Everyone knows something about everything and everyone is flinging insults about
Piers Corbyn, the conspiracy-minded older brother of ex-Labour leader Jeremy, was arrested last weekend for organising an illegal gathering, breaching regulation 5b of the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020. The gathering in question was a rally held in Trafalgar Square on Saturday August 29. The event was to protest against the continuing restrictions due to Covid-19. A similar event was taking place in Berlin at about the same time.
There is a £10,000 on-the-spot fine for breaching the regulations. Corbyn says he will refuse to pay. He is raising funds on the Crowd Justice site in order to challenge the penalty.
You may wonder why, of all the organisers, it was Piers Corbyn who was singled out for arrest. Is it too conspiratorial to suggest that it might be because of his kinship with his accidentally high-profile younger brother, himself the target of a sustained media assault over recent years? Piers says that he was told the orders had come down from “on high” and that he was interviewed by an officer from the Met’s counterterrorism command.
Up to 10,000 people turned up to hear a variety of speakers as they made the case for resisting the restrictions. The crowd was a disparate bunch: from out-and-out conspiracy theorists who believe that Covid-19 is a hoax, to anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers, to QAnon supporters, to civil-rights protesters, to 5G conspiracists. Some were on the left, many were on the right. There were supporters of Julian Assange among them, as well as Brexiteers. A British Union of Fascists flag was unfurled, though for how long and by whom is not clear. It was the first time that the flag has been seen in public since the organisation was proscribed in the late 1930s.
The star of the show was conspiracy savant David Icke, who made a spirited speech lampooning official pronouncements on the virus. He was, as ever, gloriously entertaining… or bat-shit crazy, depending on your point of view.
He ended his speech with a prolonged roar. “Freedom!” he cried — like that, with his fist pumping the air — until his voice was cracked and hoarse. The crowd responded by repeating the word back to him in a rhythmic tribal chorus — “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” — like a football chant after their team had scored a goal.
It’s been many years since Icke had been subjected to a noise like that: not since his days as goalkeeper for Coventry City, I would suggest, when they were runners up to Burnley in the FA Youth Cup back in 1968. It must have been very heartening for him to hear.
He was obviously having a wonderful time, skipping about like a marionette with twisted strings and gesticulating wildly, getting very red in the face. It looked like he had been waiting for this moment for the whole of his life: which is probably exactly the case. He’s been telling anyone who will listen about his ideas for nearly 30 years, and now here he is, standing in front of a crowd in Trafalgar Square, his home turf, as it were, with the whole world cheering him on. No-one is laughing at him any more. It’s as if he has finally buried the ghost of public humiliation that has haunted him ever since his disastrous appearance on Wogan all those years ago.
I won’t go into all his theories. They range from the just plain ridiculous to the reasonably insane, although a number of them do make a certain amount of sense. His central theory, as it applies to Covid-19, is that there is a millennia-old conspiracy by a secret cabal of Satan-worshipping bloodlines to bring about a one-world government — referred to as “the new world order” — and that the disease, and the political reaction to it, have been engineered to set the ball rolling towards this final end.
The problem with this idea is that it assumes connivance between governments of widely differing political complexions: as if the Chinese, Iranian, Cuban, Russian and Venezuelan governments were all in cahoots with the United States, and were conspiring to their own demise.
The left, meanwhile, were all over the event with some conspiracy theories of their own. One post I saw referred to the protesters as “anti-vaxxers, anti-abortionists and climate-change deniers…spreading a blend of reactionary ideological tropes that fit in perfectly [with] far-right thinking,” and linking the movement to plans by Rupert Murdoch to bring a Fox-style news channel to the UK. “You can be sure that present at the rally were large numbers of people who voted for Ukip and the Brexit Party in the last European elections,” the writer suggested, “and voted for Farage and Johnson in the 2019 general election — probably a mixture of middle-class and working-class racist reactionaries.”
Well, I don’t know about that. I wasn’t there. For all their faults I don’t read either Icke or Corbyn in that way. Corbyn was a member of the International Marxist Group in the 1970s and a key figure in the London squatters’ movement, and Icke was once a Green Party spokesman. I have many friends who are sympathetic to at least some of the protesters’ concerns, none of whom I would describe as “racist reactionaries.”
And there are real civil-rights implications. The regulations that governed Corbyn’s arrest had only come into force 24 hours before the event. There was no Parliamentary scrutiny of the legislation, Parliament having been in recess at the time. Such emergency powers, common in war time, are unprecedented in times of peace. There is a legal right to protest, and a legal right to gather. Such basic rights are at the heart of our historic identity as a nation. We sign them away at our peril.
Personally, I grew up going to illegal gatherings — free festivals, raves and free parties, as well as strikes, occupations and sit-ins — from my late teens till well into my 50s. I would probably go again if anyone were to invite me. As part of the crackdown, rave organisers in Wales were also targeted over the weekend. How can I deny to young people today what I so copiously enjoyed in my own younger days?
I don’t agree with everything the protesters have to say. I have no problem with wearing a mask in public, for instance. I don’t see it is a “muzzle”, as some of the anti-maskers characterise it, merely as a mark of common decency. I know that some people are worried about the disease. It seems simply polite to put on a mask in order to alleviate their fears.
I’m also 100 per cent certain that the disease does actually exist, having lost a number of friends to it in the last few months. Also, if governments worldwide appear to be be using the pandemic to further their own political agendas, that’s only because, like all governments throughout history, they believe in the principle of not letting a good crisis go to waste. Is there a conspiracy? Of course there is. There’s always a conspiracy, of one sort or another, going on all the time. It’s the idea that it’s all the same conspiracy that I find absurd.
However, I have my own bottom line. I will not take the vaccine, at least not until I know what’s in it and am sure that it’s safe. I’m not an anti-vaxxer — I’m happy for you to take the vaccine if you like — it’s just that I trust my own immune system. I’ve got a strong set of lungs from 15 years pounding the streets as a postal worker. I’ve never had the flu vaccine and never had the flu. I very rarely get ill. I will take my chances with the disease, while socially isolating if I catch it. That, surely, is my right. If there is ever a move to enforce the vaccine, as Bill Gates appears to be saying, then I will take that as an attack upon my personal sovereignty and join David Icke, Piers Corbyn and the rest of the “conspiracy cranks” in their next protest.
What all this reminds me of is how divided we have become as a nation. Ever since Brexit there’s been an increasingly noisy and aggressive argument going between various factions across the political spectrum. It was almost certainly Brexit that brought the younger Corbyn down, as Labour members in the south clashed with Labour voters in the north, and the debate grew ever nastier. Covid-19, and the conspiracy theories that surround it, has only added to the general acrimony.
The arguments are characterised by unremitting certainty on all sides. People who knew nothing about virology and the spread of infectious diseases before are suddenly experts. Everyone knows something about everything and everyone is flinging insults about. People have adopted their positions and are looking for information to confirm them in their beliefs. There seems to be a complete inability to listen to other people and their concerns.
Other issues that have raised people’s anger levels in the recent past include alleged anti-semitism in the Labour Party, trans rights and Black Lives Matter. I’m sure more will arise in the future. It’s almost as if the population is being played around its divisions rather than its commonalities.
One of the most interesting things that Icke said was this: “Subjugation and imposition of fascism on the human race worldwide is being run, not by health professionals, but by psychologists. Just down the road there, yards from where we are, is the British government’s Cabinet Office-owned private company called the Behavioural Insights Team, and its job is simply to study human psychology and then to play out what it’s learned, to remodify the behaviour of the population…”
He might have added that one of its weapons is divide and rule. The powers-that-be are exploiting a particular characteristic of human psychology. We are language-driven beings. The quality of language is that it seeks to divide the world into categories. That’s how we navigate our way around our linguistic environment. Language is either/or in its nature. If something is not sweet, it’s sour. If it’s not good, it’s evil. It is up or down, right or left, in front or behind, black or white, male or female, animal or mineral, old or young, living or dead.
The real world, of course, is not like this at all. It is a continuum of ever-evolving dependencies. A tree, for example, is not a distinct and separate organism concerned only with its own advantage: it lives in a deep and symbiotic relationship with all the creatures that surround it, that grow in it and from it and through it: the fungi, the insects, the micro-organisms, the plants and animals that depend upon it. It in turn is dependent upon the elements that nourish and sustain it, the earth, air and water in which it grows. It is also keyed into the dimension of time, through the seasons, which tell it when to grow and when to rest. It is not an object, it is a relationship. It is not a thing, it is a being.
The problem with politics is that it falls into the basic linguistic trap. It splits the world into “us” and “them” and is rarely able to communicate across the divide. If you’re not a socialist, you’re a Tory. If you’re not a Leaver, you’re a Remainer. If you express concern for the plight of the Palestinians, you are an anti-semite. If you ask questions about the pandemic, you are a tin-foil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist. If you are worried about the disease you are “sheeple”.
Everyone is talking and no-one is listening. Everyone is pointing the finger while failing to observe themselves. Everyone is blaming everyone else. So it’s trans v Terfs, black v white, middle class v working class, left v right, woke v asleep, snowflake v gammon, patriot v antifa.
“East is east and west is west, and never the twain shall meet,” as Rudyard Kipling puts it.
The second chapter of the ancient Chinese classic the Tao Te Ching has this to say:
When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.
Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn’t possess,
acts but doesn’t expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.
(Stephen Mitchell translation).
The Tao Te Ching was written sometime in the 6th century BC.
It contains lessons that it seems we have yet to learn.
CJ Stone is an author, columnist and feature writer. He has written seven books, and columns and articles for many newspapers and magazines.
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