In the 1960s, a British television program called “The Avengers” featured two government agents, John Steed and Emma Peel, fighting the rogue agents and provocateurs who engaged in espionage and attempts at destabilizing the British government. The plots were strange and the puns even stranger. The politics was always “hush-hush,” and it was never clear who was avenging whom. The fans didn’t care, as long as they got to watch the beautiful Diana Rigg, in the role of Mrs. Peel, fighting the bad guys and all the while wearing multi-colored Mod dresses and tight jumpsuits.
In one of the episodes, “Return of the Cybernauts,” Paul Beresford (played by the perfectly dark Peter Cushing) revitalizes his late brother’s project of cybernetic engineering, except in this case, it was not to serve the good of mankind but rather Beresford’s evil whims. He pursues his brother’s cybernetic project even further by making human cybernauts.
Steed and Peel seem like perfect guinea pigs. Beresford pretends to be smitten with Mrs. Peel gives her a beautiful wristwatch that, unbeknownst to Peel, contains a transmitter that effectively eliminates one’s free will. For the duration of the episode, and before she is gallantly rescued by Steed, Peel becomes a mindless follower of Beresford’s mad wishes. Steed and Peel always get the bad guy at the end of every episode, and Beresford winds up getting killed by one of his brother’s cybernauts, suffering the same fate as his brother.
Although “The Avengers” is a primarily an entertaining and trippy show exemplifying a short, aesthetic era in Britain, this particular episode is analogous to our current situation with governmental COVID measures. The response to COVID has been mostly split along political lines, with people who value their free will and liberty at odds with people who perversely seek some official authority to tell them what to do.
This is an inherent contradiction of leftism. As Camille Paglia so pointedly writes, “liberalism defines government as a tyrant father but it demands it behave as a nurturant mother.” The Left never seems to notice when the nurturant mother pose is just cover for the tyrant father.
Anthony Fauci, a representative of a bloated and corrupt bureaucracy that masquerades as the voice of “science,” repeatedly acts out of ideological fervor in his so-called recommendations of COVID protocol. Much like the Centers for Disease Control, Fauci has been contradicting himself on the efficacy of masks, the importance of vaccines, and the need to socially distance, all the while slowly but surely revealing that he is making these pronouncements for reasons of control and appearance, rather than guidance and assurance. Fauci might as well be Paul Beresford in “The Avengers,” pressing the button willy-nilly in order to strip people of their ability to make up their own minds. But let’s be careful not to ascribe “evil genius” powers to a bureaucrat like Fauci.
Despite the fact that most of the problems relating to COVID can be blamed on people like Fauci, or government agencies such as the CDC, what has been a consistent and strange problem are the people who happily and blindly follow such authorities. Totalitarianism cannot exist without the willing masses. Even stranger is the fact that this is happening in America—a country founded on the rejection of tyranny. As an immigrant who chose to come to America after experiencing real tyranny brought on by the war in my native Bosnia, I find this to be a bizarre and disappointing reality.
Of course, it is foolish to assume that every American prizes liberty and personal responsibility over arbitrary authority and relinquishing critical thinking. If the COVID crisis has shown us anything it is that people are easily manipulated when fear rules their lives. There is nothing wrong with a healthy sense of self-preservation but abandoning critical thinking and careful reflection on the events as they unfold before our eyes only leads to a different kind of self-destruction. In a mindless effort of save the body, these “Covidian cybernauts” have essentially killed their own souls.
Why is this “obedience to authority,” to use the subject of Stanley Milgram’s famous psychological and social study, so prominent now in Western societies such as the United States? The agreeable and non-thinking masses did not appear overnight.
Such distinctive personalities and dispositions have been working at a slow boil in the American melting pot for decades. Whether it’s because of the relative comfort of living in a free society, or because they are possessed of an inherently different disposition, some Americans have embraced existential stasis.
Whatever happened to “live and let live?” Before the COVID crisis, such metaphysical differences between Americans did not cause much strife. But now, we are on the verge of a shift in reality that is purely biopolitical, in which we face a threat far bigger than any virus: dehumanization.
The fact that some people have embraced the possibility of perpetual masking should be alarming. Out of fear, boredom, or the immature need to not feel left out, they are perfectly content with a radical change in human encounter. For these people, being obedient to ideological authority is a way of life.
The perennial question—what does it mean to be a human being—has been missing from our society due to an increase in depersonalizing technology and ideological politics. The imposition of such politics on the human body and the aggressive denial of the human soul is at the center of this problem. In addition, the very idea of sovereign self is missing from the current discourse. If we suddenly stop evaluating modern and ever-changing realities without any consideration of human dignity, we will only go further down the rabbit hole of disorder.
Is there a way out? Given what we know of human history, tyrannies do come to an end. The question is when and how. In the coming months and years we must be vigilant and aware of the realities that go beyond the superficial media talking points. Whenever we can, we must affirm the culture of life, and make authentic human encounters a necessity for our society.