Needless to say, we did not heed any of this advice in March of 2020. We instead forged ahead with lockdowns, masks, social distancing, and the rest. When faced with covid, we rejected time-tested principles of public health and embraced instead the untested biosecurity model. We are now living in the aftermath of this choice.
There is a broader legal context for these extra-legal developments in mass surveillance of civilian populations. Since the war on terror began, Western nations have legislatively scaled up their increasingly intrusive networks of mass surveillance (often referred to with the euphemism “bulk collection”).
These new digital surveillance and control mechanisms will be no less oppressive for being virtual rather than physical. Contact tracing apps, for example, have proliferated with at least 120 different apps in used in 71 different states, and 60 other digital contact-tracing measures have been used across 38 countries. There is currently no evidence that contact tracing apps or other methods of digital surveillance have helped to slow the spread of covid; but as with so many of our pandemic policies, this does not seem to have deterred their use.
Participation in the ritual, which lacks pragmatic advantages and requires sacrifice, demonstrates that the collective is higher than the individual. For this portion of the population, it doesn’t matter whether the measures are absurd. Think of walking into a restaurant with a mask on, and removing it as soon as one sits down, for example.
Our ruling class saw in Covid an opportunity to radically revolutionize society: recall how the phrase “the new normal” emerged almost immediately in the first weeks of the pandemic. In the first month Anthony Fauci made the absurd suggestion that perhaps never again would we go back to shaking hands. Never again?
How and why was the bulwark of 20th-century medical ethics abandoned so quickly, and with so little opposition from the medical and scientific establishment? What were the immediate effects? What will be the long-term, consequences of the shift back to a crass utilitarian ethic governing science, medicine, and public health during a pandemic?
In these proposed laws we see the features I’ve sketched in previous posts on the Biosecurity Surveillance Regime unfolding around us: the welding of public health, digital technologies, and the police powers of the state into an invasive model of surveillance and control.
A society grounded on “social distancing” is a contradiction—it’s a kind of anti-society. Consider what happened to us, consider the human goods we sacrificed to preserve bare life at all costs: friendships, holidays with family, work, visiting the sick and dying, worshipping God, burying the dead.