Laura Dodsworth has published a devasting and explosive book cataloguing her forensic ferreting into the dark art of behavioural science and its employment by the authorities in the past 18 months. “A state of fear” clinically exposes the government and the cartel of advisors, medics, scientists, public health experts, statisticians and modellers in their cynical weaponizing of fear to get the population to do what they want, without them knowing it.
While a lot of this has had some airing before, hardly any of it has reaches the main stream media or has been taken up by journalist or political opposition, the people who you would expect would notice. So, it is up to Laura a photographer, artist and author, not really known for journalism to step in to the breach, to scratch around, to push hard at the doors, to follow the evidence and get to the truth, while the rest of journalist, with some notable exceptions, have gone limp and supine. Even the rock and roll anti-establishment suspects, who are always quick to pounce on any titbit to throw at the establishment, have been strangely silent. It’s as if their mouths have been stuffed with gold or injected with drugs to stay quiet. Shout about anything they seem to be told, but don’t go there. There, however, is where Laura goes and when she has her teeth into the something she doesn’t let go. Funny, this is what I thought true journalism was all about. But it’s heartening, at least, to find someone who actually does it.
What is notable about the book is that it is sane and balanced. It isn’t fired by rage or anger. It isn’t an anti-vaxxers rant or the bleatings of a covid denier. It is simply the inquisitiveness of a curious mind and a nose that can smell a rat. She manages to interview significant figures close to the government, some anonymous but others willing to give their names, including notable people involved in the Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviours (SPI-B) who report to SAGE. What she finds is that fear was deliberately and specifically used to direct the behaviour of the population. Many of the advisors had deep misgivings about the morality and the ethics of the programmes, but never enough, it seems, to blow the whistle.
What is disturbing, to her, is the way the pattern mirrors that of a strict parent child relationship.
During the Covid epidemic, the UK government threated us with longer lock-downs or tougher restrictions if we misbehaved, and rewards such as the rule of six or garden meetings were dangled in front of us if all went well. The relationship between government and citizen is reminiscent of a strict parent and child relationship, with alternating use of the naughty step and then offering sweets for good behaviour. Citizens were not treated like adults. We were told frightening ‘Bedtime stories’ everyday via the news and Downing Street briefings to ensure compliance with a set of everchanging and sometimes bizarre rules.
“The weaponization of fear is a particularly destabilising tactic in the behavioural psychology toolbox
because it clouds our judgement, which in turn increases reliance on government, which then creates more fear, which paralysis us further, creating a self-perpetuating doom-loop.”
Naomi Wolfe goes further and puts it more graphically, in a recent interview, when she described it as an abusive domestic relationship where the partner, invested with the power, teases, controls, humiliates and infantilises the victim caught in a horrendous trap of dependency.
One of the SPI-B advisors explained this, as it related to mask wearing: “There is a behavioural science ‘reason’ for wearing masks, to increase a sense of collectivism. This is the feeling favoured by the psychologists that is entirely unrelated to the scientific evidence regarding transmission. Essentially, they want us to feel like we are ‘in it together’” So there you have it, from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.
Another from the same group explained “People are passive and biddable. A lot of people don’t question. Their thinking is shaped by other people, especially the media and social media and that is a dangerous thing. As a society we are set up to encourage a passive and biddable population.”
Throughout the book she slots in short interviews with ordinary people she meets on the way. They don’t make the story but illustrate it and they are exactly the stories I hear from individuals caught up in it all, bewildered, frustrated, frightened.
The bleak prospect in the end is the death of freedom “We seem to have forgotten that no one is safe. You have never been safe and you never will be. Nor will I. In the blind global panic of an epidemic we have forgotten how to analyse risk. If you don’t accept that you will die one day, that you can never be safe, then you are a sitting duck for authoritarian policies which purports to be for your safety. If too many individuals immolate their liberty for safety, we risk a bonfire of freedoms.”
Frank Furedi set the ground work for this analysis in his significant piece “How fear works, culture of fear in the twenty first century” and he explains how, from an early age, people are encouraged “to become preoccupied with their safety and to regard being fearful as a sensible and responsible orientation towards the world” While in another time, it would be assumed that our response to threats would be in accordance with virtues such as wisdom, courage, moderation, justice and duty, now it is considered virtuous to adopt the technique of “risk assessment” and “powerlessness, fragility and vulnerability are the characteristics that resonate with the current representation of personhood.”
But an authority which deliberately and calculatingly creates a climate of fear amongst the population are playing with fire. Once the heather is lit it is not so easy to put out, no matter how many jackets are ruined in the process. A frightened population may act in quite unpredictable ways. There may be compliance for a time but things can suddenly turn and fear can quickly morph into rage. Who knows how an otherwise biddable populace will react when they discover that they were deceived and the devastating and prolonged restrictions were quite unnecessary and achieved nothing. Their belief may will be resilient while so much is invested in it, but with a crisis of faith, things could get ugly.
A government’s intentional employment of fear also betrays the fact that they themselves are fearful: fearful of losing their popularity, fear of failure, fear of not doing or acting quickly enough, fear of losing power and ultimately, fear that the people may rise up and destroy their masters. Those who live by fear die by it. History shows that dictators and despots never know when to give up. They never leave when there is a window for a peaceful exit. Instead, they cling on to the bitter end, to face the rope and get the bullet.
Critically, the weaponization of fear breaks down trust, trust that may have taken centuries to build, and when trust is destroyed it is hard to know where, as a society, we can go.