flawed testing method know as the Pillar 2 test. And as academics such as Mike Yeadon have shown, 88-94% of these ‘cases’ could be false positives. The media chooses not to mention this fact.
Our fear has made us unquestioning of the incremental destruction of our collective and individual freedoms. We are unwilling to ask whether the cure will be worse than the disease itself. We are unwilling to ask whether we have been in the process of losing our right to well-being for decades now, and whether this is just the climax.
In his poem September 1, 1939, on the brink of the second world war, W.H. Auden reflects on how an entire population can become the cogs of a self-negating ideology. We must not perish in an “apathetic grave”. All we have “is a voice / To undo the folded lie so let us dance, sing, and embrace our neighbour. If you cling to the truth, you are not mad”.