Sign of the times

Sign of the times

There is a post box at the end of our drive and it a worrisome sign of the times. We placed it there because we are becoming more afraid about the unfolding coronavirus pandemic. As country after country introduces measures to try and contain and, after this fails, delay the spread of covid19 it has become clear that “social distancing” is one of the principle steps which needs to be considered. This is both for the safety of those vulnerable to the worse outcomes from Covid19 and also for the population as a whole, as it would tend to slow down and hamper transmission of the virus. As we are both elderly, and have some additional risk factors, we have decided to start social distancing now rather then waiting to be advised to do this by the government. The government has different priorities to ourselves; in addition to public safety they also have consider the economic impact of their advice – my consumer spending during visits to town might help keep the local economy floating but I am not sure that the risk-benefit ratio in this is truly in my favour.

It is unusual to feel worried. I am usually rather phlegmatic and not prone to anxiety. Although I recognise I have a tendency to pessimism I don’t recall being a gloomy about the immediate future as I do at present. However, this is a little like Pascal’s Wager; if my foreboding is correct I’ll be glad I took the steps I have, if I am shown to be wrong (and life returns quickly to normal) then I will have lost a little face and suffered a little embarrassment but little else. Indeed it is possible there may be some minor benefits from this changed behaviour.

We already live a life at some considerable distance socially form others. We live in a rural area and have few amenities where large groups gather. Our outside entertainment is infrequent (trips to the pub, the theatre, the cinema, etc) and even if we have to keep this up for a long time I don’t think we won’t be able to cope. Many of the things people are advised to give up (holidays, nightclubs, sporting events) are things we do not do in any event as we have livestock which keeps us homebound.

Our day-to-day contact with our neighbours and friends is something much more important and something we could not do without for a long period of time. Thankfully, about half of this socialising occurs, in any event, outdoors in the fields or the woods. Public Health England state the virus can be spread when people have ‘close sustained contact’ with people who are not infected, which typically means ‘spending more than 15 minutes within two metres of an infected person.’ So we still should be able to keep in contact with our neighbours and be ready to help each other as needed.

Our new post box was another attempt at social distancing,. Usually we keep out gates and doors open. We encourage people to enter and visit and usually this means we see people every day. Closing our gates is a way of alerting others to the changes we are trying. However, this could prove a great pain in the neck for our postman who’d have to get out of his van to open and close gates were he delivering mail. To avoid this we hung the mailbox. Each time I see it, it will remind me of what I am missing – conversations with friends. This is why I see it as a sign of the times and so depressing.

I said, like Pascal’s wager, there might be some benefits. There is one I can see already. We have changed our shopping habits. Instead of visits to the shops when we wish anything we are now only going infrequently and with definite purpose . There will be no shopping for fun. I think I’ll be better mentally for this and, if not, I’ll be better off financially.

Perhaps on a larger scale there will be the benefit that people will see the dangers of overconsumption and globalisation that these viral pandemics reveal. When the conquistadors brought influenza, diphtheria and measles to the new world they killed countess native Americans who had no natural immunity. The mass travel brought the danger. Again in 1918, with the demobbing of troops after the war, the mass travel brought a tide of death on its heels with the Spanish Flu. If you cast your mind back to the SARS epidemic I’m sure you’ll recall the men in hazmat suits at international airports trying to stop the spread of this outbreak, again mass transit proving the vector.

Our globalised world with long supply chains has allowed us to benefit from cheap goods from all around the globe. At the same time it has damaged our abilities to live in localities with any degree of self sufficiency. The food, the goods, the culture and the people that we have on our doorsteps is no longer adequate. We have become accustomed to much more and need and demand ever more. Hand in hand with this we have seen our levels of consumption spiral ever upward.

Some fear that this may be The end of the world as we know it. I don’t. If this is the end of a world which squanders resources and pollutes without care I will be happy to see it gone. I used to worry that this overconsumption and waste could be the end of the planet. It may be that I was worrying heedlessly. All this globalisation may not be the end of the planet, it may just be the end of us.