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  • Writer's pictureDr Hugh Willbourn

#50 A Case in Point

Every now and then the truth shines forth from the most unlikely places.   Last week Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary to the UK Government, gave evidence to Baroness Hallett’s Official Covid Inquiry.


He provided an excellent, albeit tragic, example of the hypnotic grip of abstractions about which I have written in The Bug in our Thinking and the way to fix it.


Hypnosis is a commonplace part of human existence: the spontaneous analgesia of a stubbed toe as you run for a bus,  the cataleptic arm of a supermarket shopper floating in the air as they dither between items, the amnesia that strikes as you go into the living room to get -   why did I come in here?  


When externally directed, hypnosis can be a  deliberate modification of awareness and / or agency.  It can heighten suggestibility.  It can be used to induce analgesia, anaesthesia and amnesia,  to place limits on perception and cognition and to produce positive and negative hallucinations – the latter meaning the inability to see an object in plain sight.


In hypnosis we may operate from a tightly limited section of our capacities and be completely separated from our critical faculties, our scepticism, our intuitions and our emotional sensibilities.    We can be reduced to automata.


This may manifest as an attitude of barricaded, absolute certainty, the inability to think logically, a denial of evident facts, or even what Martin Orne named ‘trance logic’ – the ability to entertain simultaneously two contradictory thoughts.  


Such hypnosis also usually includes the inability to recognise one is hypnotised, hence it is rarely acknowledged by its subjects, although it can be seen all about us.    For example, in her article of the 27th May in the Daily Sceptic Joanna Gray refers to many examples of this phenomenon in different contexts. 

It is a central assertion of my book that many people are hypnotised by abstract ideas. Such hypnosis does not require a hypnotist.  It can be induced by a lack of understanding of the nature of abstraction and abstract ideas.

Abstractions are necessarily reductionist tools imposed on top of reality to facilitate analysis.  When individuals believe them to be fundamental elements structuring reality their thinking becomes increasingly limited, distorted and adrift of reality itself.  It is rare however that life offers us such a vivid illustration of this phenomenon as the self-report of the Cabinet Secretary.  He gives a very clear description of being hypnotised.   

In retrospect Mr Case acknowledges that his thinking, and that of his colleagues, was distorted although he seems to remain unaware of the full extent of the distortion.

He said that he and others in Downing Street became “prisoners of our own thinking” during the pandemic.  He explained,

“we’d sort of got trapped into a way of thinking and wrestling that meant we couldn’t actually see and take decisive action,”


“We were prisoners of our own mentality, which was that we were desperate to avoid another lockdown.”

"Lockdown" is an abstraction, a single noun, a nominalisation, covering an uncountable number of specific actions in uncountably diverse contexts. Further it was predicated on an unevidenced idea of efficacy which was itself another simplistic abstraction.


Perhaps Mr Case meant to present himself as nobly struggling to prevent the suffering of another lockdown.  What he actually showed us was that he and his colleagues were completely possessed, obsessed, transfixed indeed hypnotised by the idea of lockdown and were unable to see there were many, many alternatives. Even though he claimed to be desperate to avoid it, he could not stop thinking about it.  He could not see, or even consider, that lockdown was an inappropriate, destructive policy with no benefit whatsoever.


Mr Case, sadly, is not alone.  In a splendid example of the Inquiry’s leading questions Mr Case was asked if the government had failed to make clear it had considered alternatives to lockdown. The Inquiry, like Mr Case, is unable to consider the possibility that the lockdowns were a catastrophic mistake.


As Mr Case saw it,

“Good people were working incredibly hard in impossible circumstances with choices where it seems there was never a right answer.”   

There were in fact a plethora of right answers – none of them including lockdowns – many of which were being advocated as early as March 2020 by people ranging from unknown bloggers like me to the internationally respected academics who produced the Great  Barrington Declaration.

In a further indication of their hypnotically assisted folly Mr Case explained

“we were trying to run everything from the centre of government, trying to run the response to a global pandemic.”

Centralisation like this necessitates many, many abstractions and in the complexity of human society always lead to failure. A person able to think more clearly might have proposed leaving matters of clinical care to clinicians, who would have  worked out amongst themselves how to treat the genuinely sick population (and in fact did).

Mr Case even recounts that his own emotions were trying to get him to see things differently.   He testified,

“There were some dark days when it felt we just couldn’t get it right.”


His feelings were correct.  Every one of the Government’s initiatives was disastrous.  They would have done far, far, better to do absolutely nothing. Mr Case and his colleagues,  hypnotised  by their grandiose abstractions, were not able to see their own limitations and lacked the humility to be open to alternative points of view.


His testimony is an admission of failure of discernment, failure of comprehension and a catastrophic failure of leadership.


Sadly Mr Case’s appearance at the Inquiry was delayed because he has had some health issues.   It is of course inconceivable that he has sustained a vaccine injury, because as we all know the Covid-19 vaccines are very, very, very safe and effective indeed, but he does seem to have had a most unfortunate run-in with the coincidence fairies.

I wish him a full recovery from his physical ailments and his cognitive limitations.    When he recovers from the latter, he may perhaps consider making some restitution for his failings.


For a fuller explanation of the central place of hypnosis in modern foolishness see my book The Bug in our Thinking and the way to fix it which is available on my website ( click here ) where the word ‘case’ in the coupon box will get you a £2 discount before the end of June.  It is available internationally, as an audio book and an ebook on Amazon.


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May 29

Or Mr Case could simply be disingenuous.

Dr Hugh Willbourn
Dr Hugh Willbourn
May 30
Replying to

Yes, indeed he could. In fact he could be hypnotised and disingenuous and have an inflated belief in his own intelligence. He would not be alone in the civil service.


May 28

An excellent article again. His testimony provides a clear case study exemplifying many of the themes in "A Bug in your Thinking". But one has to wonder, at what stage up the greasy pole of power were those little people partying, drinking and smooching were transformed from the earnestly bewildered and hypnotised to the fully aware corrupted agenda setters?


Mark Adams
Mark Adams
May 28

Exactly. Part of the problem is that these smarmy Oxbridge up-floaters have never done a job where they take the consequences of failure or learn feelingly how to manage risk. Their over-riding impulse is not to admit error, so they affect that they worked incredibly hard in impossible circumstances with no better options. Hypnosis is big, but, let's face it, at root they are policy cowards, grifters and scoundrels.

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