“This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper” T.S Elliot
That’s the thing about a virus, it doesn’t have a nationality, a class, gender or
religion. It is not one of the 1% or the 99%. It doesn’t respect cultural or social norms
and you can’t stop it with walls and border controls.
The rhetoric and prejudices of populists and politicians can’t deflect it. It is neither a
Scottish Nationalist, a Brexiteer little Englander, a Corbynite, a Catalonian separatist, or a MAGA loving Trump supporter. It is not a progressive patriot, an Islamic
extremist, or a right-wing xenophobe. You can’t wave a flag at it, put it in a detention
camp, send it back to where it came from, or abuse it on public transport. A germ has
no sensibilities. It inflicts suffering in equal measure on rich and poor alike. Just as
Prince Prospero found out in the Masque of the Red Death you can’t lock yourself 1
away in your castle to avoid it whilst the masses endure its consequences.
Covid-19 is a silent and unseen killer and its terrible consequences for societies and
economies across the world are all too apparent. The global response to the
pandemic has been stuttering and inadequate. We have seen the failings of
governments and international institutions in the face of a gathering storm. The old
economic certainties no longer apply as politicians and central bankers struggle to
rise to the challenges of the new reality. Health services overwhelmed; businesses
closed, and millions of employees laid off or sent home; major sporting and cultural
events cancelled; even a thirty year wait for an elusive title put on hold and
We are all waking up to the enormous fragility of human existence already imperiled
by global warming and climate change. Maybe the planet can again just catch its
breath and the catastrophe of flood and fire caused by the hubris of humankind, be
put on hold for a short time whilst we take stock of the consequences of depleting
the earth’s natural resources in the pursuit of profit and personal gain.
It is hugely ironic that everything we have been told about the way the world works
has been exposed as just the Emperor’s new clothes. Neither free markets nor
totalitarian dictatorships have been able to avoid the consequences of a global
pandemic. Capitalism, Communism, Thatcherism irrelevant ideologies and dogmas
from a bygone age.
But there is strange and enduring humanity that prevails amidst all of the carnage. In Italy, a country ravaged by the virus with the death rate rising exponentially, the sight of its citizens in enforced isolation singing their national anthem "Il Canto Degli Italiani" from tenement blocks is incredibly moving. A sense of amazing comradeship and humanity eschews the false patriotism and fascistic fervor of populists like Matteo Salvini the leader of the Northern League. The people of Spain spontaneously applauding their health workers struggling to contain the pandemic and caring for the sick and dying. It speaks to a deeper sense of social solidarity that binds us all together and ultimately to our basic humanity.
When all of this eventually subsides and those of us lucky enough to survive the decimation of lives and livelihoods, emerge blinking into the sunlight to survey what remains of our former existence, we should reflect on the desperate lessons we have learned and try to build a better future in which we respect each other and the planet that sustains us all. Maybe, just maybe something good can come from all this suffering.
“It’s the end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)” Michael Stipe 1987.
5th April 2020