If you make the same mistake as me every morning (open Twitter, listen or read the editorials proposed by the traditional media – and as me, close everything with nausea), it’s easy to understand that cacophony reigns everywhere when it comes to the Covid-19 health crisis.
A discourse which lacks accuracy and rightness is continuously poured out on the topic whereas prudence and the search for the right word should precisely accompany an unprecedented crisis in many respects.
The Socratic rigor that requires asking whether the word one is about to deliver is true, good and useful seems a long way off. The search for Buddhist correctness which forces one to avoid lies, slander, the frivolity and futility of speech seems just as far away.
Incorrect speech has invaded public space, whether it comes from above or below. And it is probably because the official discourse is outrageous and inaccurate, that people’s words are just as outrageous – and just as inaccurate.
In France (and I will only speak of France here), the health crisis was indeed punctuated from the beginning by inconsistent and disproportionate official words. During his first televised speech on the health crisis on March 16, 2020, the French President of the Republic declared us “at war” against the virus – in a clear desire for national mobilization, but we must admit that the term “war ” was particularly unfit for a health crisis and a virus.
The masks, which were, with a suspicion of shortage, unnecessary on January 26, 2020 (speech by Agnès Buzyn, Minister of Health), were made compulsory from May 11, 2020 by the law extending the state of health emergency. Bookstores, initially closed (because “non-essential”) for the benefit of mass distribution, then reopened. Museums remained closed for a long time while the major commercial brands were open.
Regarding vaccination, the political discourse has gone real quick from “we will not force the French to be vaccinated, vaccination does not have to be compulsory in the general population”, (Olivier Véran, Minister of Health, July 2, 2021) to the “irresponsibility” and “selfishness” of the non-vaccinated people (Emmanuel Macron, July 25, 2021).
Moreover, the police officers in charge of checking vaccine certificates have themselves no obligation to be vaccinated or get vaccine certificates – their minister preferring to “play the game of social discussion for the moment” (Gerald Darmanin, August 24, 2021).
The words issued by the middle sphere (that is to say that of the media) were not more right: the continuous diffusion of shocking images of coffins, overwhelmed emergencies, people on ventilators and interviews at all hours of experts (ultimately non-experts in the majority of cases) appealed to the emotional state of an audience captive in every sense of the word, glued to home and worried – not this time for patriotic reasons but for purely commercial reasons. The outrageousness of the words issued by officials, relayed by the media, was most certainly necessary in March 2020 in order to make everyone understand the need for a strict confinement.
Eighteen months later, the debate is a little bit different. Vaccination and vaccine certificate issues have been at the center of a heated debate in France for several weeks, since a law promulgated on August 5 requires the presentation of a vaccine certificate in:
- bars and restaurants, including terraces,
- department stores and shopping centers, provided that access to essential shops shall be preserved,
- public transport (trains, buses, planes) for long journeys, and
- hospitals, accommodation establishments for dependent elderly people and retirement homes for accompanying persons, visitors and patients having a scheduled care. The vaccine certificate shall not be requested in the event of a medical emergency.
The vaccine certificate is required:
- the public (adults) in all these places and establishments, and
- for the staff who work there. Not presenting this vaccine certificate may result in the employment contract being suspended, without pay. Another post with no contact with the public may be proposed. The possibility of a specific dismissal for lack of vaccine certificate after two months, initially wanted by the government, was removed by the French senators. The right for employers to terminate the fixed-term and temporary employment contracts of these employees was also censored, this time by the French Supreme Constitutional Court.
In addition, vaccination against Covid-19 is compulsory for people working in the health and medico-social sectors and encompasses:
- medical and paramedical professionals who work in private practice or in hospitals, clinics, nursing homes and retirement homes, as well as professionals, students or pupils who work in these premises, and
- professionals in contact with vulnerable people, such as firefighters, ambulance attendants and certain home employees. If they have not been vaccinated on time (September 15, 2021 or October 15, 2021 if a first jab has been received), employees and public officials may be suspended, with no pay. The possibility of dismissal in the event of a lack of Covid certificate after two months, initially wanted by the government, was removed by parliamentarians for caregivers.
In conclusion, the legal arsenal thus put in place – by greatly reducing the scope of daily activities, whether work or leisure – does more than encourage vaccination, since it is more of a ‘de facto’ compulsory vaccination that does not say its name ‘de jure’.
The state of health emergency (defined by the French Public Health Code as the “health disaster endangering, by its nature and severity, the health of the population”) justifies the establishment of this legal arsenal – provided that the principle of proportionality between the disaster to be avoided, the measures proposed and the infringement of individual freedoms shall be applied. This difficult balancing act, reflected in the French law of August 5, 2021, now faces protests.
“Anti-vaccine” protesters, “anti-certificate” vaccinated and non-vaccinated protesters have taken to the streets and France has known a great number of “anti-certificate” demonstrations for several weeks.
On both sides of this “anti-certificate” debate are flourishing words of rare violence. Some “anti-certificate” invoke Jean Moulin (a very famous figure of French Resistance who died under the Nazi torture) or the segregation inflicted on Jews during the WWII (and I say “some” people, because it would be fallacious to reduce polyform movements to these references brandished by a few). Besides the fact that there is nothing right in relying on past movements or facts – because it undermines the originality and strength of each movement, including its own movement, a sane mind imposes not to compare people who literaly risked their lives for their ideals (Jean Moulin) or because of their Jewishness (the Jews during WWII) with people who do not risk death by refusing a vaccine (or maybe yes, but not as the wat they imagine).
Likewise, when some protest against a “health dictatorship” there is a modern day oxymoron since a real dictatorship would probably not recognize the right to demonstrate.
Conversely, reducing – as some members of the French government do – these polyform movements that are subjected to an attempted hold-up by far-right movements, to anti-Semitic movements, does not help the debate in any way.
Conversely again, treating – as some “pro-vaccine” people do – “anti-vaccine” or “anti-certificate” people as “the virus complicits” or “murderers” does not help the debate in any way.
Discussions around the family tables are of rare virulence, and I am not even talking about the arguments on Twitter or Facebook, where digital anonymity allows all transgressions.
Today, the tyranny of democracy allows everyone to communicate and exist on subjects that no one understands except clinicians and researchers (and especially those specializing in virology, epidemiology or infectiology – because if I must draw a parallel, I am certainly a lawyer but certainly not specialized in all legal fields).
In a Wharolian quest for 15 minutes of fame, everyone is an expert. The famous phrase “I’m not an expert but I think that…” is the new motto and it is more and more complicated to form a valid opinion on the health crisis and vaccine policy.
In the media, scientific truth has degraded into opinion(s) and each reader, listener, viewer catches in a magma of opinions and more or less verified facts, whatever which will consolidates a personal opinion already made. Because the debate has become even more complex with Internet algorithms and fake news. We only see or read opinions in accordance with our own ideas (because of the algorithms running social networks and search engines). Also, it is becoming more and more difficult to form a valid opinion on a somewhat complex topic because fake news are flourishing (not to mention deep fake and manipulated videos).
Everyone should read Schopenhauer, “The Art of Always Being Right,” in which the German philosopher explains that one should seek the truth when debating, and certainly not try to egotically win the discussion.
Whereas it would be easy to say nothing or to say “I don’t know”, everyone feels entitled to express various opinions – often expressed in an exaggerated manner – on vaccination.
But let’s be honest: this proliferation of incorrect and unfounded opinions has only been made possible because public speech and official action have themselves been void of meaning and accuracy. Political power is navigating the unknown – and it would have been good if it would have humbly said so (given the circumstances, everyone would have understood). Inconsistencies, truths followed by U-turns asserted with confidence have marked the management of this health crisis by the French government and have in fact undermined the nation’s link with its governement.
Because beyond the national heartbreak over the ‘de facto’ compulsory vaccine certificate, the real question is that of a confidence crisis in public speech and action, knowing that speech is the very essence of politics.
Let’s be honest here, confidence began to crumble long before the health crisis or on unrelated topics (an investigation for rape, sexual harassment for the Minister of the Interior, an indictment for unlawful taking of interest for the Minister of Justice, an investigation for breach of trust for the Minister for small companies – even though the President of the Republic wanted an “irreproachable Republic”).
The political speech would have been clearer, more honest, more correct – in a word, fairer – on the certainties and especially on the uncertainties of the situation, an entire nation would have been embarked upon the national effort.
The political action would have been clearer, more understandable, more reformist – in a word, fairer – an entire nation would have been embarked upon the national effort, again. How can one understand that no massive investment has been made for a year and a half in hospital services? It’s insane.
If the words represent a reality, the situation has to change, because the words that are flowing out right now are not the right ones.
Then, what to do? In the private sphere, acknowledge that we are not experts. Check the facts: many media outlets now have “facts check” sections, which go a long way in keeping things straight. Take a Schopenhaurian posture, really listen and not try to win a debate at all costs. And above all, be able to say “I don’t know”.
In a somewhat public sphere, what to do? Do the same as in the private sphere. But also: write, be elected, elect. Fight for our rights, demonstrate, for good reasons, fairly and without excess of word or action.
Change the model.
Because it becomes obvious that – after the applause for the nursing staff, the cashiers, the garbage collectors – the social bond is disintegrating. All over. And it’s urgent to restore it.
(NB. The pictures below have nothing to do with the topic, except that you can see me overthinking everything, as usual).
Max Mara top – Banana Republic trousers – Prada handbag – François Pinton sunglasses – Tiffany & Co earrings – Russell & Bromley derby shoes