History has altered course. Lockdowns saw the belittling of whole populations by a neo-feudal elite, while that elite, with astonishing frequency, was stoutly defended by those same belittled populations. Monocultural autocracies allied with powerful corporate barons have now emerged within Western governing institutions, yielding a system that approximates Benito Mussolini’s concept of fascism.
The struggle against this darkness will surely take many years. Who and what will keep that struggle alive? What hurt will fuel the fight, keeping the fires of resentment burning, and what hurt – real as it may have been – will fade over time and hence be only a weak ally of the soldiers of the resistance?
Social science has reasonable answers to these questions, which are in essence questions about what people get used to and what they don’t.
The decades-old well-being literature has asked whether and over what time scale people adjust to major life shocks. Researchers track, year after year, how satisfied people are with life and how their life satisfaction changes when they are hit by major life shocks like divorce, unemployment, financial losses, violent crime, the death of important others, major illnesses, eviction, and so on.
We ourselves have contributed to this literature, which now boasts hundreds of papers. Some of the rules of thumb distilled from this research are startling, and many remain unknown outside the well-being community. We draw on these high-level insights below, recognising naturally that there are exceptions to every rule.
First, people do recover from the death of loved ones. It takes about two years, but after that time passes, people are about as satisfied with life as they were before the bereavement. They simply move on with life. In fact, it turns out that people move on from almost any shock to their social networks by finding new social relationships within about two years. This means that we mostly get over temporary loneliness, unemployment, personal disputes, and changes of career.
Similarly, people are not permanently pained by limitations on their political freedom, travel disruptions, constant virtue signalling, or the propagating of improbable histories, for the simple reason that well-being is barely connected to those things in the first place.
Human well-being is far more embedded in aspects of life like mental health, social status, and warm social relations. Freedom and other intangible social “goods” do affect these three main drivers of well-being, but for most people not much and for reasons they don’t fully understand.
This means that banging on about losses to freedom – as bad as they are for the longer-run development of human societies – is not the best approach if you want to rouse mass support against the feudal elites now running the show. Traction in that area simply fades fast. If politicians can still distract an audience after two years of doing all kinds of damage to their freedom and social lives, then we hate to admit it, but they have gotten away with it.
What do people not get used to? They do not recover from reductions in social status. People only get over unemployment, for example, if they find another job or move into a different role that is equally socially valued (like “homemaker”, or “retiree”).
On this basis we would predict that someone who filled an important role in business but whose firm was destroyed by Covid restrictions will have a burning and lasting resentment against that loss until and unless she finds a roughly equal-status alternative role, because she continues to want the return of her lost social status.
That resentment will burn all the more brightly if there is a group with high status that she can blame for her loss, and whose status she can hope to capture for herself. Permanent damage to status coupled with the idea of restitution is powerful. It provides a motivation that keeps on burning.
Machiavelli made a similar observation on human nature 500 years ago, when in advising a ruler on what not to do, he noted: “Above all he must refrain from seizing the property of others, because a man is quicker to forget the death of his father than the loss of his patrimony.”
The insight that loss of status leads to permanent resentment also goes for lost health and lost opportunities if those losses can be linked to a current group of culprits from whom something can be taken away. The idea that an important thing was stolen which, if somehow returned, would markedly improve life right here and now is extremely powerful. The idea that vaccines did permanent damage to health, or that people were robbed of their best years, coupled with the plausible culpability in both cases of a nasty elite, would fit this bill.
Following this line of logic, we expect to see the gradual emergence and ultimate success of a resistance storyline that the masses “have been deliberately damaged by a rich elite.” Vaccine damage in particular, real or imagined, is extremely powerful from a modern narrative point of view, because it ties into the obsession with self that characterises social media and underpins modern cowardice.
More and more people will start worrying that they were injected with poison that damaged them permanently, particularly if the companies selling the poison could potentially be forced to compensate them for the damage. Obsessing about how one’s health has been damaged due to vaccines inflicted by others fits today’s grievance culture like a glove: it is personal, it invites virtue signalling, it names a culpable group, it allows for draconian actions, it demands redistribution to self, and it is simple to understand.
Team Lockdown, which subsequently morphed into Team Vaccine, will find it extremely difficult to avoid blame for vaccine damage, particularly since Team Lockdown/Vaccine so blatantly disregarded public health principles and scientific standards in medical trials. That the Covid vaccine project included deliberately exposing children to known risks for no significant reasonably expectable gain will be very difficult to hide from the population in the longer run.
No matter what distractions can be manufactured, the suspicion of permanent damage to self and to own children will keep creeping back, particularly as large majorities in most Western states have been cajoled, by hook or by crook, into accepting these vaccines.
Evidence of enlarged hearts, blood clots, long-term tissue damage, genetic alteration, immune system misdirection, and so on will remind people over and over again of the ongoing health loss inflicted upon them. Damage to their health will prey on the minds of the masses, particularly when expensive health problems befall them in the future. True or not, they will suspect that they would not have had those problems had they not taken the vaccines.
These suspicions are capable of capturing the public imagination. This can raise a lust for vengeance and compensation. A range of popular books will doubtless emerge on the topic, drawn upon by all and sundry in political battles. The Covid response can and undoubtedly will be portrayed in future years as the product of criminal negligence.
Such a thing can get ugly. Once a population is truly convinced they have been betrayed by an elite that has both money and status (read: things to lose), all gloves are off. We are then in similar historical circumstances as those in which Germany found itself in the 1920s, where a belief spread in the idea that Germany had lost the Great War due to betrayal by socialists and Jews. This belief was dubbed the ‘Dolchstoßlegende’ (the ‘dagger legend’), and became a storyline used very effectively by you-know-who. Many believed to have done the betraying did not survive.
For better or for worse, a story of betrayal along these lines seems unavoidable at this point. A new dagger story is coming, this time partly because it is true, and partly because it fits both the needs of the resistance and the norms of the modern zeitgeist.
Just how powerful this story will turn out to be is difficult to predict, but what we can predict is who can be counted upon to champion it most vociferously: the businesspeople who irrecoverably lost their positions due to the Covid lockdowns and other restrictions, the young and single who for similar reasons lost the best years of their lives, and those who believe the vaccines did them and their children permanent damage. That alliance – forged in the fires of lasting hurt to human well-being – could produce a formidable adversary against the culpable Covid elites.
* Key papers: Clark, A. E., Diener, E., Georgellis, Y., & Lucas, R. E. (2008). Lags and leads in life satisfaction: A test of the baseline hypothesis. The Economic Journal, 118(529), F222-F243.; Frijters, Paul, David W. Johnston, and Michael A. Shields. “Life satisfaction dynamics with quarterly life event data.” Scandinavian Journal of Economics 113.1 (2011): 190-211.