Published February 8, 2022
While away recently for a speaking engagement, I sat down to dinner in a parish hall in the time between Mass and my talk. I chatted affably with a couple at our table until the husband got up to get wine. The wife’s countenance shifted and she seethed, “Why weren’t you wearing a mask in Mass?” Taken off guard, I let out a nervous laugh which she imitated back to me with venom.
I asked why she felt threatened by me when I was at least ten feet away from her in Mass, but now at dinner felt safe although unmasked and just two feet away. She answered that she’s vaccinated and has trust in the experts’ policy decisions regarding sitting to dinner. Neither the appeal to the vaccine nor to the experts made up for the absurdity of the situation. There is nothing about sitting to dinner which makes a vaccine gain a new power it did not have moments before. Nor does a respiratory disease stay dormant when people sit down for a meal.
This small interaction crystalized the two essential conditions of tyranny: foster in citizens an unhealthy suspicion of one another and an unhealthy faith in the powers that be. Identity politics habituated us to this. COVID-19 has put it on steroids.
The remarkable disruption introduced to all our lives over the past two years has understandably left people anxious and isolated, and an enemy served on a platter is an intoxicating palliative. The natural suspicion toward the powerful and the profiteers is relocated to an obsessive suspicion of the person next to us.
Consider a recent Rasmussen poll. Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Democratic voters would favor a government policy requiring confinement of the unvaccinated to their homes at all times, except for emergencies.
Nearly half (48%) of Democratic voters think federal and state governments should be able to fine or imprison individuals who publicly question the efficacy of the existing COVID-19 vaccines.
Twenty-nine percent (29%) of Democratic voters support temporarily removing children from their parents’ custody if parents refuse the COVID-19 vaccine.
It takes the faith of a true zealot to have this level of contempt for your fellow citizens and this level of confidence in the incorruptibility of the powers that be. Never mind the planet of money amassed by the incestuous collusion of tech, pharma, and government through the lockdowns and mandates and the massive loss of livelihoods those same lockdowns and mandates have exacted on our neighbor.
Our distrust of our neighbor extends to a distrust of ourselves and our ability reason and discern what is true. The irrational, coercive policies that should prompt challenges and questions, instead become something we must overlook. To question the regime becomes akin to ceding ground to those neighbors we hate and for many that is far worse than ceding our ability to think. Expert thought is substituted for thought itself. The subtle sell is that, seduced by hatred, we trade trust in our own lyin’ mind for trust in the god-like omniscience of the ruling class. We think we are elevated in this association when it is profoundly diminishing.
But though media control and messaging are on their side, time is not. And the narrative falls apart in increasingly undeniable ways.
“We find no evidence that lockdowns, school closures, border closures, and limiting gatherings have had a noticeable effect on COVID-19 mortality,” researchers from Johns Hopkins wrote in a metanalysis of 24 studies on the effects of lockdowns.
Lockdowns, however, did have a notable effect on increased anxiety disorders, depression, addiction, suicide, fatally delayed cancer treatments, lives and livelihoods lost and an entire generation of children irreparably harmed.
When the official narrative you are not allowed to question is later admitted to be not only false but unjust and deleterious then we should start approaching the current official narratives with more skepticism.
Highlighting the importance of questioning the ruling narrative is an unlikely man who has been at the center of the battle over narrative and free debate. In the aftermath of aging rockstars protestations, Joe Rogan made this statement:
The problem I have with the term misinformation especially today is that many of the things we thought were misinformation just a short while ago are now accepted as fact. Like for instance eight months ago if you said, ‘If you get vaccinated you can still catch covid and you can still spread covid.’ you would be removed from social media. They would ban you from certain platforms. Now that is accepted as fact. If you said, ‘I don’t think cloth masks work’ you would be banned from social media. Now that’s openly and repeatedly stated on CNN. If you said, ‘I think it’s possible that Covid 19 came from a lab’ you would be banned from many social media platforms. Now that’s on the cover of Newsweek. All of those theories that at one point in time were banned, were openly discussed by those two men that I had on my podcast that have been accused of dangerous misinformation.
Rogan holds beliefs that certainly are at odds with Catholic teaching and belief, and he has reportedly made regrettable remarks years ago for which he has apologized. But it is Rogan’s threat to the COVID narrative that has garnered such attention, including White House remarks pressuring Spotify to censor him for misinformation.
He is an unlikely threat because he, a comedian by trade, is not a partisan hack or demagogue. He appears to be sincerely, if imperfectly, pursuing open and interesting conversations, exploring ideas he does not necessarily claim, while being unbeholden to any political tribe. That should be harmless (and even helpful) in a free society that values truth. But if the goal is not truth, but maintaining the failing narratives of the powerful, then he is utterly malignant. Truth does not need coercion or censorship. Power decoupled from truth demands both.
The Narrative is unassailable until it isn’t. The pretense that it is science, and not fallible and corruptible human judgment, steering these policies is laid bare. The lies become too much and the scapegoating of our fellow citizens too little.
The late political philosopher Roger Scruton once noted that tyrannical regimes are dependent on paranoia, “… a kind of grand conspiracy theory designed to manufacture illusory enemies so as to maintain itself in being.” And G.K. Chesterton, writing decades ago, observed, “You do not know tyranny until it is on top of you; until it has you in a trap. The tyrant is not present until he is omnipresent.”
Let’s hope it is not too late to redirect our distrust to those who deserve it.
Noelle Mering is a Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and a scholar at The Institute of Human Ecology. She is the author of Awake, Not Woke: A Christian Response to the Cult of Progressive Ideology (TAN Books, 2021). She is an editor for the website TheologyofHome.com and the coauthor of the Theology of Home book series.