Friday, June 05, 2020

In lockdown

Covid-19 has impacted on so many things - too many to list. And as it has progressed a whole new vocabulary has sprung up in its wake. If words make worlds we are now in a place where lockdown, furlough, distancing, shielding and masks have new meanings and stand in for new forms of behaviour, and new ways of being social (or not). We are now governed differently and UK politics, abruptly wrenched away from the national sport of Brexit-baiting, has taken on a new role in people's lives. Politicians are telling us when to stay at home, when to wash our hands, what to wear and how to socialise. Such things would have been unthinkable this time last year. When the English radical William Goodwin wrote that 'Each man should be wise enough to govern himself, without the intervention of any compulsory restraint' he clearly didn't have plague or pandemic in mind. Nevertheless ideas about autonomy, personal liberty and social responsibility have all been reconfigured in recent months. Most of us have been keen to learn about 'what we are being told to do now' approaching it with some degree of credulity - variously moderated by critique, scepticism or silent resistance. In fact critique has probably been rather in abeyance in the UK. Perhaps the decent thing might be to just accept what we're told given the gravity of the situation. At least that seemed to be the national mood at the start. It's taken a few months for things to unravel. The rationalist appeal to 'follow the science' has taken a battering. Scientists and politicians make odd bedfellows. More recently the fallacy that there is one truth, the science has been exposed. After all England, the UK, could have done different things at different times. Could and did. And then even the most unscientific of us are beginning to realise that modelling is a complicated and contested business. Clapping the NHS and other key workers may be yesterday's news but the idea of a state that has some duty of care over its citizens shouldn't be allowed to pass so quickly. I remain committed to welfarism, and this pandemic has crystallised that simple fact for me. I want to live in a society that can look after all people as well as the environment that they inhabit. I'm not well versed in politics, but it strikes me that the amount of government we need should be dependent upon what is needed to enact those principles.