Michael Swan

Glen Argan: ‘Frightened conservatives’ on the march

  • April 15, 2021

In recent weeks, I have encountered a few Catholics who believe the current pandemic is not real, that it has been created by an anonymous “they” who want to restrict the civil liberties of ordinary people.

This “they” has a nefarious plan to create a totalitarian state where freedom to worship publicly is abolished. The plan is being put into effect through a devious appeal to the populace’s goodwill, urging the people to isolate themselves as much as possible and to wear masks and socially distance when they make rare forays into public space.

The current campaign against the coronavirus and its variations is intended to soften up the populace to act in accord with every government edict. So, restaurants, bars and libraries have been closed to isolate people, and we are required to wear masks even though many of the masks now available are useless in preventing the spread of disease. Or so the story goes.

When a government shutters a church because its leaders and members flagrantly violate government restrictions on the number of people who may attend worship services, it is proof that “they” are squashing civil liberties.

This sort of thinking only has credibility if two things are true: First, the pandemic is not a serious threat to public health; two, a vast underground conspiracy of societal leaders is striving to deprive people of their rights and to impose a communist-style government around the world.

On the first matter, reputable sources report that, at this writing, more than 136 million people have contracted COVID-19 or one of the variants, and more than 2.9 million people have died. This is a vast number of people even if it is, thankfully, much less than the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918-19. Moreover, these people are not anonymous. They include friends, neighbours, acquaintances and other people we know. Further, the death rate in many places has increased and those who have died are, to a large extent, those whom medical experts predicted would be most susceptible to the virus.

On the second basis for this thinking, it staggers reason to believe that hundreds of thousands of people or more would be party to a conspiracy with none of them coming forward to describe the who, what, where, when and why of the conspiracy. The conspiracy would include most world leaders, renowned medical experts and practitioners, legal and police authorities, journalists, educational leaders and many others.

In Alberta, a debate is currently raging over revision of the elementary school curriculum. Part of the debate is ideological, but it largely involves the nature of education itself, a debate which has been alive for a century or more. Debates on other issues are also ongoing. People are showing no hesitation to publicly state their objections to government proposals. This makes it harder to accept that, on one issue, that of COVID-19, people are being cowed into silence.

This opposition to public action to stem the pandemic is being driven by ideology, not by available facts. Those opposing government restrictions are, almost to the last individual, a certain brand of conservative. All conservatives should not be tarred with this brush. There are many types — corporate conservatives, social conservatives, free enterprise conservatives, progressive conservatives, paleo-conservatives, etc.

But those who oppose the current health restrictions are what I call frightened conservatives. The world has changed to the detriment of many people. It is more secular, more anonymous, a class structure is hardening, governments are more inclined to legislate social morality, job opportunities are disappearing and much more. The fear of the frightened conservative is based in reality. When you are excluded, it is easy, if not necessarily rational, to think some vast force is out to get you.

These are the people for whom Donald Trump had his greatest appeal. It matters not that, according to The Washington Post, Trump made 30,573 false or misleading statements during his four-year presidency. He spoke, unlike few other political leaders, for those who feel on the outside. To them, he spoke truth.

To frightened conservatives, all evidence presented by health authorities about the danger of the virus is simply the ideology of privileged classes who seek to control our lives. They will not be convinced otherwise. For them, we are in an epochal battle for freedom, and nothing will convince them simply to wear a mask to protect themselves and others.

(Argan writes from Edmonton.)

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