COVID Scared Me Into Forgetting My Anarchist Principles

Let me begin by saying that I am triply-vaccinated, I don’t regret it for a second, and I believe that vaccination is the right choice for most people.

In addition, I am part of two communities–my workplace and my church–where I have been part of the decision to impose COVID restrictions. As a partner in my law firm, I argued for and supported the decision to exclude unvaccinated employees and partners from the office. Likewise, as a member of the Board of Trustees of my Unitarian Universalist congregation, I argued for and supported the decision to exclude unvaccinated members and visitors from the physical church. I still support the ability of communities, like my church, or small to medium-sized businesses, like my firm, to exclude unvaccinated persons or require masks, as a way of protecting its members, employees, etc.

All of that being said, I have started to have some reservations. I am concerned about how the vaccination debate has deepened the divide created by the culture wars, especially how vaccination status has become a tribal pseudo-identity, where being vaccinated or not has become a kind of shorthand or code for political commitments and values. I am concerned about the ability of large corporations to not only require disclosure of private health care information, but also to mandate medical procedures, as a condition of employment. I am concerned about the dampening of debate about the balance between civil liberties and public health, how even legitimate questions about the efficacy and safety of the vaccines have been silenced in many forums, and how much power search engines and social media platforms have to circumscribe public discussion. I am concerned about the power we are putting in the hands of profit-making pharmaceutical companies in the name of science.

And I am concerned about the drift toward authoritarian, even totalitarian (through the use of technology), control implied by all of this. Not the overt kind of control of Orwell’s 1984, mind you. Rather, more of the subliminal kind of control of Huxley’s Brave New World, a world in which we choose to surrender our freedom, in exchange for safety and pleasure.

In short, now, as we may be coming to the end of the pandemic, and the fog of fear is lifting, I am beginning to remember that I am an anarchist. In the last couple of years, I have been guilty myself of complicity with and even advocacy for all of the above. But I have started to question this recently, as have others.

Recently, Paul Kingsnorth published an article about how he “changed sides” in the vaccine war, entitled “How Fear Fuels the Vaccine Wars”. Kingsnorth is the author of Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist , a critique of the mainstream environmental movement, and One No, Many Yeses, about the anti-globalization movement. Reading Kingsnorth’s article, and listening to his subsequent interview on Unherd, though, it seems less like he has “changed sides” and more like he has come to recognize problems with both sides. The establishment position, he says, “if left unchecked, leads straight to tyranny … But the danger of cleaving entirely to the [anti-establishment position] is a potential descent into paranoia.”

Some places have taken COVID restrictions farther than where I live in Indiana. Kingsnorth seems most disturbed by the mandatory lockdown of unvaccinated people in other countries and by COVID passports being required to enter public accommodations. Both of these are a far cry from “internment camps” and Gestapo-style demands for one’s “papers”, but I think Kingsnorth is right to wonder if we might be heading in that direction.

Almost a million deaths in the US alone (more than in all the wars the the 20th century combined) is not something to be dismissed. But I think Kingsnorth is right to question what has come to be a new kind of dogma of vaccination, where it’s considered antisocial to even ask rational questions. For example, considering that practically everyone who died of COVID was unvaccinated, and most of them chose to be unvaccinated, and that the unvaccinated posed little threat of mortality to the vaccinated, why the draconian measures and why so much fear among the vaccinated? And even assuming it was all justified and effective, shouldn’t we still be asking questions about who gained from all of this and what power we gave up and to whom?

I’ve excerpted part of Kingsnorth’s article below, but I urge you to read the whole article, as well as his subsequent interview. And I invite your thoughts in the comments below. As someone coming from an establishment perspective, it is tempting to hear Kingsnorth as just another anti-vax conspiracy theorist. (Indeed, his writing is sometimes coopted by conservatives.) But knowing that he comes from the same place I do–a progressive-turned-anarchist–his essay causes me to question my own commitment to a position which requires an unprecedented expansion of corporate-government control over our lives.


“[Covid] has revealed the compliance of the mainstream media, and the power of Silicon Valley to curate and control the public conversation. It has confirmed the sly dishonesty of political leaders, and their ultimate obeisance to corporate power. It has shown how ideology, on all sides, can mask itself with the pretend neutrality of ‘science’.

“Most of all, it has revealed the authoritarian streak that lies beneath so many people, and which always emerges in fearful times. In the last month alone, I have watched media commentators calling for censorship of their political opponents, philosophy professors justifying mass internment, and human rights lobby groups remaining silent about ‘vaccine passports’. I have watched much of the political Left [progressivism] transition openly into the authoritarian movement it probably always was, and countless ‘liberals’ campaigning against liberty.”


“Across the world we are seeing an unprecedented claim to control staked by the forces of the state, in alliance with the forces of corporate capital, over your life and mine. All of it converges on the revealed symbol of our age: the smartphone-enabled QR code that has, with frightening speed and in near-silence, become the new passport to a full human life. As ever, our tools have turned on us. …

“We are being herded into a future in which scanning a code to prove you are a safe and obedient member of society may become a permanent feature of life, as unquestioned as credit cards and driver’s licences.”


“In a short but momentous two years, we in the West, who have spent decades, if not centuries, lecturing the rest of the world about ‘freedom’, and sometimes trying to bomb them into accepting it, have abandoned ours without so much as a murmur, and begun enthusiastically scapegoating those who question this path. We who invented this thing called ‘liberalism’ are now burying it, and building on the bare soil some technocratic state-corporate hybrid; a China-style social credit society, centralised, monitored, powered by algorithms, emphatically unnatural and unfree.

“We are in a revolutionary moment. Societies are being transformed, with no public discussion and no consent, into a version of a Silicon Valley nerd’s wet dreams. Unless we can reach some form of synthesis soon — unless the sheeple can address the fears of the covidiots, and vice versa — then we risk being blinded to where the real power lies, and what is being constructed around us as we bicker and insult and pontificate.”

Published by John Halstead

John Halstead is the author of *Another End of the World is Possible*, in which he explores what it would really mean for our relationship with the natural world if we were to admit that we are doomed. John is a native of the southern Laurentian bioregion and lives in Northwest Indiana, near Chicago. He is a co-founder of 350 Indiana-Calumet, which worked to organize resistance to the fossil fuel industry in the Region. John was the principal facilitator of “A Pagan Community Statement on the Environment.” He strives to live up to the challenge posed by the Statement through his writing and activism. John has written for numerous online platforms, including Patheos, Huffington Post, PrayWithYourFeet.org, and Gods & Radicals. He is Editor-at-Large of HumanisticPaganism.com. John also facilitates climate grief support groups climate grief support groups affiliated with the Good Grief Network.

6 thoughts on “COVID Scared Me Into Forgetting My Anarchist Principles

  1. He’s just one of many former “progressives” whose brain turns rancid and Christian after the spotlight of fame and attention turns to them. Look at the idiotic ravings of former Democrat turned Trumpian paranoiac James Howard Kunstler or Naomi Wolf.
    Who cares what the exact right position is on all this? Let Kingsnorth and Kunstler ally with the lunatic right choir-singers who managed to spread COVID to 99% of themselves in the name of religious liberty. Do you think the COVID pandemic of mass global death was just a joke?

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    1. First of all, there needs to be a pretty big asterisk next to “Christian” when describing Kingsnorth. (https://www.firstthings.com/article/2021/06/the-cross-and-the-machine) He decided to be baptized in an Orthodox church, but it sounds like he’s still as pagan as I am (https://allergicpagan.com/2017/12/15/pagan-with-a-small-p/amp/), a pagan for whom the Christian mythos (shed of its moralizing) still holds some power (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/allergicpagan/2013/12/26/i-am-become-the-sun-what-baby-jesus-means-to-this-pagan/), especially as an antidote to the soul-sucking vapidity of late-capitalist culture.

      I don’t know about Naomi Wolf, but comparing Kingsnorth to Kunstler is manifestly inaccurate and unfair. I hope you actually read Kingsnorth’a article and not just my excerpts, because the difference from Kunstler should be clear.

      I certainly don’t think that the deaths of almost a million people in the US alone (more than in all the wars the the 20th century combined) is insignificant or a “joke”, and I don’t get the sense that Kingsnorth does either. But I think he’s right to question what has come to be a new kind of dogma of vaccination where it’s considered antisocial to even ask rational questions. For example, practically everyone who died of COVID was unvaccinated, and most of them chose to be unvaccinated. The unvaccinated posed little threat of mortality to the vaccinated. So why the draconian measures? Why so much fear among the vaccinated? And let’s just assume it was all justified and effective, shouldn’t we still be asking questions about who gained from all of this and what power we gave up and to whom?

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  2. There’s really no need to enter the miasma that is trying to support the cause of the anti-vaczis. Kingsnorth jumped the shark quite a while ago, as your biographic links indicate, and his tortuous paean to the alleged glories of individual autonomy in the face of a horrific worldwide virus is not worth reading closely, or reading at all.
    Who are these people that are allegedly saying it is “antisocial to even ask rational questions”? Everyone has questions, but not everyone is convinced they are the world’s greatest uncredentialed epidemiologist like Kingsnorth, Kunstler, Mark Crispin Miller, Robert Kennedy, Jr., and whoever else wants to mock people for having rational fear of what the virus could to them, as it did to the choir-singers.
    This became mass murder by the Branch Covidians in political power in the US, and the anti-vaczi sympathizers want to have a singalong bake sale for those whose civil liberties to behave like dangerous morons took a temporary back seat? You are nowhere near that territory in any of your writings, but why align yourself with these disgraced former gurus in any fashion?

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    1. I believe your comments have illustrated Kingsnorth’s point.

      You’ve got the clever name-calling, the ad hominem attacks, the social contagion charge (https://charleseisenstein.substack.com/p/mob-morality-and-the-unvaxxed), the fear-mongering, and really a complete failure to respond to the substance of the argument.

      “Who are these people that are allegedly saying it is ‘antisocial to even ask rational questions’?” you ask? To be honest, it seems to me that you are.

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  3. “The unvaccinated posed little threat of mortality to the vaccinated.”
    1) While there is a substantial population for the virus to circulate in then that gives the virus plenty of selective pressure to mutate. 2) Omicron has shown that the virus can mutate to get round antibodies more effectively, so the virus having a sub-population to circulate in raises the risk of breakthrough infections in the vaccinated. It also brings re-infections in those who have had Covid. 3) The effectiveness of vaccination varies, e.g. among the elderly and the immuno-compromised, so again they are at risk of breakthrough infections. 4) Mortality is not the whole story (something every informed person should be aware of now), there is long covid, which in some will lead to permanent health issues or disability. Reducing the whole issue to deaths is actually a pretty horrible thing to do. 5) A new study suggests that the virus can damage the immune system – https://www.nature.com/articles/s41392-022-00919-x, the apoptosis, that is death, of Sars-Cov2 infected T Cells. 6) Countries, like the US and UK, that chose not to properly suppress the virus in the beginning and then moved to hang everything on the vaccines, mean that those of us who live in those countries are now pretty much dependent on the vaccines to protect us, unless we opt for long-term serious restrictions like mask maddates, social restrictions, etc. 7) We are all in a pretty shitty situation that is going to go on for years with (probably) more VOCs, more and more people suffering long-term or permanent ill health, and yes, more deaths, some of which will be vaccinated. As of 01/04/22 the UK no longer even requires infected persons to isolate. It was apparently reported in March that the White House is curbing research into “next generation Covid vaccines” and “some” surveillance for new variants will be stopped. So anarchists seem to now have less to worry about, assuming they are OK that we are all being thrown to the wolves.

    Just because epidemiological sense coincides with authoritarianism doesn’t invalidate it.

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    1. I don’t disagree with you about the dangers of the virus. In fact, as a non-epidemiologist, I couldn’t even if I was inclined to. But the question of whether people should be vaccinated (yes) and the question of if and how the government and large corporations should enforce that (maybe not) are two very different questions.

      Just because vaccination makes epidemiological sense doesn’t automatically justify authoritarian action.

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