Covid, Totalitarianism, & The Machine
The English novelist and essayist Paul Kingsnorth started his Substack newsletter, The Abbey of Misrule, earlier this year. Subscribing to it is one of the best decisions I’ve made in 2021. In his latest reflection on how the global reaction to Covid is ushering us into a dystopian world, Kingsnorth ponders the meaning of the World Economic Forum’s “Great Reset” project. The latest Kingsnorth post is one he characterizes thus:
I want to look at the story the Machine is telling us about these times. I want to look at the world we are being rapidly steered into, as covid-19 becomes a kind of techno-political sandbox: a testing-ground for new ways of being human in an increasingly post-human world.
Kingsnorth dives into the Great Reset by reading the book advocating it authored by Klaus Schwab, head of the WEF (the Davos people). He writes that the book is both boring and sinister, in the sense that the big plans globalists like Schwab have for the world are dull, yet deeply dystopian. Kingsnorth:
The covid event, explains Schwab, has shown that ‘we live in a world in which no-one is really in charge.’ For plenty of us, this might sound like a good thing, but for globalist thinkers like Schwab it is a problem to be solved. ‘There cannot be a lasting recovery without a global strategic framework of governance’, he writes. Nation states and their kindly allies in the ‘global business community’ must unite to ‘build back better’ (you may have heard this somewhere before). What does this mean? It means that there is no going back.
While ‘some of the old habits will certainly return’ after the pandemic ends, writes Schwab, ‘many of the tech behaviours that we were forced to adopt during confinement will through familiarity become more natural.’ Home working, digital monitoring of employees by their companies, Zoom meetings and e-deliveries, not to mention the whole structure of the QR-coded ‘vaccine passport’ system: much of this is likely to remain in the new normal that covid has created. In the reset future, we will reconsider things which once would have been second-nature: things like spending time with our loved ones. Why, asks Schwab, would we endure ‘driving to a distant family gathering for the weekend’ when ‘the WhatsApp family group’ (though admittedly ‘not as fun’) is nevertheless ‘safer, cheaper and greener’? Why indeed?
This is the essence of the Great Reset: the construction of a future which is at once controlled and catatonic, dystopian and dull, monitored and monotonous beyond bearing. A future in which global corporations are free to build the world they have long desired: a borderless, interconnected market technocracy, in which each human individual is a tracked, traced and monitored production and consumption machine – all in the name of public health and safety.
I finished the final edits for Live Not By Lies just as Covid was dawning. In the book, I write about how soft totalitarianism is coming upon us in the guise of both compassion and safety. For example, some progressive New York Times staffers protested that running an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton advocating for something that 50 percent of Americans believe in must not be allowed to happen, because it would pub BIPOC Times staffers in danger. This absurdity actually worked. James Bennet lost his job over it. Similarly, our schools must become centers for disseminating transgender propaganda, because if not, PEOPLE WILL DIE!
You see how this works. Well, I could not have anticipated how the safety argument for soft totalitarianism would be advanced by a global pandemic. This is what Kingsnorth is writing about now. He says that Schwab’s writings are red meat for conspiracy theorists, but they aren’t a conspiracy; Schwab advocates for them out in the open, and anyway, he’s not saying anything that hasn’t been advocated by tech giants for years. More:
The confusion, anger and division swirling around us all right now is a result of our confused inability to navigate the techno-coup we are living through, or even to quite understand what is happening.
But the future is off the drawing board now. Take those QR-enabled vaccine passports, which have been rolled out so rapidly all over the world over the last twelve months. They make little sense from a ‘public health’ perspective, since we know that the currently available vaccines don’t prevent transmission of the virus. But they do have the effect of normalising the technologies involved: technologies which were in the pipeline anyway. Digital vaccine passports have been in preparation in the European Union, for instance, since at 2018. In late 2019, months before the pandemic began, trials of ‘digital identity systems’ linked to vaccination status began in Bangladesh. It was hoped that they would demonstrate how to ‘leverage immunization as an opportunity to establish digital identity’ on a worldwide scale.
Again: no outlandish claims are required to make sense of this. It is simply an acceleration of the existing direction of travel. Most of us already carry around in our pockets a portable tracking device, which monitors our geographical location, harvests data on everything from our political views to our shopping preferences, and can be used by the State in extremis to determine who our friends and contacts are. It’s called a smartphone. As covid becomes endemic over the next year or two, and as new variants keep popping up, there will likely be continuing pressure for permanent guarantees of health and safety. Handily, we may be able to use those smartphones, already apped-up with our covid QR codes, as permanent ‘health passports’, which will allow us to access goods and services safely and digitally in the dangerous new world – whilst penalising or excluding anyone who refuses to avail of the recommended public health measures.
Take a look at this cheerful video made to promote the adoption of “digital wallets” — a technology that you carry with you in your smartphone, that keeps all your records in one place, and gives you access to shopping and all kinds of services. Sounds convenient, right? Think about what this means, though — and how adopting this standard makes whoever controls digital wallet technology the lord and master of everybody’s life. This is a way the social credit system can sneak in through the back door.
(Here’s my own conspiracy theory: I don’t believe that there is a national coin shortage; I believe rather than the government declared that there is one at the beginning of Covid to compel us all to use electronic means for our transactions. Maybe they genuinely did this to slow the spread of Covid, but have you noticed now that you are now accustomed to making all, or nearly all, of your transactions via debit or credit card? They have shifted, and are shifting, our way of buying and selling, to establish a system that makes it harder for those who have run afoul of the Machine to participate in commerce.)
As Kingsnorth warns:
Once we have accepted the premise that deep and ubiquitous levels of surveillance, monitoring and control are a price worth paying for safety – and we seem to have done that already – then almost anything is possible.
Kingsnorth goes on to say that this is all part of a deeper movement to integrate humanity into a Machine — for example, the global Internet Of Things, which will digitize the body. I don’t know if his essays are subscription-only, but if not, by all means read the whole thing. This is coming, and coming fast. Kingsnorth’s most recent novel, Alexandria, is a dystopian adventure story set in a post-apocalyptic future, but like all good science fiction, it’s about what’s happening right now. Even unbelievers in religion can read the signs of these globalizing, techno-tyrannical times, and can start to prepare their own Benedict Options.
Please subscribe to The Abbey of Misrule. You won’t regret it. As some of you know, Paul converted to Orthodox Christianity back in January. This morning he sent to me a recording of the Romanian Orthodox nuns from the monastery near where he lives, singing “What Child Is This”. It is so pure, so unworldly in its beauty. Listen: