Shaper-of-your-life-and-mine, and SAGE member Susan Michie has never tried to conceal her membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain – the “mainstream media” does that for her. But, if I am honest, it’s not her political affiliation that concerns me, so much as her professional vocation (although the two are probably connected). Michie is a “behavioural psychologist”, a discipline which is misconceived in its philosophical assumptions, and (at best) ethically ambiguous in its application.
That latter point does not really require development. To deploy “science” in service of producing desired behavioural outcomes borders (at the very least) on psychological manipulation. Michie, and her colleagues on the SAGE Sanhedrin, have become adept at what Peter Hitchens has called the “distillation of power from fear”. I do not remember franchising my autonomy to these types; I do not even recall being consulted.
The problems with behavioural psychology are even more fundamental than that, being not merely ethical but also conceptual. This is a discipline which of necessity reduces the complexities of the human person to what that person does while overlooking what they are. Its philosophical antecedents lie in the logical behaviourism of the Oxford “ordinary language” philosopher Gilbert Ryle. Ryle argued that there is no more to the human mind than how it can be described in the language of behaviour. The behaviourist conceit is that you are no more than how you act, and that your soul is no more than your mind which in turn is reducible to the predictable rhythms of how you behave. Or can be “nudged”.
Which is a convenient nonsense for the Michie types, but is nonsense, nevertheless.
There is more to the human person than how we behave. And there is more to the operation of the human soul (I use that term unapologetically) than can be captured by the laboratory experiments of the behavioural psychologists. In the course of a week, we might: fall in love, fall out of it, feel jealousy, believe that the ending of Line of Duty was persuasive (and then change our mind), prefer Dylan over the Beatles, have a toothache which we stoically resist and then contact the dentist….and all of these are things will be happening not to our bodies but to ourselves. They might have behavioural manifestations, but it does not follow that the behaviour in any way exhausts the kaleidoscopic mental life which lies behind it.
As the late Roger Scruton used to argue, we are not just physical bodies acting out our lives in the world, we are also perspectives on that world – a distinction which seems threatening to the Whitty types who are keen to persuade you out of the (correct) idea that you are a person of unique value, and to inculcate instead the claim that you are merely a piece of information to be entered into a data set and – if you are lucky – thrown up on a government slide.
There are (at least) two ways of being a “lockdown sceptic”. You can argue that the government has failed to make its case on the basis of available data; or you can take the view that the data does not matter and that the non-pharmaceutical interventions are intrinsically immoral. I am in the latter camp, because I believe that to argue the data tennis is to buy into the Michie worldview, one which fails to see the human person as anything other than an undifferentiated data unit. The behavioural psychologists have been allowed to set the terms of reference on the basis of a deeply flawed conception of what it is to be a human being.
I mentioned Roger Scruton. He used to remark that he had spent most of his academic career attempting a definition of what “conservatism” is. His conclusion? That it is not reducible to a systematic political theory, but amounts, perhaps, to a set of instincts: that we should look to love things and not pull them down, and that we should be very suspicious of any “worldview” which attempts -or assumes- any revolution in the way we think about what we are. The government, with its relentless propaganda that we are “potential vectors of transmission” is doing just that.
The SAGE “behavioural psychologists” are very impressive practitioners of the dark alchemies of psychological manipulation. But they are operating on the basis of philosophical misconceptions and ethical egregiousness. They’ve been allowed, for too long, to set the terms of the lockdown debate.
And how they have mind-captured an allegedly conservative government shows just how good they are.