Saturday, May 30, 2020

Pyjama time

In a worrying development, social media platforms are starting to push ads for pyjamas at me.

In the big outside world I don’t see so much of these days, we appear to be approaching the break down in social order phase of this crisis.

Yesterday's protests in the capital appear to have been a bit more genteel than those which broke out in various cities in the US. Indeed, one might hesitate to even use the adjunct 'mass' in this case as at least one of the participants was photographed with her bodyguard. 

I read somewhere a while ago that a pandemic like this is political until it is personal; a statement that carried the suggestion that as time goes on, more and more will feel the personal aspects of the situation. 

In fact in some ways the opposite would seem to be more obviously the case.

Our collective responses back in March involved a practical alignment of the political and personal, such that much of the suppression was in a sense voluntary. Yet some are now asking if this would have been the case if the virus had first started spreading in say Norway rather than China and fairly polarised opinions have started to form around examples where mitigation was prioritised over suppression (e.g. Japan and South that we have all done Sweden to death). 

Anyway, many submitted to lockdown with a real enthusiasm that they are now struggling to drop. The process of relinquishing our personal fortresses has inevitably involved a break-down in the consensus that saw us hauling up our draw-bridges so brusquely. 

In countries like the US where polarisation is endemic and almost no aspect of national life can present itself without first being run through infantilising partisan filters, the spectacle has been depressing for weeks already. 

The UK meanwhile has distracted itself from the collective problems with the matter of what one man did when everyone was supposed to be staying put. 

The Prime Minister's special advisor Dominic Cummings decided that stay at home meant a choice of which home to stay in and although he and his wife were covid-symptomatic, they drove half way across the country with their autistic child so that they could isolate on his parents' estate. 

Boris achieved an unlikely Tory majority by means of a populist encroachment into traditional working class constituencies and the man many see as the intellectual author of this strategy is Cummings. This in the end is the bigger irony in play than the fact that he may have had a key role in drafting the lockdown regulations loads of Brits now feel he personally violated. 

A new poll suggests that 74% of Tory voters are convinced that he broke the rules and nearly half think he should be sacked. Needless to say opinions are particularly heated amongst the 'new' Tory voters that Boris was only recently so pleased to have acquired and was promising vehemently not to let down. 

A lot of these people, the sort pollsters tend to fit into the C1 and C2 categories,   hold to the supposedly traditional British value of fairness. It's one of the reasons that Cummings and co have been able to stoke up their resentments over the EU and immigration. These people don't look at rule books like lawyers, rather they tend to make fairly broad judgments about the 'spirit' of the regulation. 

Accordingly, Cummings has now in effect fallen into his own trap and at least partially stuffed up the populist coalition that he helped build around brand Boris. 

My wife, who is not a UK citizen and only indirectly concerned with the goings on in Blighty, watched Cummings press statement from the back garden of No10 with me. She was astonished by the lack of humility and the ultimate lack of anything remotely resembling an apology. 

He's not bleeding Antigone. This is not some high matter of personal conscience, so 'I understand why you might disagree with me, but I disagree with you' doesn't really cut it. 

As I learned many times with my parents, it is not entirely dishonourable to say sorry when you don't particularly feel you've done anything wrong. Other people's feelings are relevant. (Indeed, the BBC gave a fine example of pandering to hurt feelings a couple of days later when they replaced Emily Maitlis on Newsnight.) 

The media immediately and quite joyously picked up on the fact that Cummings justified a half hour drive to Barnard Castle on his wife's birthday as a stratagem for testing his eyesight, which he felt the disease might have adversely affected. 

One reason that a sense of the spirit of the rules has seemed important throughout all this is that most of us will have had reason to scratch our heads at the regulatory details, which have almost universally involved a mishmash of the specific and the vague, the draconian and the downright lax. 

Here in Guatemala in particular we've been under a state of calamity that has superimposed suppression with containment, combining some measures which almost anyone would deem likely to succeed with others that appear far more of a punt. 

1 comment:

norm said...

Dominic Cummings is a national rule maker. The idea that those rules are for everyone cannot apply to Mr. Cummings because he makes the rules. A fluid situation from the start. Disrespect for the law starts at the top, people looking for an edge-it filters down from there, down to the people who burn down buildings because they are pissed. We rely too much on the law. Mr. Cummings is our poster child of the moment.
We here in the States have a current case of a law officer who slowly smothered a miscreant in front of witnesses on a busy city street. A law man who had no respect for the law has triggered many hundreds of like minded citizens to abuse the law. Leadership is important. Your birth nation and mine are seeing the result of poor leadership at the top. Leadership has little to do with the law, everything to do with what's right.