Writing from Quarantine, 30th March 2020: Long Live Society

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The fact that 1,228 people have died in this country from COVID-19 is something I am struggling to come to terms with. 

From a certain point of view, this feeling looks rather strange.  People die for all kinds of reasons, all the time, in far greater numbers. Each is undoubtedly a tragedy, and I don’t belittle the pain of each passing for those around them, but the fact remains that it happens. However, this is a unified threat. The notion of a single entity having killed 1,228 people feels a lot more threatening. You can’t break it down into individual risks, like crossing the road, or tripping up and hitting your head, or drinking too much and being badly ill, risks with disparate causes that can be managed for the most part by personal judgement. It’s a danger that your own judgement, your own efforts, aren’t enough in and of themselves to manage. In this, we’re all dependent on each other doing the right thing.

This raises an interesting point. A long time ago, in the wastes of ancient history before I was born, a certain someone proclaimed society to be dead. Well, for society at least, reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. It still very much exists. In fact, it has to. If we don’t acknowledge that we all have a responsibility to each other, then the consequences will be terrible. That’s not an opinion at this point, just a matter of scientific fact. It’s a strange feeling, to be so dependent on the actions of so many strangers. But, at the risk of repeating the point I raised in an earlier article, this isn’t necessarily new. We have always needed strangers to be responsible, to care for our well-being, even if it is in the most infinitesimal way. Driving on the motorway? You need people to leave stopping distance between you and them and for them to not undertake you. Walking home at night? You need to be able to get home safe. Gone for a walk? These days, you need other people to keep their distance, to keep you and your loved ones healthy. At work? In life? You need people to be kind, to make the difficult things easier.  Strangers depending on strangers. This is the way.

Yeah, I know, it’s terrible. What can I say? I discovered The Mandalorian and now it owns my soul. And I suppose, by extension, so does Disney. I am not concerned. I, for one, welcome our corporate overlords.

In all seriousness though, this interdependence goes much further than what I’ve already highlighted. Get injured? Fall ill? You’ll need care, a doctors’ appointment, maybe even time in hospital. But there’s good news! We have a whole NHS to look after you, staffed with medical professionals whose salaries and equipment are paid for by your fellow citizens, the upstanding members of society that they are. It’s an outstanding example of collective support. “We help you now, because we may need it someday” is the unspoken promise behind its establishment, coupled with the principle that no one should die because they cannot afford healthcare.

We’re very fond of it. It’s a national touchstone, and its staff are heralded as heroes and world-class professionals. But I can’t help but think that this reverence is all very abstract. It does not yield votes. It does not promote discussion of working conditions for doctors and nurses, nor did it protect junior doctors from a government determined to groundlessly paint their last resort strikes, over unreasonable pay and working hours, as a threat to patient safety. It did not stop recent governments from chronically underfunding the NHS, before finally making an attempt to fix the problem they exacerbated while claiming to be its saviour. Affection for the NHS is deemed apolitical. How else could you get so many people on their doorsteps to applaud it? But, it being apolitical could kill it. Not through malice, but through public negligence borne of the assumption that it will be fine because it is our brilliant NHS. If we want to live in a society that actively cares about us, it requires us to actively care about it, to fight for it and fund it. Strangers caring about strangers.

There’s plenty that’s frustrating me at the moment, as you might have guessed. Being restricted to home for the most part of the day, with little to do besides think and maybe do some work isn’t exactly doing wonders for my sense of agency. However, writing stuff down is doing me good, as is running daily. In fact, I’m now thinking the best solutions to life’s problems are to either to angst about them in prose, or to run away from them. What could possibly go wrong?

But I’m still here, we’re all still healthy, and long may that continue. I’m going to do the work I need to do, try to not to think about things too much, and run plenty. Between that and the support of both those I know, and those I don’t, I think we’re going to be ok.

More articles in Writing from Quarantine
  1. Writing from Quarantine, 23rd March 2020
  2. Writing from Quarantine, 25th March 2020
  3. Writing from Quarantine, 30th March 2020: Long Live Society
  4. Writing From Quarantine
  5. Writing From Quarantine, 8th April 2020
  6. Writing from Quarantine, 15th April 2020
  7. Writing from Quarantine: Politics and Science
  8. Writing from Quarantine: The University of Home
  9. Writing from Quarantine: Staying the Course
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Politics. Foreign Policy. Counterterrorism and associated issues. Anything else I might be drawn to writing about. Thats all really.

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