Source: Jennifer Jones

America’s bipolar approaches to COVID—with one side seeking totalitarianism, health paranoia, and division, and the other side seeking personal liberty—remind us that the lessons of history are not easily learned. If we are to return to a normal America, one that encourages people to be mentally resilient when it comes to their physical health and is predicated upon health autonomy, we have very little time to stop the modern-day American despots.

The 20th century was defined, in significant part, by despotic leaders implementing propaganda campaigns to vilify certain groups of people deemed dirty or diseased. The despots didn’t accomplish these campaigns at once but, instead, did so slowly, by conditioning one group of people to believe their ills were caused by another group of people, while conditioning that second group of people to accept increasing levels of human rights violations. Leaders and governments, often working with the healthcare community, carried out campaigns to divide nations and eradicate those deemed “unclean” for the country’s “welfare” and the “future good.”

Today, the same divisive, unrelenting propaganda tactics that past fascists and tyrants used are producing a divided world and prompting actions by some that border on obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). What was once considered hypochondriac behavior—masking, social distancing, and repeated hand washing—has become normalized. It identifies the good citizen, even in the face of a waning, weakened virus, heavily mutated from its original strain and far less deadly.

Many people have not only accepted the new hypochondria protocols, but they have also embraced them as talismanic actions that ward off death. Society, the government, the medical community, and the media have cultivated these actions in the general population. The result? Normalizing the fear of being close to another person because the latter carry germs and disease.

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These OCD thought processes have been driving the response to the COVID pandemic since the first few months of 2020 and have controlled our lives for nearly two years now. Fear, emanating from a faulty risk meter, has created a bondage characterized by compulsive behaviors and irrational thought processes, all propelled and maintained by an endless cycle of variants. Many, in exchange for a false sense of safety garnered from following every edict and guideline, have willingly abandoned their freedoms for this promised “salvation” from COVID.

In his recently released book, Where Are We Now? The Epidemic as Politics, Giorgio Agamben observes that

With the so-called pandemic, things went further: what American political analysts called the ‘Security State’ — which was established in response to terrorism — has now given way to a health-based paradigm of governance that we term ‘biosecurity’. It is important to understand that biosecurity, both in its efficacy and in its pervasiveness, outdoes every form of governance that we have hitherto known.  As we have been able to see in Italy — but not only here — as soon as a threat to health is declared, people unresistingly consent to limitations on their freedom that they would never have accepted in the past. We are facing a paradox: the end of all social relations and political activity is presented as the exemplary form of civic participation.

You are the ideal citizen if you avoid others, wear a cloth on your face, and take as many jabs as the government deems necessary. Every citizen’s freedom to make healthy choices has been replaced with a legal obligation to be healthy—an obligation that must be fulfilled at all costs, without considering the individual, and without liability for those pushing these “healthy measures” when they cause harm.

Image: Two paths, edited with text. Piqsels.

This has created tunnel vision. Many have disregarded the fact that hundreds of thousands of people die annually from cancers, obesity, starvation, and medical errors in numbers that far exceed the current pandemic. Instead, they hyper-focus on the threat the media constantly raises of COVID, COVID, COVID.

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Some, guided by their dear leaders, even go so far as to chastise those who may dare to question the mandates and edicts. They hurl insults, attack the questioners’ humanity by claiming they are the cause of the ills, shun them from participating in basic daily activities in a theatrical display of morally superior citizenship, and even publicly shame them.

It’s no wonder emotions are running high. Given the less-than-stellar outcomes of the edicts and vaccines in the past year, coupled with what science has learned about COVID since its emergence two years ago, internal conflicts and cognitive dissonance are bound to arise. Even those who willingly took the vaccine and the booster now question why natural immunity is widely and routinely ignored, why antibody testing is not encouraged, and why the government and hospitals ignore or even block safe and effective therapeutics.

Why is the vaccine pushed as the only answer to an incredibly complex and ever-changing situation and touted as the way to end the pandemic when it does not stop contracting or transmitting the virus? Why is the second dose of the vaccine pushed on those who had a severe adverse reaction to the first dose? Why are vaccine companies immune from liability for injuries their products cause? Why are adverse events and deaths reported after vaccinations ignored or brushed aside as an acceptable casualty count?

Most elected leaders will not answer or they will ignore these questions, even as they continue to push us further and further down the rabbit hole of edicts and mandates, whether for power or to salvage their pride. Certainly, they refuse to admit their mistakes or acknowledge their faults.

As C.S. Lewis wrote in God In The Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (a quotation many of us have read more than once this year), “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. …those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” After close to two years of decisions being made for our own good, his words could not be more poignant.

At this point in the pandemic, there are two distinct paths: (1) Continue down the government’s rabbit hole of lockdowns, vaccine passports, triple jabs, quadruple jabs, segregation, masking, isolation, and divisive rhetoric erroneously blaming one group of people for the woes of the pandemic or (2) common-sense risk acceptance predicated on the belief that medical autonomy based upon being an informed consumer is a God-given right.

One would think that our political leaders, looking at the failed outcomes flowing from their policies and at the number of people clamoring for liberty, would abandon their top-down, one-size-fits-all approach to this pandemic. Too many of us have realized that basing decisions around the idea of being germ-free and safe will never lead to health or happiness and will always destroy freedom. This insight is what allows Americans to return to normal life with individuals making their own calls about acceptable risk.

There’s still time to learn from history to avoid dividing society into citizens and pariahs—especially when the “pariahs” are the ones making sense. It is not too late to embrace the lessons of the past, as well as the lessons learned in the present so that all Americans can overcome discordant and unrealistic fears.