On experts and being too optimistic8 min read

A few days ago, the Irreverend Podcast discussed my previous article about lockdown and the end of “experts”. I enjoyed the episode and I thought the discussion was helpful. It’s nice to find like-minded clergy who don’t buy into the typical Guardian worldview! Anyway, the conversation did provoke me to think about what I wrote – in particular, whether I am being a little too optimistic in thinking that this could be the end of Experts.

On the podcast, they took a more pessimistic approach: I think the general mood was that it could take many years before the truth really comes out about lockdowns, and that it’s very unlikely we’ll see the end of Experts any time soon. I would like to explain why I wrote a more optimistic post.

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The short version is, I’m optimistic because of what I believe about the wider political context. Lockdowns, as I said last time, are a manifestation of a bigger problem – hence the discussion about Brexit. You could also throw into the mix climate change, wokeness, and various other related issues such as transgender (some of which I talked about in my post about political truth). I also believe that God is at work amongst all this mess.

Let’s go back to the problem which has been developing over the last 30 years or so.

Somewheres and Anywheres

David Goodhart - The Road to Somewhere

A few years ago I read David Goodhart’s excellent book, The Road to Somewhere. I thought it was a really helpful analysis of where we are and why, when the country voted to leave the EU in 2016, many of our politicians and media class simply couldn’t understand it. If you haven’t read the book, that link will introduce the main idea.

What really struck me then, which has only increased over the last few years, is that there is now a huge disconnect between the views of most politicians and the media and most working class people. It’s a problem which cuts across the whole political spectrum – left and right. Labour, the party which used to be known for advocating for workers rights, has moved onto a more ‘progressive’ ideology. Paul Embery recently wrote about this in his book Despised (subtitle: “Why the modern left loathes the work class”).

It does seem to me that the ordinary, working-class British people do not have a voice advocating for them in politics at the moment. They are simply seen as a problem to be solved (by re-educating them to be less racist, for example). They are only convenient when politicians want to score votes in traditional working-class areas.

Sadly, that distinction even applies in the church: I think the church has failed the working-class community. The church has become too middle-class and out of touch, and it tends to only reflect middle-class concerns and not God’s. I’ve been in meetings of clergy where it was virtually assumed that everyone shared the same Guardian-reading worldview. A few years ago, in one of my final curacy meetings, a curate colleague of mine said to someone who was moving overseas: “Remember us on this island… with the Tories.” She said it without any embarrassment or irony whatsoever. That strikes me as perfectly summing up the attitude of a majority of the CofE.

Lockdown and the working class

One of the points which I’ve seen several people make about lockdowns is the way that it’s a very middle-class concern. The people who can work from home are generally middle-class professionals. Most working-class people have been out working through most of the last year. J.J. Charlesworth said on Twitter:

Now obviously there are problems when trying to define ‘working class’ and ‘middle class’. The boundaries are very blurred. But I think there’s more than a grain of truth in this.

The people running the country tend to be people who are in comfortable jobs. They tend to be living in nice houses with gardens. In general they don’t have to deal with living in a one-bedroom flat with four children who are trying to share one laptop for home schooling.

Most of the people I know who are most pro-lockdown are fairly comfortably off. By contrast, the people I know who have been working through the lockdown tend to be a bit more blase about it. (I guess you’d have to be!). Before Christmas we had an electrician come round. We chatted a bit, and he said something like “I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but…” This isn’t an isolated occurrence by any means. I’ve spoken to several people, e.g. at the school gates, who have many reservations about the lockdowns.

Back to Brexit: a reason for optimism?

I’ve mentioned Brexit a few times now. I think Brexit is fascinating because it exposed the divide that was there in society (e.g. somewheres / anywheres). It had been there for a long time, but didn’t really come to the fore until 2016.

But here’s the thing: Brexit happened. It happened against all the odds – despite the fact that the establishment thought it was a stupid idea. Despite the fact that powerful people sought to use just about every trick in the book to undermine it. The Conservatives won a huge majority in the last election, largely on the promise that they would “get Brexit done”. Labour’s second-referendum idea turned out not to be a vote winner, neither was the Lib Dems “bollocks to Brexit” slogan.

The "Bollocks to Brexit" bus

When the people of this country were given a choice, they voted for Brexit.

I think that this fact alone should give us hope that people can and will turn against the lockdowns. But there are a few other reasons for confidence.

Other reasons to be optimistic

  • The Daily Mail has run some fantastic skeptical articles over the past few months (and it has people like Peter Hitchens writing for the Mail on Sunday, who has been staunchly anti-lockdown since the beginning). The Mail has just about the biggest circulation and reach of any newspaper, so this is not a trivial thing.
  • The lockdowns have had a massive effect on our lives which we’ll be feeling for some time to come. This is unlike something like the Iraq war. That was something which happened a long way away and hasn’t had so much of an impact on us. By contrast, we will each be feeling the impact of lockdown for decades – economically of course, but also in terms of mental health, social anxiety, people who died due to delayed treatment / screening etc. Every day we will be confronted with the enormous cost of lockdown. I think this will be a huge incentive not to simply brush it under the carpet but to hold those responsible to account.
  • There are various new political movements rising up against what’s been happening. The one I am particularly interested in is Laurence Fox’s Reclaim Party (interestingly, Laurence Fox announced today that he was running for Mayor of London). He is standing up not just against lockdowns but against the woke takeover of society. (I wrote about Laurence Fox last year). It seems that what has happened with lockdowns has actually galvanised a political reaction.

Finally, I think there is a theological angle to all this, which I will finish with.

The theological angle

Over the last few years I’ve really got stuck into the Psalms. I try to recommend everyone to read a Psalm every day (I did a video about this a while back). Last year I went through the Psalms from the start, and Psalm 12 really jumped out at me:

Help, Lord, for no one is faithful any more;
    those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
Everyone lies to their neighbour;
    they flatter with their lips
    but harbour deception in their hearts.
May the Lord silence all flattering lips
    and every boastful tongue –
those who say,
    ‘By our tongues we will prevail;
    our own lips will defend us – who is lord over us?’
‘Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
    I will now arise,’ says the Lord.
    ‘I will protect them from those who malign them.’
And the words of the Lord are flawless,
    like silver purified in a crucible,
    like gold refined seven times.
You, Lord, will keep the needy safe
    and will protect us for ever from the wicked,
who freely strut about
    when what is vile is honoured by the human race.

My own feeling is that we are living in a Psalm 12 moment. We are living in days when ‘everyone lies’ – lies are the stock-in-trade of our media and political class. (I’ve talked about this in my post about truth). They have no fear of God, they don’t believe in any absolutes – exactly as Francis Schaeffer foretold.

And what we are seeing is the poor plundered and the needy groan: I think the government are actually inflicting great harm upon our society, especially the poorest and most needy. People who are living in one-bedroom flats with four children, people living in care homes who are unable to see visitors, people who have lost jobs and livelihoods. This was happening to an extent before the lockdown, but the lockdown has exposed it for what it is.

For a while now I’ve been thinking and praying for a new reformation – we need root and branch reform of the church, politics, and society in general. (Interestingly, the late principal of my theological college was praying towards a new reformation of the church). I think the Lord may be answering that prayer with these lockdowns.

I think the technocrats have stepped over a red line, they have inflicted great harm upon people they have been entrusted with. But the Lord sees and he is not silent. We have been governed by fools for long enough (a fool in the Biblical sense – that is, someone who rejects the Lord and his ways). I believe the Lord is coming to raise up a government and a society which does honour him.

I’ll finish with some words from Ezekiel 34, where the Lord speaks against shepherds who have not cared for the sheep:

‘“Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: as surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

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