The current pandemic has been greatly disruptive to every person, country, culture and relationship on Earth. It has also been transformative, in that governmental responses to it have brought out secret orientations and sympathies that would otherwise have remained hidden, even to those now possessed by them. Libertarianism, for example, has seen its stock rise dramatically, while whatever appetite there was for authoritarianism and law-worship has declined, or developed anew in others places and forms, with different affiliations.
I have seen friends of many years collapse into wacky thinking and conspiracy, panicked out of their once sturdy minds. Just the other day my mother regretfully informed me that one of her work colleagues has come to believe in the psychotic explanations of David Icke; that 5G produced the virus, directly and by design, as part of a grand plan to enslave and microchip the world. Here in Spain, I have witnessed several people – typically older women – argue with police officers when asked to wear a mask, or to pull them up to cover their noses. Elsewhere, I know people who overestimate the virus as being worse than the 1918 Spanish flu, with one friend, admittedly drunk, going so far as to suggest it will cull half the planet. I know still others who suspect that China let slip, accidentally or otherwise, the creation of a military research laboratory in Wuhan. And so on.
My own experiences have been trying. The first few weeks of the lockdown here were disturbingly un-European. I can easily recall members of the Policia Nacional, with their black guns and batons, shouting at people on the street without a reason to get back to their apartments – “Venga! Vamos!” On one occasion I was myself interrogated for being outside. My explanation – that I was unaware the supermarket had changed its hours that day – was treated with authoritarian contempt. “Es cerrado! Vamos! Vamos!”
Having lost my father at Christmas, the virus erupted before I could catch my breath and added to a sense of personal apocalypse. I couldn’t help but feel anxiety, as well as anger and indignation. And I wasn’t alone.
“We are becoming Chinese!” my girlfriend complained of the drastic security measures. “China is going to win. This is not Europe.”
Days into the lockdown the supermarkets were stripped bare. People jostled for bags of muesli and boxes of milk; phenomena very new to me, and which seemed unreal, movie-like, strangely exhilarating. I rather enjoyed the ‘prepping’ aspect of it all; the feeling that I had secured everything I needed was a rush, no doubt the legacy of an earlier and more eventful evolutionary stage; but this too would give way when the same frustration returned.
I felt then and continue to believe now that the lockdown was an overreach of governmental power. During those long, boring months I was immensely grateful for the telejournalism of Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, who were among very few mainstream figures willing to question the wisdom and desirability of the policy outright. Both of them endorsed things that were silly and untrue, of course, most notably several fringe studies overstating the potential of hydroxychloroquine, which went on to cause great public confusion; but their willingness to question the heel-clicking technocracy of other media was refreshing and allowed for some to retain their sanity.
It seemed commonsensical to me that lockdowns were best targeted at vulnerable populations, not at every man and his dog. Those most at risk should have been encouraged to stay at home, along with anyone who could not live independently of them. Others should have been given the compromise our governments now offer us – namely, that we can go about our business if we wear masks and wash our hands.
I am pleased to see most Spanish people going along with the new rules (the exceptions tend to be non-native). The virus is very real, after all, and despite frequent claims to the contrary, far deadlier than the seasonal flu.
Keeping a level head as the world melts down is a royal art; far more difficult than one would think in advance of the fact. The number of educated people I have seen lose their wits as a result of this pandemic is depressingly high. But our governments and media have also faltered, and let them not insist otherwise. Contradictory information has become so commonplace as to seem unremarkable (the advice regarding masks, etc). So we have all failed in our own ways.
When the vaccine arrives, it will meet with substantial protest and dissent, overlapping streams from wildly different Facebook subcultures, naturopathy through to QAnon. But I believe a return to something like normality is nonetheless possible. It isn’t only health that matters here. Governments must be pushed back behind their proper limits. Ultimately, that may prove as difficult as extinguishing the virus itself.
It is certainly as important.