Edward Bawden Sahara 1928
“Huskynut” in New Zealand sent me this, and introduced it by saying:
I was reality-checking with an old (used to be contrarian) friend a couple of days ago on Covid. He challenged me – “I don’t believe our politicians and medical community are evil people”, which is an excellent question. I find Mattias Desmet’s Mass Formation theory compelling, but it’s somehow not the full picture.
That thought train led me to the Lord of the Rings, which featured prominently in public consciousness until quite recently. Because of this place in public consciousness, I have a strong feeling (right or wrong), that the tale has a power to cut through in a way rational argument doesn’t.
I’ve drafted the piece below to outline the material, but because my thought process is heavily rational (rather than mythic), I suspect a writer with more affinity for that oeuvre could do it more justice. Would you give me your thoughts on how it might best be handled?
My answer to his question is publishing it. I think it’s an excellent metaphor, and he writes and explains it very well. From the actual story told in the books, and the movies, to the way they “lead” readers and viewers, he covers it all.
He perhaps says it best here: “..the epic battle scenes in Lord of the Rings contributed little to the wider plot. But they were EPIC!” And human love of epic stories is hardwired into us. Before we know it, we’re junked up on adrenaline, rooting for the hero, and hoping the movie never ends.”
And yes, The One Ring is the vaccine. If you ever want to return to the Shire, your normal life, you will have to throw it into Mount Doom. My Precious.
Huskynut: The three Lord of the Rings movies are usually recollected for their stunning NZ landscapes and epic battle scenes, but we could do well to reflect on the way aspects of the core plot mirror our current situation.
At the outset, an unexpected knock at the door draws Frodo to undertake an epic quest, for the good of Middle Earth. It takes little effort to imagine the way politicians, policy-wonks and health advisors and modellers all – consciously or unconsciously – answered the door to the Covid response and unexpectedly found themselves with oversized roles in the epic of a lifetime.
How intoxicating it must have felt to be cast as central figures in a complex plot line that has now dominated headlines for nearly two years! How noble and glorious to be on the front lines battling a constantly mutating Balrog or legions of Orcs. How majestic to dedicate one’s work life to completely vanquishing the enemy and pronouncing the joyous day of Zero Covid! All the intensity of a global war, but from the comfort of home, and with negligible personal risk.
The problem with this is twofold – firstly Covid isn’t at all like an epic army of well-armed marauding Orcs. It’s a virus. It isn’t “trying” to do anything.. not to get past our defences, let alone to attack and kill us, any more than the grass outside is trying to. On a scale of sentience, grass is vastly more complex and adaptive than Covid, though far less glamorous.
All of that excess emotion – that epic drama – led not a single step closer to understanding the nature of Covid or improving our response to it, in the same way the epic battle scenes in Lord of the Rings contributed little to the wider plot. But they were EPIC! And human love of epic stories is hardwired into us. Before we know it, we’re junked up on adrenaline, rooting for the hero, and hoping the movie never ends.
Secondly, when the mythological parts of story take hold of our psyche, any possibility of sound science disappears straight out the window. In science, there are no heroes, no villains. No-one swoops in at the last moment to save the day. No-one plots dastardly revenge. Perhaps those things take place on the periphery, amongst the humans engaged in a scientific pursuit, but not in science itself. Within science there is postulate, hypothesis, experiment, result.
Which is profoundly boring from an entertainment perspective, so the media never talk science. They talk instead of opinion, speculation, human interest or politics, and people mistake those for science. For those of us watching rather than creating the movie, there’s little input required beyond showing up and giving the screen our attention. That’s pretty much the opposite of how a participatory democracy is supposed to work, but a pretty accurate description of the way many have approached Covid. Tune into the daily podium soap-opera and FEEL.
Watching those plucky characters on the screen, entwined in the plot twists and turns, large numbers of us forgot that as citizens we ourselves are the fundamental characters in the plots of our own lives, not bit players in the primary drama or – worse – simply rubes to be milked for cash at the box office.
Back in the film, as they near Mount Doom, Frodo struggles against the spell of the One Ring, becoming increasingly distrustful and paranoid about the intentions of his loyal friend Sam. Again and again he feels compelled to wield the Ring. With every use of it he surrenders a little more of his integrity and sovereignty.
And as NZ draws closer to the end of the Covid pandemic, with the world opening up and the UK, Ireland and Czech Republic dropping most restrictions, the NZ government, their pet scientists and tame media seem increasingly paranoid about the intentions of loyal, taxpaying kiwis demanding the right to return to their lives unmolested by vaccine mandates and passes. Their finger twitches reflexively towards wielding The Ring – when Omicron hits, the Red “Traffic Light” will be invoked.
For anyone observing the character development over time, the trajectory is clear. What began as careful, nuanced and tentative statements from the NZ scientists, politicians and pundits moved to strident, dismissive and arrogant. Little of the science remains, only politics and drama. These characters move inexorably towards becoming Ring Wraiths … servants of the One Vaccine.
It’s abundantly clear that every time Jacinda and Ashley succumb to temptation and slip their finger back into the Ring – issuing a new compelling edict upon the public, they lose another sliver of humanity. Things that were once unthinkable – medical mandates throwing thousands out of work, say, or closing the borders to prevent our country’s own citizens from returning – are now routine. And there is no evidence these serious blows to NZ citizens trouble the Ring wielders for a second.
Our leaders appear to have convinced themselves of the essential need for their character’s places in the ongoing drama, because that’s precisely what power does, and particularly when the wielder is not held consistently to close account by a wise and honest friend like Sam, rather than the increasingly Gollum-like suck-ups populating the commercial media. The NZ government needs to take the One Ring of power – that body of Covid-19 legislation and operating practice they’ve been accumulating and casually toying with for two years – and fling it into a metaphorical Mount Doom before it consumes both them and us.
In watching the movie, we will Frodo to summon the strength to do what must be done in destroying the Ring. In our current political world there is no sign our politicians and bureaucrats possess the self-awareness, the wisdom or the will to do that themselves. There is even a substantial mass of people who would cry out against it.. either loath to have their passive movie-watching end and be confronted with the mundanity of their pre-Covid lives, or terrified that absent their heroic leaders the mythologised terror will rise and strike them down.
It’s time to put down the empty popcorn container and recall our place is on the relatively tepid yet real world outside the cinema. Yes, Covid is real, but the theatrical accoutrements that have come to surround it are not. We cannot afford to continue investing the colossal amounts of time and money that have been diverted to Covid at the expense of other priorities, including wider health and education.
Power corrupts. What started as naïve individuals embarking on an important quest has led to what it necessarily must – the time for those same people to reject the self-corrupting influence of power, and for both themselves and us to return to the Shire.
We try to run the Automatic Earth on donations. Since ad revenue has collapsed, you are now not just a reader, but an integral part of the process that builds this site. Thank you for your support.
Support the Automatic Earth in virustime. Donate with Paypal, Bitcoin and Patreon.