White Feather

I’m writing this as a veteran of three Cake & Liberty Saturdays, and in the intervening weeks some of my views have evolved. If anything, I have become even more concerned about the direction of travel and the threat to our basic liberties, and utterly baffled at how dramatically falling cases and death numbers are ignored in favour of a narrative of continued fear and threat.

To counterbalance my opinions, I am trying to look at the original source material for all the claims I read about, and I’m following social media accounts with views diametrically opposed to mine to try to get a sense of the genuinely-held counter arguments.

I am lurking online in a number of activist groups and on the revolutionary scale of one to ten I find myself at a rather meek 1 or 2, but it’s telling that I cannot completely discount some of the ideas I considered batshit crazy a few months ago.

I have always subscribed to Hanlon’s Razor’s principle ‘never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity’, and while I really want to believe that most western governments govern in (broadly) good faith, the actions of our government over the past year in repeatedly failing to keep to their timetables despite key goals being met; relaxing in only the most risible degrees their power grab of our civil liberties; cherry-picking and spinning data to suggest greater danger than exists; and using deeply troubling psychological manipulation to maintain a widespread sense of fear has left me reeling. No government is THAT stupid, at some point you have to consider the possibility of an ulterior motive.

And I just can’t go there yet. In a sense, it’s irrelevant if there is some nefarious uber-plan, or what it might be: the current situation is quite nefarious enough to be going on with thank you very much – all I can do is argue the facts as we know them, and do what I can, however small, to reclaim our civil liberties.

What does this mean for me in practice?

I suppose I have become a sort of conscientious objector. I will not lend my behaviour to validating a government-mandated course of action that I consider immoral and harmful, that is causing misery and suffering to great numbers of our fellow citizens. Inescapably, it is my moral duty to disobey.

So in addition to my Saturday cake-bothering, I am no longer wearing a mask in anything other than a healthcare setting or an airport (chance would be a fine thing). The strength of my feeling about this moral imperative is such that it would cause me distress to wear a mask, which, according to the government, grants me exemption from wearing one.

The evidence of mask wearing in suppressing transmission of Covid is weak, and while there is definitely a role for masks (sterile, surgical-grade masks in operating theatres, untouched for the duration of their facetime, for example), and maybe even for lower-grade masks in situations where there is a high incidence of a virus within populations. But the insidious thing is, once you are trained to wear a mask at all times, at what point do you feel it’s OK to stop? Because if you don’t know, then why stop at all, ever?

As with the first Saturday I handed out cakes, I was very anxious during my first mask-less shop. Let’s all think about that for a moment, and how ridiculous it is. During a week that saw average new covid cases of 3250 out of a population of 66 million people, and where 31 million of us have been vaccinated, I was nervous about popping in to a supermarket maskless to pick up a couple of pints of milk.

And that’s why it’s so important that we keep showing our faces, keep smiling, keep being a visual reminder of what normal is: after a year of doom-mongering we are forgetting what normal is, even I who pore over figures and studies and analyses, I needed to give myself a pep talk and bring the actual figures to mind in order to steady my nerves.

The first time of anything is always the hardest, and indeed the next two shops were easier – a small independent shop selling cookware, and M&S for a food shop. Less positively, my haircut has been delayed: I messaged my hairdresser to give her advance warning of my decision, and she said she needed a doctor’s note proving my exemption. She is a lovely person doing her best according to her understanding, and, like many of us, has had the year from hell and is only just reopening her salon so I’m clearly not going to cause trouble for her, but what she proposes is against the law, most specifically the 2010 Equality Act, which forbids the supplier of any service or product from discriminating against anyone on the basis of their physical or mental health. All the larger shops and most of the smaller ones know this: it is illegal to require someone to wear a mask and you may not challenge them if they do not, or ask them for proof of exemption.

I am trying to walk a narrow path with both courage and kindness, and I have to accept it’s inevitable that I won’t always get the balance right. My rule of thumb is that if I’m avoiding making a stand because I fear the consequences for me, I should probably do it anyway. If however making a stand would cause difficulty for a friend or a well-meaning individual, then I should probably compromise my principles (along with my hair). Gah.