News, views and commentary with an anarchist twist

Some thoughts on the COVID-19 future we’re facing

Thursday 16 April 2020

Preamble

This piece is being written as we come to the end of the fourth week of living under the emergency measures the government has brought in to deal with the COVID-19 crisis. Anyone who thinks that after another three weeks of lockdown, we can slowly start returning to some kind of normality hasn’t read the situation in any depth. There’s talk of many social distancing measures carrying on until the end of June. A number of commentators are saying that some social distancing measures may have to remain in operation until an effective vaccine can be developed. That could mean our lives remaining in a weird kind of limbo for up to two years while we wait for this. That is a scary prospect to contemplate. What this piece is intended to do is to look at the consequences of this and what has to be done to avoid stumbling into a dystopian future with our freedoms severely curtailed.

Social distancing = social isolation

The economy has been pretty much trashed. A lot of small and medium sized businesses will not be able to come back from a long shut down. Many of these will be cafes, pubs and restaurants. That means greatly restricted opportunities to meet, socialise and enjoy company, food and drink. We face a future of less socialising and mixing and more isolation, depression and to put it bluntly, a massive mental health crisis to come. This isolation and atomisation is something we’ve already written about: Isolation and social control.

Social distancing doesn’t mean just staying two metres away from anyone who’s not immediate family to avoid passing on/being infected by COVID-19. That’s just physical distancing which is a phrase we’d prefer to use. However, social distancing is a more accurate description of the sad, scary reality we’re facing. Social distancing means isolation from each other.

By and large, we humans are a social species. We need face to face and (consensual) physical contact in order to be able to function as a society. Consensual physical contact is the way we express our emotions towards each other ranging from affection through to offering comfort in times of hardship. To be denied that on a long term basis is effectively subjecting us to a mass psychological experiment with worrying and harmful outcomes. For example, effectively ruling out physical contact at a funeral when people who are grieving need to support each other can only be described as a form of cruelty. One which will inevitably have lasting consequences for mental health.

This quote from Twitter sums it up perfectly:

Steve James. @stevano_b · Apr 15
Hugging is psychologically good for you, it releases happy chemicals in the brain (fact)..
That’s why the government has brought in social distancing.
They want everyone to be miserable twats & grass each other up for venturing out 3 times a day.

Another consequence of social distancing is the erosion of social trust and a growing fear of other people. Because of the fear of being infected or infecting others, people are literally going out of their way to avoid each other! This is because we’re being manipulated into a mindset where literally every other person we encounter is regarded as a potential threat. This is the kind of situation where trust and empathy between people is eroded to be replaced by fear and suspicion. A situation that’s being exacerbated by the army of curtain twitchers and snitchers who seem only too happy to grass people up for perceived breaches of the emergency measures: It has to be said…

The way things are going, it’s reasonable to assume that at least for the rest of 2020, there will be restrictions on large gatherings. There’s already a question mark over when (or even if) football can get going again this year. As for large scale street protests, forget it – the government will be keeping the restrictions on those for a long time to come. Why would they let the opportunities for social control a crisis presents go to waste? Regarding bookfairs, radical fairs and meetings, realistically, they’re out of the question for most of 2020 and quite possibly, beyond that. The last thing the government want is us getting together to talk, organise, plot and protest. The only place we can do that at the moment is the Internet and if we’re to be realistic, we can’t expect the relative freedom we have to express ourselves online to last without some form of crackdown. We’re already getting our thinking caps on to work out how the heck we can organise if we find our access to the internet is curbed and we’re unable to freely meet and organise on a face to face basis.

It’s a reset

Effectively, we’re in the early stages of a massive re-set. Whatever kind of economy emerges out of the crisis, it won’t be like the one we were used to before all of this happened. What will eventually emerge will be an economy geared to the needs of the large corporations, many of who have been and will continue to work very closely with their friends and supporters in government. Basically, that’s more wealth concentrated in even fewer hands with all the consequences for social control and repression associated with that.

Many of the suggested routes out of lockdown involve various forms of tracking and surveillance. We’ve already seen the cops pushing the boundaries of the emergency measures aimed at enforcing social distancing out in public. It’s pretty safe to assume that as we go forward, anyone kicking off against a culture of increased surveillance and tracking will be getting the treatment from cops relishing the extended powers they’ve been granted. All with the blessing of the authorities who want a compliant populace that can be easily frightened, monitored and controlled.

Coming out of this crisis, cash will be well and truly on its way out. Cashless payments have become the norm during the COVID because understandably, retail workers want to minimise their risk of infection. The problem is that as many of us have got used to going cashless during the crisis, it’s going to become the norm with anyone using physical cash being seen as somewhat dodgy. Basically, anyone still using cash will be viewed as having something they want to hide from the authorities and placed under suspicion and surveillance. If you’re homeless and have been used to getting by on cash donations, the stark choice will be a hostel with every aspect of life strictly controlled or starving out on the streets.

There has been some talk about the introduction of a form of Universal Basic Income (UBI) being a welcome consequence of the crisis. All we can say is be very careful what you wish for. Any form of UBI will be the gift of whoever forms the government of the day. It will be a concession aimed at keeping the lid on the consequences of a trashed economy. It will be just enough to keep people in line as they’re bounced from one crap zero hours contract to another. Precarious work which will be paying even more of a pittance than now because UBI will be seen as a subsidy by employers.

So, we have UBI as a ‘gift’ from the government of the day and a potentially cashless future. Imagine what could happen to any of us who start to kick off against a future of increased surveillance, restrictions on movement and gatherings and shit employment conditions. Quite simply, one press of a button from the authorities and your UBI stops, your cashless payment card stops working and you’re out of the matrix left wondering how the fuck you’ll be able to feed yourself. If you think this is hyperbole think back to the start of 2020. If on January 1st, some one had described the situation we’re in now, you would have dismissed it as the excited ramblings of a dystopian sci-fi writer. Well, we’re here in the shite with a lot worse to come if people don’t wake up and start to ask some difficult questions.

The ‘Architect’ in a scene from the Matrix movie.

We need to ask difficult questions

If we don’t ask those difficult questions, we’re heading towards a dystopian future where we’ll be more closely tracked and monitored than ever before. A situation exacerbated by the useful idiot army of snitchers who seem only too happy to do the bidding of the authorities in maintaining a situation of tight control over us. We’re talking about the kind of people who historically, have aided and abetted totalitarian regimes regardless of whether they were fascist or Stalinist.

We’ve written a few posts about the lockdown many of us are under and how that contrasts with what’s happening with workers still out on their jobs. We’ve drawn attention to the seeming lack of physical distancing protocol, particularly those who have to travel around London on the sparse and consequently overcrowded tube service: Parallel realities in ‘lockdown’ Britain? That has prompted a few people to start questioning the narrative we’re being bombarded with. What really sparked baffled anger was the cops joining in with a ‘Clap for the NHS’ event on Westminster Bridge and blatantly disregarding distancing protocol. These are the same cops who have been hassling members of the public trying to get some fresh air in a park while observing distancing protocol.

Thursday 16 April 2020 – Police on Westminster Bridge joining in with the weekly ‘Clap for the NHS’ event.

With these inconsistencies and seemingly mixed messages, the authorities really shouldn’t be surprised that after almost four weeks of lockdown with many more to follow, a growing number of people are starting to question the narrative we’re being fed. Those asking the questions can be forgiven for thinking they’re at the start of a massive psy-ops experiment to see how much shite we’re prepared to tolerate before something gives.

With the amount of state resources being thrown at the COVID-19 situation, the political definitions of left and right are are starting to become meaningless. The lines between governments, large corporations and various trans-national organisations are blurring as they all seem to seek ways of subjecting us to ever more control. What is slowly starting to clarify is a divide between those of us who value individual and collective freedom and community solidarity against those who look to the authorities for ‘solutions’ to their problems and who welcome increased state powers over our lives. That in and of itself in ‘normal’ times would be a massive conceptual leap for some. In the early stages of a fast moving crisis, it’s a huge leap but one that has to be made if we’re ever going to have a future that’s worth living in.

Where do we go from here?

This situation has developed very swiftly and is constantly evolving and morphing, often in worrying and sinister ways. Because of the speed at which events have moved, a lot of people have been wrong footed and to be honest, are drawing conclusions and proposing solutions that while they may be well intentioned, have potentially dire consequences for our future freedom. All we’re asking is that people take a deep breath, if possible take a few steps back from their immediate situation and start to do some deep thinking about what we potentially face. We have a very narrow window of opportunity to make the case against increased state surveillance in all aspects of our lives and for freedom and genuine grassroots solidarity. If we don’t take that opportunity, we face being swept into a dystopian future where we merely exist (and will struggle to even do that) rather than truly live a life that’s meaningful and enjoyable.

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