Laura Dodsworth: People seem to have wanted to be infantilized, for the government to tell them what to do.
The following is an excerpt from an interview between Mallard Chairman, Jake Scott (JS) and Laura Dodsworth (LD) regarding her book, ‘A State of Fear’.
The full interview is available in our print magazine, which you can purchase here.
Jake Scott: I think it’s interesting, you’ve mentioned the media a couple of times and now you’ve mentioned social media. Obviously, the book is on how the government has weaponised fear. But what role, did the media play? During the Trump years it was all about “speaking truth to power” and then all of a sudden it’s this complete inversion, almost as if it’s the propaganda arm of the government.
Laura Dodsworth: I think it’s probably multifactorial. Again, I’d love to know exactly what’s going on, but I don’t – there’s a whole chapter on media in the book, I mean it starts with a complete lack of scrutiny. I remember the video that came out of China showing people dropping flat in the streets. Right, so they reported in the Sun, the Mail, the Metro, it went all round social media. Nobody verified the authenticity of them, they were just reported. I mean, I honestly when I first saw them I just thought “this is ridiculous.” I just thought they looked completely fake. They’re not the only ones that did: that the Gates Foundation released an ad last year, called the Decade of Health. I wrote a review of it for the Critic; it was the same thing, it’s like this is ludicrous, this is not what the pandemic looks like. It shows a kind of really suburban green English street and somebody in a white hazmat suit walking up to the door. It’s like, what planet are you on?! This never happened.
So, there have been some very strange portrayals of what the pandemic looks like. It started with that and I’m not sure, to be honest, how numerate some journalists are, but I think some of the maths has been really hard and I’m not great with maths, I worked really hard at it, you know I got people to help me with understanding relative risk and absolute risks, I could understand the vaccine trial data, for instance, – bloody hard work – and it can be that in newsrooms, people are busy. Images have been used by picture desks, and again I don’t think they really checked what it meant. It’s like the fairly well-known picture of the Italian Army transporting coffins. That was a one-off event because funeral directors were in self-isolation. It’s not because there was a pile of bodies that the army was transporting, day after day, but again it’s a striking image so it’s used everywhere, without really being understood or verified.
I think we’ve seen a lot of activist journalism. I think that there’s been a hyper-partisan approach to reporting on it; anything the Tories have done are bad, and we’re not them, so we think we should be doing this, it meant that all the opposition came from within a framework and not outside of it. So, there was no questioning whether lockdowns work, and where this brand new totalitarian tool came from, not whether they’re effective or what the morality of them is, but just we didn’t do it quick enough, hard enough, long enough. I think that there was more interest in Tory bashing than looking at the big picture.
Obviously, there’s the normal editor and proprietor bias, but we know that there are close relationships between press officers and political journalists, and perhaps if they get a story at the end of the day, they just want to run it quickly. And they want to get the clicks on the headline because they want to be there first before the next day.
And then I think there’s been a lot of groupthink as well. Quite early on, somebody in a newspaper told me that I was an outlier, and I did find it really hard to pitch the articles that beginning. Let’s bring this up to date, I mean for goodness’ sake, so the Guardian front page today (15th September): “There could be 2,000 to 7,000 cases per day unless we implement winter plan measures,” based on SAGE Modelling! I mean oh, my goodness, are we here again? So, rewind just under a year, and on the 21st of March last year, Chris Witty and Patrick Valance predicted there would be 4,000 COVID deaths per day, and infections (a positive PCR test) of 50,000 per day by mid-October. So, they’re giving us a few weeks. This is where we’re going to be in a few weeks if we don’t take steps.
JS: The key thing that we mentioned, and I really want to get into, is social media and the role of the public in this because there’s an element of confirmation bias in the when the government puts out something that stirs up fear, then there’s a poll that confirms that people are so scared that they will go for the most authoritative response. What is the consequence of this?
LD: Well, I suspect it’s something that’s more latent, but I don’t have the historical research in this field to draw upon to prove that, but I’m sure it is. There was a strange appetite for it. But also, I feel that there’s been something going on in the collective unconscious, that we’ve been in a psychic epidemic as Jung would term it, there’s been mass hysteria and that’s not me belittling the epidemic or that people have died or that people should be scared of an epidemic.
All of those things are true. People should be scared of an epidemic. We’ve been in one and people have died. But there has been at the same time, an overblown hysteria that’s accompanied it, and I think this is probably basic psychology, that people want to police the herd more closely to make sure that they’re not endangered by the infectious rogue dissidents.
JS: So, one thing on that, there seems to be more of a policing of dissidence than a policing of actual infectious behaviour. That seems to me because, as you say Jacinda Arden said don’t talk to your neighbours, and government ministers say don’t hug people and all sorts of thing – but it seems as though the actual public policing has been over people who don’t believe or don’t think that the measures are correct. How do we go back from this, or can we go back from this?
LD: I think that there’s bigger work to do, probably, improving education, trying to visit what we want society to look like, I think we might need constitutional protections from the sorts of draconian legislation again. But people have to want it, how do you make people want it? Is it right, is it for me to decide what people should want? People seem to have wanted to be infantilized, for the government to tell them what to do. Some of the questions from journalists and from citizens at the No. 10 press briefings were incredible. You know, “will we be having Christmas”, “when will be allowed to hug our grandmas again”, why are these questions anybody would ask?! I mean this is really going to come from outside the framework, but do you need any legislation at times of an epidemic, or will human society people know what to do and regulate as an organism as society?
Photo provided by Laura Dodsworth.