At the last Left Lockdown Sceptics meeting held on 13 November, Amy Willows, who has studied psychology and psychotherapy, presented an intrapsychic theory of conformity as it relates to Covid vaccinations. This article is a collaboration between Amy and Rusere Shoniwa to articulate her theory to a wider audience.
The image of the lone man refusing to do the Nazi salute in 1936 is as good a place as any to start a conversation about conformity in the era of Covid. It is a symbolic touchstone of resistance to the mountains of Covid propaganda engulfing us and the absurd and destructive government policies and directives that have ensued. It also captures the defining characteristic of holding a non-consensus intellectual or moral position born out of deeply held genuine belief and meaning – namely, that having a non-consensus intellectual or moral position is one thing, but having the courage of conviction to act on it is another altogether.
‘Lone man’ will be used as a synecdoche for the members of society who have refused to conform by taking the government prescribed medication – the vaccine. In a spirit of wanting to invite into the conversation the vast majority – the crowd who offered up their arms for jabbing – we acknowledge that a vaccinated person may find it hard to engage with this article unless they can appreciate the basis for the lone man’s scepticism. After all, from the perspective of a vaccinated person, labelling as ‘conformist’ someone who chose to be jabbed might seem as silly as labelling people who choose to supplement with vitamin D3 in the winter months as ‘conformists’. That’s just sensible!
Lone man’s rational scepticism is founded on questioning why someone with even a half-decent medical certificate of wellness would uncritically submit to being injected with an experimental treatment whose medium and long-term consequences cannot yet possibly be understood, in order to avoid a flu-like illness for which the survival rate is 99.85% (confirmed in October 2020 and again in March 2021; it’s also higher the younger and healthier you are), for which fully 86% of those who test positive for the disease have no symptoms at all and which disproportionately afflicts the old and frail, resulting in the median age of death with Covid being 82.4 years – higher than the age of normal life expectancy in the UK (81.1 years). The risk benefit equation for many simply doesn’t add up.
Equally important, the facts supporting lone man’s stance did not surface with the benefit of hindsight. They were in plain sight when the vaccine juggernaut began grinding societies into submission with an efficiency that provided a surreal contrast to the usual cack-handed ineptitude of government bureaucracy.
A further important qualification about the conformity under the microscope here is that it excludes those who caved into the immense coercion simply in a bid to survive. It also excludes those who conducted good faith research into the risks and benefits at a personalised level, understanding it to be a personal medical choice for which they were responsible. To the extent that they are not ‘responsible’ for the choice, it is because those whose duty it was to disclose everything about the risks and benefits failed to do so.
The conformity we are interested in describes those who got jabbed because it was ‘the right thing to do’ or to ‘protect others’ or because it was ‘selfish’ not to, thus making the choice more political or moral as opposed to medical. This political/moral dimension to the decision makes them susceptible to a blaming or resentful stance towards those who opted out and plays into the difference in mindset between lone man and the conforming crowd.
Situation versus psyche
Conformity is typically viewed through a situational lens. Numerous studies on it conclude, correctly, that under defined circumstances, most of us will conform in a certain way. We are all perfectly rational right up until the moment we are confronted with those not-so-infrequent conditions that force us to abandon common sense and conform. The snag with these studies is that the minority of non-conformers are quietly swept under the rug to present a clean situational explanation of majority conformity, but we’re left wondering why the minority stood their ground.
What does lone man have that the others don’t and, what do the others have that lone man doesn’t? These questions are not a denial of situational pressures but rather an examination of the possibility of the role of intrapsychic drivers – looking at things from the inside out as opposed to the outside in.
Intrapsychic elements of liveliness and unobtrusiveness
In a nutshell, Amy Willows’ theory posits that at the core of lone man’s refusal to comply is a liveliness of mind while the complier’s blind allegiance to authority is driven by a need to be unobtrusive. It’s important not to conflate these terms with personality traits. Do not infer any correlation between, say, extroversion and liveliness of mind. Similarly, the tendency to be a wallflower at a party has nothing to do with unobtrusiveness.
Liveliness is a willingness to engage with disagreement and complexity even if you feel ‘unqualified’ in the relevant field of complexity. This willingness increases when the stakes are high. It’s about doing one’s own research and having the courage of one’s conviction to act on that research. That entails being prepared to take a risk and to pay a price – both the direct cost of miscalculating and the ‘social’ cost of non-conformity. In a world rife with bureaucratic despotism, liveliness entails understanding the rules and then breaking them if the conclusion is that the rules serve no other purpose than to keep bureaucracy alive or that the rules simply don’t make sense in certain situations.
All of this implies living with self-respect because the lively mind trusts itself to choose its own path. This is essential to being truly alive – having the confidence to choose a path knowing there is risk attached and that the consequences are borne by the risk taker and no-one else. “Fine!” is the lively response to the admonition, “Be it on your head”.
The destruction of liveliness permits conformity and the unobtrusive state of mind. But why and how does liveliness get destroyed? Difference demands our attention in a confrontational way and can therefore seem too lively. Thinking for ourselves, acting on unproven convictions, expressing what we believe in, engaging with disagreement, and breaking the rules, are all lively activities which some people might find problematic for their confrontational potential, both intrapsychically and socially.
The possibility of being ‘wrong’ has implications beyond the social. In a state of unobtrusiveness, there is an intrapsychic discomfort with engaging with complexity and difference. Short cuts and easy answers provide an illusion of a wholeness of mind that counters fracturing of the ego. Being the lively one, being different from the crowd feels disorientating. Thinking without reference to the group, thinking differently, is a separation of mind that feels like deprivation.
At the bridge between the psychic and social level, liveliness opens up the possibility of becoming the object of other people’s envy because of its potential for confrontation. Envy here refers to the wish to destroy liveliness or an awareness of it, thus removing conflict. Such destructive wishes obviously feel too dangerous. Avoiding envy is therefore prioritized above tasks involved in choosing for oneself – the intellectual search for reality and truth, and the risk-taking it entails.
Avoiding feeling destroyed becomes the overriding concern, with the consequence that the whole identity is driven to seek shelter in unobtrusiveness. It’s possible that those dominated by unobtrusiveness had early experiences of high levels of intolerance towards their liveliness and difference, leading to a reflexive impulse to fit in with a group. Unobtrusiveness inevitably entails dumbing ourselves down, not thinking, not taking risks, and destroying whatever capacities for autonomous functioning we have. It is the authoritarian’s dream as far as the desired mental state of the average citizen is concerned.
The politics of unobtrusiveness
To reiterate a point made at the start of this conversation – not everyone who got jabbed fits neatly under the rubric of unobtrusiveness as an intrapsychic causal factor (among the many other competing factors in conformity). In a spirit of liveliness, some people did their research and, perceiving themselves to be at risk and trusting the safety of the vaccine, decided to get jabbed. Many of these people are horrified by what is happening in countries like Austria and at the possibility of that calamity reaching our shores. They are not angry with non-compliers because, in the same way that they made a personal medical choice to get jabbed, they respect the personal medical choice of those who didn’t.
We must also acknowledge that millions who got jabbed simply caved into the coercion and pressure. It wasn’t about conformity; it was about keeping a job or being able to travel to see loved ones. This was a survival decision, not a political one.
Unobtrusiveness is about getting jabbed under cover of slogans like ‘it’s the right thing to do’, ‘to protect others’ or because it is deemed ‘selfish’ not to. Unobtrusives eschew complex decision-making in favour of a simplistic moral crusade. Rather than being a personal choice, as it should be, getting jabbed is relegated to an ostensibly political and values-based command with unobtrusiveness as its wellspring. It is this suppression of liveliness that puts them on a collision course with those who, in their minds, aren’t ‘doing the right thing’.
Their political adhesion segues into a form of projection in which unobtrusives assume that non-compliance is dangerous to live with. This in turn, as we shall discuss, opens up the possibility of punishing the political opposition. However, opting out was always a personal choice for the unvaccinated, with the addition of a political dimension amplified under the weight of coercion through passports and mandates.
Alison Blunt is a musician, composer, performer, and adventurer who refuses to bow to the insidious demands of the ‘New Normal’. Reading her letter to her bandleader who required confirmation of vaccination to retain her for an upcoming tour, you see a defiant liveliness bridling against unobtrusiveness. Instructive in the bandleader’s blithe, or possibly more accurately blind, acceptance of the violation of Nuremberg code principles is his expressed pride in “his life-long position of being entirely uninterested in politics”. He seems unaware that being uninterested in politics, which is an active avoidance of thinking, is more likely a prerequisite to human rights violations, not an antidote – a form of believing in nothing and consequently falling for anything. Avoiding belief in anything that might attract opprobrium is a hallmark of unobtrusiveness.
We see more proof of unobtrusiveness at work in Damian Bruce’s recounting of scientists actually working in large pharmaceutical companies who “couldn’t conceive of taking a new, unapproved, vaccine utilising novel cell technology. Everything they knew told them to wait. And what became of these scientists? Well, they all got vaccinated, of course”. It’s an alarming yet prototypical study of conformity with the all too familiar conclusion we alluded to at the beginning of this article: “It’s clear that it’s hard to go against a crowd, even a small one.” These people had done the same calculation as lone man and got the same answer. But, at the precise moment their conviction asked them to put their money where their mouths were, the element of liveliness that requires risk-taking was shut down.
Incidentally, Damian Bruce’s photo choice is, in our opinion, a priceless artistic study of liveliness in a sea of unobtrusiveness. It’s an aerial view of a sea of bodies packed closely together standing in a crowd, with only tops of heads visible, except for a lone woman in the middle of the crowd looking up to the camera in palpable discomfort. The facelessness of the rest of the crowd bestows an air of contentedness on the majority which is at odds with the constricting tightness of the crowd.
Only one person is uncomfortable – the face you can see looking up to the camera, as if gasping for air. Liveliness is uncomfortable. It’s not meant to be easy. She is also the only person you can identify. The rest are faceless bodies, but she is an identifiable individual. She is also the only one who senses something is not right.
At the macro level, being on the political left can seem too lively to many people, which may explain the counter-reflex by those of the pseudo-left, current Labour supporters, who perpetuate social structures and ideas which eradicate liveliness.
Belief in the same thing is not a prerequisite for membership of the vaccine compliant group. On the surface, they may all appear to have the same beliefs but in fact they believe in nothing at all. The capacity to hold a deep and genuine belief might provoke envy, regardless of what the belief is, and this is what they seek to avoid. At the same time, because they don’t take the risk of developing and acting on their own beliefs, a compliant person feels completely disorientated by the idea of the loss of the group or authority figures.
Whatever the rhetoric of the group, its compliant members all seek conformity for its own sake, the aim being to avoid provoking the envy of other people, which might lead to criticism, ostracization and the destruction of a fictitious wholeness of mind. They are clinging to an illusion of social and intrapsychic terra firma.
Peculiar acts of group solidarity, including expressions of cruelty, are grist for the unobtrusives’ mill – mask wearing was embraced without critical assessment of its efficacy, possible harms, or consideration of its dehumanising effect. The more peculiar the act, the more effectively it demonstrates: ‘I can comply’. Abandoning any pretence of scientific validity (and therefore critical thought), some mask supporters’ refrain of frustration with non-compliers at one point was: “It’s just a mask, why can’t you wear it?”.
The ultimate demonstration of compliance currently available involves repeatedly having experimental therapies, whose classification as vaccines is questioned by some experts, injected into the body.
The seeds of revenge – emptiness and envy (the wish to destroy liveliness)
While people are using Covid passes to demonstrate their conformity, it’s also likely that many are becoming increasingly dissatisfied with having been vaccinated, particularly in light of the Prime Minister’s recent admission that the vaccine “doesn’t protect you against catching the disease, and it doesn’t protect you against passing it on” – something that has been known for a long time now. Some may be experiencing rising levels of anger. And anger can often be misdirected.
To many vaccinated people who simply wanted to comply, seeing lively unvaccinated people going about their daily routines without undue levels of fear is an uncomfortable signal of the futility of the policies they energetically complied with – mass lockdowns, mass masking and mass vaccination. For some, it’s starting to look at the very least like a mass waste of time and positive energy. Encountering liveliness is a reminder of what they are forgoing.
The injections, initially sold as the happy ending to a drawn-out apocalypse drama, are now evolving into the source of a Shakespearean revenge play. Instead of bringing resolution, the injections seem to have morphed into an unconscious metaphor for something that has been injected into the psyche of the vaccinated without permission. Far from feeling as though they have taken a life-giving object and assimilated it with gratitude, the mind of the vaccinated may well be grappling with a metaphorical invasion accompanied by a destruction of its liveliness.
At both an individual and societal psychological level, the jab itself, rather than healing, is turning into the final act of destruction. The attack on individuals’ liveliness had in fact already begun with the destruction of their thinking when they took the jabs. A large cohort of vaccinated people still feel empty, partly because they have not been rewarded for obediently disowning their minds and responsibility and are seeking a substitute by demeaning those who retained their independence of mind and body.
The fruits of revenge – the Covid pass
Granted, the Covid pass is not the brainchild of the vaccinated but, notwithstanding its scientific baselessness and moral degeneracy, its prospect is being warmly greeted by a large cohort of them.
At a superficial level, a Covid pass is a marker of whether someone provokes envy, without having to know anything else about them. An easy marker is welcome when the processes of thinking and engaging with experience are absent. There are other markers people use, but a Covid pass externalizes and formalizes this process such that it requires even less thinking and personal responsibility to decide who is suitable company and who is a lively threat.
At a deeper level, the Covid pass could be a vehicle for exacting revenge on the unvaccinated through a destructive invasion of their minds – an attempt by the vaccinated to equalise the loss of their own liveliness by emptying the minds and lives of the unvaccinated. By depleting the lives of the unvaccinated – preventing them from socialising and working – this cohort of vaccinated people can pretend they’re getting their reward. It’s a rather hollow victory.
The most destructive form of revenge would entail the physical removal of people who provoke envy with their liveliness. Literally emptying society of unvaccinated people would be the ultimate mechanism for avoiding envy and disturbance.
To be clear, the discussion of these vengeful acts does not place the blame for destructive government policies at the door of a cohort of the vaccinated. This is the government’s doing and, if justice is to prevail, dockets will be filed at the International Criminal Court to try heads of state and ministers for flagrant violations of human rights. But medical apartheid cannot succeed without enough willing passengers and complicit administrators.
Paradoxically, a group which is to all intents and purposes psychotic – a ‘New Normal’ culture that has embraced the destruction of its history, laws and the relationships between the people within it – is actually composed of individuals who are not themselves in the throes of a psychosis. They are simply doing anything to avoid the envy of others. These people were always there. It’s taken an acute crisis of democracy to reveal them to us.
If the vaccinated people were able to expose themselves to alternative perspectives and break down their reliance on confusing and limiting propaganda, they might start to think more and obey less. They could begin to acknowledge what they have done to themselves and that there are different possibilities available. With the experience of free thinking, the destructive process would lose its potency.
Perhaps the seeds of a happy ending to the nihilistic quest for unobtrusivness can be found in the tragic backstory of the lone man refusing to do the Nazi salute in 1936. The lone man’s name was August Landmesser and he joined the Nazi Party in 1931, believing that having the right connections would advance his job prospects. But he met and fell in love with Irma Eckler, a Jewish woman, in 1934. This got him expelled from the party and his marriage application was denied under the new Nazi racial laws. The couple refused to split up and he was eventually arrested and sentenced to two years in a concentration camp. He was released in 1941 but later went missing in action in Croatia and was declared dead in 1948. Irma died in a so-called Euthanasia centre.
How can we alchemise something positive out of the tragic ending for non-compliance with a totalitarian narrative in 1936 Germany? Well, history only rhymes, not repeats. In 2021, rejection of a destructive narrative by enough people would lead to a rebirth and a reclamation of the liveliness innate to all human beings. It requires a conscious awareness that we are all fighting an inner battle with unobtrusiveness, and the conviction to say, “I will no longer comply”. And, more importantly, the courage to follow through.
You can find more of Rusere’s work at https://plagueonbothhouses.com