We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

If it is OK to hit someone who insults your wife, is it OK to hit someone who insults your religion?

The controversy on Will Smith hitting Chris Rock after the latter made a distasteful joke about his wife’s hair loss is interesting because it cuts across party lines. Though most politicians have made statements disapproving of Smith, some traditional conservatives and radical left wingers have both spoken in support of him. To take but two of many examples:

– Representative Ayanna Pressley (D) said, in a now deleted tweet “#Alopecia nation stand up! Thank you #WillSmith Shout out to all the husbands who defend their wives living with alopecia in the face of daily ignorance & insults.”

– Simon Hoare MP (C) said, “I’d just hope if someone thought it in good taste to make a joke at the expense of a medical condition of my wife then I’d get up and lamp him.”

Me, I support Rock. His joke was cruel. Smith had a right to be angry. But I would rather not set the precedent – or rather go back to the precedent – that words justify violence. For why, see the title of this post.

The new “Reacher” series on Amazon Prime

I have been snaffling up the new series, Reacher, based on the hugely popular Jack Reacher novels of UK-born author Lee Child. They have become classics, as classic as the Travis McGee novels of John D Macdonald. (McGee lives in a boat, in Fort Lauderdale, and those novels are set in the 60s. Wonderful stuff.)

Anyway, a new Amazon Prime series is out. Already, I detect a certain discomfort among some highfalutin types that the main character, played by Alan Ritchson, lacks “depth”. Ah, not enough politics, or angst, or regret at wasting the bad guys. Plus he seems quite a draw for the ladies. In other words, Reacher is solid, heterosexual, no-messing entertainment like a traditional Western, and you can just imagine how well that goes down in certain quarters.

Anyway, I left this comment on a Facebook thread:

I like the fact that the main character is not constantly haunted and full of angst (sure, we get a few flashbacks to when he was an Army brat and fought local kids, but that is not overdone). I like the fact that he looks as he was written by Child; I like his touches of wry humour, his obvious sense of honour, his stoicism and willingness to do the right thing, to be protective of vulnerable people. He does not subvert the essential heroism of the character by being snide, or making tongue-in-cheek quips, or drop political points. It is a breath of fresh air in the current environment.
Comforting? Maybe. Remember that art, done right, is about enhancing life, of showing how life could be, not merely reflect it. Reacher is a sort of rugged hero, and we need them.

Samizdata quote of the day

Not only is it impossible to find the climate change satire in Mr. McKay’s movie that he claims is there. Alas, there’s no market for parodying the aspects most in need of parody. Millions of us have grown too comfortable pronouncing ourselves passionate about a problem we don’t bother to understand. Our politicians have stopped asking whether policies advanced in the name of climate change (e.g., electric cars) would actually have an effect on climate change. A certain kind of Harvard left-winger won’t countenance any proposal that doesn’t also fight capitalism, racism and patriarchy. A cadre of scientists make a profession of believing whatever the media needs them to believe. They are easily recognized because they employ the modifier “existential” for a climate problem that doesn’t actually threaten human existence. In this sense, “Don’t Look Up” fails not on its own terms, but on the terms its director foists on it, because no movie would be brave enough to take on the shibboleths that have subsumed the climate debate.

Holman W Jenkins Jnr, Wall Street Journal ($) He is referring to the Netflix film Don’t Look Up.

A shockingly misinformed tweet by Tim Worstall

Someone called sarahknapton tweeted, “I know lateral flow is important etc but all these millions of bits of plastic ending up in landfill every day makes me feel a bit ill.”

Mr Worstall replied, “Umm, why? Lots of bits of plastic in landfill is where those lots of bits of plastic are safe. Dig up the oil, use the products made from it, stick the used plastic back in the ground – the cycle of non-life perhaps. Maybe we should get a warthog to sing about it for the kiddies?”

IT ISN’T THE WARTHOG WHO SINGS “CIRCLE OF LIFE”, YOU HEATHEN.

I love that song, despite the fridge horror of all those sentient animals submitting to being eaten. A happy new year to all our readers. May we find that place on the path unwinding that does not involve eating others or being eaten ourselves.

Adam Smith: Father of the Fringe

On Monday night I attended a screening of Dominic Frisby’s film Adam Smith: Father of the Fringe at the IEA.

It is a documentary about how the government-subsidised Edinburgh Festival was usurped by amateurs who just turned up, organised their own venues and ticketing, and put on their own shows. The fringe festival was, and remains, a triumph of the free market. This is in spite of many of the performers being somewhat left-leaning. In the film, one comedian being interviewed points out that doing comedy for a living is very entrepreneurial, and that during the 80s most comedians were mocking Thatcher whilst doing exactly what she wanted.

It is a funny, entertaining and informative film. Dominic Frisby tells a good story. During the Q and A afterwards, one young questioner said that he was worried about his generation because they all seemed to think socialism was the right way. He thought that films like this might go some way to convincing them otherwise. There proceeded some discussion about how a good story is often more persuasive than facts and logic. Dominic pointed out that most people saw themselves as wanting to be nice, and the prevailing view was that anyone not on the left was unkind and uncaring. Clearly some better marketing is needed.

The counterpoint, demonstrated here, is that the state subsidised organisations are slow, curmudgeonly and favour the distinguished and established elites. The free market is for amateurs and small groups who experiment, fail, and provide much desired diversity of choice, interesting niche products and discovery of exciting new innovations. The film gives examples of all this happening at the fringe. During the Q and A, comparisons were made to YouTubers, who similarly provide diverse opinions and information on niche topics, as compared to the mainstream media who offer a narrow selection of often poorly researched information. It seems to me that the distinction between big and small organisations in general is relevant. Big companies who hold apparently unassailable apparent monopolies in some sector are regularly usurped by nimble startups despite the former’s capture of state favour.

After the event I chatted with the director of the film, Alex Webster. He had pointed out that cheap equipment was one of the things helping those YouTubers. It turned out we both own the same camera: the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro. It is a relatively cheap device that can capture video with cinematic quality good enough for a Hollywood feature film. Blackmagic Design are making film-making cheap not just with cameras but with the editing, compositing and colour-grading software Davinci Resolve which anyone can download for free. This is one of the ways that young people with little money can develop their skills in film-making, and that small, independent, innovative, niche film-makers can afford to make their films.

Perhaps there is a chance that fringe-like dynamics might come to the aid of those who have the desire and ability to improve the marketing of the idea of freedom by telling some compelling stories about it.

A review of the new James Bond film that I thoroughly agree with – SPOILER ALERT

Well, at last the new James Bond film has hit cinemas on both sides of the Atlantic. There may be countries where it is not yet on release, but it’s been out long enough I think for a commentary that contains spoilers to be published. If you don’t want to see this before seeing the film, then don’t linger here. Repeat: CONTAINS SPOILERS!

I recall back in 2006 when Casino Royale came out, and here was my review back then, all 15 (gulp) years ago. I watched the film along with a few other conspirators, such as Perry de Havilland, if I recall. I generally liked it – I think Daniel Craig did a great job, and elements of the original novel were kept in, while added to for a modern audience. The subsequent films never quite lived up to the first one, in my view, although I read a lot about how great Skyfall was, but I disagree (I think the whole sentiment of the film was gloomier than the glummest John Le Carre story, but without the caustic LC wit.) But even so, Daniel Craig has, so I read, delivered Bond to a “new generation”. And the franchise of Eon-produced Bond films is almost 60 years old. Even if you don’t equate longevity with greatness, that’s pretty damned impressive.

I have seen a lot of commentary from those who claim No Time to Die is somehow a great film, but a few are very upset, even angry. I have very mixed views on it, but the more I think about it, the more I think this is a bad film, made my people who have fallen prey to shitty ideas, and who make the crucial error of conflating moral seriousness with being miserable. In fact, this error is not remarked about enough. You can be a baddass super-hero, and take what you do very seriously, while having a smile on your face and enjoy life at the same time. Think Zorro, think the Scarlet Pimpernel, etc. Everything now has to be full of angst, of “self-loathing” and be “gritty” (one of the most tediously over-used epithets in culture today).

Let’s start with one of the biggest initial reasons people got wary about this film. The Nomi character, the “new 007”, as played by Lashana Lynch, is every bit as passive-aggressive at first as the trailers suggested, but in fact the “wokeness” of the film, and of her part in it, isn’t nearly as bad as I feared. She comes across as one-dimensional; there is no real development of her character. You cannot warm to her and want to take her side. In a way, this is what happens when film-makers try to make films more supposedly progressive but in fact let themselves down. A pity.

The action scenes in general are very well done. Say whatever one likes about these films, but the production quality remains outstandingly good. Some of the fight scenes are great. The locations are generally good and we get a bit more time in this film to sample the atmosphere (Jamaica, Cuba, etc) than in earlier Craig efforts. The early Connery films were so good is that you felt you were really travelling with him to places such as the Caribbean or Turkey, or in the case of the George Lazenby film (which is arguably one of the best ever), Switzerland.

There is a little bit more humour here, even though Craig remains the Grumpy Bond. The rapport he has with Jeffrey Wright, playing Felix Leiter, is nice. Supporting cast members such as Ralph Fiennes as M are good as well. The chap playing Q has quite a lot to do; he has a nice, sharp sense of humour as well.

But the central features of this film in terms of plot and how the film ends, mean that NTTD represents something very bad, and I fear that Barbara Broccoli and the others may have taken the series off a cliff, and I am queasy about what comes next. I have tagged this post under “culture wars”, because I cannot help but see NTTD as yet another instance of what might be called the Cancel Culture. Bond, as baddass Alpha male, suave and in control, dispenser of smart-alec quips as he crushes the evil guys, is dead.

Anyway, here is an example of how cheesed off people are. I saw this on Facebook. The article is written by a chap called “Charles”. I have taken out a few paragraphs, but here goes:

Bond films got popular being FUN movies celebrating triumph — not being deep serious heavy tragedies evoking misery. For decades, JB film fans went for thrilling entertainment which leaves them feeling good — not for painful adult psychological realism which leaves them feeling bad. [Yes, I know about OHMSS: one movie, 52 years ago.] After decades of this continuity, the fans naturally expect a Bond film to be exciting optimistic escapism.

It seems to me that the whole team responsible for the NTTD story doesn’t understand the core reasons why Bond films have been so popular for 59 years (or perhaps they presume to push the fans to change their preferences).

Wanting Bond movies to be just enjoyable entertainment — showing the thrill of surviving danger, loving the joy of living in the moment, celebrating courageous victory over evil — is a perfectly respectable adult mentality. Not every adult movie has to induce the emotions of tragic misery. Let other movies (not Bond) do that.

Disliking the infliction of prolonged misery into a Bond movie doesn’t mean the unhappy fan is immature, or wants to see Bond be some offensive example of pathologies (contrary to sneering assumptions by some fans). If some fans object to seeing JB movies delivering a doom & gloom fest, that doesn’t mean they want JB movies to be an Austin Powers clown cartoon. Between these two extremes, there is a good middle zone of exciting adult stories which celebrate brave triumph.

Barbara Broccoli and M.G. Wilson are stewards of a global legacy of good will and inspiring imagination, enduring 59 years. As stewards of the Bond film legacy, they seem to be either indifferent or incompetent. It seems they let Daniel Craig make his last JB movie become whatever he wanted it to be, for his own personal gratification as an actor, disregarding how it violates reasonable expectations of the fans. DC’s agenda to make JB realistic, complex, deep, etc. was incompatible with the history of Bond movie popularity. [He says he’s “too serious” and “moody”.] They let him impose his sensibility (and serious artistic ambitions) onto NTTD so much that the story violates the abiding concept of the franchise.

In a recurring adventure series, killing off the hero shows that the storytellers have run out of good ideas or that they have lost their confidence that they can write an effective story in which the hero is victorious. Killing Bond in NTTD reminds me of the first Mission Impossible movie, in which the leader of the good guys (Jim Phelps) is a traitor who kills most of the team. That kind of plotting choice is a cheap stunt — hoping to stun the betrayed viewer into thinking that the plotting was impressively daring or inventive. Nope, it’s just a violation of the covenant between the storytelling team and the fans of those characters.

Bond’s death in NTTD was so contrived. The story could’ve been easily rewritten for him to survive and triumph again. For those who say ‘But he had to die, because of X’ — That ‘X’ part could’ve been easily rewritten otherwise.
Bond didn’t just die; he seemed to quit trying to survive; choosing a kind of passive suicide. That’s one reason why his death felt so demoralizing to some viewers.

Now I see that the warning for how this movie would go wrong was in the selection of the most recent two theme songs (for SPECTRE & NTTD). The previous song portrayed Bond as a fragile needy crybaby, and the new song conveys total emotional defeat and surrender — both songs utterly wrong for Bond films, which celebrate victory, joy, survival, pleasure, etc.

Came for tea, stayed for the rape: a beloved children’s classic re-analysed

They’ve come for the tiger.

“Children’s book ‘The Tiger Who Came To Tea’ could lead to rape and harassment’ because it reinforces gender inequality that causes violence against women, campaigner claims”, reports the Mail.

It may have delighted generations of children, but The Tiger Who Came To Tea reinforces gender inequality which causes violence against women and girls, a campaigner said yesterday.

Rachel Adamson, of Zero Tolerance, a charity working to end men’s violence against women, said Judith Kerr’s 1968 classic was ‘problematic’ because of its ‘old fashioned’ portrayal of women and family dynamics.

The book sees an uninvited tiger join a young girl and her mother for tea before eating all the food in the house, drinking everything, running the taps dry and leaving.

The girl’s father then comes home and takes her and her mother to a cafe.

Miss Adamson did not call for the book to be banned but said it could be used to ‘raise a conversation’ in nurseries.

She told BBC Radio Scotland: ‘We know that gender stereotypes are harmful and they reinforce gender inequality, and that gender inequality is the cause of violence against women and girls, such as domestic abuse, rape and sexual harassment.’

Adamson questioned the tiger’s gender and why he was not female or gender neutral.

Um… would this campaigner against violence inflicted on women and girls, whose organisation specifically defends its focus on men’s violence against women really want to see a children’s book in which the enormous, physically dominant predator who blags its way into a space which a woman and a girl had thought their own and abuses their hospitality was female or transgender?

Sigh. As the Mail article points out, Judith Kerr knew a thing or two about prejudice leading to violence. Her father was a well known German Jewish writer who had to flee with his family when the Nazis came to power and put a price on his head. They only just escaped. She wrote a lightly fictionalised account of her family’s story in When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. Nonetheless, she always resisted attempts to claim that the tiger was a metaphor for Nazism. It was just a big hungry but affable tiger who ate all the buns and drank all the water in the tap.

→ Continue reading: Came for tea, stayed for the rape: a beloved children’s classic re-analysed

To call it “Project Cassandra” was hubris

As soon as I saw it I thought of psychohistory. I was not alone, judging from the most recommended comment to this fascinating Guardian article:

‘At first I thought, this is crazy’: the real-life plan to use novels to predict the next war

An extract:

In one of his last reports to the defence ministry, towards the end of 2019, Wertheimer had drawn attention to an interesting development in the Caucasus. The culture ministry of Azerbaijan had recently supplied libraries in Georgia with books carrying explicit anti-Armenian messages, such as the works of poet Khalil Rza Uluturk. There were signs, he warned, that Azerbaijan was ramping up propaganda efforts in the brewing territorial conflict with its neighbouring former Soviet republic.

War broke out a year later: 6,000 soldiers and civilians died in a six-week battle over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave of Azerbaijan populated by ethnic Armenians. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used the war to bolster his strongman image, hailing Armenia’s defeat in December as a “glorious victory”. Russia, traditionally allied with Armenia, successfully leveraged the conflict to consolidate its influence in the region. Germany and the EU, meanwhile, looked on and stayed silent: being able to predict the future is one thing, knowing what to do with the information is another.

Revoking an apology

Until yesterday Winston Marshall was a member of the English folk rock band Mumford & Sons.

In this post on medium.com he explains why he is leaving:

At the beginning of March I tweeted to American journalist Andy Ngo, author of the New York Times Bestseller, Unmasked. “Congratulations @MrAndyNgo. Finally had the time to read your important book. You’re a brave man”. Posting about books had been a theme of my social-media throughout the pandemic. I believed this tweet to be as innocuous as the others. How wrong I turned out to be.

Over the course of 24 hours it was trending with tens of thousands of angry retweets and comments. I failed to foresee that my commenting on a book critical of the Far-Left could be interpreted as approval of the equally abhorrent Far-Right.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Thirteen members of my family were murdered in the concentration camps of the Holocaust. My Grandma, unlike her cousins, aunts and uncles, survived. She and I were close. My family knows the evils of fascism painfully well. To say the least. To call me “fascist” was ludicrous beyond belief.

I’ve had plenty of abuse over the years. I’m a banjo player after all. But this was another level. And, owing to our association, my friends, my bandmates, were getting it too. It took me more than a moment to understand how distressing this was for them.

Despite being four individuals we were, in the eyes of the public, a unity. Furthermore it’s our singer’s name on the tin. That name was being dragged through some pretty ugly accusations, as a result of my tweet. The distress brought to them and their families that weekend I regret very much. I remain sincerely sorry for that. Unintentionally, I had pulled them into a divisive and totemic issue.

Emotions were high. Despite pressure to nix me they invited me to continue with the band. That took courage, particularly in the age of so called “cancel culture”. I made an apology and agreed to take a temporary step back.

Rather predictably another viral mob came after me, this time for the sin of apologising. Then followed libellous articles calling me “right-wing” and such. Though there’s nothing wrong with being conservative, when forced to politically label myself I flutter between “centrist”, “liberal” or the more honest “bit this, bit that”. Being labeled erroneously just goes to show how binary political discourse has become. I had criticised the “Left”, so I must be the “Right”, or so their logic goes.

Why did I apologise?

“Rub your eyes and purify your heart — and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well.” — Aleksander Solzhenitsyn once wrote. In the mania of the moment I was desperate to protect my bandmates. The hornets’ nest that I had unwittingly hit had unleashed a black-hearted swarm on them and their families. I didn’t want them to suffer for my actions, they were my priority.

Secondly, I was sincerely open to the fact that maybe I did not know something about the author or his work. “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak,” Churchill once said, “courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen”. And so I listened.

I have spent much time reflecting, reading and listening. The truth is that my commenting on a book that documents the extreme Far-Left and their activities is in no way an endorsement of the equally repugnant Far-Right. The truth is that reporting on extremism at the great risk of endangering oneself is unquestionably brave. I also feel that my previous apology in a small way participates in the lie that such extremism does not exist, or worse, is a force for good.

That speaks for itself, but my eye lingered on one line in particular:

my previous apology in a small way participates in the lie that such extremism does not exist, or worse, is a force for good.

It is proverbial that it takes courage to apologise. Sometimes it takes courage to un-apologise.

A flinching depiction

A Google search for the words “unflinching depiction” got me 57,100 hits. Not so long ago “unflinching” was only just edged out by “edgy” as a term of praise for a work of fiction. Novelists prided themselves on their willingness to probe the depths of the human psyche. No criticism by a reviewer stung more sharply than to say that the characters in a novel were “sanitised” or “bowdlerised”.

We know better now. And how uplifting that our modern novelists submit to the judgement of the people and engage in spontaneous self-criticism!

“Elin Hilderbrand asks for Anne Frank reference to be cut from novel after complaints”, reports the Guardian.

It features a short passage in which Vivi, as a child, is planning to stay in her friend’s attic. “‘You’re suggesting I hide here all summer?’ Vivi asks. ‘Like … like Anne Frank?’ This makes them both laugh – but is it really funny, and is Vivi so far off base?”

Judging from the extract quoted, I will not be rushing out to buy Ms Hilderbrand’s latest even after it is cleansed of the fictional depiction of one child making a tasteless joke and another child laughing at said joke. There are some things one cannot forgive. The novel appears to be written in the present tense.

Samizdata quote of the day

“There’s also the problem of, as our liberal friends would put it, power dynamics. At least when Stewart was battling the Bush administration, you could make the argument that liberalism was a minority persuasion in America. Today, the left is a political and cultural juggernaut, dominating the elected federal government, the civil service, the mainstream press, Hollywood, Big Tech, increasingly even the corporate world. It’s our new civic religion, which has turned its comedians into something like high priests, mouthing its tenets and ridiculing its apostates. All the old rules of satire — don’t punch down, afflict the comfortable — amount to a generally anti-authoritarian and iconoclastic mindset. Yet Stewart’s imitators exist only to reinforce the existing authorities while at the same time pretending they don’t have any authority at all.”

Matt Purple. He is writing in the US edition of the UK-based Spectator, so usual health warnings apply to the American misuse of the word “liberal”.

Cotswold Bloke: ‘No one would ever believe that world leaders would behave like that …’

Cotswold Bloke writes, in a series of tweets which I have merged together into a piece of writing with paragraphs and added punctuation and whatnot instead of it being divided up into tweets, this:

Got a great idea for a thriller – the plot will knock your socks off.

So there’s a shadowy Global Elite, yes? Davos, yachts, private jets. They used to need the masses to work in factories, till the fields, and do all the menial stuff, and, now and then, for an army.

In my fictional world, big standing armies are a thing of the past. There’s no appetite for invasions any more. Rapid advances in AI, robotics and mechanisation also mean that The Global Elites will soon no longer need peasants toiling away in the factories and fields, causing deforestation, extinctifying species etc. Plus they’re mostly fat, stupid and ugly. (Sounds like the real world here.)

My novel is set when the world population is 7 billion, but heading for 10 billion. Worse, those extra three billion people are not going to be three billion poor people living a subsistence life – they’re aware, through smart phones and the internet, of a better life, and their demand for food, for environment-destroying power generation, and for bling and cars and general ‘stuff’, is going to be a lot higher than was their parents’, thirty years ago.

In my novel, the imaginary Global Elites – many of whom have openly talked about the urgent need to depopulate the earth – start thinking. ‘Hmmm,’ they think. ‘Ten billion of them is going to really destroy the environment and kill all the snow leopards and the blue whales – who’ve done nothing to deserve any of this, and are after all just as intrinsically valuable as any human, and much more valuable than certain humans of the lumpen proletariat variety. ‘Anyway,’ they think, even if we didn’t hate them for killing the blue whales and being fat and stupid, there’s no way the world can support an essentially middle-class lifestyle for seven billion people, much less ten billion. ‘And where does that lead?’ they say. ‘Old-fashioned resource wars! So actually, if we could help five or six billion people shuffle off this mortal coil in a relatively peaceful way – as opposed to via decades of small nasty wars, or even one or two really big ones – we’d be doing them a favour, really. Not to mention, the snow leopards, the blue whales, and ourselves, obviously.’

In my novel, they start off by releasing a virus.

Now, obviously, they have to be careful. A real killer virus is unpredictable and chaotic, and it might get you and yours, or wipe out a disproportionate number of, e.g., tech nerds politicians, and top chefs, whom my main characters will need in future, while sparing too many fat old checkout workers and labourers, whom they won’t need, and the panic and chaos as millions of people start dropping dead in the street is going to have unforeseeable second-order effects in which my Global Elites might find themselves entangled. That’s what unpredictable and chaotic means, see. No, they need something controllable.

So they decide to release a virus that is just bad enough to terrify people – helped along with a major dose of propaganda from the news outlets, governments, supranational bodies and social media organisations that are controlled (in my fictional world) by my imaginary Global Elites.

And then they announce a vaccine. (Plot twist: they announce loads of them, even though it’s untried technology, created by supposedly competing companies. Too implausible? Not sure.) Despite this novelty, my plot cleverly has them scaring/boring people enough that they’re queueing up for jabs ‘to get to the pub’. Obviously they can’t nail them all with the vaccine – too big and sudden, with all that scary chaos and unpredictability – so what my characters do is they say, ‘There are lots of variants, and you will need regular re-ups with slightly adapted vaccines!’

I haven’t yet decided whether they then slip something in there at a later date, or release a new virus which reacts with the vaccines, but the key thing is they take out 10%, 20% or maybe (if I can make it plausible) 40% of the ‘herd’ – and the right 40%, because they’re controlling the vaccine distribution.

Obviously, my survivors wonder what’s going on, but they’re terrified, grieving and demoralised – I might have them starving, too? – so they can’t do much. In fact, they’re so grateful to have been spared to work in the remaining factories that they sing the praises of the Global Elites.

To create the fear needed to drive vaccination, the baddies lock loads of countries down – bit implausible, it’s never been done before, and goes against all the previous the advice on the WHO’s own website, which (in my novel) said ‘don’t lock up healthy people’, though (in my novel) it turns out they removed that advice just before the pandemic began and changed it to ‘do lock up healthy people’ hoping no-one would notice. The baddies force people to wear masks, stress the death figures every day – after inflating them beyond all logic, and they absolutely never mention that far more people recover. If anyone mentions recovery, they shout about ‘long virus’.

They demoralise people by banning them from attending their parents’ funerals. They close the pubs – where people might swap ideas and foment revolution. They arrest people for sitting on park benches (though they wave through anyone spray painting rude words on statues). Lots more of that. It’s all good stuff. Very dramatic.

They have to be careful though because locking down economies, even in novels, creates that chaos and panic which might spill over into their gated compounds. (My protagonists are guarded by armed police 24/7, and they go everywhere in armoured cars, but they’re still vulnerable if the balloon ever goes up.)

So to avoid that they introduce ‘furlough’ (in the US I have them mail big cheques to people, which might stretch the credulity of my readers a bit). Millions are starving in the third world but the journalists in my novel don’t notice or care (or ask questions about the thousands of cancer patients and others who will die because of the lockdowns in advanced economies), and – given that the whole plan is to eradicate unneeded people – they’re just a bonus anyway.

So my villains borrow (create) vast amounts of money – way too much to make any sense, like the kind of money you’d spend on a world war, not a virus that is taking my fictional UK back about a decade in the mortality stats – to spend on bullshit. ‘Doesn’t matter what’, they cry. (Temporary hospitals are one possibility I’m thinking of.)

‘All we need to do is keep the show on the road long enough! The money’s not going to be paid back, because the old days of an economy set up to keep a world of 7 to 10 billion people turning won’t be required when there aren’t 7 to 10 billion people any more.’

I must admit, I was struggling a bit with their motivation. Yes, they hate the people, and yes, they love the snow leopards. But why now? Well, turns out the tech isn’t all one way. The lumpen masses themselves are not far off being able to print their own plastic firearms and fly hordes of slaughter bots onto billionaires’ yachts in the harbour at Monaco, and livestream it, so my baddies have decided now is the time.

Was talking to my wife about this idea for a novel over lunch, and she thinks no-one would buy it.

‘There’s no hero,’ she said. ‘And no-one would ever believe that world leaders would behave like that. I mean, yes, a few have. But not ours. Who do you think you are? Tom Clancy?’