Societies run on stories. That was the basis of my initial analysis of corona as the invalid invocation of The Plague Story. In a post six months ago I noted that we were entering a period I called The Twilight Zone due to the failure of governments to deliver the appropriate ending to the modern plague story. I hypothesised that things would get weird because there was no backup story that could bring matters to an end. I was not wrong. Just in the last few weeks we’ve had the Australian government kick out the world’s best tennis player on trumped up charges. Then, as if leading straight on from that, we’ve seen the Canadian truckers convoy kick into gear. As with corona in general, if you’d told somebody just one month ago that these events would happen they’d have thought you were crazy. But they did happen and they are still happening in the case of the truckers.
January has also brought us another new development which is the declaration in a number of countries of an end to corona restrictions. Places like the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia appear to be trying to bring the story to an end by declaring the virus endemic. This has received pushback from the Branch Covidian True Believers in those countries who are now accusing the government of lying about the statistics in order to prematurely bring the story to an end. We had already seen this dynamic at play a few times in Britain, for example with the initial “freedom day” attempt last year. The True Believers will not accept the declaration that the virus is endemic as a proper end to the plague story. Unfortunately for them, that is the only end of the story at this point. There is no other way out. To acknowledge the fact is simple common sense.
Nevertheless, there are a number of countries refusing to acknowledge this fact; most notably Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Germany and Canada (I’ll stick to western countries here as I can’t really speak for the others). In these countries, the powers that be have attempted to simply gloss over the failure of the vaccines and continue with mandates as if nothing was wrong. In the case of Austria, they even decided to up the ante by trying to mandate the vaccine which, not knowing anything about Austrian politics, seems like about the dumbest possible thing to do. Canada was not far behind in the stupid stakes with curfews and other extreme measures being imposed on a country sharing a border with the US where, among other things, the Supreme Court had just struck down Biden’s mandate.
But the problem in countries such as Austria, Canada and Australia is not just one or two dumb decisions. The problem is the complete absence of any kind of story about what was going on. People might accept mandates and curfews a little longer if you could explain how they helped to bring the matter to a close. Instead, politicians turned to blatant scapegoating of the unvaccinated. Trudeau was among the worst on this front. That might work to score some cheap political points in the short term. In the long term you need a story and that is what Trudeau and other leaders have not provided.
It was into this narrative void that the truckers convoy started rolling. Whether by design or by accident, the truckers created a story. Act 1 was the convoy itself rolling across the frozen tundra of western Canada en route to Ottawa complete with the incredible scenes of people coming out into the freezing cold often in the early morning to cheer them on. Like any good story, the truckers had a Call to Adventure which was to meet in Ottawa on the weekend. And that’s what a great deal of people did. Meanwhile, people watching at home could show support by donating to the crowdfunding campaign.
The framing of the truckers convoy as a story differentiated it from the protests that happened elsewhere. Here in Melbourne, for example, we had the largest protests in my lifetime and the general mood looked very similar to Ottawa with ordinary people from all walks of life coming together in what was almost a celebration. Protests serve a purpose. But a protest is not a story. That’s why they are easily ignored. A story is not easily ignored, especially when it goes viral like the truckers convoy.
The truckers created a story that was so impressive that Trudeau needed to respond. How did he do it? By losing the plot. Among other things, he tweeted a laundry list of woke talking points, a complete non sequitur. Meanwhile, I saw an exchange in the Canadian parliament where the new leader of the opposition asked Trudeau’s second in command what the plan was to try and bring an end to the protest. Again, the response was a complete non sequitur. Of course, we expect politicians to prevaricate, obfuscate and even downright lie but the lies must be in service of a larger political outcome i.e. a story. These non sequiturs from the Canadian government don’t tell a story at all. For that reason, they do not look like competent politics to me. They look much more like psychosis and specifically derailment, a term used in psychiatry to describe the occurence of non sequiturs in discourse.
We see similar levels of psychosis in the Australian public discourse right now. Anybody can see for themselves by reading the daily news but here’s a few of my favourite examples. After two years of 24/7 fearmongering, the Victorian government has taken out an advertising campaign to ask people to please stay at home if they get corona and not show up to hospital unless they are really sick because people with mild symptoms were overwhelming the hospitals. The Prime Minster said he thinks all discrimination against the unvaccinated should be dropped, something which was agreed by all states last year, while the Queensland Premier acted like this was a declaration of war against her state. It is currently expected that the Australian government will change the definition of “fully vaxxed” to mean three doses but when asked about international arrivals the Prime Minister said they would only be required to have taken two to enter the country. The Premier of Victoria had the gall to announce that “equality was not negotiable in Victoria” yesterday, which is surely news to the hundreds of thousands of unvaccinated who can’t work, visit a café or restaurant or enter public facilities paid for by their taxes. And perhaps funniest of all from my point of view, the Victorian health minister, the one who is responsible for actively discriminating against the unvaccinated in this state, is also the Minister for Equality. These absurdities and contradictions are all indicative of madness in a very literal sense. The inability to tell a story is no trivial matter. As Gregory Bateson pointed out, humans run on stories. It’s how we think. If your story doesn’t make sense, then you are not thinking. You are psychotic. [I’ve been pondering the metaphysics of stories quite a lot recently and hope to have a post on this in future.]
That’s part of the reason why politics runs on stories and part of the reason why stories are so important. We are now in a world with two different types of countries: those telling the story that corona is endemic (the plague story is over); and those telling no story at all. Canada is in the latter group. So is Australia. In one sense, all the truckers did was to tell a story which is to end the mandates and by extension the pandemic. That story is, in fact, the only way out at this point and any government with a shred of common sense would take the opportunity to follow the UK, Ireland and Scandinavia. Unfortunately, governments like Canada and Australia are no longer running on common sense. That’s why events are completely unpredictable or, to put it another way, psychotic.