On Telling Lies In a Pandemic
“I want you to write, ‘I must not tell lies’”, she told him softly.
“How many times?” Harry asked, with a creditable imitation of politeness.
“Oh, as long as it takes for the message to sink in,” said Umbridge sweetly. “Off you go.”
The first time I lied during the pandemic was sometime earlier this year. Without revealing too many details, I nodded absent-mindedly to a case of “Papers, Please!” and waved something that wasn’t it. Not particularly interested, the official just let me pass (late at night and after a long day of boring and immoral duty, I’m sure).
I had come off a plane, with very harsh-sounding rules and pandemic measures bragged about and religiously repeated everywhere, but that nobody cared about in practice. As it should be.
The second time, not long after, was in a social setting with hyper-anxious acquaintances. In this year’s spring months of rationed vaxx shots, they were glowingly longing for their turn to be needle-stung and wanted me to share their joy. I nodded, feigned interest and let them believe I was as excited as they were.
Fast-forward a few months again, and I found myself with friends whose fears and obsessions about Hysteria-19 were rivalled only by their woke pre-pandemic obsession with race/sex/social justice. From one god to the next, replacing one invisible enemy with another. Once again, I let them believe what they so dearly wanted to believe, and I made no effort to correct their mistaken presumptions.
You could call these instances innocent. I do. But they were also deeply dishonest — painful for me to endure, as they would for most honest folk. Deception does not come naturally to most of us and deceiving those we otherwise hold dear is not something most of us take pleasure in doing.
Then again, the commandment says to “not bear false witness against your neighbour” — not that “thou shalt never be dishonest”. Of course, per Solzhenitsyn’s ‘Live Not by Lies’ or the rich tradition that JP’s Rule 8 draws on, you should also not lie. Do not manipulate the world with your words.
But what if it is the world itself that has gone haywire — a mass formation in our midst, a religious awakening? What if lying gets you out of a sticky situation? What if truth makes your predicament worse, and a simple act of dishonesty avoids most of the hassle that this pretty mad Cuckoo world has embraced?
Yes, don’t lie and don’t denigrate the value of truth. That’s a good rule. We are obligated to speak up against tyranny and say something when something needs saying. But, I stress endlessly, we are not obliged to turn ourselves into martyrs.
In Ice Ghosts, Paul Watson’s great tale of nineteenth century exploration ships long lost in the Arctic, the author cites an Inuit advice — Inuit peoples who know a thing or two about indignant rules from hopelessly unjust Southern rulers: They endure the rules, writes Watson,
“just as they tolerated many other threats they couldn’t control. Stand your ground if you can, give way if you must”.
What I, and many with me, have been forced to do in the last two years may certainly straddle the meaning of ‘dishonesty’. And so be it.
If officials require health passes — apps or papers that normalise routine inspections — for basic services or just plainly living your life, it’s time to get out.
Cuckoo-19, it has been said persuasively, ”is a very good proxy for freedom.” If you see it around your town — signs, religious proselytizing, low-status people prompting you to wear masks, or who themselves go out of their way to do so — it’s not the right town for you. Get out.
The less invisible enemies you see people bend over backwards for, the more practical freedoms you have. Cherish that.
Recognise the difference between bark and bite. Many countries bark a lot (quarantine, tests, invasive statecraft, exploitative taxation) but their bites are much milder — often none at all. If you can break the rules without much of a consequence, do so. This effective, practical, freedom is what matters most — not what’s on a lawspeaker’s book or a heard through a news anchor’s megaphone.
Rules that can’t practically be followed, that morally shouldn’t be followed, and which rulers can’t monitor or enforce, won’t be followed. Who cares, then, if we tell a few lies to make that happen?
The take-away from Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the Christmas party that recently had the British political establishment throwing a fit, isn’t that Johnson broke a holy Cuckoo rule or that he’s a poor role model for his population (yes, they know; that’s why they elected him — thanks, democracy!). It’s a lesson that immoral and impractical rules are there to be broken; he just happened to be caught.
This is security theatre. And playing means to avoid getting caught.
What Hysteria-19 has done so expertly is to open up yet another moral and social chasm between people who otherwise would have — could have, and should have — been great friends. That probably wasn’t an accident.
If they tell you to sting yourself on needles, and that they’re s*fe and *ff*ective, you should probably look into why they’re not. If they tell you to eat soy and stay indoors, you should probably look at going carnivore and get outside.
“You can fool a person, and they can fool you, but you can’t fool a tree or a tractor, a circuit or a surfboard. So seek out physical reality, not just social experience. Pursue feedback from the vast universe that exists beyond other human beings. […] Social outcomes may change if you argue or throw a fit. Physical outcomes will not.”
— Heather Heying and Bret Weinstein, A Hunter-Gatherer’s Guide to the 21st Century
So make sure you go outside, especially if your rulers prohibit it or advice against it. Feel the brisk air in your face, see real nature, stress your body and your mind so that they may grow stronger.
Eat real food, marvel at nature and ignore rules that morality does not compel you to follow.