November 30, 2021 - 4:14pm

Paul Kingsnorth sees the vaccine wars as symptomatic of a bigger division between two fundamentally different world views: he calls them “thesis” and “antithesis.” When it comes to Covid, “thesis” is the establishment viewpoint: that lockdowns are needed to contain the virus, masks work, vaccines are safe, and people who question them are wrongheaded or worse. When Covid-19 first struck, Kingsnorth took the “thesis” viewpoint.

But over the last few months, his perspective changed. As he writes in today’s UnHerd, the crystallising moment arrived when he woke up to the news that the Austrian government had ‘interned an entire third of the population’. This move, he writes, sent a ‘chill down my spine’.

The “antithesis” view can be summed up as: lockdowns are not needed, masks do not work, the safety and efficacy of the vaccines are being oversold, vaccine passports will not only fail but further segregate society, and in the near future we can expect Giradian scapegoating of the unvaccinated. In other words, we are positioned on the precipice of a slippery slope that leads towards increasingly draconian biopolitical control measures, the grip of which is unlikely to release even once the pandemic is over.

In a conversation with Freddie Sayers on this week’s UnHerdTV, he explains this division and the bigger epistemological divides it reveals. “People are arguing about vaccines,” he says, “but they’re really under the surface arguing about what kind of person you are if you have taken these things, whether you’re a good or a bad person, or clean or unclean one”.

In Kingsnorth’s view, each of us has a line that cannot be crossed. And his has now been reached:

Conversations about creating a society in which you can only access many of its services with a digital passport that explains that you had a particular medication — that’s a Rubicon. We’ve never had anything like this before, we’ve never had the technology to do it….I’ve been watching this for a long time, as we all have. And I think my personal Rubicon was watching what happened in Austria.
- Paul Kingsnorth, UnHerdTV

On his fears:

It’s the fear of galloping authoritarian control. And the fear more broadly… is that a pre-existing trend, which we could all see, towards technological control, monitoring and compliance in society. The use of everything from social media, to smartphone apps, to algorithms, to artificial intelligence, to push us towards a ‘machine society’, which is controlled, monitored, everybody is compliant. And we have to effectively create a smart world where everything’s online, including our bodies and including our homes. This stuff’s all been on the agenda for a very long time, there’s no secret about it. That was happening anyway, that’s the direction we’ve been moving in.
- Paul Kingsnorth, UnHerdTV

On the Chinafication of the west:

There’s no conspiracy needed to see that the way that this is being managed, through technology, through the vaccine as a techno-fix, through authoritarian mandates, and QR codes that you have to scan to go to the pub, all of that stuff is taking us into a normalisation of ourselves as acceptable, digital members of society. And we move towards… a Chinafication of the West, where we’re basically walking into a social credit system. And if people have now normalised scanning their smartphone to go anywhere with their QR code that tells them they’re healthy, what gets added to that? Is it your insurance details? Is it your social media profile, whether you’ve said anything bad and got mobbed today?
- Paul Kingsnorth, UnHerdTV

On the Brexit parallels:

It’s feeding into pre-existing ideas about whether you trust authority or not. So in Britain, I get a real sense that this is feeding into the Brexit division… We know that the so-called Remainers, not all of them but many of them, are from the elites. And we know that as the position of every aspect of business, politics, the establishment media, etc. They lost. That was an existential crisis for them. They decided to deal with the existential crisis by demonising the Leave voters as fascists, racists, bigots, and ignorant people who needed to be educated. And then along comes this other issue, which is also about institutional trust. Because broadly speaking, the thesis position is people who trust what the science is said to be, and what the government says, and what the public health advisors say, and is very suspicious of any dissent.
- Paul Kingsnorth, UnHerdTV

On the shifting technological Overton window: 

I never thought we would be in the position of having to argue that we should not isolate a third of the people in our culture for medical reasons. Or indeed argue that we shouldn’t censor the media, so that we shut out dangerous decisions. It’s a little bit like the ongoing conversation about free speech, which I suppose we all thought was settled, and then turned out really not to be. So it’s almost like everything’s up for grabs now. Because somehow as the social structures break down, the wild desire for war and authoritarianism is coming out. On all sides as well by the way, this is not to one side or the other.
- Paul Kingsnorth, UnHerdTV

On the decline of a symbolic story in the West:

A religious story ties a culture together, it gives it a symbolic meaning. And our symbolic meaning was the Christian story. And we started to abandon that in the 18th century, and we moved into another story with a different symbolic meaning. And this was the story of progress. […] That started to break down really in the 20th century. It wasn’t really sustainable to talk about progress after the Holocaust. So Christendom broke down as our source of symbolic meaning. Progress has broken down as our source of symbolic meaning. So we’re a society in the West that doesn’t have a source, we don’t know who we are, we don’t know what to believe in.
- Paul Kingsnorth, UnHerdTV

On cooling the conversation:

The obvious thing to do would be for both sides to leave their extremists to the extremes and actually try to talk to each other. You don’t have to believe that this is a conspiracy to kill everybody. Neither do you have to believe that everybody who doesn’t like vaccines is a neo-fascist. You can just leave those people to scream on Twitter, and try to have a conversation. And at a personal level, that’s something everybody can do.
- Paul Kingsnorth, UnHerdTV