Paul Kingsnorth: why I changed sides in the vaccine wars
I didn't think I'd be living in a time where we would have to have arguments about tyranny, actually, which is potentially I think, what is coming, I know it's a big, big word, but a kind of biomedical tyranny is possible. And I'm not talking about lockdowns, or masks, or whatever, I'm talking about where we could be going with this kind of technological division of society. That's all on the table now. Hello, and welcome to UnHerd. I'm Freddie Sayers. So the vaccine wars are rampaging across Europe, North America and elsewhere. Increasingly, it feels like society is divided between a smaller group who is resisting taking the vaccine for all sorts of different explanations and reasons, and a majority that is increasingly insistent that they do that. We have someone here today called Paul Kingsnorth, and who has a insightful sense of those two groups and how we might better understand them, which seems like a really important thing to try to do.
Hi, Paul. Hello, Freddie. By way of introduction, you're a writer, poet, former environmental activist, maybe you might consider yourself still an environmental activist, and an UnHerd contributor as well. And you've written a piece for us, which I'd love to just explore, where you essentially take the vaccine wars, this hugely divisive and controversial question, and try to look under the hood at what it might be symbolising or representing in bigger terms. I'll start off by saying that, for me, it's always worth taking a step back and looking at the context. The decision to be vaccinated or not to be vaccinated, which ought to be a personal medical decision that everybody could take, becoming a proxy for something much bigger, which is a conversation about the kind of society that we want to live in. And a conversation about the authoritarianism, that is rising very, very fast for which the vaccines, or vaccination status, are being used as a proxy. So there are two conversations you can have.
Firstly, there's the one about 'is the vaccine safe, and should you have it?' and that's a conversation that's been going on for a long time, which everybody is furious about increasingly, because this whole conversation has fallen into the ruts of the culture war. And that will go on, and on, and on. And again, as I say, it's a personal decision whether you do that or not. But then there's the other conversation, which is about 'whether your vaccine status should be used to demonstrate your acceptable position in society'. Now, that is something radically new, that is something radically new. Conversations about whether a medication is safe - old as the hills, especially new medications like this one in a situation like this. But conversations about creating a society in which you can only access many of its services, and many of its positions with a digital passport that explains that you had a particular medication - that's a Rubicon.
We've never had anything like this before, we've never had the technology to do it. So what we've got is a kind of proxy discussion. People are arguing about the vaccines, but they're really, under the surface, arguing about what kind of person you are. If you have taken these things, whether you're a good or a bad person, or a clean or unclean one. I've
been watching this for a long time, as we all have. And I think my personal Rubicon was watching what happened in Austria, and actually watching some of your interviews with the people in Austria too. Where it suddenly became acceptable to move on from vaccine passports, which were bad enough already. But suddenly we have mandatory medication. We have vaccine mandates. Of course, we have what's been going on in the United States where people have been walking out of their jobs in huge numbers, because of this enforcement. And so we have this
situation in which the scapegoat mechanism is kicking in. We can very, very clearly see the so-called unvaxed, who are often represented as 'anti-vax', or 'far-Right actors', or general conspiracy nuts, becoming the new class of people it's acceptable to demonise, and abuse, and even threaten to kill. And that's where we are now, because of the choice that people have made. And this is being used to justify an authoritarian society, in my view. So what we see then, is
this conversation sliding into the preconceived ruts of the culture war, which were there already. So we already have a very divided society, especially in America, also in Britain. Less so where, I am in Ireland, but it's still here. And the vaccine conversation then slips into these ruts. And the piece I wrote for you draws on a notion by an academic philosopher called Peter Limberg, who talks about 'the thesis and the antithesis' when it comes to the ways of seeing the vaccine, or not just the vaccine, but the whole the whole attitude. So the
thesis is the establishment position that's held by the official media, and the governments, and social media, and generally speaking the tribes of the Left, if you like. And that's that 'everything that's happening is basically fine and it needs to happen to reduce the impact of the virus. Masks, lockdowns, even vaccine mandates and passports, this is all good, it's necessary, it's temporary, it's fine. And concerns about it are overblown'. Then there's the antithesis, which sees that 'these things are dangerous and potentially wrong. Maybe the vaccines aren't safe, the masks are pointless and we're sliding into authoritarianism'. Now,
plenty of people don't necessarily hold completely to either of these positions. But they're good ways of seeing the debate. And once those two positions slide into the culture war we had already, and people start throwing rocks at each other, then nobody's listening to the other person. And Limberg's suggestion, which might be optimistic, but it's probably right, is we need to come to a synthesis of these. And the only way to do that is for people to listen to the fears of people on the other side. Why don't we just dig into those two positions a bit, and try to work out- because obviously, there are good people in both of those camps.
Well-meaning, virtuous human beings who we'd want to be prized members of our society, might take either of those views, or a combination. So the thesis view that is more commonly held by elite-type, or more establishment characters, and they think- why do you think they have become so... holding to it so passionately, and so defensive of that view? Let's try to understand that first group first. I started off
broadly in that group. And I've followed all the rules, I've been very well behaved. I've worn my mask out, and I still do all that. And I'm not one of these people who thinks you shouldn't wear masks, or you shouldn't - I'm very careful. It's a nasty illness, I don't want to pretend it isn't. I
don't want to get anyone infected with it. So you know, I'm not stomping around saying that "nobody should take a position". But I think there's an issue of institutional trust. And I think this is a big deal in the west at the moment. And I
think that maybe one of the reasons this is so divisive in America, and in Britain too, and in some other countries, is that as I said, it's feeding into pre-existing ideas about whether you trust authority or not. So in Britain, I get a real sense that this is feeding into the Brexit division that was there anyway. So since 2016, there's been an enormous division in Britain between the so-called Leavers and the so-called Remainers. And we know that the so-called Remainers, not all of them but many of them, are from the elites. And we know that as
the position of every aspect of business, politics, the establishment media, etc, etc. They lost. That was an existential crisis for them. They decided to deal with existential crisis, many of them, by demonising the Leave voters as fascists, and racists, and bigots, and ignorant people who needed to be educated. And then along has come this other issue, which is also about institutional trust. Because broadly speaking, the thesis position is people who trust what the science is said to be, and what the government says, and what the public health advisors say, and is very suspicious of any any dissent. And this is how they have
managed to- and the justification for that comes from, 'we have to protect lives, right?' A lot of people say this, 'well, it's very dangerous to question this'. So if you've told yourself that the authorities are correct, broadly speaking, and this is the way to go, and we've got an urgent situation, we have to protect lives, then you can justify almost anything. You can justify social media shutting down conversations, you can justify the media deliberately taking one side of the story all the time and ignoring the other one, you could justify vaccine passports, you can justify lockdowns of the unvaxed, what can you not justify if you get to that position? So I think that people, broadly speaking, who for as you say, for good reasons, because they think this is a public health thing, are cleaving to a particular narrative, and are very frightened of allowing the other one even to come into the conversation. So, to be even broader about that group, do you think we could say that they view this as yet another potential threat, a potential challenge to a world that they felt was going in the right direction, and was being well organised, and was safe, and they were flourishing in it - and since the kinds of things like Brexit and other things, but now this vaccine argument, there are these internal assaults on that safe world from parts of society that they don't understand? Is there something like that going on? I think that's true. I mean, I think as you said, there's a lot of people who've just taken the vaccine because they thought it was the right thing to do for themselves and society. Which is a perfectly good decision, who knows, maybe they were right. What's interesting is I think
both sides of this think their world is coming down. Because it kind of is. This is the culture war in a nutshell. Everyone thinks their world is collapsing, and they have to defend themselves against the people who are coming at them.
So yeah, absolutely, those people - broadly the sort of liberal elite, so called, in the old cliche - who since 2016, have seen the whole thing coming down, the comfortable world that they thought they were part of, just being challenged everywhere. And the story they're telling themselves is that 'everyone who challenges them is a fascist or a nutter'. And on the other side, the people who are challenging that story, have felt for a long time that their world was disappearing. That they were threatened by everything from, I don't know, migration, to the European Union, to political correctness, to whatever it is that people are upset about. And you've got two teams increasingly now, who think that this is existential. Now, most people, most people are not really interested in this stuff. I find, in the real world.
They're not on Twitter screaming at each other. But the people who are, the people who actually run things, who are running the institutions, they're engaged in this stuff all the time. And there's a big class element to it as well, which is that, this is broadly speaking, the professional managerial class if you like, who are doing this stuff. And increasingly, the people who have been demonised, the working class or lower middle class people, so you get all that feeding into it as well. Let's just- because I felt we sketched the thesis position quite well, let's just try to do the same for the antithesis position. So, it does occur to me that quite a few people who
were previously not involved in culture war questions have become so, via the COVID-19 issue. And so it has actually radicalised people who would otherwise not be in a culture war. What is it about their group, try and put us in the picture of what they fear and what they feel? I started off broadly speaking, being a conventional thesis kind of a chap, and I've slid towards the antithesis position, certainly. And the fear is very simple, certainly from my point of view, and it's the fear of galloping authoritarian control. And the fear more broadly, and I think there's reality in this, very much so, is that a pre-existing trend, which we could all see, towards technological control, and monitoring and compliance in society. The use of everything from social media, to smartphone apps, to algorithms, to artificial intelligence, to push us towards a society, something that I call a 'machine society', which is controlled, monitored, everybody is compliant. And we
have to effectively create a smart world, where everything's online, including our bodies, including our homes, this stuff's all been on the agenda for a very long time, there's no secret about it. That was happening anyway, that's the direction we've been moving in. Now, the fear on the so-called antithesis side, if you leave aside all the conversations about whether vaccines or masks are good, or whatever, is that this virus is being used, and I think it is, to push us in that direction. Now, that argument can be used to justify any kind
of crazy conspiracy about how Bill Gates faked the whole thing or whatever. But that's not the issue. There's no conspiracy needed to see that the way that this is being managed, through technology, through the vaccine as a techno-fix, through authoritarian mandates, QR codes that you have to scan to go to the pub, all of that stuff is taking us into a normalisation of ourselves as acceptable, digital members of society. And we move towards - this is the great fear, and I think there's truth in it - that we move towards a Chinafication of the West, where we're basically walking into a social credit system. And if people have now normalised scanning their
smartphone to go anywhere with their QR code that tells them they're healthy, what gets added to that? Is it your insurance details? Is it your social media profile, whether you've said anything bad and got mobbed today? And we have to see that in another way, in the context of the work I was doing for years on environmentalism, we're going into an age of climate change, we need to manage emissions, we've got collapsing and crumbling ecosystems. It becomes more and more necessary to tightly manage people, so that we don't create a damaging mass society - control their emissions, control their behaviour. And again, lots of good people will say, "well, this is necessary". So you don't need an evil cabal who wants to destroy you. You just have to look at the logic of where the technological society is moving. So that's the fear. And as I
say, as I've watched this- two years ago, I heard people predicting that this would lead to vaccine passports and it sounded like the sort of thing David Icke would say. And now it's here! So where do we go next? What I notice, I don't know if you've seen this as well, but actually a lot of people who would fall into the thesis group, people who are fine with a lot of these measures and aren't especially worried about them, would share a lot of those other concerns. So you start talking to them about the direction of travel and well, too much surveillance, too much technology. You talk about the Chinafication of society, they will be interested, and often quite worried. They just don't connect
it with COVID policy. No, I think so. I think that's true. And I think also, you have to factor in the fact that for two years, we've been frightened. The whole of society has been pretty much terrified for the last two years of this virus. Now you could argue about whether it should have been that way or not. But because we're frightened- fear is a great
controlling device. People are frightened, so they will accept things now that they wouldn't have accepted before. I don't think anyone would have imagined - I mean, even lockdowns. I remember this discussion on the first lockdown, 'would people in the West ever accept anything like this?' I don't know if you remember watching the first cases of lockdowns in China, and saying, "oh, I'm glad we don't have anything like that here, you couldn't imagine it in Britain". But it didn't take long for it to happen everywhere. Now again, I'm not
arguing that it wasn't the right thing to do. But we've seen a very big, vast shift in what I suppose is a kind of technological Overton window, towards what we're prepared to accept. And you're right. If you talk to most people about this, they are concerned about it. But they don't connect it with this, because a lot of people feel, 'look, we just have to get rid of this, this is really frightening and it's dangerous'.
You know, it is dangerous. I'm not playing this down at all. If you're elderly and vulnerable it's a nasty thing, and you need to be very careful with it. I'm not suggesting a sort of blase attitude to the virus. But what we're accepting in the name of tackling it is becoming increasingly disturbing. They
also often make the argument that 'freedom doesn't really mean free to do everything you want at all times, it means also freedom to live, freedom to be healthy'. So there's a philosophical defence of that. And also that 'true libertarian or liberal life never meant freedom during an emergency'.
When there are special situations, freedom has always been detailed, and they talk about the Blitz and other periods when that's happened. What is your response to people who raise those objections? Yeah, well, that's obviously true. And I think sometimes that's a bit of a false debate, as if people who have objections to what's going on are somehow cowboy libertarians who want to be able to do everything they want all the time. That's never been where I've been coming from, as a writer or a person. And as I said, I've lived through some of the longest lockdowns in Europe, here in Ireland, and there might be some other ones coming and I'm quite happy to obey the rules. And I'm very careful if I'm around
elderly people, and this is important, it's social responsibility. Everybody has that. So there's always been that balance hasn't there? There's always been that debate between what freedom means, and what security means, and what the balance between them is. There's always going to be that going on in a society. And you're right, in emergencies, no one's going to suggest that shouldn't black out your windows during the Blitz because you didn't want to. And those are
the kinds of arguments people make. The question you have as an individual is where you want to draw the line. And that's a personal question for everybody. And I'm drawing my line at
'lockdowns of the unvaccinated'. And I'm drawing my line at 'vaccine passport'. And I'm drawing my line at 'something that segregates us'. Consider the fact that everybody came together when the virus first came. Consider the sort of pieces that you were publishing in UnHerd, actually, where people saying "maybe this will put the cultural war behind us because we're all united against something much more important", which would have been great. So at the initial stages, when
everyone was clapping for the NHS and going into lockdown together and the rest of it, people felt like there was a sense of solidarity, because people were coming together against a common enemy. As soon as you introduce the vaccines into the conversation, and especially the mandatory vaccines, what you have is a kind of techno-fix introduced into the mix, which is produced by a profit-making company. Which is very new, and so people are concerned about it and start having debates about whether it's safe. Then you start
mandating that. Then you start demonising the people who won't take that. And immediately, when the whole thing coalesces around that technology, you've got this huge division in society. You've taken something which was a form of solidarity, where pretty much everybody agreed, some people didn't, but pretty much everybody said "okay, look, this is a nasty virus, we'd better do something about it". Immediately you've got a culture war. Because of the technology that came in, and now the fury and the anger and the abuse that's going on, especially against people who don't want to be vaccinated or who even raise their voices against it. The difficulty of saying anything on
social media, however nuanced, even if you're a virologist, or an epidemiologist, that isn't going to get deleted. Again, that's something that we seem to have normalised. The fact that Silicon Valley has decided what misinformation is, and what we're allowed to say. And, again, you can always use an emergency to justify that. But 9/11 was used to justify any
number of measures which haven't gone away since then. So at what point do we decide that there ought to be a political discussion that there ought to be consent? Who's making these decisions? We're just slipping into them, without really having a conversation, because it's almost impossible to have the conversation now. It feels like these two groups are getting further apart at the moment, doesn't it? And actually, the more amped-up both sides get, the more entrenched a portion of them get, and the less likely it is that this synthesis is going to happen. So I don't know what the ideal scenario is, somehow to take the temperature down - I suppose it would be fewer escalations of segregating measures by the thesis side, and then an attempt by the antithesis side to remain calm and not amp it up. But that doesn't seem realistic at this point. So where are we headed? Well, it's a good question. Again, that's a cultural question, isn't it, that was here even before this. There's so many fractures and cracks in
Western society.This COVID has acted like a literally apocalyptic thing. Because the word 'apocalypse' literally means 'revelation'. It's shown us a lot of things about our society that we could afford to avoid before. One of them being
how utterly broken the whole thing was and how fractured. And yeah, I mean look, the ideal scenario would be that there are no coercive measures, especially coercive measures that divide people. So you might want to argue about lockdowns, but a lockdown is a coercive measure that involves everybody. Okay, so fine, that's one thing. A vaccine mandate is a coercive measure that divides people. So the sane thing to do would be to say, "right, as a society, because we value our social cohesion, and because it's not simply about getting the numbers of this infection down, we have to consider wider things like the long term impacts of whether we can work as a culture, we're not going to do coercive measures that divide people".
Again, some countries have done that. And the other obvious thing to do would be for both sides to leave their extremists to the extremes and actually try to talk to each other. You don't have to believe that this is a conspiracy to kill everybody.
Neither do you have to believe that everybody who doesn't like vaccines is a neo-fascist. You can just leave those people to scream on Twitter, and try to have a conversation. And at a personal level, that's something everybody can do. You talk about how you've learned more in the last two years than in the previous 40-something years. Yes. What is it that you've
learnt - you talk about a roughness of culture, a lack of sympathy for your fellow humans - what is it that you think has been revealed to you about who we really are? Well, I just think I've learnt a lot about human nature, and a lot of it hasn't been very nice! And that includes my nature, my tendency to look for sources of information that agree with me already, for example, which is a very common thing, the confirmation bias. Or this endless temptation to get into a tribe, and throw rocks at the other tribe. It's there all the time. Generally speaking, I've just seen, I think, society is much less- I'm someone who's written about this before, but to me, it was almost an intellectual idea before COVID came along. Society is much less stable than I thought it was. And authoritarianism, and a desire for fighting, and war, and that stuff, is much less far under the surface than I thought it was, actually. And that's what really disturbs me. I didn't think I'd be living in a time where we would have to have arguments about tyranny, actually, which is potentially I think, what is coming, I know it's a big, big word, but a kind of biomedical tyranny is possible. And I'm not talking
about lockdowns, or masks, or whatever, I'm talking about where we could be going with this kind of technological division of society. That's all on the table now. And I never thought we would be in the position of having to argue that we should not isolate a third of the people in our culture for medical reasons. Or indeed argue that we shouldn't censor the media, so that we shut out dangerous decisions. It's a
little bit like the ongoing conversation about free speech, which I suppose we all thought was settled, and then turned out really not to be. So it's almost like everything's up for grabs now. Because somehow as the social structures break down, the wild desire for war and authoritarianism is coming out.
On all sides as well by the way. Where does that leave liberal democracy, that phrase that often gets bandied around. All of these democratic, national units around Europe and America, that have been flourishing and thriving for such a long time, feel like they require a certain degree of baseline agreement about what constitutes knowledge, what constitutes a fair decision, who should be allowed to do what against who. If that breaks down into these tribes that you're talking about, how will we be governed? Yeah. Well that's the thing, isn't it. And it's been breaking down for a long time. And I've written for you about this before, this is a much longer and bigger issue than just COVID or even culture war. It's about
what a society is, and what its sources of authority are. And we've gone through a whole process of- in the whole of the West, transitioning from being basically Christendom, a society which had a sacred story. So a religious story ties a culture together, it gives it a symbolic meaning. And our symbolic
meaning was the Christian story. And we started to abandon that in the 18th century, and we moved into another story with a different symbolic meaning. And this was the story of progress. And progress was a materialist story, there was no longer anything so-called 'supernatural', we moved into the story of progress, material, measurement, science, technology, reason, all of that stuff. That started to break down really in the 20th century, I think. It wasn't really sustainable to talk about progress after the Holocaust. And the more problematic we saw science and materialism to be, and the more we realised that materialism wasn't enough for us as human beings, then that story started to break down as well.
So Christendom broke down as our source of symbolic meaning. Progress has broken down as our source of symbolic meaning. So we're a society in the West that doesn't have a source, we don't know who we are, we don't know what to believe in. Social media
accelerates this a thousandfold. Because we can form tribes, we can mob people who disagree, we can go for war instead of conversation. It happens all the time. And then we end up in a place where we are now, with screaming, competing, tribes.
COVID comes along, accelerates that another millionfold, because that gives us a fear factor, we can argue about viruses and masks until the cows come home. And we haven't got a court, we haven't got a cultural court. So the future, you know, in that sense, the only way you can hold people together, is through authoritarian measures. More control, more laws about what you're allowed to say and what you're not allowed to say, where you can go, where you can't go. Because real
societies, real cultures are held together by a sense of social norms. And we haven't got them anymore. Regardless of whether you believe in Christianity, or progress, or any of these things. They were, at least for a while, stories that held us together. And I think we haven't got a story that holds us together anymore. So do you think that people who are in the antithesis group, people who might not take the vaccine or are worried about the direction of travel - in some way, it's just a surface, proxy for something closer to rejecting the whole rational-only view of the world.
That actually, those people might - I have no polling evidence to support this, by the way, but - do you think that that group is more likely to be yearning for religious meaning, or things other than science, to make sense of the universe? I think there's got to be some truth to that. There's a dark side to that as well, because things other than science can be very dark things. You can go into some very nasty places when you're challenging that consensus. But that's the fringe, luckily. And I think that's right. And my intuition is about the same, and I don't have any data to back it up, either. But yeah, I think so. Because if you think about the thesis positions, so very much the thesis is the position of progress and reason. And it tells us that science and
technology will solve this problem, we get the right scientists together- I mean, it's very interesting to me the way that we medicalised the whole of society. We have these public health experts standing at lecterns and they tell us what we should do, and we think, 'well who elected you? Who are you, where did you come from, where's the political debate?' So we close down politics, and we get medical science to tell us what to do. And they say, "right, here's what to do, lock down, wear a mask, here comes the vaccine". And we sort of obey it. But as it sort of fails, and it is failing, we had
this vaccine rollout and now we're back to a lot of problems with the virus. Whether or not the vaccine worked in certain ways, it obviously hasn't ended the pandemic. That's not an argument against it, but that's just an observation of what's going on. So as that progress and reason attitude visibly fails, then yes, absolutely, a lot of people who have a strong intuitive sense that we need something else, start to turn against it. Which is pretty much what I've done in a way, because
I've seen what seemed to be a reasonable response to the virus turned into quite a scientistic, authoritarian system, which I'm not allowed to question without being called terrible names all over the place. And that's happening to billions of other people as well. So yeah, I think so. I think there's an inchoate yearning, amongst antithesis people, for some other way of doing society. And there's no consensus because there's so
many different people in that camp, who have all sorts of different perspectives about it. And that also explains why people in the thesis group find it so baffling, and therefore probably so frightening, that according to their own internal logic, which is one of science and rationality with certain stated objectives that can be reached through certain measures, there is no argument against some of these measures. And actually, it's almost more of an aesthetic objection. It's something to do with what a beautiful life should look like. It's a spiritual objection, actually. And I've done this
myself, to some degree, make the mistake of trying to argue in scientific terms about what's going on. And they start saying, "oh, the vaccines don't work for this reason, or we should take ivermectin", or whatever. And then everybody starts throwing peer review studies at each other. Nobody really understands them, except the people who wrote them. And we reduce it to this level of materialism. And it's not at that level, it's exactly that the people are- not that there aren't legitimate debates to be had about that stuff, right. But actually, I
agree, under the surface that's not what's going on. But we don't have the language, we don't have the spiritual language or the cultural language to talk about what's going on under the surface. So we just argue about the science. And there's something much bigger, much deeper going on.
This is what I mean about COVID being a revelation, it's showing us something that's really missing, this great spiritual void, this cultural void at the heart of our culture, we don't even know how to talk about yet. So in a sense, the message to antithesis people is, once you've already conceded the terms of argument, that it's entirely about the efficacy of the vaccine, or the safety, you've already lost. Because you're not gonna win that long term. Whilst actually, other values need to be delineated and called on, to make a case for - whatever the science, whatever the level of risk, this is somehow not how we want to live. Yeah. I think that's the big thing. And I've discovered that by getting it wrong, myself, actually. Or at least engaging in those arguments at that
different level. And I can say that there are arguments to have, most people aren't qualified to have them on either side. Who's qualified to argue about the efficacy of the vaccine? Very few people, actually. We all pretend we are, but we're not. That's exactly that, if you are challenging the
authoritarian system, the technological system, the system of scientistic progress and control that is manifesting around COVID, and which COVID is being used as an excuse to create, then you have to argue with it on those terms. You don't argue about particular approaches. And you also have to recognise there are legitimate medical approaches to trying to tackle the virus and not get into pretending the virus doesn't even exist, or it's not very dangerous for some people. That's also self-defeating. You simply say, "look, can you not
see that this attempt to defeat a virus is creating a society which is looking increasingly terrible. And we don't know how long that's going to last, and we don't know whether it's ever going to go away". And that's where I'm coming from. And that's why I feel the need personally for myself to say "I'm drawing a line at certain things that I'm not going to go along with". And even though you're going to get monstered by sticking your head above the parapet, you have to stick it up if you're concerned about that. Whether or not you're
vaccinated, that's irrelevant. The control systems are separate from your opinion about particular technologies. Final question for you, Paul. What are those values that we should be talking about, do you think? Because one, the word 'freedom', gets bandied around a lot, and that, frankly, has already been sort of sullied. It doesn't carry a great deal of weight in
a public discussion, because it's used in ways that are hard to defend. What are the values that need to be talked about? Yes, it doesn't mean anything, freedom, does it? You can make an argument that freedom is one of the things that made society disintegrate over the last 50 years, this constant obsession with individual freedom in all areas, whether its economic or cultural, has had exactly that kind of acidic impact on things. It is unfashionable, but I like to talk about spiritual values, I like to talk about what the actual higher meaning of a society is, and what a culture is. And what it regards as its
God. If you haven't got... 'You're going to worship somebody', as they say, so what is the higher value of your society? What's the purpose of being here? What are we even here for as humans? What kind of culture do we want to live in? Is it just, we try and maintain the bare facts of our biological existence for as long as possible using technology? Or does life have a wider meaning? And if it doesn't, what is it? Those are not debates anyone's going to agree on. But they need to be discussed. And at the moment, we've come to a society and again, something else COVID has revealed, that it doesn't really have any meaning at all, except on the material level. So we all scream at each other about that, and we talk about freedom, as you say, or we argue about vaccines or whatever. But
there's a void, and this is the void that the culture war has shown us, and it circulates around the questions, 'who are we? What's the meaning of human life? And what's the meaning of living in a society to allow that meaning to flourish?' Now, I don't believe that the value of human life is shopping, or living as long as possible. As if those were radical things in themselves. We have basically effectively, for a long time now, we have been systematically demolishing everything but the material realm. And this is where we've ended up. And where that leads you into Mark Zuckerberg's Metaverse, right. It leads you into the Matrix. That's where we end up going. Because why not download your mind and live forever if there's no meaning to anything else? So it's a really big discussion, that is not going to be resolved at any point. But we don't, as I
said, we need to learn to talk again on that kind of almost mythic, spiritual level. Not an easy thing in the best of times, especially not now! That is very interesting advice, I think. And people watching, the thing anyone can do is to try and raise the debate. And try not to get too angry, try not to go down a rabbit hole of 'this scientific fact versus that scientific fact', and try to restate something bigger that matters to you. Yeah, I think so. You can use this as an
opportunity. You can use this as an opportunity to try and explore exactly those things. And to try and keep the debate higher, which is, you know, it's hard. We all fail at it, I fail at it, you get dragged down rabbit holes and argue about the details of things with people, but it's a much bigger discussion. Because this virus and the reaction to it has
reveal this great spiritual void, I think, in our culture, and that's the thing we ought to be homing in on. And like you say, doing it with kindness, trying to listen to each other's fears, instead of this constant, warring abuse that just doesn't doesn't go anywhere. It just goes round, and round, and round, and round. And we miss the big picture of what's really going on. Paul Kingsnorth, thank you so much. Thank you. Thanks
to him for sharing his views on what the pandemic has revealed. Some of the underlying, epistemological, or scientific, or worldview distinctions between us and the process of trying to bridge that divide. It's going to be a difficult one, but I guess we have to start somewhere. Thanks to him. Thanks to you. This was UnHerd.