Featured Image Credit: Nicole Baster
Let’s say, just to speculate, that the world was infected by a pandemic that acted as a ‘great unifier’. It would enter into people’s bodies and unite in all of us a risk that equalised divisions within society, creating fear and panic uniformly. Case fatality rates would be determined by chance alone. And we’d see every day that your melatonin content, or living conditions, bear no importance. A single, great unifier would act as a leveler in all circumstance, no matter the social background. If it were clear that the virus was truly indiscriminate, and affected us all equally – cultures, economic status, race – the virus might be recognised in bringing us some sort of unification.
Imagine how different social groups would react if the virus affected us indiscriminately. The risk would be for everyone, social distancing wouldn’t be seen as only benefiting the old and/or vulnerable, and ‘safe’ employment wouldn’t be reserved for those who can work from home.
If the virus was truly unifying, there would be tests, available to all, easy to access, efficiently and equitabily processed. Contact tracing would involve no political hype. Immunity passports would not be implicated with employment rights. If this was the case, conformity to guidelines would be a no-brainer because there would be no net gain in breaking the rules.
This is a kind of rationality that some policy makers seem happy to assume based on optimistic of grounds. Strikingly, at the same time, some people seem to be insulted by the suggestion that we should take care, affronted by cloth face masks. It’s introspective, and short sighted , to treat simple precautionary measures as deeply compromising. Those who speak about liberties in this way risk appearing unsympathetic towards the rights of others. So it seems perverse, though clearly effective, to yell – paternalism! – at the proponents of these policies.
There is this expectation at the centre of UK culture which, looking at recent events, is expressed by a deep distrust of politicians. Everyday there are new reports about civil servant resignation, or disingenuous political aides, or conflicting press conferences. In the end, all we can do is hope for some clarity, and this often comes in the form of confirmation bias. For lack of clear leadership, we look inwards, like a Möbius strip, at polemicising forces that are destructive and powerful.
Unification of any kind should always be exploratory and outward looking. There shouldn’t be the assumption that you know exactly what needs to be said. So when we enter into a country post lock-down , we’ll start to learn about particular behaviour patterns, exclusive sub-groups, local and unique injustices. And as we learn, other kinds of divisions will emerge, revealing problems that we may never have expected to find. Such social divisions cannot be attributed to strands of RNA. These divisions are made by us, and if we’re to face them, we must face them together.