I remember watching Paul Newman in the 1963 western “Hud”. It wasn’t a western in the classical sense and the kind of film that would probably have only a passing interest to me, but there was something about it that struck a chord. It was a simple tale that centred around the conflict between a principled father and his rebel son, on a cattle range, facing a foot and mouth crisis. It was the tragedy of the required slaughter of all these fine animals because of the deadly infection that had to be rooted out. But the real poison and disaster was what the rebel son had brought to his family. When the whole heard were ushered into a giant pit on the farm, under the watchful eyes of the authorities, the Rancher and his men fired their rifles repeatedly into the herd until the last animal was dead. At this point the youngest son turned to his father and said “That didn’t take long Pap” and the father, reflecting on the years of hard labour, skill and diligence that had taken to build his prize herd, replied with these tragic words. “No, Son, killing is easy”.
My genuine concern is that the government’s shut down of social life, which is unprecedented and powered by fear and a good dose of panic, will have far greater damage than any virus could have caused. The term “social distancing” is itself a misnomer. It is a contradiction in terms. There is nothing social about keeping your distance from others. It is anti-social. It may be thought of as a temporary thing, but it has all the signs of permanence and even if the rules are relaxed, the damage has already been done. The “normal” social relationships will take decades to recover, if they ever do.
One of the most depressing thoughts was that the social convention of shaking hands may be lost forever and all physical human contact restricted to a small group of family and intimate friends. To the rest we smile and bow from a distance. No we know that the virus will not be destroyed, that it will probably mutate into something else and always be with us, so the fear of being contaminated or passing it on, could well be the death knell for the most beautiful and simple expression of trust between two human beings.
Destruction can be quick. Building takes time. We are in danger of destroying one of the most precious things in our society by preaching this doctrine of social distancing.