The lockdown files, like the Nixon tapes before it, have revealed, in embarrassing and shocking detail, the appalling behaviour, language, trickery and abuse that people lost in their own hubris, intoxicated with power, infected with the worst sort of moral superiority and dangerous over confidence have felt free to spout, not realising that they will be condemned by their own words. It was Nixon who had the idea of recording all the conversation for his memoirs to display his own glory in much the same way that our former health secretary did. But pride comes before a fall.
Although there is nothing new that has been revealed in the leaked messages, the fact that government policy was carried out, in the middle of a crisis, on a platform like Whatsapp still shocks. Parliament and even the cabinet were side-lined by the Quad, and it shows in graphic detail how degenerate our politicians have become, how they have held the public in total contempt and brought their high office into disrepute. I really wanted to believe that these weighty issues, which would have a devasting effect on just about everyone, would have been conducted with dignity, calling on wisdom and integrity, justice and compassion, in the decorum and kudos of meetings around a table, an agenda, discussions, proposals, decisions arrived at and notes taken. I did really want to believe that. But it was an illusion. The five were acting like selfish grubby bores in an undignified scramble for power and protection of reputations. I guess that this is what we have now come to accept and expect from our elected representative. We get the politicians we deserve, they say. It wasn’t just that we were taken for fools, we were fools. It is yet another nail in our national coffin.
But setting aside the duplicity, the folly and the cruelty, the debacle raises another issue and shows how unsuited and inappropriate the digital media (whatsapp, zoom, facetime, teams etc) is for the making of collective decisions at almost any level. True, there are some benefits in using such platforms. When the issue is relatively simple or technical or logistical and when the individuals are some distance apart. That makes sense and can be a great help. But the value is clearly limited and having seen it work we now know how open it can be to all kinds of abuse and bad behaviour.
One of our friends has an important job within the health service and for the past 2+ years she has been working from home. She made an interesting observation. She found that the flat images she was constantly dealing with in mundane rooms with prints and bric-a-brac, fake bookshelves and the odd plant, pointed up her colleagues’ eccentricities, speech defects and annoying mannerisms which she was not aware of before. In a short time, they seemed to become caricatures of themselves. Rather than the person she was communicating with, she found she was communicating with an image of the person. And images are just that, they are not the real thing. All the intricate body language, the nuances, the reflection and the expansive view that the eye takes it, and the camera does not, are lost and the result can be bad communication, bad discussions and very often bad decisions.
Theres a darker side too. Like pornography, the substitution of the real person with an image can create a disconnect. It can open up a chasm between, gratification and responsibility, between lust and love, between the fear of being caught and knowing you can get away with it, between right and wrong. In the team room, the roving eye can find plenty of interest in the knowledge that no one can see what it is leering at. The sense of propriety and modesty and politeness which so often restrains vulgar impulses, in real life, can be lost in the digital one. With every giant leap in technology, we can be so enthralled by the new and amazing possibilities for good, that we lose sight of the tremendous potential for evil. We forget that out of the heart comes evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander. Casting off the restrictions and barriers, letting it all hang out, can lead to a dark place. Like the miracle drugs that have such astonishing powers to assist in healing, they can be extremely dangerous. We should be careful to recognise the danger of interactions on these platforms and treat them with care and respect. That’s one lesson we can learn.