The first post for a long time. Lockdown is not being kind to me, but others have it far worse.
This may hardly be a positive post, but it’s what I think and feel.
At the time of writing, Britain is passing 100,000 deaths from Covid, my cousin being one. Some countries have it much better and show it needn’t be so bad; as far as comparable countries go, we are among the worst. A Finnish friend is visiting friends and relatives and having days out; they have had less than 700 deaths.
The big thing that jumps out at me is not something terribly new or that I didn’t know anyway: people en masse just aren’t terribly rational or benevolent, and this country is going the wrong way.
If you were to knock over a candle and flames started to lick up around it, most of us would stamp on the fire straight away. But if the fire was called “Covid” then it seems we would declare it too small to matter, ignore it until it had eaten half the sofa, then if we were lucky enough to beat it back, we would stop before it was out because it was now once again too small to do any harm.
In the same way, if our street was on fire, it seems some of us would be complaining about the fire brigade making so much noise and splashing water around, and wish they would go away.
I’m guilty of some misapprehensions myself. I thought for a while there may be a compromise between economics, freedom and controlling the virus (albeit that our government was erring on the mercenary side). Circumstances are now showing that beating the virus down is better for business and liberty as well as lives. An irony is that a selfish but smart person would support the same virus policy as a selfless one.
Contagions spread. It’s what they do. If we do not want a few more hundred thousand dead and the NHS overwhelmed, we shall have to stop the virus at some level. It makes sense to stop it at a low level where contact tracing can be focused and only those exposed need isolate. Or even, being an island, to eliminate and keep it out.
We have seen a huge amount of wishful thinking. It has ranged from “The virus won’t spread in Britain like it did in Italy, it will bounce off our stiff upper lips” through “hydroxychloroquine is great!” to “The second wave won’t kill anyone, it’s just healthy young folk getting it.”
Not to mention the huge range of scientific and statistical fallacies and manipulations. Including by government.
It is clear that tackling Covid well requires a well informed collective effort. Authoritarian countries can impose this but democratic ones rely on trust, competence and community spirit. We are failing on all of those fronts.
Individualist culture is a problem. In this situation, it is not possible to risk just your own life. Does freedom mean freedom to do severe harm to others? In the Blitz I have not heard of people turning on their lights and opening curtains, insisting it was their essential personal liberty and they didn’t believe in aeroplanes anyway.
Extreme conspiracy theorists have become much less tolerant of me, and vice versa. It seems to have cost at least one longstanding friendship.
Now if one were to say that politicians are generally less than honest, media biased and selective, and that many people hold deep misapprehensions about things, it would be nothing less than the truth. I can understand being sceptical about events happening far away in war zones where information is scarce and always comes through people with an agenda. But to say “A huge number of the people I used to pass on the street are involved in a conspiracy to falsify fundamental facts, but I know better!” is monumental hubris at best, a deep solipsism at worst.
How the wishful thinking came about is something of a puzzle. If our ancestors had been prone to ignoring the hungry sabre-tooth behind a bush because it would be more convenient if it wasn’t there, evolution would have weeded out the trait pretty quickly. But I suppose that our brains work fairly well for concrete, immediate threats. Anything beyond what you would need as a hunter-gatherer in a little tribe takes effort and understanding. We should all work on that.