The Covid Ultimatum

Our Covid Saviors

How does one justify depriving an entire population of basic freedom? Our politicians have a simple answer: by saving lives. The reasoning implied here is that every life counts, so the less people have to die, the better. What sacrifice is too great for such a noble end?

It turns out that there is a fictional precedent to this principle in the series The Walking Dead. Appropriately enough, the premise is a virus, which turns people into zombies and consequently destroys civilization. Out of the chaos arises a man named Negan, who devises a highly effective way of protecting people from the hostile world. This gives the name to his party: the “Saviors”.

Sounds great, so how does he do it? By smashing people’s heads with a barbed-wire-adorned baseball bat. You see, by killing the right person you can save a hundred more, by bringing them into line. Basically, you can save many lives by subjecting all of society to strict obedience based on the terror of punishment:

Negan Meme

And that’s just what Negan and his Saviors do. People are alive alright, but who is actually living? Women counting the days in Negan’s personal harem. Factory workers toiling under the perpetual threat of a red-hot iron to the face. Conquered communities paying tribute from their limited economies while being subject to unpredictable bashings. I think it’s reasonable to assume that most Walking Dead fans do not consider Negan’s life saving quota to be worth the dystopian price.

Our covid saviors have not gone so far as to resort to fatal skull bashing, unless there is some serious sock-puppetry going on with Kyle Mitchell. But by mandating drugs that have any chance at all of causing death, and punishing non-compliance with psychologically harmful social exclusion and livelihood-threatening unemployment, their willingness to sacrifice the few in the name of saving the many is very clear.

Once again, those of us who’ve survived both covid and life-saving definitely have it better than the citizens of Negan-ville. But the cost is still analogous. Subjected to months and months of debilitating and destructive lockdowns, and oppressive and dehumanizing mask mandates, enforced with a level of police-authoritarianism which, before society lost its mind, would have been considered fascist.

The Walking Dead shows us what’s wrong with reducing our priorities entirely to the prevention of death, in such a way that most normal viewers would agree. Yet when our own politicians come out with the exact same argument, some of us seem to accept it without question. They have embraced the spirit of Negan and the Saviors, an authoritarian hammer that is too much for many to bear, and for some, inevitably, to even survive. Driven by the primitive and childish fear of a deadly virus, they have turned a blind eye to a political standard that no self-respecting or liberal-minded individual could ever sincerely accept.