By MICHAEL BLACKBURN.
THERE’S A TOUCH of Manicheism in the air. Covid has crystallised a semi-religious dualism in the population. They have now become Covidians, the new believers. For them the physical world has become evil, infected, unclean. The touch of human skin itself is recoiled from for fear of infection. One’s very breath is poisonous and needs to be stifled.
The great demon virus inspires terror and trembling across the land. It is omnipresent and like the old Christian God, “immortal, invisible.” And wise. It is able to tell the time, count its prospective victims, observe government boundaries and resurrect itself from its own ashes in countless waves of destruction.
Everything therefore must be done to battle against this evil. It’s a fight to the death even if the actions you take against it kill you or your loved ones. Mortification of the flesh, mental health, normal social life and financial existence has become compulsory.
Opposing the virus are the wise god-kings of the political establishment, advised by their scientific and medical high priests. They are the light and the way. The media act as emissaries of bad news and the government’s imperious edicts to the bovine populace. The populace, apart from a small contingent of heretics, obey, sacrificing what scraps of independent thinking they may have had to the great cause of “controlling the virus”, and investing their faith in the credo of “the science”, lockdowns, circuit-breakers, R numbers, social distancing, masks, and a vaccine before Christmas.
The most devout Covidian believes the virus is quantitatively and qualitatively worse than any other pestilence that has ravaged the human race — apart from the plague and possibly the Spanish Flu. He has complete faith in the gods of government and their advisors — they are not acronymed SAGE for nothing, because their sagacity is, apparently, scientifically proven and beyond questioning. Heretics are ignored, silenced or smeared.
The true Covidian believes without thought, without criticism, without reflection. He believes even when the gods’ own pronouncements flip flop into blatant contradiction; in truth, as the ancient saying goes, “credo quia absurdum est” — I “believe because it is absurd,” — he wants to believe in the most ridiculous things possible.
The most clear sign of the acceptance of the Covidian creed is the wearing of the face mask. “Look,” it says, “ I am a true believer. I am an obedient, responsible citizen. I am protecting you from the evil demon, Covid. I am preventing granny from being killed.” And even granny, if she hasn’t been killed, is saving the world from death as she stands, coughing into her mask, in a queue outside the pharmacy.
The mask obscures the human visage, obliterating the outward display of an individual’s emotions and muffling their voice. It reduces every wearer to a pathetic, de-individualised devotee. Ironically there is something sacrilegious about it in the way it treats with contempt what Milton called “the human face divine.” But then Covidianism is inimical to established religion and is used to suppress the regular worship in churches and chapels. Indeed, the ministers of the major denominations of the country have revealed themselves to be secret Covidians in their refusal to fight to keep their places of worship open.
The wearing of the mask is a ritual: you can see people as they approach the sacred portals of the supermarket or workplace, taking their muzzles in hand and slipping them on. Sometimes they remove them when they leave and stuff them back into their pocket, to fester in readiness for the next time, their observance done. Sometimes they wear them outside anyway, or in their car. And whenever they enter a building they sanitise their unclean hands with chemical holy water.
Covidianism is a religion of doom without a saviour, without salvation or deliverance. The promised saviour of a vaccine is a false messiah: it cannot appear in the near future, as hoped for, and if it does it will be weak and possibly dangerous. Doom is perpetual because the government gods and their high priests cannot envisage an end to it and even if they could would not announce it because they do not have the integrity or courage to do so. To proclaim the end would be to relinquish their power. Eternal doom for some is eternal power for others.
Currente 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.