|"Abbot Armand-Jean le Bouthillier de Rance" |
by Hyacinthe Rigaud (17th century)
Science is the “the systematic study of ... the physical and natural world through observation and experiment” (Oxford Dictionary) – it is a method by which hypotheses can be either plausibly dreamt up or validated. Scientism is an “excessive belief in the power of scientific knowledge” (Oxford), and there now seems to be a large body of people professing to hold such sacred knowledge. They are our “experts” (typically scientists and doctors of one kind or another) who are more than willing to present themselves as the true holders of the only kind of knowledge worth having any faith in. The worst among them are the de facto astrologers and haruspices of our time – these priests of our secular age who tell us they know how to confidently predict, via the magic of modelling, variable and unpredictable things, such as controlling the spread of a highly contagious virus.
Grey-faced epidemiologists and health experts who might otherwise have been destined to obscurity are now trumpeted regularly by the media to proffer their gloomy predictions if suitable penances are not undertaken. The best of penances is generally held to be city-wide lockdowns involving forced closures of non-essential businesses and schools, as well as near total social isolation of individuals. The longer the penance the more likely “the science” is to save us, so we are told by most of these doomsayers. Sydney is currently in week 8 of such a lockdown. Our penance must continue until … we are unsure when, but “the science” will surely let us know. Initially the modelling declared that if at least 70% of us underwent (the rites of) double vaccination then our period of penance would finally end. But “the science” is apparently a capricious God, for now we are told even an 80% vaccination rate may not be enough. These essential rites must also be supplemented by continuing “restrictions”.
The 2021 Sydney lockdown started with a handful of cases in late June, but by the end of July (after a month of lockdown) cases per day were more than 200, and as of late August cases are more than 800 a day. The priests told us if we locked down “the science” would save us and yet instead our predicament has become worse. The reason for that, say many of the grey-faced priests, is that we were not penitential enough – our 8 week lockdown has apparently been too soft. More radical acts of penance are required, hence fines for lockdown breaches have been increased, the once inviolable right to protest continues to be on hold, surveillance and police action is more visible and more intense, the lockdown timeline is ever more vague, and the rules of lockdown routinely change in some important way – gripping the attention of law-abiding citizens to the depressing govt updates that occur daily at 11am.
Like most Sydney-siders I was originally more or less content to endure all of this for the first couple of weeks. I dutifully made a booking to get vaccinated (and kept that appointment). I chided a dear friend who sent me an anti-govt meme at the start of the lockdown. I explained to my increasingly unhappy son that we just need a bit of time to get vaccination numbers higher so the death rate could be minimised. The State appointed High-Priest had seemed so sensible and seemingly did such a good job in protecting us from the invisible enemy in 2020 – her contact tracers were said to be second to none. Government trust and trust in “the science” was high. But the more punishing this lockdown becomes (and it is the children who suffer the most) the less faith I have in the benevolence or wisdom of our secular priests.
What is particularly frustrating is that the religious flavour of the whole thing is so obvious to me, but so many people have such myopic faith in scientism, wherein we must all “listen to the experts” and “follow the health advice”, that they cannot see that they are as bound by the tenets of faith as it is possible to be. When “the science” is revered to such a degree, democratically elected politicians are tempted to simply hand over crucial decisions to a priesthood whose only concern seems to be preventing as many deaths as possible, no matter the cost to the quality of lives. Unfortunately these priests are absolutely awful at running a State – it’s not their wheelhouse after all. What results is what we have in Sydney in August 2021, and it feels more dystopian than I could ever have plausibly imagined.
|(Actually the High Sparrow talking to King Tommen in HBO's Game of Thrones)|