What will we do when disaster really strikes?

This article was originally published in The Mallard on 21st March 2020.

Of course the issue should be taken seriously, and sensible measures should be put in place, but in all honesty the coronavirus hysteria is really starting to bore me.

I’m highly concerned for certain elderly relatives. But that’s a personal concern; I’m not buying into the broader panic. In any case I’m just as worried they may be struck by some other illness, or hit by a bus. As someone well acquainted with history, our reaction to the mildest pandemic imaginable seems totally disproportionate, weak, and effeminate. This isn’t the Holocaust, a World War, or a real plague. It’s a more dangerous equivalent of flu.

It hasn’t helped that I watched Roman Polanski’s The Pianist last week, before things got worse. A film about the Holocaust by a Holocaust survivor. After seeing and suffering untellable horrors and losing their entire families to the death camps, the film ends with the Jewish survivors going back to their ordinary lives and careers as if nothing happened.

I’ve always been acutely aware of this. Real victims don’t bask in their own victimhood, as the entire Western world appears to be doing today.

Returning to my home county Cambridgeshire after the closure of my university in Nottingham, I was astonished to discover just what a worse state it’s in. Nottingham’s shops and supermarkets are still mostly open and relatively well stocked up; there are still loo rolls to be seen here and there. Cambridge in comparison has been ransacked; the few shops that aren’t closed have been harvested of their toilety goods. I suspect the difference in wealth explains this; silly middle-class housewives make the worst panic buyers.

I think this is the root of the larger problem. We’re such a weak, overly-comfortable, really “bored” civilisation, we were always going to suffer this overreaction. And it’s not a case of “better safe than sorry”. People will lose jobs and businesses, stock markets are teetering on the edge of oblivion, the aforementioned hoarders deprive the genuinely vulnerable of the resources they need, and perhaps most importantly of all the Government takes the opportunity to grab new emergency powers “on the nod”; that is, without a formal vote in Parliament. As Peter Hitchens described it in his Mail on Sunday blog, himself referencing an article from The Times in which the proposal was first reported,

“There are of course several perfectly sensible measures to make life easier for the NHS. But mixed up with these, in a way I regard as sneaky, are serious increases in the power of the state to order people about, close schools, lock people up and detain them under mental health laws in ways that Parliament has always wisely prevented in the past.”

According to the Parliament website, “A decision taken on the nod is generally on a non-contentious question or one whose points of contention have been – or will be – addressed at another time.” I refuse to believe that powers of such extent could possibly be described as “non-contentious”; and “another time” could mean as late as two years hence when the powers expire (barring extension). Unlike the parliamentary prorogation of 2019, which was an acceptable use of the Royal Prerogative, this would be a genuine constitutional coup, and I can only hope in this climate of fear that it is received with a shred of the same controversy. Of course the excuse is to avoid transmission; in that case why not allow the Commons to meet by Skype instead? I urge all Mallard readers to email their MPs and ask them to protest this action.

In our weak, “over-comfortable” civilisation, it is only natural that we will drift further and further into the arms of Daddy State to look after us and protect us from every minor injury. This was prominent in the Blair years. The ancient rights of presumption of innocence and habeas corpus were defiled. CCTV cameras were erected all over the country. After firearms were taken from the people they were given to the police. We only narrowly avoided being doled out identity cards. And for what? To provide “safety” against the statistically insignificant threat of a terrorist attack.

I honestly empathise with the American caricature of us as a bunch of meek, sterile wimps who cry at the sight of bullets. Modern Britain is a suffocating place, and what’s worse is that we glory in our suffocation, taking it as a mark of sensibleness and superiority when really it is exactly the opposite.

Alas, the old cliché is true. Hard times create strong men; strong men create good times; good times create weak men; weak men create hard times. America’s great gift is that its constitution was born in hard times by strong men; thus it has an extra immunity to the plague of privilege than the rest of us, but even now it cannot shirk the army of Karens plundering its “malls” like suburban pirates.

All Western nations, but Britain especially, are like fattened pigs before the slaughter. We’re prime to be conquered. I’m confident if I were made king of even a disaster of a country like Somalia, I could raise a navy and level London within a fortnight.

Because if we cannot deal with coronavirus without bankrupting ourselves and lurching into a police state, how on earth will we react to the next real disaster? History tells us there’s never one far off. The Black Death killed a third of our population. What if a superbug does the same? How will we fare in the next recession or depression? What will happen after the West cuts trade with despotic China? How will China secure their assets except through war?

In consumerist comfort we have grown unprepared to meet reality. That doesn’t mean it isn’t still coming for us.

Photo by Leah Kling on Flickr.