In a recent piece for the Daily Sceptic Toby Young asks whether “the lockdown dam is about to break“. In other words, are we about to see a sudden collapse in the general consensus that lockdowns were the right thing to do in the circumstances?
It certainly seems that a head of steam is building at the Telegraph and Spectator on the subject. But while I am sure that in 10 or 20 years it will be practically impossible to find anybody who fesses up to having supported lockdown, I’m not sure that the likes of Chris Whitty, Dominic Cummings, Matt Hancock or Neil O’Brien (the Tory MP who acted as Witchfinder General for the Government during 2020-21) will ever publicly admit that the decision to impose any of the various lockdowns or associated measures was wrong. Nor do I think it likely that we will ever have a proper public reckoning with what happened during the Covid period.
In Aesop’s famous fable, a fox, having desired some grapes but been unable to reach them on the vine despite its best efforts, suddenly discovers it did not want them after all. From this we derive the expression ‘sour grapes’, of course, but the fable is of much wider application than that. What Aesop was really describing was a particularly acute form of cognitive dissonance which affects all human beings (possibly foxes too) when confronted with their own failings.
Cognitive dissonance is a well-known psychological phenomenon describing the intense discomfort we experience when forced to hold two mutually contradictory ideas in our minds. The discomfort is indeed so severe that most people take extraordinary steps to avoid falling into such a situation, and will often force themselves to perform all kinds of mental gymnastics in order to achieve this.