Lazy Luddite Log

30.3.20

CoronaPost

This is my Coronavirus entry to discuss aspects of the pandemic facing Humanity. There may be other such posts but we shall see. I’m of the opinion that there is an excess of information currently online. Even discussion of confused government directives tends to magnify the confusion. It is also worth asking why those messages are sometimes confusing. My answer is that this is a perplexing time for everyone. Even the experts that governments are thankfully heeding are a somewhat divided cohort on the specifics because this is something very new for us.

And yet it is something very old too. We have never had control over this world and even now the best we can do is manage risk rather than eliminate it. However the post-war long peace has given us a semblance of control. We now lament its shortcomings but I think it worth pausing to reflect on how effective it has been for successive generations. In historical terms most of us were born in a golden era. But how quickly we forget all that.

Looking back over the last several weeks it seems that the problem was looming in the mid-distance. We would give it a sidelong glance and then get back to our everyday lives. I happily sat in a Chinese restaurant with an old friend discussing the issue in a rather detached fashion. We scoffed at those who were allegedly scared to do the same but now nobody can dine in any restaurant at all – by law we can only get take-away. At a similar time I sat with a close companion in a public bath as I agonized over the feasibility of my travel plans in the face of problems mostly brewing overseas.

Yes I had plans to once more travel. On my itinerary were Rome, Florence, Venice, Montreux, Strasbourg, Aachen and Berlin. I decided to ‘postpone’ those plans while I still technically had the freedom to keep them. My motivation was a fear of the fuss and bother surrounding the creeping pandemic rather than the virus itself. Now I can scarcely imagine getting stuck in what they are bravely facing in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere (especially given my vulnerability as an older male with a respiratory condition). Once my plane tickets are re-funded I intend to donate some of that to emergency services working in Italy.

Back home life still has a semblance of normality. I can go out for utilitarian purposes – exercize or necessary errands. There is still public transport but I‘m keeping away from it and confining my life to a walking distance. Within my self-set limits are essential shops and some natural open spaces. I am focusing my patronage on one each of key shops like grocer and pharmacist. It is okay but I worry that coming wintry conditions will make things more restrictive.

I have defined my own ‘village’ but key friends are beyond its confines. I envy those in larger share households right now. Naturally we are still permitted to live with whomever we happen to live with. Remote communication helps but only so much. I have talked in the past of the difference between loneliness and solitude and now suspect I will discover whether I truly have a capacity for turning the negatives of the former into the positives of the latter.

There are problems beyond my own circumstances. Last year my mother moved into aged care and now thinks she depends on family bringing her assorted requests. We can technically still visit if we meet some criteria (such as a temperature check) but how wise is it to do so? The aged have the greatest vulnerability to this and fever is only the most likely indication of an infection. It may be better for Mum to cultivate the old wartime spirit she admires and recognize that her needs are met at her nursing home. So far she seems to be managing okay with phone calls and the company of those carers she has grown fond of. I think she also finds that a day punctuated by naps, meals and telemovies can go by quickly.

I'm finding that to be so. I have creative projects to slowly work on. I’m enjoying reading on a blanket on the lawn while the weather is still clement. I‘m cooking and washing dishes more. It could be time for me to finally sort the paperwork and memorabilia of my father – Dad died back in 2015 and I never announced it here. I might even enjoy the nostalgia. And then there is the plethora of distracting content one finds online. And yes I do want to address some aspects of online Coronavirus discussion.

We quickly started seeing criticisms of classical liberalism due to the Coronavirus. Yes free enterprise alone cannot manage this emergency. But all models will find this challenging. The solidarity so important to socialism depends on large face-to-face collectives (such as in a factory co-dependent on a neighbourhood) and these are ill-fitted to slowing a pandemic. The links of family and community celebrated by traditional conservatism likewise will be tested by this calamity (yet possibly fare better). And any model perpetually in disaster mode is itself a bit of a disaster.

Better is something that can adjust to both good and bad times. All models are abstractions and what we have in practice is a blend of many forms. Our governments are rapidly changing how they do things but that is an indication of the flexibility of a democratic state and a mixed economy. A free society can be orderly. Right now I’m in a mood to match the non-partisan manner seen from our political leaders at all levels of government.

It will still take a lot of luck for our good sense and our will to succeed. I worry that we are asking humans to do something that contradicts our nature as pack animals. But then what of the hermits of old? These characters voluntarily entered into isolation and it was philosophy or theology that drove them. I have a hunch we will see a growth in personal contemplation in coming weeks.

I could make other predictions. Some are things I hope for. One is more generous and less punitive welfare provision. Another is more job-sharing along with working from home. And another is better public etiquette (smart-phone addiction is the bane of safe distancing right now). But there are other things I’m critical of that will suddenly have renewed attraction. Urban sprawl and car dependence suddenly look pretty cool for a society scared of itself.

Is it right to cast my gaze so widely? Maybe it makes more sense just to look to the small everyday things of life. Right now I have most of what I need and some of what I want and I can adjust to that. Hopefully my next post here will focus on other topics because all sorts of things still exist as truth or memory. There is room for all that other stuff.

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