The argument against our legal freedoms being encroached upon is more complex than good versus evil, or goodies and baddies. That the radical right and the conspiracy theorists have a narrative driven by opposing the government encroaching upon our freedoms does not mean that they have occupied all possible narratives about it. Yet there is hesitance on the left to admit that what the radical right and conspiracy theorists are ostensibly resisting is in agreement with us on the left. Nonetheless, even in concurring with both the radical right and conspiracy theorists, we do not stand alongside them since the situation is more complex than our simply being the ‘goodies’ while they are the ‘baddies’. By admitting the complexity of the situation to ourselves we bring into view everything that distinguishes the left from the right and conspiracy theories. This admission unmasks each side’s motivations and illustrates who is truly acting in line with social concerns.
We thus have two fronts to fight on: against the government attempting to restrict our freedoms through the opportunity presented by the necessity of our remaining socially distant, for sake of curbing transmission of the virus, and against the radical right who seek to use the restriction of our freedoms as an opportunity to seduce others into prejudiced tropes of racism, nationalism, and so on.
When the lockdown – and the pandemic generally – is over we would like it to be the left-wing that makes the greatest effort to push back against the State’s attempt to encroach upon our freedoms. But the truth is, as the situation stands, that the greatest mobilisation of people against the State is found in the actions of the radical right and conspiracy theorists; they are the ones showing the greatest willingness to act against people’s freedoms being impinged.
We part from the right at our freedoms being encroached upon
This is a problematic situation for the left. It is wrong to shy away from making a stand against the State’s advance against our freedom’s simply because a radical right-winger or a conspiracy theorist has been resisting the State already. Indeed, whether it is a right-wing or conspiracy theory-driven motivation, we on the left agree with them that our freedoms are under threat. But our concurring with that simple premise is where our commonality with them ends, since our motivations drastically differ from theirs. The conspiracy theorist shuns the opportunity to gain the absent knowledge their scepticism is founded upon, thereby founding and sustaining a platform for attention, while the radical right provokes the conversation to introduce other scurrilous discourses related to genetic, cultural and territorial purity. The motivation of the left in challenging the denial of freedom is for the sake of freedom itself, that is, to protect the freedom of all so long as that freedom is not to the detriment of others’.
So goes our contention with the radical right and conspiracy theorists, who in common posit that Covid-19 is a scam or that regardless of a pandemic they ought not to be opposed in doing as they please. Acting in caution of there being a fatal virus at large, transmitted through every human, is of no concern to either of them. We on the left do not abandon this concern because we are at base socialist, being cautious because we wish to prevent the death of others as best we can; it is in the guise of a socialism that the right and conspiracy theorists appear. Since, the rhetoric through which they call upon the public gaze for attention expresses their intentions as being for the sake of people, but this is in name only and not what they follow through on in the end. This then makes it simple for us: we reveal the true socialist action and they are undone.
It is obvious that the radical right don’t truly care for other people, since they take no caution against transmitting the virus and even go so far as to promote the idea of socialising against such a caution. Conspiracy theorists have, at best, a weak hold on a pragmatic approach because it is in their interests to dismiss the possibility of knowledge that contradicts the lack of knowledge that their theories are founded on. Neither the radical right or the conspiracy theorist will help anyone but themselves.
Yet so far it has only been the far-right and the conspiracy theorists that have charged ahead with the narrative in opposing the government. But is it right to challenge the government? If we consider the hesitance to respond to the pandemic they were alerted to weeks prior, their choosing against taking up resources that would obviously have prevented so many people dying or being left debilitated, and every other negligence and shameless gaze upon the camera throughout, we see that challenging the government is indeed right. (If, as the government likes to suggest, this is indeed a war, then they are all guilty of war crimes. But the true war has not been a new campaign against a virus but a new epoch of the sustained war upon the working class.) And is this the right time to challenge the government? Had the government effaced a relative success, stood next to New Zealand and South Korea, for example, it would have had time to prepare itself to explain away its misgivings. But since the governments every word, act and absence has contributed to the catastrophe we are still living through, the government must be bullied. Not for its being weak but for its banal attitude to living beings.
Has the challenge to the government not already been launched, already stratospheric by power of the radical right and conspiracy theorists? We cannot faithfully say so when we consider that any challenge must be one of an engaged critique that points to the concrete, that names and pronounces real events that people have lived through, suffered or no longer live through because they have succumbed to them. It is in the interest of both the radical right and the conspiracy theorist to sustain their discourse on the abstract, on matters that have no real existence. The conspiracy theorist points at a possibility and announces it as a fact of the world, which is logically absurd, while the radical right declare their utmost freedom without concern for the possibility that the virus may in fact kill them, defeating their ostensible concern for their own existence.
Yet in being opposed to the radical right and conspiracy theorists we do not necessarily stand with the government either; such a union would only be contingent if we stood in it. The solution that has yet to be hatched is that the necessity for social distancing has to be distinguished from the governmental order to socially distance from each other. That is, the rule of law and the care for each other’s well-being merely co-incide. We have already seen this dissociation, where the UK government delayed in deciding that it ought to be a rule that we socially distance, while it was already necessary for us to socially distance. If there was no government, the necessity for social distancing would remain. As such, for us on the left to support social distancing is not to support the State, since the State is only proclaiming something that is already there and separate from them. Moreover, social distancing is an act that must be performed by all of us for it to be effective; infection rate decreasing is not a phenomenon of governmental announcements, the statistics changing due to the time between announcements, as if it was never an outcome of our actions. As such, the responsibility is and always has been on people to act. We on the left have the responsibility to act, for we bear the conviction of fighting for people being of primary consideration in whatever political situation we create or find ourselves in.
The dissociation of governmental decree and social necessity also reveals something about the radical right and conspiracy theorists. If we consider such a situation where there is no government and it is necessary to socially distance, we also see that the radical right no longer has any place to complain and remains a sociopathic truant that won’t socially distance out of spite. But since government decree and one’s own responsibility are separate, we see that spite is the value by which the radical right considers themselves virtuous in the present situation too, for it is in spite of the possibility of endangering others’ lives that they are acting, concerned only with their own freedom. Without government, the conspiracy theorist must shift from suspecting a government to suspecting whole communities who socially distance themselves, that there are nefarious intentions at the heart of social distancing. But they too act in spite, since in their independence to act they never boldly strive to affirm what they suspect is the case to be true or false. Both the radical right and conspiracy theorists depend on the government to support themselves in their presentation of themselves to the public. But since we see that the necessity to socially distance is primary for us as socialists we see that the radial right and conspiracy theorists are in bad faith, for they deny to themselves that they are responsible for their actions and instead convince themselves that what they do is necessary for the sake of freedom – doubly contradictory for their acting in spite of the freedom of others whose lives they may be endangering.
At base, their freedom is specifically to be won at the expense of others’ and in this pandemic possibly at the expense of others’ health and even others’ lives.
We part ways with government at social distancing being necessary
Indeed, on the left we agree with what the government says – social distancing is necessary. Alas, our motivation differs greatly from the government’s and it is after this basic premise that our agreement with them ends. To agree with the government in this respect is indeed to be aligned with a Conservative; but we are instead interested in conserving life, after all.
From what we have discussed we see very well that we on the left stand apart from the radical right and conspiracy theorist because our response to the government is engaged and critical, while our responsibility to act is not foreshadowed by the pseudo-socialist sophistry of the radical right and conspiracy theorist. So here we are, the clearing before us announcing itself to us as to what we might possibly do. Have you something critical to say, something about what we shall do to bring the reckoning upon the ruling class?
The individualist attitude
We have been carrying the fact of the contingency of government and the necessity to socially distance through our discussion. We pointed out before that social distancing is distinct from any government decree and as such we are free to socially distance even after the government declares it unnecessary. It seems this will be necessary to prevent further spread of infection after lockdown ceases, since the government is not shy about saving ‘the economy’ before people’s lives. Nonetheless social distancing is pointless if everyone doesn’t care for it; it is a collective action. The obverse of this fact is that socially distancing will have never worked had nobody cared for it. How many of us really did care for it, heeded the purpose of it and strived to carry it out for sake of preventing the virus spreading? For myself, I will say that my neighbourhood was a shambles in this respect; pleasure taking primacy echoed throughout the street for about sixteen hours of any given sunny day. And the basic defence of any individualist through the moment of Covid-19 has come down to this: the pandemic isn’t as serious as has been made out to be because one doesn’t know of anyone who has gotten it, or died from it, and it isn’t fair that one is supposed to stay at home all of the time. This is an attitude of exceptionalism with a social disregard. Those who must choose between going back to work or starving have a different battle than this, with some forms of labour more dangerous for the worker than others.
It is no different with regards to the performance of lockdown; we go the distance to see that these measures are carried out irrespective of the government; we have been responsible all along. Even if the government wanted to decree a lockdown for the rest of the year it would amount to nothing if people did not follow it. So too when they wish to end it and that is precisely the moment when the contingency of government is revealed. But having revealed the responsibility of us to perform this lockdown ourselves the measure of our care for each other is visible in our every act. Did we take lockdown seriously in respect of attempting to curtail the virus?
In a Baudrillardian sense, we can question whether in some situations lockdown ever really happened. Not because lockdown was announced and not enforced so far as to push people into complying, or because the government announced it and never really meant it, but because it was announced and given piecemeal adherence by both government, citizens and police alike, in dribs and drabs of serious evangelistic outpourings of the virtues of various guidelines, all immediately followed by contradictory acts. Individualists played along at something they didn’t really believe in, breaking into conformity to posture that they were doing the moral ‘thing’ to others who didn’t really believe in it either. What was it all for, then? There was a sense of shame, as seen in the pretending to be following the rules, but what does this amount to when others in the same situation never cared either? The posturing was to deny to oneself the truth that nobody cared – it is that conclusion made plain that nobody wanted to see, where the individualist is the one who wishes to be the exception, where everybody else bears the responsibility but them.
It has been suggested that had the UK government imposed lockdown only a week earlier, thirty-thousand lives might have been saved. We cannot be certain of exact numbers because such estimations are based on hypothetical models. It is right to point out, nevertheless, that people have died because of the Tory government, whatever the situation. But the picture of this moment is incomplete without considering people’s disregard of others in their pursuit of pleasure, of disregarding precaution against spreading the virus. Did I do something, however slight, that cost somebody their life? What a terrible burden to carry into the future and it is not one useful to us to carry. The point is not to lumber each other with the possible guilt of manslaughter, but to point out that the best attitude we could have had all along was to be cautious as to whether our every public action might spread the virus and to have done our most honest deeds in respect of preventing it to the end of hopefully saving the vulnerable from contracting it. It is this that the joyrider of lockdown truly flouts, rather than the breaching of a space.
We have considered all involved in the moment of Covid-19 in two oppositions: the left against the radical right, accompanied by the conspiracy theorists, and the State against the people. We have considered the contributions of each position in both oppositions and their responsibility to the situation. We have the radical right and conspiracy theorists protesting against the State for their right to launch themselves into oblivion and at the possible expense of others’ lives, while the left are wont to protest just the same but for the sake of others’ lives. We have the struggle between those of us who strive to do what we can to prevent spreading the virus in the midst of the individualists who do as they please without caution to their possibly spreading the virus. All of which has been to show what is at play in the current situation of the pandemic, so that it can be surpassed toward the left being more influential in this moment’s narrative and to encourage people to act together.
I look forward to the seduction of a café air with the musk of coffee, the possibilities of sitting anywhere I can find a space to work in drifting across the room, a demure choice of contemplative jazz at a merciful volume. To stare out the window when a paragraph is too terse, or if I wonder if what has been said is really true, leaving my perceptions behind to imagine something else, elsewhere, until my perceptions call me back and I behold something unusual, beautiful, or plainly typical, that tells me, ‘I am home’. Until I wonder, ‘can everyone else have this?’ And then, that such a thought amounts to nothing unless I try to do something about it.