Well now…

Yes I am, thanks – at least for the present, and hopefully for the future. As an insulin-injecting diabetic (let’s just skim over all the other issues ravaging a once finely-honed athletic machine), I’ve been told by my GP to stay home.

I’m fortunate; we have a reasonably expansive garden of a little over half an acre and I have some space to roam around, or if I so choose, to lie on my back and blow bubbles at the circling eagles. The problem with the latter would be that they might land and start pecking at my eyes, or a passing Turkey Vulture might spot an opportunity and fail to ask permission before going for my soft parts. On balance, I’d best stick to moving around to indicate ongoing life.

Our small island with some one thousand residents is an enclave; a figurative and literal oasis of refuge from the mainland and neighbouring larger island . I certainly hope that it remains so; a large proportion of our residents are aged over sixty. We’re quite thinly spread; a thousand of us shared between fifty-one square kilometres in a variety of large, smaller, tiny and shack properties. Our cul-de-sac neighbourhood of twenty-something homes is a mixture of full-time and holiday properties. One of our neighbours owns an empty field which borders one side of our garden, the other adjoining neighbouring property is unoccupied for three weeks out of every four. It’s not difficult to feel that we live on an island within an island.

Why, then, should I feel at all anxious? Well (again; yes, I am at the moment, thank you) for a couple of reasons. First, I’m no longer indestructible, as my recent dalliance with serious illness demonstrated to me. It’s strange to feel this way, but I feel a little vulnerable. Secondly, my type one diabetes makes me a member of the high risk group for serious or lethal complications. Frankly, I think this is rather unfair – I mean I already have to closely monitor my blood sugar all day every day, I’m denied many of my favourite foods, I dose myself with insulin all day and face the likelihood of a shortened life span. Now this shit too? Enough, I say!

A nanosecond behind this thought comes another; it could be so much worse. I might be in hospital now. This crisis might have hit two years ago when I was at my most frail. I, like so many unfortunate people, might be fighting a serious or terminal illness at this very moment. Also, of course, there is a thought for the thousands of people around the world who have already lost their lives, and all the grieving relatives and friends left behind by those deaths. Of course it could be worse; I might be dead. For many people, it already is much worse.

While my opinion of the realities of the viral threat have evolved as more and more information became available, my feelings about the media have remained constant. As we know, the media rarely, if ever, accept any blame. For anything. It’s easy to deflect; while we may be able to draw straight lines between their behaviour and some undesirable outcomes for individuals or corporations, those lines are usually a series of dots rather than solid, unbroken marks. It’s easy for the powerful media to insert their excuses, mitigation – valid or otherwise – or even direct denials in between those dots to disrupt the flow of blame and effectively preventing anything landing on their doorsteps. It’s hard for the rest of us to prove anything, and even harder to find a way to go public with it. They have it all sewn up.

With regard to a public health crisis, it’s easier than ever to claim public interest motivations for their approach to the issue. However, I firmly believe that at least some of the recent public disregard of the public health advice has been caused by the utterly relentless media coverage of the story. Aside from the feeling that nothing else has been happening in the world for the last three weeks, the endless ‘Breaking News!’ reports of every tiny detail has, I believe, worn away the public’s tolerance for the subject. We’ve been battered by the minutiae of each announcement, by the analysis, by the projections and by the interminable ruminations of pundits, expert and not-so-expert alike. As an example, today I watched an earnest interview about hygiene standards in the home. The ‘expert’ was a well-known chef. A chef.

While the stupidity of those who ignore the isolation or distancing protocols is difficult to tolerate, I don’t find it particularly surprising that significant numbers of people feel able to ignore common sense. Having worked for some years in and around the emergency services, the ability of people to do the most ridiculous things is something I’ve become familiar with. People tend to feel indestructible, secure and safe. When they’re also bombarded with sensational story after sensational story with no appreciable change in their living circumstances, that sense of impregnability is reinforced. Bad things, after all, only ever happen to someone else. Don’t they? Not a shock then, that we see young people spring-breaking their young lives away in Florida, that we see the beaches filled in Australia, that the National Parks in Britain (tiny by Canadian standards) are clogged with the parked cars of people taking recreational hikes.

Getting the message out is one thing. It’s important to give people the information that they need to do the right thing to protect themselves and others. It’s another thing to make the story a sensationalized hype-fest night after night. People become numb to it and stop listening. The dumber they are, the more quickly they become numb. Dumb and numb-er…

At the other end of the scale is another kind of stupidity. The panicked hoarder; the person who decides that the needs of everyone else are secondary to their own, and who decides to grab as much stuff as they possibly can, as quickly as they can. These folks make their minds up about the danger very quickly and cannot be shaken from their over-developed sense of peril. These folks wish they had a bunker stocked with five years’ supplies every time the power goes out in a wind storm. These folks will fight one another for toilet paper and will show up to shop at a time reserved especially for the vulnerable members of society. This kind of human would trample on children to get out of a smoke-filled room. Yes it’s selfishness – an extreme form of it – but it’s also a kind of stupidity which excludes the benefits of collaboration, of teamwork and of common decency towards the most vulnerable. It’s a shame that these people don’t gather together in large groups – on cruise ships, for example (far away from the rest of us) where the virus could do everyone else a favour.

One day in the not-so-distant future, we will find ourselves clawing our way back to the normality that we used to take for granted. Some things will have changed for good; some jobs will have evaporated, some attitudes to our invincibility will have been irreparably damaged. I suspect that many behaviours will be different. Sadly, of course, some people will never be seen on this earth again; some lives snuffed out and others shattered by grief.

I’m sad to say that I also believe some things will not change. Our species’ greed will return quickly (the money and stock markets’ undimmed avarice notwithstanding), wastefulness will be right behind it along with conspicuous consumption of just about everything. We will feel a need to treat ourselves to compensate for all the hardships of the current time, ignoring the truth of the billions who would look at us in our most inconvenienced moments with envy for the luxury and ease of our lives. We will feel as if we have heroically survived our darkest hour, forgetting the plight of the millions brutally misplaced by war and hunger or thirst.

Most of all, we will return to demonstrations of stupidity.

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