X Close

The danger of safetyism Grasping bureaucracies are using lockdown as an excuse to choke the human spirit

Why should Covid-19 stop us from going to the beach? Credit: Chris Hyde/Getty Images

Why should Covid-19 stop us from going to the beach? Credit: Chris Hyde/Getty Images


May 15, 2020   8 mins

I moved to California last summer. There is a steep hill near my house, an open preserve where I regularly go for hikes. There are features of the trail that appear to have been added to make the course more interesting for mountain bikers: huge jumps and banked curves that flow nicely together. On my hikes, I often pause to mind-surf these features. I enjoyed mountain biking 30 years ago, but I don’t recall anyone being so enterprising as to cut such features into the landscape back then.

When our local, fairly porous version of the Covid lockdown began, suddenly there were more hikers on the trails — there are few other places to go. I also see knots of two or three teenage boys out on the trail with their bikes and shovels, adding new jumps and whatnot. But now the city has declared the trails off-limits to mountain bikers, saying this is somehow made necessary by the virus. The reason offered is that “group rides increase your risk of exposure”. But groups of hikers are benign, apparently.

In the larger sweep of the pandemic’s disruptions, this is surely a minor inconvenience. But the asymmetry in the city’s response can’t but make some residents suspicious, and such suspicion is clearly a wider phenomenon at this moment. In episodes of government by crisis, some interests find themselves more aligned with officialdom than others.

To take my local case, there has long been a pattern of hikers using the levers of local government against mountain bikers, and the virus would seem to provide a fresh pretext for this. There is an aesthetic objection to all things mechanized intruding on “nature” (even on a trail system that must be maintained by chain saws and gas-powered weed whackers), and this purity is more prized by some demographics than by others. But it doesn’t present itself as an aesthetic preference; instead it gets moralised as a concern for safety, or as environmental responsibility. To invoke these concerns is to don a bullet-proof halo of public-spiritedness.

Yet the costs of maximal deference to such concerns fall more heavily on some than on others. This makes virtue a little too easy. I haven’t yet seen hikers out there with shovels maintaining their own trails, as the mountain bikers do, or clearing fallen trees that bock the path. The English philosopher John Locke said that it is by mixing one’s labour with the land that one gains a just title to use it.

Because of the virus, the teenage mountain bikers find themselves expelled from the supervised social setting of school. To judge from the conversations I have overheard as they stop to survey a jump from the top of a ridiculously steep incline, and their exultations at the bottom, they have formed what the Dutch historian Johann Huizinga called a “play community.” Such a community sets its own challenges and adopts its own rules, internal to a group of players who set themselves apart from the larger community. At once rivals and friends, their typical talk consists of boasts and playful insults as they goad one another on to new levels of risk and skill, from which emerge new expressions of creativity. Huizinga found in such scenes the wellsprings of civilization.

But these same scenes present an affront to the organs of social control. There would seem to be an inherent tension between the spirit of play and “safetyism” (I parse this tension more fully in my book Why We Drive, which will be published in the UK in July, with the subtitle On Risk, Freedom and Taking Back Control). Safetyism is a disposition that has been gaining strength for decades and is having a triumphal moment just now because of the virus. Public health, one of many institutions that speak on behalf of safety, has claimed authority to sweep aside whole domains of human activity as reckless, and therefore illegitimate.

I suspect the ease with which we have lately accepted the authority of health experts to reshape the contours of our common life is due to the fact that safetyism has largely displaced other moral sensibilities that might offer some resistance. At the level of sentiment, there appears to be a feedback loop wherein the safer we become, the more intolerable any remaining risk appears. At the level of bureaucratic grasping, we can note that emergency powers are seldom relinquished once the emergency has passed. Together, these dynamics make up a kind of ratchet mechanism that moves in only one direction, tightening against the human spirit.

Acquiescence in this appears to be most prevalent among the meritocrats who staff the managerial layer of society. Deferring to expert authority is a habit inculcated in the “knowledge economy”, naturally enough; the basic currency of this economy is epistemic prestige.

Among those who work in the economy of things, on the other hand, you see greater skepticism toward experts (whether they make their claim on epistemic or moral grounds) and less readiness to accept the adjustment of social norms by fiat ­– whether that means using new pronouns or wearing surgical masks. I am regularly in welding supply stores, auto parts stores and other light-industry venues. Nobody is wearing masks in these places. They are very small businesses: an environment largely free of the moral fashions and corresponding knowledge claims that set the tone in large organisations. There is no HR in a welding shop.

A pandemic is a deadly serious business. But we would do well to remember that bureaucracies have their own interests, quite apart from the public interest that is their official brief and warrant. They are very much in the business of tending and feeding the narratives that justify their existence. Further, given the way bureaucracies must compete for funding from the legislature, each must make a maximal case for the urgency of its mission, hence the necessity of its expansion, like a shark that must keep moving or die. It is clearer now than it was a few months ago that this imperative of expansion puts government authority in symbiosis with the morality of safetyism, which similarly admits no limit to its expanding imperium. The result is a moral-epistemic apparatus in which experts are to rule over citizens conceived as fragile incompetents.

But what if this apparatus were revealed to be not very serious about safety, the very ideal that underwrites its authority? What then?

What if, say, the leadership of WHO and of the public health bodies of the EU were determined to manage  Covid in the crucial, early stages of the pandemic in a way that is compatible with liberal internationalism (hence no travel restrictions), doesn’t offend China (hence no travel restrictions) and affirms our own anti-racism (hence no travel restrictions), even at the expense of arresting the spread of the virus?

What if, in the crucial early stages of the emergency, county health authorities in California, as well as the state’s Department of Education, indeed the whole institutional chorus, were more concerned with preventing “stigma” than with preventing, you know, mass death by asphyxiation?

What if the governor of California were to hold a press conference at the end of April to chastise people going to the beach in Orange County (a Republican hold-out in what is otherwise nearly a one-party state), days after we learned that sunshine kills the virus? What if police are so enterprising as to come out onto the water to arrest solo paddle boarders, but the confined spaces of libraries are re-opened?

We can’t help noticing that libraries are one of those public facilities favoured by… well, by the same people who find hiking virtuous and mountain biking reckless and egotistical.

One further word about beach closings. We see photos taken lengthwise down the beach with telephoto lenses, which has the effect of compressing the depth of field and making the beach look very crowded. The same scenes photographed from above show people keeping a good distance apart, for the most part. But they are not reproduced in the prestige press.

What if, while all this is going on, the most “responsible” voices in the news media dedicate themselves to transforming every factual ambiguity and rival model of the disease into an occasion for political warfare? For example, when Trump, in his clumsy way, repeats what he has heard about doctors experimenting with a low-risk malaria drug to treat Covid, the whole apparatus springs into action to heap opprobrium upon a chemical substance, openly hoping for the experiment’s failure, and calls this Science. But when some other doctors, “quickly acting on their hunches,” try giving men oestrogen to fight the virus, this, according to the New York Times, is the kind of out-of-the-box thinking required by the crisis.

One could go on indefinitely noting such asymmetries. They seem to form a pattern, and the upshot of the pattern is that the voices of the safety-industrial complex seem to defer automatically to the arbiters of high-prestige opinion, who are fully invested these days in political warfare against an avatar of evil, and against the half of the population who voted for him. They seem less concerned with the health of the whole populace than with drawing boundaries between the good people and the bad people, along lines that are by now all too familiar.1

Suppose this pattern were widely noticed. It is likely the pandemic would heighten the crisis of public authority that has been unfolding for some years now in the West. I recently heard David Brooks, one of our most prominent talking heads, express on National Public Radio his hope that the pandemic would give a comeuppance to all those populist haters of institutions, by showing us how important the institutions of public health are.

By all means, let us defer to technocratic competence in times of emergency. The suspicion, however, is that the leadership of “public health” (as opposed to actual doctors and nurses) doesn’t, in fact, take its bearings from the apolitical ideal of technocratic competence. Rather, they appear as party cadres labouring on behalf of the regime of liberal internationalism. Theirs appears to be the worldview expressed by John Lennon in his infantile song ‘Imagine’, or by Immanuel Kant in Perpetual Peace.

To recommend restrictions on travel from China in the early stages of the pandemic would have been ideologically impossible for the WHO, regardless of what epidemiology might dictate. Utopian ideals are not only compatible with callousness about actual human lives, they sometimes demand it — the main thing is to maintain one’s own moral purity. This presents an easy opportunity for a Chinese regime that neither believes in Kant nor listens to John Lennon, but understands perfectly well how a rival society based on abstractions and taboos can be manipulated: accuse various EU functionaries of racism and, voilà, they suppress their own report that details the Chinese Communist Party’s misinformation campaign about the virus.

There would seem some affinity between safetyism and political correctness. Recall the mountain bikers with their jumps. Does putting one’s body at risk in confrontations with the material world strengthen the reality principle in a person’s psyche? There is a certain rude immediacy to physical pain that has a revelatory effect; a broken bone chastises any conceit you may have had that you had a complete grasp of the situation. Political correctness, on the other hand, seems to be an effort to avoid the pollution that comes from noticing reality. This is certainly the safer course, for anyone whose professional life takes place in an institution. It is easiest to maintain this diligence against reality if one remains insulated from those ugly causal chains that unfold in the real world — perhaps as a result of one’s own diktats, if one is highly placed.

Because of our isolation under lockdown, communication between citizens is now more dependent on online platforms than ever. The captains of Silicon Valley are not in an indulgent mood. The CEO of YouTube has declared that “anything that would go against World Health Organization recommendations would be a violation of our policy” and therefore suppressed. Bad advice from misinformed people on the internet is a genuine problem, so one could make a convincing case for some such policy. At the same time, it is clearly also true that this episode of government by emergency has further whetted an appetite for control that has been blossoming among the Good People in the West. Two law professors now declare in The Atlantic that “In the debate over freedom versus control of the global network, China was largely correct, and the U.S. was wrong.”

The pandemic has revealed a growing affinity between Western institutional players and the authoritarian Chinese regime. It is easy to forget that the CCP was once a highly ideological organisation. Today it is basically a crime syndicate that looks upon the norms of “the international community” the way the Sinaloa Cartel might look upon the Girl Scouts.

So the question is, will our ruling apparatus follow a similar trajectory as the pandemic gives them a taste of extended emergency power? At what point do the ceremonies of political correctness become a mere façade, a set of dogmas that nobody actually believes, but which make a useful instrument of social control?

FOOTNOTES
  1.  On 1 May, the New York Times featured a slide show at the top of its homepage with eight images of Covid. Of these, four showed persons of color in the developing world wearing masks, in scenes tinged with despair yet showing heroic mutual care. One more was of a lonely transit worker disinfecting the New York subway, acting in the public interest. The remaining three showed the following: 1. Mask-less white males in a gym in the backward state of Georgia, lifting weights — to maintain their toxic masculinity, presumably. 2.  A telephoto-crowded beach in Orange County littered with careless, mask-less people frolicking in a sea of white privilege. 3.  A sputtering redneck in Michigan, again maskless, confronting a line of masked police and no doubt spewing the ‘rona straight into their faces. However novel the novel Corona virus may be, the objective of the Nation’s Newspaper of Record appears to be to fold this emergency into the longstanding pseudo-emergency of race that has been their pole star since about 2014.

Matthew B Crawford writes the substack Archedelia


Join the discussion


Join like minded readers that support our journalism by becoming a paid subscriber


To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.

Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.

Subscribe
Subscribe
Notify of
guest

58 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Russell Lancaster
Russell Lancaster
4 years ago

Great article.

Particularly like this line (possibly the most succinct summation of PC I have heard):

Political correctness, on the other hand, seems to be an effort to avoid the pollution that comes from noticing reality.

Robin Taylor
Robin Taylor
4 years ago

A thought provoking article.
The media in many respects has a conflict of interest. We see it time and again where there is a pressing issue of major importance. It benefits the media to exaggerate and prolong the ‘debate’ so that it can sell copy. Interesting that a newspaper in Sydney recently photoshopped a photo of a surfing beach at Manly to make it seem that people were not social distancing. The media helps to whip up hysteria, and increasingly Government policy is made ‘on the hoof’ in response to media pressure. Policy implemented quickly is often poor and ill thought through leading to negative and unforeseen consequences. In the case of the lockdown, there are many, many examples of policy leading to illogical removals of freedoms for some beyond mountain biking and surfing. As Matthew Crawford points out, many aspects of the restrictions seem to disproportionately affect the less powerful groups within society. Indeed, it is the less powerful who are exposing themselves to the virus working, doing the non-glamorous but essential jobs, in care homes, supermarkets, running public transport, etc. while office workers carry on in the safety of their own homes. While told that “we are all in this together”, it is clear that some are disproportionately losing their freedoms and lives for the safety and convenience of others. There is also a risk that some of those lost freedoms will not be fully restored when this is all over.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago
Reply to  Robin Taylor

Yes, the behaviour of the MSM during this crisis has been disgusting, even by their appallingly low standards. I have progressively ‘walked away’ from the MSM over the last 20 years and now refuse to fund any of it.

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
4 years ago
Reply to  Robin Taylor

One frustration for MSM in this crisis might be that although their viewing and circulation figures are well up, there is a signifcant downturn in advertising so they cannot capitalise on it.

They certainly whipped up the hysteria which led to the so-called U-turn in Covid policy -a disastrous consequence of media influence- but now they desperately need business to return to normal so they can get the revenue they depend upon for their survival.

Jeremy Reffin
Jeremy Reffin
4 years ago
Reply to  Robin Taylor

Hello. I agree with your comments. However, I have some sympathy for governments making legislative mistakes at the time in that every day counted and they had to move fast. The UK’s death toll is 5 times higher than Germany’s because we were 1 week slower moving to a lockdown – and 100 times higher than Japan because we were a little over 2 weeks slower than them. That is the extraordinary impact of rapid exponential growth. In the UK, courts are now overturning many of the convictions secured by over-zealous police forces in those early weeks and the MSM is holding the government’s feet fairly firmly to the fire on this issue amongst others.

Robin Taylor
Robin Taylor
3 years ago
Reply to  Jeremy Reffin

The UK’s death toll probably has more to do with the lack of planning. By all accounts there were many meetings over the years discussing the possibility of a pandemic but insufficient measures had been put in place to cope effectively. Years of austerity had also reduced capacity within the health service. A big contrast to Korea, Germany and others who were able to act quickly and decisively because they had plans in place and, importantly, the necessary resources at their disposal.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Robin Taylor

“When this is all over”.
No, it is all over now; And we’ve done it ourselves! Wonderful! Who could ever have guessed it?
Consummatum est.

Jon Luisada
Jon Luisada
4 years ago

The flip side to this power grab is the increasing disregard and respect of the institutions that enforce the laws (police, judiciary, other government arms with ‘statutory powers’ ) and those that are deemed to keep us informed (MSM in its various forms) , the latter have become ‘clickbate’ harvesters rather than sources of information.
The relevance of these institutions is no longer a given.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago
Reply to  Jon Luisada

As far as I’m concern the MSM lost its relevance years ago. Most public institutions likewise.

Will Bates
Will Bates
4 years ago

I run a blog covering blood antibody testing and devices.
I was gobsmacked by MSM safetyism after reporting on a research evaluation of rapid antibody test kits, which the researchers said were (for just one quote) “Good to excellent.”
Only to see the NY Times slash the rapid tests as “inconsistent,” “unreliable,” “inaccurate,” etc. ” obviously not understanding, or not reading, but certainly not caring, what was actually written in the report.
It took me some time to puzzle out the syllogism: antibody testing -> some people test positive, showing they’ve had Covid in the past -> these people might think they are immune -> thus may stop social distancing or want to go back to work -> we can’t have that.
So the NYT sees it as its “responsible” public advocacy job to raise “concerns” (read, doubts) about the science all the way down that line: the tests are no good; antibodies may not mean immunity; maybe you can still spread the virus even if you’re not infected. Etc.
All of which might be worth debating, but does the NYT show any interest in such a weighing of evidence on open science issues? Hell no. Their mind is made up until the WHO, or unnamed ‘public health officials,’ give them new guidance.

Wrote about that incident here:

https://medium.com/@wmbates

And on media coverage of another Zombie Covid story (survivors getting re-infected), see:

https://medium.com/@wmbates

Peter KE
Peter KE
4 years ago

Interesting article. In the UK the state has been to big for a long time and is now bigger still with the absurd removal of our civil liberties and an incoherent approach to saving lives. Will we ever get them back? If only we had followed the Swedish approach for the response to the virus and if only we had started on reducing the state with our overbearing civil service and many quangos earlier.

Lindsay Gatward
Lindsay Gatward
4 years ago

Agree with every word – Particularly like the final comment ‘The ceremonies of political correctness……….. dogmas that nobody believes…….but ….useful instrument of social control’ – So Supreme Soviet/Animal Farm/1984/CCP and soon us?

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
4 years ago

“How many fingers am I holding up Winston?” You echoed my on thoughts. A well written article.

Mairi MacThomais
Mairi MacThomais
4 years ago

Powerful writing!

Colin Sandford
Colin Sandford
4 years ago

It won’t be long before we have to fill in a risk assessment and method statement, wear full body armour and PPE before we leave home.

Katherine Kerber
Katherine Kerber
3 years ago

I wish you well. California is beautiful, we lived in west San Jose for many years. If you’re not a community organizer or activist, at some point you’ll be forced to give in to someone or some group that has built up enough “power” to change things and it’s typically a “lockdown” on an activity that seems innocuous enough. It can become oppressive. We biked 3-5 days a week in the Cupertino foothills. I look back and miss it, but after reading your article, I’m sure the situation has grown more controlled and difficult. It’s just life in California, unfortunately. Power-hungry brainiacs ” it’s quite a force to deal with when all you want to do is work off the stress of the day.

hopecrolius
hopecrolius
3 years ago

Safetyism, like political correctness, is the devil spawn of feminism, and of women now being in prominent institutional roles. Mommies fret about safety and say “Wear your golashes. Be safe.” Dads say, “Let’s wrestle. Have fun out there.” No woman ever took a shovel out on a mountain trail and built a jump. This is the purview of the masculine, and a world that has become a place of stultifying nannyism can not tolerate boys, on bikes, carrying shovels, in the fresh air, probably mercifully unhelmeted too, far from feminism’s cold, lifeless clutches.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago

Yes, the way in which Democratic governors in the US (and the left here, to some extent) have seized the opportunity to crush the human spirit is chilling. We have always known that these people are malicious, but even I had not suspected this level of evil. But in the US, at least, I believe the voters are noticing this and will take their revenge. Just this week, In loognie-leftie California of all places, the Republicans flipped a Congressional seat with a substantial swing.

Nice to see Huizinga mentioned. I’ve read a couple of his books but not ‘Homo Ludens’, which is obviously the most relevant here.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

I am frankly astonished at your naivety!
There is no depth, or nor ever has been, to which these ‘people’ will not stoop.
This is a battle where no quarter shall be asked, nor ever given.
The normal translation for Ludens is Games. Gladiatorial Games in the Arena. As ‘they’ said : “Venare, Lavare, Ludere, Ridere, Occ est Vivere”. eg :
‘To Hunt to Bathe to Play to Laugh, that is to Live!’
Sic Gloria Transit Mundi!

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
4 years ago

Well said.

wendajones
wendajones
4 years ago

I’m afraid this article is a little bit too wordy for me to get to grips with, but I do get that it seems to be a very American point of view with apparently a multitude of illogical restrictions to deal with. That would annoy the heck out of me. That is one thing I think Sweden here has managed to avoid (always a lot of criticism here too obviously). The restrictions and recommendations have been largely well-researched and easy to grasp the logic of, as well as taking the health of people in general, especially children and the youth into account. The conclusions he draws seem very far fetched but possibly true. Maybe you have to be American or at least living in the US to be able to judge that.

Simon Mason
Simon Mason
4 years ago
Reply to  wendajones

Sadly I think it rings every bit as true here in France, while friends and family in the UK are also concerned by the tentacles of the state spreading every deeper into everyday lives. The optimist in me believes those in power are trying to do their best while grappling with an impossible situation, the cynic in me believes they are winding the ratchet of control with glee.

opop anax
opop anax
4 years ago
Reply to  Simon Mason

Certainly rings true in Britain. I think this article is wonderful and expresses perfectly the underlying malaise many are feeling at government response to this virus.

Robin Bury
Robin Bury
3 years ago

Perhaps the removal of standard freedoms in the west, though certainly extreme and OTT, is based on ignorance of how to treat this new virulent virus? So the policies vary so much from a fairly relaxed approach in Sweden to drastic measures in South Korea and Taiwan and Germany, Canada. One thing has emerged is that covid19 deaths are highest by far in the age group of over 60s. 95% here in Ontario. So including all under 60 in lockdowns seems to ignore this fact. Confusion reigns and nowhere more than under the headbanger ignoramus in the White House. You call him ‘clumsy’ Matthew. How generous of you!

gbauer
gbauer
4 years ago

Bravo.

Stephen Prescott
Stephen Prescott
4 years ago

This is a really good article. When asked what his guiding principle was, Douglas Mac Arthur answered ‘the defense of the United States of America’. Contrast with today’s version: ‘keeping us safe’. But I’m afraid that there is an even larger fault line at work best described by Michael Anton in ‘The Flight 93 Election’ which is to say the fear of life versus the love of life: This is insane. This is the mark of a party, a society, a country, a people, a civilization that wants to die.

Anto Coates
Anto Coates
3 years ago

I just finished reading The Decadent Society by Ross Duthout. It’s an interesting contemplation of what becomes of “a civilisation that wants to die.”

opop anax
opop anax
4 years ago

Thank you so much for this article. It shows signs of robust sanity which is widely lacking around the world.

Sheryl Rhodes
Sheryl Rhodes
3 years ago

Very interesting. I was especially struck by the footnote about the NYT slideshow, and by this quote: At what point do the ceremonies of political correctness become a mere façade, a set of dogmas that nobody actually believes, but which make a useful instrument of social control? It’s important to point out, as this article does, that the imposition of political correctness and of the dictates of the ever-encroaching Left is a one-way ratchet.

lindaclardy
lindaclardy
3 years ago

Since I am in the category of the vulnerable population, I wanted to add my two cents from my perspective. At first, we didn’t know what the novel corona virus was or how dangerous it was or even how it was spread. It may have made sense to be extremely cautious while the heads of state made preparations for the worst case scenario. Some leaders responded very quickly while others took a wait and see attitude and some, like Sweden decided to just plow through with as much caution as possible without damaging the economy any more than necessary. They must have a much better communication system (news outlet) than we have here in the US because they saw that they had a plan and were willing to follow it. First, they protected the older and sicker among them. Then they decided as individuals how much caution to use in order to protect themselves. Yes, their death toll is higher than other Scandinavian counties, but we will not know the whole story until the crisis is past, because Denmark, Finland and Norway will have to open their economies eventually. People can’t shelter in place indefinitley. The virus will still be with us and the economic damage will have been done. Also, in the total death count they will have to include the additional suicides and drug and alcohol related deaths.
Here in the US our course of action is mainly determined by the political response which has been horrible. Politicians are likely scared to death to open the economy too soon or to stay at home too long. Whatever they do they will face criticism from the media unless they are far left politicians like so many who seem to wield power over their constituents that is far beyond necessary. Those on the right who have dared to open too soon face criticism from the right and the left. Those who do it right are confused about how to decide which businesses are allowed to open and when. President Trump made a big mistake when he allowed the doctors to dictate the terms, but he is accused of being callous when he tries to moderate their demands.
People should give President Trump credit for closing the border quickly and for involving the private sector in order to get the equipment that the governors were supposed to have on hand and providing more hospital capacity than they needed.

Simon Adams
Simon Adams
3 years ago
Reply to  lindaclardy

Sweden’s medical executive is apparently independent from the political executive, which may be worth looking at. Nonetheless, both the UK and US seem to be driven by the political agendas of the media, which is a big problem if you want a calm and rational public debate.

Before we had things like “Media Studies” at university, journalists used to strive for a kind of detached and robust reporting that informed. Now it seems to be all about “exclusive” that “expose” something outrageous, the more outrageous the better they’ve done their job.

Maybe the “Media Studies” is not the reason, and its the 24/7 news cycle and the competition for an ever dwindling audience. But it doesn’t feel like there are any grown up conversations in this environment. In the UK we have the funding model for the NHS, triple locked pensions, and all kinds of unsustainable things you just can’t talk about. In the US, there are gun laws, the powerful lobby groups that control senators etc.

I’d take all of it over Russia, China, Turkey, KSA etc, but we should be better than this. Sweden seems far more grown up.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
4 years ago

Will school children need PPE for PE?

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

What about RE? Where is God in all this tosh?

Millard J Melnyk
Millard J Melnyk
4 years ago

I love neologisms. Making up words isn’t just a sign of intelligence, it’s a sign of intelligent development. The more we understand, the more words we need to communicate the intricacies of our understanding.

However there is an existing word that encompasses safetyism and puts it into context. This will be a connection few want to make.

The word is cultism.

Safetyism is one if the primal drivers in the formation of cults and, if unresolved, always creates a cult — even if just a cult of one dichotomized soul scaring the shit out of themself and ordering themself around like a child.

“Cult” as I’m using it is a clearly identifiable entity with unmistakable characteristics. At this point, the only reason it isn’t clear to most people is that so much that we consider normal and necessary is actually cultic.

Paul Dobbs
Paul Dobbs
3 years ago

h w
h w
3 years ago

Here in BC, Canada, long term care homes are closed to families and the care workers they hire personally to care for their loved ones. This is not a law; it is “advice” , “recommendation” of the provincial health officer, a technocrat who now has a large following as a mother/auntie substitute. The result is that elders – the most vulnerable – are suffering, perhaps more likely to die sooner, lacking love, care, and supervision of the care they are receiving, and the staff cannot keep up with the resulting increased work load. The obvious implication of this virus (and many others) is that institutionalizing humans is unwise from a contagion, health, economic, and humanitarian points of view. We need to support families and friends rather than institutional settings to do and provide for the care work for their own elders, kids, handicapped in family-controlled space.

Robin Taylor
Robin Taylor
3 years ago

On the safetyism agenda, it is interesting to note how 7-8 weeks ago, under media pressure, the Government closed schools to stop the spread of the virus. Now, because we need to get the economy moving, we are all being told that it is safe to send children to school. Indeed, some of the same media outlets that were clamouring to get schools closed, are now criticising teachers and unions for questioning whether it is safe to send children back. The virus is not a direct threat to the next generation but, like the young mountain bikers in the article, they lack power and are just pawns in a game that they will have to pay for later in life.

Mike B
Mike B
3 years ago

At what point do the ceremonies of political correctness become a mere façade, a set of dogmas that nobody actually believes, but which make a useful instrument of social control?

Late to the party, but Theo. Dalyrmple’s comments on PC from 8/15/05 are apropos:

Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, nor to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is to co-operate with evil, and in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

(“Our Culture, What’s Left Of It”, Frontpage.com interview w. Jaime Glasov now lost forever in the wastes of the internet.)

Safety nazis is what we usually call these folks. Anybody who works for a living has had to deal with these kind of bureaucrats from Labor & Industry for quite a while.
Obviously their numbers and reach have metastasized due to our ongoing panic pandemic. All in all it’s about the technocracy. Unaccountable and unelected experts are ushering in the new global order. Welcome to the new AbNormal, citizen.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
1 year ago

Yikes, this article was written two years ago. I couldn’t wade through it all, I stopped at the point where Crawford referred to John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ as infantile. Childlike perhaps, but that’s where the sweetness is, the innocent longing for what might be through the unjaded eyes of a child. To have lost that capacity is surely something to grieve along with what has been lost.

Paul R. Maulden
Paul R. Maulden
4 years ago

Sorry to say it, but from across the pond this looks like a FoxNews hit piece with more syllables. But the mode of dissemblance is the same: half-truths twisted into their opposite.
For example, the author claims that “opprobrium” is heaped on a “low-risk” drug (chloroquine)
while the New York Times applauds other doctors who “experiment” with a different drug,
estrogen. Lazy readers won’t bother to check the NYT story which describes the doctors
REQUESTING CLINICAL TRIALS for the drug — just as they had for chloroquine– NOT
experimenting with them as the author suggests. You see, clinical trials for chloroquine are
exactly what is missing as every informed person knows by now. Crawford’s tale is designed
to enhance the “us versus the elitists” narrative over the actual “us versus science” reality embodied in untested Covid /chloroquine therapy.
I am both a mountain biker and hiker. The elitism, hypocrisy, resentments between the two
groups which Crawford pivots around is absent where I live. I suspect it is where you live, too.
Here in the mountains of Tennessee we call this “hogwash”. You may have another word for it.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

Here in the English shires we would say “bollocks”.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

Here in the English shires, we would say nonsense. Anything stronger or of a more vernacular nature, would be prohibited by the Censor.

Paul Dobbs
Paul Dobbs
3 years ago

Further regarding the idea that racism is a “pseudo emergency.” Have you noticed that the mainstream narrative, in textbooks and even in US National-Parks museum displays describes the acquisition of the SouthWest and California as “Westward Expansion,” despite the fact that for decades well-documented histories have been describing that acquisition as conquest. Have you noticed that the overwhelming majority of the descendants of the people who were conquered remain at lower socio-economic levels, and more importantly do not control the natural resources of the region? Are these facts not evidence that racism is an emergency in America?

2yyswise4u
2yyswise4u
3 years ago

The article by Mathew comes across to me as a selfish spoilt boy who wants everything for himself and sod the rest . I expect it has escaped him that the more people who are creeping off to play games in the hills are included in his silliness . It has not obviously occurred to him that he and his mind set are likely to stealing lives by their actions . The more immature ones who go tearing about up & down the bike tracks are far more likely to injure them selves & need professional medical help thus diverting much need life supporting medical aid from those in dire need of it .

Wait till six of seven of your close family & friends end up snuffing it due to Corona & perhaps you’ll have grown up enough to understand that this freedom to do as you please is truly detrimental to society the majority of the time .

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  2yyswise4u

Hold on! Aren’t you going ‘over the top’ a bit?
This is not the Black Death. It is in fact, as I’m sure you know, only a rather mild dose of traditional flu (the old man’s friend).
It selectively slaughters the old and to lapse into the vernacular, the knackered. Is that not so?
So cheer up, much worse is to come, but not for some time, hopefully.

Dave Tagge
Dave Tagge
3 years ago
Reply to  2yyswise4u

As Mark correctly points out, David is over the top about the risk of this virus, particularly its risk to relatively healthy and relatively young people.

Also, I think that even at the time this article was written (mid-May) it had become clear that brief periods of contact outdoors present a very low risk of infection. The main way this virus spreads is when people spend a lot of time close to each other inside, particularly enhanced by factors such as singing (generating lots of droplets) or the chilled air and tight quarters in meat processing facilities.

Paul Dobbs
Paul Dobbs
3 years ago

In his pursuit of safetyism the author chooses to attack, in his footnote, the New York Times for allegedly creating a “pseudo emergency of race.” He offers no support for his judgment. Almost any way you look at it, America is probably more integrally infected with racism than with Covid 19. Is the author familiar with the histories of slavery, reconstruction, Jim-Crowism, and the civil rights movement? Has he read Frederick Douglas, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, or Ta-Nehisi Coates? Does he know that sociological studies still consistently find discrimination in the real estate and banking industries? Does he have any friends of color who tell him they feel safe and nurtured in American society? Mine say quite the opposite. As a person who passes for “White,” I myself feel harmed by racism. The New York Times may make mistakes, but they are correct to spotlight racism where ever reporters find it. It pollutes our national life. It endangers the lives of adults and children. It is an emergency.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago
Reply to  Paul Dobbs

What dreadful bien pensant drivel. Your nation is the guarantor of a Free World. Racism is a ridiculously fringe issue that is easily dismissed by strength of character.
Do you think, for example, you would get, as you say “a better deal ” from the Chinese?
Pull yourself together, this is no time for such nauseating self pity.

Dr Irene Lancaster
Dr Irene Lancaster
4 years ago

These naïve views of ‘freedom’ will not help in the end. Those countries which are now beginning to experience a drop in infections were very strict with lockdown at the outset, punished people who went their own way and are now seeing results, with children back at school and the work-force also slowly getting back to their jobs. Unfortunately, neither the UK, (run by a Merrie Monarch at present), nor the USA, seems to be doing as well as countries who understand the meaning of discipline. This is not a time for emphasis on empty libertarianism or money-making, but for safeguarding the health of the nation. Sadly, few leaders or pundits seem to care about the health of individuals. Sweden, by the way, is long and slender with a tiny population and miniscule demographic density. It is an outrider in the world in many ways. I would not include her, or countries with a population of 5 million or less (like New Zealand for instance) in the equation.

Joey Lemur
Joey Lemur
4 years ago

Convenient that you would just dismiss Sweden’s results as simply a function of their population size and low density. Are you aware that most of the places in the USA that are clamoring for the economic suicide to end ALSO live in areas that have lower population and low density? Your slip is also showing with the term “naïve views of ‘freedom'” (nice touch to put freedom in quotes, as if those who disagree with you somehow don’t even understand what freedom IS).

Mads Naeraa-Spiers
Mads Naeraa-Spiers
4 years ago

The Stockholm area, where the vast majority of cases/deaths are, is medium to high density.
Just clarifying.

Dr Leah Remeika-Dugan
Dr Leah Remeika-Dugan
3 years ago

Withdraw my comment on the basis that I wish to preserve my anonymity please – do not publish it.

Mark Corby
Mark Corby
3 years ago

Sweden has a population of 10.3 million, plus 1.6 million live in the Stockholm Urban Area.
It maybe “long and slender” but by European standards it is not “tiny”.
So, is it that you just can’t stomach Sweden’s very pragmatic approach to this grossly inflated synthetic ‘crisis’?

T J Putnam
T J Putnam
4 years ago

‘Safetyism’ is used here to set up respect for objective consequences as a bogeyman by associating it with external control on the playful side of human nature. External controls are superfluous where respect for objective consequences is generally part of common sense. With coronavirus it’s not the over 70s who need to be restricted, they largely get the point. It’s those young at heart types struggling to break free that can’t be trusted to act wisely for their own good or anyone else’s, they’re the ones who remind us of the need for controls.

Jean Redpath
Jean Redpath
4 years ago
Reply to  T J Putnam

This kind of thinking has led in South Africa to a lockdown ban on the sale of cigarettes (because smokers can’t look after their own lungs, and share cigarettes, thus spreading infection) and alcohol (because people might get drunk at home and hurt other people, and take up hospital beds).

In the first 5 weeks, outside exercise was also banned, because we couldn’t be trusted to do it safety.

Where does this logic stop? One may as well ban people under 25 from driving because they are more likely to be involved in fatal accidents. Or ban sex because it might transmit HIV.

Andrew Harvey
Andrew Harvey
4 years ago
Reply to  T J Putnam

Except that the demands placed on the “young at heart” aren’t in their own interest. Coronavirus is irrelevant to anyone under 40, but they’re being asked to sacrifice their livelihoods to save very privileged baby boomers. We all need to be mindful of this generational inequality.

Juilan Bonmottier
Juilan Bonmottier
4 years ago
Reply to  T J Putnam

I have the greatest sympathy for the ‘young at heart’ in this -confined and restricted by a hysterical response to a virus which will not (in the vast, vast majority of cases) cause them any serious damage. Their lives put on hold, their efforts in study furloughed, their progression through life postponed indefinitely and yet castigated as feckless and irresponsible. If they are ‘struggling to break free’ as you put it then I applaud them for it.

Dave Tagge
Dave Tagge
3 years ago
Reply to  T J Putnam

TJ Putnam expresses exactly the softly authoritarian nanny-statism that is, from what I can tell, the dominant worldview of public health officials in the U.S. even in normal times. They generally have a very narrow view of life that focuses solely on health outcomes without giving much thought to the inherent value of leaving people free to make their own choices.