IT IS HARD to overstate the polarising effect on society of the March 2020 lockdown and other Government policies implemented under emergency powers to ostensibly contain the spread of COVID. The Government succeeded in achieving compliance with its policies by making an overwhelming majority terrified of the virus while a small minority were terrified of the Government’s success in terrorising the nation. A large majority were quickly convinced by the over-exaggerated threat of the virus to comply with destructive policies while a small minority became convinced that the Government’s policies, far from addressing health concerns, would guarantee lasting damage to our health, society, economy and civil liberties.
Those who did not succumb to the Government’s fear campaign were forced to examine their values against the backdrop of such polarised views and to re-assess what really mattered to them. Notwithstanding their deep scepticism about whether lockdowns and other measures were effective in “saving lives”, sceptics of the official narrative questioned the right of the state to pawn the nation’s and individuals’ quality of life and liberty in exchange for unproven gains in mitigating a health threat.
We felt that it was important to understand the motivations of those who opposed the Government’s edicts, to try to characterise these dissenting voices and to understand how these individuals related to the edicts. This is particularly important considering the suppression and vilification of these voices.
A substantial body of academic work in this area already exists1–13 but almost all of it used questionnaire-based methods. Such study designs prevent participants from elaborating on their views or justifying the choices they made. This meant that opposition to, and non-compliance with lockdowns, distancing, masking and vaccination would never be understood through the lens of the participants’ self-professed beliefs and values since these were never elicited in the existing studies.
On the contrary, some studies appeared to have been designed to interpret participants’ compliance with or dissent from government mandates as a dubious proxy for mental health. They inevitably concluded that those who objected to the official narrative were psychologically unstable because non-compliance was, by default, correlated with negative character traits. In this pathologising of dissent, we can draw a parallel with the Soviet Union’s post-Stalin era in which a practice known as punitive psychiatry was widely employed to suppress political dissidents.
In lockstep with the academic class, mainstream journalism has made no attempt to understand or communicate with those who opposed lockdowns and other mandates. This failure, combined with the subsequent ratcheting up of the coercion and vilification of those who did not wish to have a COVID vaccine, compelled us to enter the vacuum left by academics and journalists by asking those opposed to the Government’s COVID controls and mandates what they truly thought.
We interviewed a sample of people and applied systematic qualitative and sociological methods to determine trends in responses. The result was a new study, “Looking into their eyes: a cross section of some people opposed to the official COVID narrative” (available as a preprint on the Zenodo server).
We discussed a variety of issues with participants, such as attitudes to lockdown and vaccination, and elicited views on what COVID meant to them. We then analysed the conversations and were able to present a perspective not revealed by any mainstream press outlet or academic journal.
These are some of the key findings from our study:
Sceptic values and beliefs
Our sample of eleven participants consisted of people in their 30s through to their 70s, either working, retired or unemployed; single, partnered or divorced. All quotes in italics are from our participants.
When participants were asked to describe themselves in their own words, their responses were inconsistent with the negative character traits (principally narcissism) which were reported in mainstream journalism and the academic studies we have critiqued.
They described themselves as “run of the mill people”, or they simply didn’t have “much to say [about themselves]”. A minority of participants mentioned that they felt that they were “outliers” or that they “didn’t fit in”.
The importance of values such as “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you” was expressed by participants. Unease with rule-breaking, reciprocity in interactions and personal responsibility were conveyed in statements such as these:
“I’m not somebody who would naturally want to go against the law or do anything that could possibly harm anyone else.”
“Tell the truth, don’t be cruel and treat people as you’d want them to treat you, as you’d want to be treated yourself.”
“I don’t believe that other people should stop living their lives and suffer to keep me safe. It’s up to me to keep me safe, as best I can, that’s how I see it.”
“All life is precious, whether it be animal or human.”
While the lockdown-critical viewpoint has typically been smeared as the domain of selfish people, their expressed respect for the autonomy and welfare of others suggests quite the opposite.
Perspectives on lockdowns
Participants were opposed to lockdown policies for a number of reasons:
“Lockdowns: are they safe? No they’re not.”
A view commonly expressed was that blanket lockdowns were disproportionate for a disease as age- and risk-stratified as COVID-19 and that lockdowns have considerable collateral effects.
One of our participants put it rather simply: “This idea that we should just throw everybody under the bus for something that is age stratified and quite clearly so, seems so fundamentally wrong to me.“
“You need a very good reason to throw out all the calmly planned approaches to dealing with a pandemic, which we had in the locker.”
Participants took issue with how the lockdown policies were implemented, in that earlier guidelines on pandemic planning had been discarded in favour of an unprecedented, blanket lockdown approach. Policies informed by science will evolve as the science evolves. However, societal values should also have a prominent role in policy formulation and this was noticeably absent:
“I think it’s just so wrong. We’re supposed to live in a democracy. And we are tumbling towards totalitarianism.”
“It’s been quite an interesting exercise in realising how statistics and data can be manipulated, subtly, to show something entirely different to what it actually shows.”
Public opinion was heavily influenced by statistics, graphs and data like the innocuous looking “flatten the curve” graphs representing how the lockdown was supposed to work, through to the “graph of doom” that bounced the UK into its second lockdown in November 2020.
How data was represented was of concern to our participants and in some cases this triggered their first suspicions about the lockdown approach:
“Back in the early days, it was death figures. I think that’s what made me get a little bit suspicious, because depending on where you listened to the news, there were different figures and my first thought was “surely, 10 people dead are going to be 10 people dead, regardless of who was reporting it.” And that happened a few times because I was keeping a track, and that’s what made me sort of fall onto the sceptic side.”
“A frightened population is a compliant population.”
The fear-based messaging used to increase compliance with lockdown policy was discussed, with expressions like “psychological warfare” being used to describe it. Many participants believed that such fear-based messaging was effective in gaining compliance and was also emotionally damaging.
Consequences – and a small step towards recovery
An erosion of trust in the authorities, experts, and ultimately in their fellow citizens, was cited by participants as one of the negative consequences of the COVID measures. This was evidenced in statements like these:
“It almost feels like the likely default for people now is fearful or, you know, self-righteous over things that they’ve got completely wrong. It’s just normal for me to see people that way now.”
“Before all this, you’d say, “well, this is nonsense, you know, people are never going to go along with this.” And yet, here we are. Nothing can surprise me. Absolutely nothing can surprise me.”
“It’s definitely changed my opinion of people and I don’t think that will ever go away, now…. It’s irreversible isn’t it really… I get the feeling that it has created a big wedge.”
“I have lost respect for people who I respected previously. It’s made me more avoidant. I will avoid interaction with anyone that I’m not comfortable with. (long pause) That’s really what it’s done. It’s made me more avoidant.”
Participants’ statements clearly indicate a widening rift between people across the COVID divide, with pessimism expressed as to how this will pan out in future.
It is our view, that to truly recover from the disaster of the past two and a half years, we must start to listen to one another. The arguments of those in favour of COVID restrictions have obviously dominated the discourse but the other side must be heard. Looking into their eyes, a 2022 study which is our riposte to the slogan deployed in the Government’s COVID campaign, aims to give a voice to censored dissenters.
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Raminder Mulla is scientist by trade and training, with a PhD in chemistry. Over the past two years he has written about the dangers of government policies for COVID containment. He has been published in outlets such as The Conservative Woman, Off-Guardian, Left Lockdown Sceptics. He keeps a web presence at https://chc08rm.net .
Amy Willows has studied psychology and psychotherapy, and has a particular interest in the relationship between psychic and group processes. Since the first COVID lockdown in China, she has been talking about the dangers and immorality of mandatory isolation, and demonstrating to oppose the lockdowns in England.
Rusere Shoniwa is a writer providing content for Holding The Line (Journalists Against Covid Censorship) and Left Lockdown Sceptics. He has also been published in TCW and The Daily Sceptic (co-authoring with Raminder and Amy). His interviews with prominent figures from the sceptical community, including James Corbett, Fabio Vighi and Dr Sam White, have proved popular. He blogs at https://plagueonbothhouses.com
Photo of woman interviewing sceptic By fizkes from Adobe Stock.
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