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The virus of magical thinking.


BACK WHEN BREXIT was the media’s full-time obsession Michael Gove was criticised for saying that we’d had enough of experts. Since those experts were the ones who had predicted that even a leave vote by itself would topple Britain’s economy into perdition, only to find it didn’t, he was right and they were wrong. How ironic then that the new government, of which he is a member, should have slavishly followed the advice of a group of experts, with the result that the British economy is shrinking and creaking, with the prospect of real damage on its way.

The difference is that the experts they’d had enough of in the past were economists, and nobody takes any notice of them, because they’re always wrong; whereas this new group are scientists, and they are always presumed to be right. That’s because in the common view everything that comes out of a scientist’s mouth is science and science is facts and therefore the truth. The fact that scientists are always disagreeing with each other and have differing interpretations of things – that being the core of scientific method – seems not to have been given any thought.

This scientism, the unquestioning acceptance of “science” as the fount of absolute truth, is our modern religion.

This scientism, the unquestioning acceptance of “science” as the fount of absolute truth, is our modern religion. Like everything else in what passes for thought in the contemporary world, however, it is highly malleable. Many of the people who are confirmed believers in the scientism of the lockdown, I suspect, are the same who discard science when it comes to matters of sexuality, race and IQ. On those they are likely to resume their anti-science blank-slatism without any qualms.

As for whatever science lies behind the policy of lockdown nothing has been presented to us in terms of empirical data. Nobody has shown us where this has been done before and what the results were. Everything I have seen has been based on modelling, which is no better than divination by computer. I have always been sceptical about the two-metre distance rule, as well, which turns out to have been “conjured up out of nowhere,” according to Robert Dingwall of The New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group. “Conjured up,” here is an unintentionally telling phrase.

The refrain that the lockdown is working and without it the deaths would be higher than they are is just magical thinking, voodoo science. As is all the talk in social media about various cures or palliatives. Chloroquine was touted as a cure, even tobacco. Masks are currently in favour. Masks and tobacco both made their appearance during various plagues in the past, so judge for yourself.

On the cultural front things are beginning to stir. Bernard-Henri Levy, Professor Popinjay of the French intelligentsia and recycler of intellectual cliches, has already got a 90-page disquisition on the virus ready to drop from the publishers in June. Entitled, Ce virus qui rend fou, the blurb conjures up Plato, Lacan and Claudel, so you know you’re in heavyweight company here; and pitches Big Questions, that BHL will no doubt answer for us, such as What Does This Virus Tell Us About Our Society? and Is The Virus A Message? and Will The Earth Recover From This Virus-Induced Coma? It will be as enlightening as a dud lightbulb.

You can also sense a host of novelists, famous and obscure, published and never-to-be-published, already busy making notes towards their coronavirus novel, in which they will dazzle readers with their insight into group psychology, political chicanery and the epidemiology of pandemics, while wittily dismembering the Tory government and the failures of capitalism. And perhaps finding something to say about eugenics, transgenderism, race and the climate emergency as well. As with the topical novels about Brexit that I have read these will no doubt be dire, dull and predictable. Journos, I’m sure, will be amassing material for their “My Virus Diaries” titles which will be just as vacuous.

My goodness, so much to look forward to when the epidemic has abated and we find ourselves having to cope with the economic shambles which no amount of voodoo or magical thinking will put right.

suxcoverCurrente Calamo columnist, poet and writer Michael Blackburn lives in Lincolnshire. A Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Lincoln University (2005 – 2008), his poetry has appeared in numerous publications and anthologies over the years, including Being Alive (Bloodaxe) and Something Happens, Sometimes Here (Five Leaves Press). His most recent book is Albion Days (perennisperegrinator press). Sucks to Your Revolution is a collection of his Fortnightly columns.

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