Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
Lockdown has been an essential measure to “flatten the curve” and hinder the spread of COVID-19. Yet throughout the pandemic, governments across the globe have used war-like rhetoric to enforce their decisions. Worldwide, this has led to a dangerous politicisation of science and in Britain it reveals a misunderstanding of the people’s motivation to isolate.
War-like rhetoric in relation to COVID-19, such as Boris Johnson’s pretentious description of his cabinet as a “wartime government,” not only places MPs ahead of scientists in designing the roadmap out of lockdown, but creates an aura of secrecy in regard to their plans. This is only heightened by the flagrant disregarding of lockdown rules by the Government’s own Dominic Cummings and Neil Ferguson.
The problem with secrecy in a matter as unprecedented as the COVID-19 outbreak is its level of distortion. How do we know the accuracy of what we are told by government? In the US, attempting to live up to his pompous self-imposed title of being a “war-time” president, Trump has ensured that scientists must pass any public comments they make about COVID-19 through Vice-President Mike Pence. This politicisation of science has been seen across the world.
After practically every mistake they have made, the British Government have claimed to be “following the science”. (Does anyone remember herd immunity?) Yet, Johnson has refused to allow Professor Chris Whitty or Sir Patrick Vallance to answer questions relating to the potential public health impact of Dominic Cummings’ rambles across the country. The problem with secrecy, distortion, and the politicisation of science is clear: are the politicians actually “following the science,” or rather are they fitting the science to match their political agenda?
To persuade people to follow the ‘science-backed’ lockdown rules, governments have been utilising war-like rhetoric to inspire patriotism: the dedication of front-line nurses and doctors, the vilification of the enemy virus, the sacrifice made by us, the home front, and the treachery by all those who break lockdown rules (apart from the Prime Minister’s Chief Advisor, of course). This rhetoric is being utilised to motivate us to “Stay Home, Save Lives, and Protect the NHS.” Or was that “Stay Alert”?
Those two mottos epitomise the British government’s rhetorical response to COVID-19. As George Orwell once stated, “language can corrupt thoughts,” especially, I’d proffer, if the language is so mixed and confused. However, their emphasis on patriotism reveals their misunderstanding of the British public. We are not motivated by patriotic service to Britain, but by our sympathy for our amazing key workers, the desire to be able to hug our grandparents, go to work, meet our friends, go on dates, and attend university – everything but service to the country. We are motivated by our compassion.
COVID-19 has been a monumental challenge for all, all over the world, and we will undoubtedly learn lessons. Let’s just hope that in future politicians leave science to the scientists and governments have a better handle on their citizens’ motivations.