Beyond Bizarre

We are going to need some new words. Bizarre is no longer strong enough and insanity and madness barely get to the mark. Once we have heard the craziest pronouncement from a government official another one comes along to top even that, when we hardly thought it possible. The theatrical antics on display daily in these strange scenes at the tri-podium draped with a surreal strapline, the minister flanked by their advisors, the chiefs of staff from the twin pillars of science and medicine, with the meek media dutifully waiting their turn to pose an innocuous question, have a strange comic element to them. It is really hard to take seriously. These people must be having a laugh. But it doesn’t seem they are.  Yet you wonder why they would put them themselves through this trial each day. In the age of twitter, it seems hardly necessary. I particularly feel for Scotland’s First minister who seldom seems to be able to trust a depute for the task. Perhaps it gives extra kudos and gravitas to the words being said. Perhaps it carries a level of sobriety to the situation in the hope that the public get the message. But the trouble is with all these things the effect quickly wears off and people can get pretty bored with the figures, the predictable pattern and the school teachery scolding.

One of the weirdest things is the way that Ministers are so suddenly involved in the detail and minutia of our lives. If someone told you this would happen a year ago, you would not believe them. So many activities are now being micro managed, whether its to do with care homes or protective gear of what we can do and where and when and how. So much is now about our personal lives and behaviour. We have, for example, the repeated mantra about handwashing. Goodness me, we have been reminded so often, since we were little, that we should always wash our hands. It was on every sign in a public toilet “Now wash your hands”. We have been told that our hands are the dirtiest part for our bodies and that it is the most important thing in food hygiene. We’ve known that for years, still, it now needs the government, of all people, to tell us, dirty beggars that we are.

And then we have the quite bizarre advice at a recent briefing that our trips should factor in when we might need to stop for the toilet and the even more bizarre advice for couples living separately, when they could meet up for intimate relations. It makes you realise ‘Gosh, they think we are children’ and they say that they want to treat us like adults! Well I suppose that figures. It’s what we say to children – “Now I want to treat like adults”.

The quite unnecessary and over the top intrusion into personal behaviour follows the intrusion into other aspects of public life and work. Two specific areas where I have involvement, the building industry and the church, demonstrate this so well.

THE BUILDING INDUSTRY

The closure of all building sites by the Scottish Government will, I am sure, turn out to be a monumental disaster for an industry that has never really been all that well organised. Yet I wonder if those who advised on the decision have any clue about what goes on in a building site. Most work is out of doors where the possibility of contacting a virus is almost non-existent. Even when the work is indoors the area is seldom sealed. It is most often open to the elements, with air constantly moving and not the environment favoured by viruses. The real dangers are dust and fumes, falling from heights, electrocution and machinery, the later three which account for the majority of accidents on site. In addition, building contractors have strict controls on health and safety and this is one of the reasons why accidents and deaths have been drastically reduced in the past decades. And, there are trade unions who keep a keen watch on the health conditions of workers. Managers of building sites are then perfectly able to act responsibly and deal sensibly with a crisis of this kind. But no, it needs big government to step in and tell them to close and what they have to do when they re-open.

THE CHURCH

It’s the same with churches. Many congregations had already put in place sensible precautions and some had cancelled services well before the lock-down was announced.  But instead of allowing responsible church administrators to make their own judgements about what action to take, the government had to come in, close the churches and will only allow them to re-opened if certain conditions are met and when “it is safe to do so”.  In this crazy new world, it is the government, apparently, who are the arbiters of what is and what isn’t safe. The guidelines themselves, make a mockery of what a church is and what it means to come together to worship God. As with building sites, I suspect that those who have made these decisions have no idea what goes on in a church building. 

Thinking through and trying to picture what a phase three “Covid compliant” opening would look like, makes us realise that it will be almost farcical. Some measures are, of course, quite sensible and actions that any responsible organisations would take: such as a high level of regular cleaning of surfaces and hand sanitisers at entrances, but others would be quite disproportionate.  Take “Social distancing”, as an example, that creepy Orwellian phrase designed to make quarantine sound palatable.  If we hold strictly to this policy, it will cut into just about everything we do and almost every aspect of how we function as a local congregation. It does violence to the whole idea of coming together. There has been suggestion that singing, which increase aerosol range, should be banned and musical instruments too, especially brass and woodwind.  Hymnbooks, bibles, psalteries and all books and leaflets would be removed and tea, coffee and mingling quite out of the question. Have we really grasped what this would mean? How can you welcome a visitor across a strict two metre divide? How can you carry out any meaningful pastoral conversation with that invisible chasm between you and the person? How can you really relate, show sympathy, concern, support or effectively listen from behind a mask? How can you build trust when the overriding message is one of fear and mistrust?  It just doesn’t work. All the important things we intuitively learn from body language, all the small movements that tell us so much, the posture, the movement of the hands and  eye as well as our own attempts to comfort and encourage with the holding of a hand or touching of a shoulder, all of this will be lost.

If it is still our intention to maintain a liberal democracy and cherish freedom then it really is time that  government be told, politely but firmly, to stay out of our lives. How we manage our own affairs, how we conduct our lives is none of their business. It is surely also time for business and organisations, churches, schools, clubs and societies to to step up to the plate and remind the government that they have been doing this for some time now, that they do care and that they do know what they are doing. It is time to say “Gives us a break – stick to your job and we will stick to ours.”

Crawford Mackenzie

10 thoughts on “Beyond Bizarre

  1. Well, on the wee business of hand-washing, I have welcomed the advice about a more assiduous attention to that and doing it after touching contaminable surfaces. And I also welcome the reminders. It just seems something pretty reasonable and obvious and not something to get in a lather about (except the with the soap, of course.) I think there are some many resourceful, imaginative and sensible ways to respond to all this. In my wee mixed neighbourhood people seem to be making sensible adult and autonomous decisions about it all and I haven’t heard much complaint about “big government* (an old Tea-Party one, that!). So I would recommend chilling a bit, especially since chilling and cutting each other a fair but of slack seems to be such a helpful thing to do. Round here in the COVID world neighborhood communication has improved markedly and I hope that will be maintained. It also seems to me that most church communities here seem to be pretty chilled (here speaks an outsider) and are doing the resourceful outreach stuff. All true what you say about the deficit in social distancing but that pain is nothing new in human life (eg my Hana in Tokyo etc. ) I do think we might be in for a second spike, though.

    • Ok “Big Government” was a bit lazy but I can’t thing of another pithy term. I haven’t heard much complaint about it either, but, to me, the way the population, as a whole, have pretty much accepted and complied with the extraordinary restrictions, in just about every aspect of life, is really quite astonishing. It has all been generally accepted and hardly questioned over whether the lock-down and all the other measures were right or appropriate or proportionate and that seems extraordinary. I don’t know about a second spike, but my gut tells me there is something far wrong and it could be pretty terrible when the whole thing unravels.

      • I am really surprised that you have not come across much discussion of the rights and wrongs of the lock-down rules – I hear and read it all the time. What I think is mistaken is to attribute compliance to a meek citizenry in love with authority – it is way more complex than that.

      • Yes it is probably more complex as things always are. I think fear has played a big part and the media has helped that. My neighbour on one side is terrified to go out her door and the one on the other side was convinced she might catch it in her garden, although she has got over that. These are sensible people. I am sure governments recognise that fear is a useful tool to achieve compliance and there is something mildly tyrannical about the way the precautionary principle is wielded. I was listening to the Cabinet Secretary for Justice last night with a barely concealed threat if we didn’t behave this weekend. Are you quite relaxed about all of that?

  2. Mr Mackenzie, just to say I always look forward to reading your posts and during these last few months there have been many excellent ones.

  3. Replying here to Crawford’s last response to my reply.
    I did hear a promise/threat that the lock-down might have to be tightened again if it all went agley. I am not particularly relaxed about that but a good deal less relaxed at the thought of a second spike, 1918 style. As for fear, I was recalling WW2 and the threat of bombing raids and all the things the government put in place – encouragement to build Anderson shelters, baffle walls, blackout etc. Was that using fear as a weapon? Isn’t fear a natural response to something that could kill you, and something that could kill others through your carelessness (not putting up your blackout curtains/sneezing out loud on the bus)? BTW Scottish deaths by bombing in WW2 were 2500 over the 5 years of the European war. Have any of the current gov statements exaggerated the risks, do you think? If it has (in Scotland at least) they will have breached the terms of the Civil Contingencies Act in terms of what the Act calls “unnecessary public alarm”, but I am not sure that they have in this case.

    • You are probably right. Not unnecessary fear and alarm. I suppose my issue is that there is an assumption that a lock-down will halt or slow down the virus, when there is clearly the possibility that it has had and will have little or no effect. It might in fact have fuelled it. My view is that it made no positive difference. “Stay home” may have protected the NHS, although that too is questionable, but whether it actually saved lives is not clear. And yet that is the assumption that the government is working on without question. That’s my problem.

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