It is testament to mankind’s enduring optimism, as much as our enduring hubris, that with every generation hope should spring anew that the fundamental forces which have governed our affairs since time immemorial have changed for the better. After each passing calamity, the majority are once again lulled back into the comforting fantasy that we’ve reached the end of history, that the perennially destructive impulses of vanity, pride, greed, narcissism, cowardice, and inhumanity have been consigned to mere curiosities in our books and historical records, no longer playing any significant role in the decision-making of those with the power to shape our reality and the causes to which they recruit us. No event in living memory has more thoroughly lain bare the folly of that notion than the response to Covid-19.
At every turn, the story of the world’s response to Covid is the story of power: The perception of it, the exercise of it, the fear of it, the abuse of it, and the pathological lengths to which some will go to obtain it.
During the response to Covid, we witnessed the ability of those who were perceived as having power to simply make up reality as they went along. They were able to redefine scientific terms, causality, history, and even entire principles of the enlightenment virtually at leisure. More often than not, their narratives made no logical or chronological sense; in many cases, the absurdity was the point.
We were told that a two-month lockdown of one city in China had eliminated Covid from the entire country—but nowhere else—a false syllogism dutifully repeated by our political class for two years. We were told that the purpose of lockdowns had been to flatten the curve, but also to eliminate the virus, in order to buy time for vaccines for the virus. We were told that lockdowns in China violated human rights, fractured society, and led to deaths by other causes, but that lockdowns in the west did not. We were told that outdoor protests spread the virus, unless the protest was for the right cause, in which case it slowed the virus. We were inundated with reminders that all the myriad harms of lockdowns, from lost education and bankruptcies to drug overdoses and famine—while regrettable—were merely a result of the “pandemic,” and thus outside the control of the leaders who’d ordered the lockdowns.
We were told that “science” was a command to be followed, rather than a process for building and testing knowledge. We were told that masks were useless and we were bad for procuring them, until we were told that they were mandatory and we were bad for refusing them. This, again, was attributed to a change in “science”—a natural force outside the control of our leaders. We were told that medical information shared before the “science” had so changed was misinformation to be censored, even if the change in “science” was retroactive. We were told that national governments, local governments, and private businesses could each impose mandates if they wished, but that no government could revoke a mandate imposed by a local government or private business.
We were told that lockdowns didn’t weaken human rights, our leaders were simply interpreting data differently; but now that we’d had lockdowns, fundamental rights to movement, work, and commerce were contingent on vaccination. We were told it wasn’t safe for American children to attend school in-person, and that they had to wear masks if they did so attend, but also that it was never unsafe for European children to attend school without masking. We were told that school closures were good, and that opposition to them had to be censored, until we were told that school closures had always been bad.
Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing.
Those in power were able to so whimsically shape our reality because the officials, journalists, judiciaries, citizens and self-styled intellectuals who were meant to keep power in check were revealed to be little more than sycophants. And they were sycophants so that they could retain some of that power for themselves.
In short, people seek power because other people are sycophants, and people are sycophants because sycophancy is the simplest route to power. This age-old dynamic is what allows those in power to shape reality so free of accountability, scrutiny, or even basic logic. It’s the reason that power has always been fought over with scorched-earth ferocity, and why, in the absence of institutions adequate to keep it in check, power is almost always seized by sociopaths.
To Friedrich Nietzsche, the foundational motivating force behind all human behavior was not so much happiness, or even survival, but instead the will to power—to have one’s will exerted onto existence as one perceived it. Nietzsche deconstructed preexisting notions of morality into what he termed “master” and “slave” morality, which he distinguished primarily by the motivations behind them. Master morality was motivated by the self-actualization of one’s own virtues and will onto existence. Slave morality, by contrast, was motivated by limiting the power and self-actualization of others. To Nietzsche, the will to power was itself neither good nor bad, it was simply the fundamental force behind all human actions; but more often than not, human actions were motivated by slave morality.
Perhaps more than any event in history, the response to Covid illustrated Nietzsche’s point that human behavior is not fundamentally motivated by happiness, but instead by the simple will to power—to have one’s will exerted onto one’s perceived existence—and how easy it is to subvert that will toward the petty limitation of others’ self-actualization. Healthy people living their lives normally were demonized not because they were threatening, but because they were self-actualizing in a way that the mob could not. The unvaccinated were vilified not because they were dangerous, but because they were free. Those questioning these things had to be censored not because their thoughts were wrong, but because they were thinking. Children could not be allowed to grow and live not because it was risky, but because preventing them from living was simply something for the mob to do.
I dare not imagine the living hell that some human beings must experience in their formative years to learn that power can be used to enslave others by motivating them toward the petty limitation of their peers; I would not wish such hell on anyone. Nor did I ever imagine that I would spend two years having to convince people that what’s good for themselves and their loved ones actually is good, but here we are.
I dislike what I witnessed during Covid, particularly in what it revealed about the minds of those around me. What I believed were commonly-shared ideals of liberalism, humanity, critical thinking, universal rights, and constitutionalism were revealed to be little more than the modern trappings of sycophancy—fashion statements popular among contemporary elites only to be jettisoned as soon as the rich men who funded their employers, peers, and influencers decided that they were no longer convenient.
We were told that war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength. But worst of all, our own friends and peers were told to ostracize and vilify us if we did not do as we were told—and far too often, they did as they were told.
This article was first published on the author’s own site. It has been reprinted with permission.