March 2020 seems like such a dangerously naive time. If only we knew then what we know now, might we have behaved differently? It seems abundantly clear that we would.
We all stockpiled food largely without realising we were doing it. Pointlessly. We argued about closing schools in a debate that we now know to have been completely futile. Then, high on ‘national emergency’, we near-universally accepted the premise of a near-universal lockdown.
We are unable to conclude with any degree of certainty whether national lockdowns are effective against the range of other options that were available to us – yet. But there is mounting evidence that lockdown will soon be doing more harm than good. While the economic damage and its human cost are now taken for granted, we could be leaving a more dangerous legacy.
Perhaps it was Brexit. Or maybe it’s social media’s unrivaled ability to feed our confirmation bias. Whatever caused it, political discourse for some has been reduced to a rolling series of impulsive emotional reactions to unfolding events.
Take for example an Opinium poll released last week which revealed that 47% considered the UK Government to have under-reacted to COVID-19. You just know that those who feel the government under-reacted will be the first people up in arms about the austerity that we’re all about to live through, as if one didn’t feed the other.
Never before has the country shared an experience on so great a scale. Every TV or radio advert references it. Every social network guides the user towards the latest information and the news is dominated by it. Every work conversation commences with a mulling over of the shared experiences of queuing for Tesco and baking banana bread.
The culture of lockdown is now firmly embedded in our society and with it comes an increasing disdain for anyone not seen to be playing their part. Non-compliance leads to a heightened emotional response which is hardly surprising in the context of people’s sacrifices and the collectivist tone of the Government’s messaging. In turn, intense media scrutiny makes COVID-19 appear more prevalent than it actually is.
The result is that lockdown has become an emotional crutch – a sort of comfort blanket which helps people simultaneously feel safe and enjoy an enormous sense of self-satisfaction, without the need to physically do anything.
Nobody knows what type of society we’ll end up with when this is all over.
Every week, people are named and shamed on social networks for not joining in a weekly ‘clap for carers’, or even just for not being enthusiastic enough, in a move Stalin would be proud of.
Dominic Cummings disputes that he was ever in Durham a second time. Assuming that he’s telling the truth, the entire affair becomes a debate about what he should have done with his kid when his wife got sick, something barely imaginable a matter of months ago.
Yet some pretty dystopian laws have a propelled a private matter that concerns neither you nor me into the sphere of public debate. Barely anybody has questioned whether it was their business or not.
A society that increasingly revels in public shamings will, in the end, produce more authoritarian politicians. It all suggests that a cultural shift is taking place that should make us all a little uncomfortable.