Petit Tyranny

It’s perhaps surprising to learn just how many of one’s fellow citizens would thrive in modern-day Belarus or latter-day East Germany.

The Great British lockdown this week has given succor to those inclined to the petit tyrannies common to countries of our curious pity.

Facebook groups have sprung up, leaping with the caps-locked indignations of women named Karen. “My neighbor has been outside TWICE today.” Such statements spin with exclamation marks, and interrobangs—“Should be locked up, if you ask me.”

One gentleman called the police on his neighbor, demanding his arrest for a suspected second jog of the day.

We are allowed out for an hour once per day. It’s like a Danish prison. Our neighbors, some at least, have adapted this lockdown into a Stanley Milgram experiment in which they swing the truncheons.

No, I won’t call it a police state. I’m not a libertarian. This shutdown, if kept short, is chemotherapy for what is a serious disease. Yet, such drastic measures have unshrouded the suppressive nature of a hearty minority.

Why one would be bothered enough to “report” another going for a second run is beyond me. That runner, by the very nature of running, is unlikely to break the six-foot social-distance rule, unless, of course, someone chases him.

Though, I’m sure some would give chase, if only to force-feed their righteous indignation.

Police officers have taken government guidelines and added a dose of North Korea. Derbyshire Police, armed with drone footage, lockdown-shamed a couple walking their dog on the Peak District.

“Nonessential!” shrills the charge. And it’s one too readily chanted by those peacocking their righteousness, and denouncing their neighbors on Facebook groups birthed for purpose.

Humberside Police have taken note. They set up an online portal so Karen can denounce lockdown traitors in a manner more officious to her thickened tastes.

Some police officers are giddy, drunk on what must pose the ultimate dose of their authoritarian inclinations. (Many police officers possess but conceal this trait, much as nightclub bouncers conceal a Freudian daddy issue.)

One lawmaker broke the articles of social pariahdom. Stephen Kinnock visited his father Neil, ex-Labour leader, for a socially distanced birthday celebration.

The police, red-meating the hounds of Twitter, deemed such travel “nonessential.”

Yet British people have listened. Traffic is down two-thirds, three-quarters are complying with guidelines, green shoots are sprouting. There is no need for this Stasi-era tribute act.

A neighbor might have forgotten something he deems essential. Someone buying an Easter basket alongside their essentials is not dicing with lives.

Neither should anyone care if another goes for a drive. Drivers are essentially cocooned in a moving lump of steel and glass.

To break the social-distance rule would be possible only if they, in a mad fit of Corona-jihad, rumbled along the sidewalk, windows and rooftop down. The problem? There’s nobody on the sidewalk.

Everything has changed. And nothing has changed. To charge that lockdown has impulsed authoritarians is to clamp an ether rag around the mouth of cancel culture. It hasn’t gone away. It’s mutated into a novel strain of petit tyranny.

Not long ago, police officers dragged a YouTuber to court for teaching his pug a fascist salute. The same police interrogate for “hate crimes” including “liking” a “transphobic” poem.

Now those same police seethe the streets they hitherto didn’t “have the resources” to patrol, stopping cars, rustling through shopping bags, shaming lone walkers.

They’re bolstered by their gleeful little helpers. Those who in idle times report others for suggesting men can’t morph into women.

We’ve endured for some time with this Salem culture. And it has much greater sway than you’d think.

This is the culture that forced Prime Minister Boris Johnson to change tact from arms-length to lockdown.

His original “herd immunity” strategy dissolved after Imperial College, London, released a doomsday report charging the current course with 510,000 British deaths, and 2.2 million dead Americans.

Boris bottled it. The cries of The Guardian and their ilk slamming shut businesses and effectively placing more than 60 million people under house arrest.

The great irony is those who’ve spent years calling democracy a “coup,” impelled the man they deem a “fascist” to shackle controls on where citizens can go, for how long, and with whom they can congress.

The Imperial College study has suffered its own curious mutations.

The death count first plummeted from 510,000 to 20,000. Then it suggested 5,700 deaths. Now, as it stands, that figure is “wrong.”

Intensive care units, it is hoped, will now not repeat the fate of Italy. This mild dystopia could compare to an average flu season.

Two-thirds of those, Professor Neil Ferguson said, will “likely have died this year anyway.” A remarkable turnaround, or a hasty retreat.

Ferguson’s revision takes account, he says, of our lockdown strategy.

Perhaps his revision also took account of a rival Oxford University study suggesting the Wuhan virus hit these shores as early as December, spreading invisibly for months before the first case recorded itself in late February.

Professor Sunetra Gupta’s model suggests half of us may have had coronavirus, that 1-in-1,000 will need hospital treatment, that most have mild symptoms or none at all.

This would mean significant herd immunity has already taken place, that lockdown was an option for December, not April, and that millions are out of work and locked at home with a hidden immunity to what keeps them there.

Now, I am not a scientist. But, the violent conflicts between these two studies suggest someone has got this drastically wrong.

Which is a charge leveled at the Swedes. They have changed little about their lives. Bars and restaurants remain open, children still stream into school, those with symptoms must stay home for two days before returning to work. As the virus shifts its course, so do the guidelines.

The Swedes haven’t frozen an entire economy or placed an entire nation under house arrest.

Yet, they’ve limboed the ire of Guardian-types for the strategy they pilloried Boris into abandoning.

Of course, nobody knows who is right. A brief shutdown, to me, seems a sensible dose in lieu of a Swedish gamble.

President Trump’s face said it all as he steeled Americans to 200,000 possible deaths. This is no joke.

But we need better options than those presented.

Is it really a choice between the second Great Depression (one in which 10 million Americans in two weeks have signed up for unemployment insurance) or the second Spanish Flu?

Wouldn’t a sensible, moderate course be to ramp up testing, cocoon the vulnerable, and allow the immune back into a cautious and distant normality? Albeit one in which petit tyranny is never cured.

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About Christopher Gage

Christopher Gage is a British political journalist and a founding member of the Gentlemen of the Swig. Subscribe to his Substack, "Oxford Sour."

Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

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