We didn’t get round to doing it, but we had a plan to put a jar in the middle of the table for our evening meal with our international family and every time someone mentioned covid, they would have to drop a coin in. If we did, we could probably have paid for 3 new nightingale hospitals by now, though it turns out that they haven’t been much use despite the £220m price tag.It’s a good time for dodgy deals and backhands. It’s a good time to bury bad news. But its also a good time to take stock and make resolutions and mine, in the coming year, will be to speak no more of viruses and lock-downs, of self-isolating, social distancing, and transmission and these arrrgh rates. Data, Percentages and graphs will be out too. But before then, with a few hours left, it would be good to look back and see if we can make any sense of what happened in this year. This then, by definition, is my personal view. Inevitable there are more questions than answers.
The Barmy Professor
One of the most interesting characters in the whole episode is Professor Neil Ferguson who gave a revealing interview to the Sunday Times last week. He had disappeared off the scene for a while, following his “error of judgement”, but now back in the centre among the coterie of advisers with the ear of government. He was apparently told to keep a low profile until the thing had blown over, which says so much of how important he must have been to the decisionmakers. It was what he said about how they came to the idea of nationwide lock-down, that was so telling. They saw how the Chinese had adopted it first in Wuhan and later across the country but they didn’t think such a method would work in a western democratic society. Astonishingly it seemed to work in Italy and so could be tried out here too. So, this was how the mass psychological, economic & social experiment was launched on an unexpecting population, without any real idea of where it would lead or if it would in fact work. It had never been done before and while there was, and is, no evidence that it had any effect, it had to be the only way and so it became the only way. The decision was a binary one. Either this or let the virus rip, our hospitals will be overwhelmed and thousands will die. At the early stage the Prime Minister was unsure and hinted that, while it was done in other nations, this was not how we did things here. We don’t coerce the population in this way, we respect the people and always assume that they would act responsibility. But for whatever reason, he wobbled and the rest is history.
The Lapsed Believer
Having grown up with a more or less general respect for authority, with the feeling that those who knew all the facts, those who understood the reality of what we were facing, those who were intelligent and experts in their field, would be best placed to make the proper decisions and I should go along with that. It might be a military response to terrorism or austerity to a financial crisis. What did I know about viruses, pandemics, terrorism or economics after all? Yet, I was not totally naïve. I knew that politicians have their own agenda and their own self-interest, and like the rest of us are proud, lustful and prone to corruption and deceit, but on those big issues, I had to trust that they would get it right and I would, in the end, give them the benefit of the doubt. That was what I believed at the start and I suspect most people felt the same. And so, the first weeks and early months of lock-down were rolled out and, for me it was a welcome sabbatical. It was warmth and light and green in the spring and early summer with birdsong and clear blue skies. There was time with family and new pursuits there was a wholesome feeling that maybe this was a good thing. Goodness me it may even be the answer to global warming and climate change. In reality, however, it was little more than a middle-class indulgence, all the sounds of destruction havoc and the crumbling of society were out of earshot. Isolated in your own cocoon, the sights of suffering were kept conveniently out of sight. We were kept separate from the horrors of single parents with difficult children cooked up in tiny flats when the playgrounds were chained off. We didn’t realise how close so many were to a mental health disaster when isolation would tip them over the edge. We didn’t think what the long term effects of wholesale house arrest would do to a population. There were dissident voices, of course, but they were the lunatic fringe – the David Ickes and the Piers Corbyns of this world, the rabid Brendan O’ Neil, the doom merchant Peter Hitchens and the wacky James Delingpole. But with each week, as the thing progressed, as the goal posts moved, as the serious voices, many from the scientific community and the legal profession, starting articulating another different and compelling story, one which was pretty much side-lined and silenced when it could be, my doubts grow and my trust dissolved. The long spiral downwards increased with the wilder claims, the overegging of the statistics the graphs and the gobbledegook, the ladling on of fear, the more and more bizarre restrictions, the ludicrously unachievable aim of controlling a virus, and the absolute unquestionable righteousness of the cause. I started to see that those guys on the fringe turned out to be right all along, and I was wrong.
The Supine Mass
Without really taking it in, we were being progressively dehumanised and infantilised and like the boiling frog we didn’t realise what was happening before it was too late. This phenomenon is very hard to explain or understand. Why is it that perfectly intelligent people can resort to following crazy and foolish half thought up rules that turn common sense completely on its head? One of the most bizarre concerns someone we knew who called on a friend recently and suggested going for a walk. While they lived a short distance from each other the council boundary divided them and the law prohibited moving from a level three zone even if into another of the same level. They did decide, however, to have their walk, but as the boundary ran up the middle of a road, and to keep to the rules, they ended up walking on opposite pavements and carrying on a disjointed conversation across the traffic. Despite the stupidity our friend went along with it not to upset her companion. This sounds like a crazy made-up tale, but it was true. Why is it that sensible and reasonable people, not only follow the rules, but go way beyond them? I am thinking of mask wearing in the street and the open air. Do people like the feel of breathing their own CO2? Have they just forgotten to take it off after leaving the shop? Is it a fashion statement? Is it a badge or a statement of solidarity? Who knows?
The Great Conundrum
From the beginning I have wrestled with this one. How is it that, in the face of an unparalleled assault on personal freedom, the people who I thought would be the ones who would defend that freedom, to the death, if need be, had suddenly become quiet and compliant? Why were they so relaxed when a right wing and a nationalist government used fear to control the population in an astonishingly effective way and why were no alarm bells ringing? That fear-monger was the official policy, as it was in Germany, is now clear. Where did the rebels and the activists go when democracy morphed into authoritarianism? I have no easy answer. Perhaps they were never really true rebels. Perhaps they had a secret liking for authority. Perhaps they believed that totalitarianism was the only way that utopia could be achieved and that perhaps it needed a worldwide system of control to bring about the long sought-after world where peace and justice would reign and the planet saved from disaster? If so covid-19 might just be the thing to usher in this new normal and the great reset.
The World-wide Phenomena
One of the most persuasive arguments that would convince you that lock-down was the only proper response to the pandemic and the most difficult one to reason with, if you were against it, was the fact that almost all nations adopted the same principle. They can’t all be wrong, could they? But truth is, yes, they could all be wrong. If, however, we start to see possible collusion and coordination between governments over this, we are into the area of conspiracy theories and dark forces. That’s pretty hard to swallow and yet, and yet we can’t shake the feeling that we have not heard the whole story and there is something that they are not telling us, possibly for fear that it would create a mass panic. The possibility that it could be a military grade virus leaked from some research facility is still perfectly credible.
The Bleak New Year
Unlike all the positive things people were saying with comments in Christmas cards that came through our door, I couldn’t buy into the prospects of a bright future once this “horrible” year was out of the way. The great war was meant to be over by Christmas, this one is set to have no ending. I can’t get excited about the vaccine either. The way it was heralded as the great saviour was disturbing and equally disturbing how soon the caveats were pulled out: It might not stop you getting the virus, it might not stop you spreading it, it hasn’t been tested on pregnant women, it shouldn’t be given to people who might have an allergic reaction, it hasn’t yet been licensed and, the most disturbing one, the manufactures are immune from prosecution if anything goes wrong. Not exactly something to fill you with confidence. So, the prospects for a New Year are pretty bleak and it is hard to be positive about, or get a good feeling about where this is all leading. In Scotland, we have elections in May but politically there is no other voice, no real opposition here nor in Westminster and no genuine party willing to stand and say “This must stop”. No one with any power is willing to shout “This should never be tried again”. The Church, where hope should shine, reimains strangely quiet.
So as the hours and minutes tick away, (it’s already New Year in Christmas island), the streets eerily quiet and the only sound we hear is the crumbling of hope in the face of crippling debt, the loss of thousands of businesses, mass unemployment, stunted education and the terrible damage of this awful experiment, it is time for action. It is time for resolve and for devotion. And my new year’s resolution? It can be only one thing. It is to pray and devote myself to pray, to encourage others to pray alone or together, in groups or two and three, and not to give up until the earth is filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.
Very good. Thank you.
Afterthought… reading again Frank Furedi’s excellent “How fear works” published in 2018 which develops the theme of his previous work “Culture of Fear” reveals once more how insightful and prophetic he was. While he was instancing then, what he calls the deification of safety in “safe sex”, “safe eating”, “safe schools” and “safe spaces” and how corporations and institutions, governments and even the police and military intone the mantra “the customer’s/student’s/pupil’s/citizens safety is our first priority, it follows on logically that we would respond to a pandemic in the same way. His quotes are very apposite. From the founding fathers Alexander Hamilton “To be more safe, they at length become willing to run the risk of being less free” and Benjamin Franklin “Those who would give up essential Liberty to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither liberty nor Safety” He mentions how Neitzshe characterised society’s preference for safety and comfort over risk “as a form of slavery” and from John Stuart Mill “War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things: the decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war, is much worse. ”So it is perfectly understandable why Boris Johnstone would say that “The people’s safety is our top priority” and Nicola Sturgeon can stand up, without any sense of irony, and thank the people of Scotland for their continuing “sacrifice” through the pandemic. “Sacrifice” in this case means staying at home not doing anything and being paid for it.