My Story

Saturday 7th August 2021

by Patrick Sullivan, Chairman and Chief Executive of Parliament Street

I knew this pandemic was coming before most. I published my first article on the coronavirus on 29th February 2020. I published a paper State of Emergency on 16th March 2020. In June 2020 I complied a video briefing on the need to prepare for a second wave. In many ways, I had been ahead of the government in terms of understanding this crisis. In everyway that mattered it didn’t matter. I tried all I could to be heard but my pleas fell upon deaf ears. My confidence in my own judgement grew exponentially and my confidence in my influence fell by an equal amount.

Just because you understand something does not mean that it will not affect you. I started the pandemic by producing a not-for-profit one-stop resource for information on the virus. I spent numerous hours producing,but that left me with little time to promote it and its eventual function has become to serve as a record of the early weeks of this crisis. The failure of this project to launch further fueled my growing sense of powerlessness. I had tried to help by providing a useful service to people but instead I had ensured that I spent those early weeks of lockdown marinating in news stories and public health briefings about COVID-19. This was the exact opposite of what I should have done but it was my nature to try and do something useful with the particular skill set I have.

At the outset of the pandemic, I felt that one silver lining to this very dark cloud would be that people would understand that what unites us is greater than what divided us, and that I would gain a great perspective over what was important in life. As such, I expected the coronavirus crisis to close the chapter on the “Culture Wars”. For reasons that I still can’t quite get my head around, the opposite occurred and, instead of ending, the “Culture Wars” became turbocharged. The tragic death of George Floyd, murdered by a sadistic police officer, acted as a catalyst for not only peaceful protest but a summer of civil unrest in the United States.  

In the aftermath of this brutal killing many prominent individuals and organisations sought to show their solidarity with Black Lives Matter protestors. What they failed to do before offering Black Lives Matter their full-throated support was any due diligence. If they had done so they would have realised that Black Lives Matter was founded by three women who are self-proclaimed Marxists with extreme opinions on a whole range of issues.  In the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s murder there was a consensus on police reform in America and doing more to combat racism in the West as a whole. Unfortunately, rather than using that consensus to bring about meaningful policy changes, what we saw was the discussion move into one about statues and “problematic” television programmes from yesteryear. It seemed like the world had gone mad and before we knew it an insidious new ideology of Critical Race Theory had gained a new prominence in the public square. 

These events had a much more profound effect upon my mental health than they would have had at any other time. Living alone during lockdown had made my world infinitely smaller and my inability not to watch cable news did not help matters. All of a sudden, my window into the wider world became what I saw on YouTube. The coronavirus had affected most of family and friends in different ways. Some found themselves unable to get a minute’s rest due to juggling new childcare requirements and demanding jobs. Some friends had to spend every waking moment working to retain their jobs whilst others lost their jobs and had to find new ones. Almost everyone had a loved one die of the virus or at the very least were at some point extremely concerned for the health of a loved one.  I found myself in a better position than those friends whose personal lives had been totally upended by the pandemic. Living by myself, the pandemic did not put me in a position where I was living on top of someone else, driving them up the wall. My personal life was not upended the lockdowns, it was merely put into a sort of stasis where I would have to wait for the crisis to pass before normal programming could resume. The lack of a personal life to speak of caused my perspective to become warped, as I could not put what I saw on the news into the perspective of “real life”. I found myself in the infuriating position of being a spectator to an outside world I could not influence. I had never felt so powerless in my entire life.

One of my traditional strengths has been that I would not get angry about politics and that I would not take political disagreements personally. I had traditionally maintained good relationships across the political spectrum. I would never see the point in going up to someone of a differing view, who was not going to change their mind, and antagonising them. I saw such clashes as a waste of time. I was primarily interested in either finding areas of agreement across the partisan divide which could be turned into cross-party consensus or in showing those on the other side that political differences didn’t have to equate to personal animosity. I had an understanding of the cyclical nature of politics, where neither victory or defeat are ever permanent, so both should be met with a level head. I also appreciated that getting emotional over the any political outcome impeded the opportunity to adapt to a new status-quo. I always has strong beliefs but they were somewhat masked by the way I was able to emotionally detach myself from the political circus going on around me. To a certain extent I was trying to be Vulcan, led by logic, much like Mr Spock from Star Trek.

When we locked down, my windows into the world outside became my various screens. As having a good knowledge of current events is a professional requirement, I could not just spend my time binge-watching various television shows on one of a multitude of streaming services but it would be disingenuous to say that I did not have any leisure time. Unfortunately, I found the “Culture Wars” raging with even more fierce intensity within the popular culture than on cable news. I had been a fan of Star Trek since I was a boy. I remember my excitement, aged 9, going to the cinema to watch Star Trek: Generations with my Dad who I also dragged along to a Star Trekexhibit at the Science Museum the following year. 

Star Trek existed in a primarily post-scarcity universe and as such contemporary discussions about political economy played little part in it, with the noticeable exception of the Latinum-obsessed Ferengi but that was mostly played for laughs. For most of its existence Star Trek was a franchise which could be enjoyed by liberals and conservatives alike. Unfortunately, the franchise has become increasingly political in recent years. Star Trek: Picard, a sequel of sorts to the popular Star Trek: The Next Generation, was released on Amazon Primeshortly before the pandemic hit. The reason Sir Patrick Stewart, who plays the title roll of Jean-Luc Picard, claimed that a key reason for him returning to the role that made him an international star was that the show “was me responding to the world of Brexit and Trump and feeling, ‘Why hasn’t the Federation changed? Why hasn’t Starfleet changed?’ Maybe they’re not as reliable and trustworthy as we all thought.” 

Star Trek: Picard’s politics were so on the nose that the Daily Beast proclaimed that it “may be the most political show on TV.” The politics did not stop there. Recently, the official Star Trek website ran a feature on someone they called “the Star Trek Communist” who believed and evangelised that the show promoted Marxism in practice. 

It is not only Star Trek which has become a mouthpiece for a left-wing or “woke” political agenda. A recent issue of the Captain America comic book had centre-right academic Jordan Peterson likened to the Red Skull, who is not only a Nazi but a super-powered Nazi and the nemesis of Captain America. There has also been a distinctly anti-male message to much of recent pop culture. The recent Masters of the Universe: Revelation is a Netflix reboot of the popular 1980s cartoon He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, which has gotten fans of the original cartoon up in arms as the show manages to kill He-Man not once, but twice. This is before pulling a bait-and-switch on the audience and focusing the reboot on the formerly supporting character of Teela. The reboot has taken girl power to such extremis that some critics have lambasted it for lacking any strong male leads.  

The double killing of He-Man is the perfect allegory for the man-hating agenda of much of the corporate media these days. I could go on and on about the politicisation of the popular culture but that would be a subject worthy of a large paper in itself. The above examples are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg and have led certain fans to make their displeasure known creating an online ecosystem of vocal traditional fans on platforms such as YouTube railing against the politicisation of their favourite franchises. This ecosystem because of its strong dislike of the “woke”agenda and “cancel culture” dovetails with the messaging of former President Trump, who has defined himself against both those things. 

The overt politicisation of popular culture in the run up to and during the pandemic meant that I could not escape from the political polarisation and the “Culture Wars” in those fictious universes I had traditionally entered to get away from the reality of the world we live in. Old school Marxists claimed that everything is political. Well, almost everything is now because they have made it that way. With the “Culture Wars” seemingly ever-present it became increasingly difficult to keep emotionally detached from the political circus and not to allow my better judgement to become “emotional compromised”.

Man is a social animal and as an extrovert I require social interaction to sustain me. Over the last 16 months I have suffered a drought of human contact. Now I hope that drought is coming to an end and that I will find myself again. Spending too much time in one’s own company is never wise. As the walls increasingly felt like they were closing in, I found my mind returning to long buried grievances, my temper become ever volatile, my good humour in increasingly short supply, whilst insecurities grew to gargantuan levels. Now I do not castigate myself for any of these short comings as this crisis and its mismanagement were imposed from above and my response was perfectly human. That is not to say that I do not eagerly await the return of my good-humoured, optimistic ever friendly self. There is no joy in grievances, anger or insecurities. The sooner I can see the back of them, the better. I am certain that those negative emotions have had a detrimental impact on my physical health for starters.

It may not be the done thing for a man to bare his soul. There is still a strong contingent in this country that believes in the stiff upper lip. I don’t. I find that if you bottle things up too much for too long then it eventually gets too much and a person explodes. I find myself naturally transparent. I do not pretend to be perfect or without negative traits. I just am who am and have no shame in being myself. I hope that by opening up about how this pandemic has affected me I can let others know that they are not alone in feeling how they do and that the negative thoughts and feelings brought on by the current crisis need not be permanent fixtures in their lives.

The seemingly endless nature of this crisis makes one fear better days will never come but they will and this crisis will soon finish. The only thing we must be vigilant against are those environmentalist extremists in positions of power and influence who would have us move from the coronavirus crisis to fighting a manufactured climate crisis. Meandering from crisis-to-crisis with ever greater sacrifices asked of us would break the human spirit and that must not be allowed.

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