History Rhymes

After coming to power in 1933, the Nazis worked hard to sell eugenics to the masses. A particularly nasty example of these “re-education” efforts is a film entitled “Dasein ohne Leben” (“Existence without life”), which was released in 1939. It argued that the mentally ill should be killed. Furthermore it suggested that if the mentally ill were clear about their own state of mind, they would want it this way.

A recent column which appeared in the Daily Telegraph newspaper made me jump because much of the same vocabulary was deployed. It suggested that in lockdown, we are “existing” but questioned whether we are “living”.

At first glance, it may seem a stretch to suggest that there is a connection between these two items. However, dig beneath the surface and there is something altogether disquieting; the underlying concepts have similarities. There are implications for the coronavirus policies which may be followed in the near future.

From the beginning of the coronavirus crisis, there was a thought in the UK government that we ought to let the virus “run its course” in pursuit of “herd immunity”. Never mind that the herd immunity concept is generally used in situations where there is a vaccine: the idea being that if enough people are vaccinated, that a particular disease, such as smallpox or polio, can be effectively wiped out. Furthermore, it’s not altogether clear that having had coronavirus bestows a particular immunity, nor is it obvious how long such an immunity would last. Meanwhile, the elderly, those with pre-existing conditions, or a compromised immune system, would be left to fend for themselves and indeed, many would die. Prior to contracting the virus himself, Prime Minister Johnson suggested on national television that perhaps we should “take it on the chin”.

These are “survival of the fittest” policies that echo what many of the Nazis thought; Hitler was so committed to “social Darwinism” that he would set his acolytes in competition with each other in order to see who was the strongest, and he believed the strongest would inevitably prevail.

Just because these ideas are presented in English by men in Savile Row suits, doesn’t make them any more palatable. This flirtation with “herd immunity” has left the UK in a dire position. It is clear that Britain has the highest number of fatalities in Europe; per head of population, only Spain is losing people at a faster rate. Even Johnson has had to admit that it is a source of “bitter regret” that the epidemic is not yet under control in care homes. Yet we are talking about opening up rather than ensuring that we have sufficient testing and protective measures before we consider any loosening of current rules.

Furthermore, there appears to be a co-ordinated attack in train on the author of the lockdown policy, Professor Neil Ferguson. He was incredibly foolish to allow his lover to visit him in contravention of social distancing rules. It gave the press an opportunity to paint him as a hypocrite, and furthermore, opened the door to the following query: “if he’s wrong about this, what else is he wrong about?” Sure enough, the Daily Telegraph did follow it up with a piece in this vein.

Given the present mood, it is likely that Britain will be “re-opened” before it is ready. The countries which have been able to re-open so far have either got a more rigorous and prevalent testing regime, such as Germany and South Korea, or took much more assertive action much earlier in the crisis, such as New Zealand did. The United Kingdom is a laggard.

In the United States, it is much the same. President Trump would like to end the pandemic in order to bolster his fading chances of re-election, and it appears he is trying to wish the virus away. He first talked about winding down the task force managing the pandemic, then reversed course. He said he has left managing opening up to the governors, but then encouraged anti-lockdown protestors in Michigan, Virginia, and Minnesota. Nearly every last anti-lockdown protest which has appeared on the news has shown ardent Trump supporters making these demands. Social Darwinism made an appearance there too: the Republican Lieutenant Governor of Texas suggested the old should be willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the country’s good, specifically, so the economy can get going again. Meanwhile, veterans die in care homes. Minorities are disproportionately affected, due to the conditions created by poverty and years of neglect as a result of racism and harsh government policies.

The sum total of what is happening in Britain and America paints an alarming picture. History doesn’t necessarily repeat, but it can often rhyme. The most repellent ideas of the 1930’s, namely that some not only should perish, but would want to sacrifice themselves for the sake of the nation, are bubbling up again, hopefully unconsciously. We are told that we are “existing” in lockdown, not “living”. We are spoon-fed propaganda that the scientists who are using reason and evidence to create our policies are hypocrites and not to be trusted. We are being softened up for the pandemic to continue and not to think about it too much.

Hopefully, this will backfire. I know someone who died due to Covid-19. I was ill with it, as were my parents. It is not a disease to be trifled with. My father, who is of an entirely different political disposition to myself, is upset that the vulnerable have not been better protected. If the pandemic spreads and we all become acquainted with someone who suffered or indeed died, will we be so tolerant of this nonsense? Or will we turf out the politicians who sold us this phony cure for what ails us? I would rather that it backfired before we found out: certainly, many voices have raised the alarm. However it seems many in the media are happy to spoon fed the current narrative for the time being; it should bother us that they can readily consume such a terrible diet.

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