Lockdown Forever

We will never be free from COVID restrictions until we reject their logic utterly.

The lockdowns will continue until morale improves.

Ever since the CDC announced its judgment that vaccinated people can congregate indoors without masks, the letter of COVID law has been loosened. But the spirit remains. Many cities and counties no longer mandate businesses to require masks. Curfews have been lifted, capacity limits eased. But the mood has not been lifted or eased. Whether we say it or not, we know in our hearts that it could all come crashing back down upon our heads at any time. Like a perpetual threat, the principle of the thing remains. 

The principle is this: for whatever reason, without warning and with only the most flimsy ghost of a rationale, people with power can make burdensome, demoralizing, and ruinous demands upon people without power. We are far past the point where the invocation of an “emergency situation” counts for anything more than a hollow gesture, a contemptuous formality. The pretense of explanation is now an empty ritual, as empty as when White House officials put on surgical masks backstage, walk to their lecterns, then take the masks off to speak. Both rulers and ruled are going through the motions now; neither really needs an explanation why. We know our roles. We are being taught our place. 

If all this was not obvious already, LA County has re-instated its indoor mask mandate regardless of vaccine status amid concerns about rising cases due to the Delta variant. “Due to increased COVID-19 transmission,” the county press release stated, “masks will be required indoors regardless of vaccination status.” Elsewhere, on its Public Health website, the county claims, “the more people get vaccinated the less likely it is that COVID-19 will spread or that new variants of the virus will take hold.” 

So for those keeping track at home: the logic is now, “unvaccinated people are to blame for new variants and rising cases, but also, your vaccine will not protect you from new variants or stop rising cases—so mask up.” A masterpiece of Dadaist absurdity. It’s futile at this point to rehearse all the well-known truths: vaccines do protect against the Delta variant, mask mandates are completely useless, what counts as a “surge” is hardly a blip, and so forth.  

None of it matters: anyone who can be convinced by such observations is already convinced. It’s not as if we were short on evidence that lockdown measures are politically motivated, functionally useless, and recklessly destructive. The best description of our present situation remains that articulated by bodybuilder-turned-activist Chris Sky at the beginning of this whole debacle: 

The mask is about compliance.... And then guess what kids? Once you take your vaccine...they’re gonna tell ya, sorry, the vaccine isn’t as effective as we thought it was gonna be, so now you still gotta wear your mask.... And now they’re gonna put you back on lockdown, and bring it all the way 'til July of next year so they can do the same thing again.... It’s a way to take your rights, your freedoms, close your business, take your wealth. Why? So you become dependent on the government. 

Visiting Los Angeles a week ago—before the mask mandate officially came back—I had one of those moments in which what has become familiar suddenly seems strange, and you see it clearly for what it is. I was in line for coffee at a store where all the baristas had to wear masks. Standing among the maskless patrons and watching my fellow Americans shuffle about behind the counter, I realized that I was witnessing the spiritual formation of a permanent underclass before my very eyes. These kids were being forced into faceless servitude by a regime that makes it too risky for their employers even to let them smile. 

This is not going to end if we just play nice enough. It will not let up once enough people are vaccinated, whatever the hell that means. The principle of the lockdown regime is not public health, and the people in charge will not “let us” be free once the public is healthy enough to satisfy them. The principle of it all is power. The instrument of that power is a ceaseless threat of arbitrary oppression, engineered to grind the hearts and souls of ordinary Americans down into a cringing servitude. It will all continue until we reject the premise of the thing outright—until we flatly deny in principle that these unconstitutional measures have any legitimate authority over our actions or our lives. If we want to be free again, we must simply refuse to comply.