Fahrenheit 451 is a 1950s science fiction novel of the type often described as 'dystopian', a previously little-known word that now regularly peppers letters to the editors of Australian newspapers. George Orwell is the generic default author for big-brother scenarios, but Ray Bradbury comes close.
Fahrenheit 451's firemen, public servants, burn books - and their owners if they refuse to get out of the way. Books are a hindrance to authoritarian governments. The firemen have turned to book- and people-burning because houses no longer burn in the year 2145: there are no fires to put out. Equally, Australia is the healthiest country in the world. We are so fit, the health bureaucrats will do anything to stop people from getting sick: including locking them up. That is the long and short of it. No ifs, no buts. As one letter writer, Elizabeth Filby of Bacchus Marsh (eschewing the word 'dystopian' for once), quipped: 'Perhaps we should all stay home until no-one ever dies again.' The scenario of the state turning on its own citizens is central to Fahrenheit 451.
Worse, events here have exceeded fictional credibility. Or to put it in common terms, you couldn't make this stuff up:
The absurdity of modern life in what was regarded as the world's most liveable city is confirmed by news that uniformed police have been reduced to checking takeaway cups to ensure that they contain coffee, something necessary for the drinker to remove a mask. (The Australian lead editorial, Monday October 18.)
No, you couldn't make that up. It is too ridiculous. Then how did it become true?
Patrick Carlyon wrote in the Herald Sun (October 18): 'A friend (in Virginia) wrote last week: "I cannot believe you are on lockdown. We have more cases in Virginia than your whole country." ' He then quoted Tucker Carlson of Fox News: 'To see your media, and most of your public officials, endorse policies that are just so destructive of basic civil liberties is so crazy ... it's horrifying.'
Those same media announced an 'end' of lockdown on Friday. You couldn't make that up either. After this supposed 'end' to lockdown, retail shops may open but must not admit customers (they can sell wares out the front - try on a dress, anyone?); hairdressers and barbers must also work in the same way; people in Melbourne cannot leave the city; masks remain compulsory everywhere; schools are not fully open (one day a week for my three children); children may 'train' for sport but not 'play'; you cannot go to church. Also, that seven-day 'short, sharp' lockdown, now in its tenth week, will never end for unvaccinated people.
You couldn't make it up. But someone just did.