2020 has tangibly demonstrated the unease of the two worlds that share the Earth. The natural world, forests, animals and viruses. Biologically and scientifically these things cannot be disputed. On the other hand, the man made world creates an illusion that appear to be indisputable. It is rooted in our collectively shared imagination. The economy and ideology are rooted in psychology. We inhabit a subjective world which is very disputable. Yet both influence our behaviour. Climate breakdown has had little impact on our behaviour yet the virus has had a visible impact on our behaviour. The Swedish government opted for a strategy leaving social interactions unchanged and the virus to spread yet the many other European nations imposed restrictions that limited social interaction and viral transmission. It is a constant back and forth between biology and psychology.
In March the fear was palpable in the UK and Ireland. There was a fairly swift decision to lockdown in order to protect healthcare services and buy time to build track and trace services. People naturally lost the plot and it led to a run on toilet paper. Fast forward 7 months and in some sense we are in square one as the virus pervades our society but it is important to note the differences between now and then. Notably the fear that gripped people has dissipated and people have seemingly adjusted to the danger.
What is more notable is the performance of the Irish and UK governments. The healthcare services have returned to a skeletal state and a number of politicians have broken lockdown rules. Furthermore, politicians have begun implying that the current situation is the fault of the public ignoring that washing our hands, maintaining physical distance and wearing a mask does help but only to a certain extent. We are constantly told that without these measure it could have been so much worse but if there was competent governance it could have been so much better. Take a look at New Zealand, South Korea or Japan. Track and trace systems are how Covid-19 is controlled and eliminated yet those systems crumbled under a little bit of pressure. The public are responsible to a degree but the government is in no position to lecture. The social contract has been shredded. Without a doubt, belief in the two governments is shot.
With this in mind it wouldn’t be totally mad to suggest that compliance with lockdown will likely be nowhere near as high as it was. In addition, people have experienced lockdown and the tensions it brings among families and friends, the mental anguish and the financial pressures it brings. It is counter-intuitive and naïve to think people will happily accept another lockdown. Nobody can argue against the fact that for many people accepting such a restriction is tantamount to self-harm. Any new lockdown will require enforcement but people are not acting out of malice so there is potential for deteriorating police-community as well as intra-community relations. Now we are not only in a fight between biology versus psychology but we also have to account for our psychology pulling individual members of society in different directions.
Biology has restrained us but our own psychology is strangling us.
With the government failing to maintain viral transmission through track and trace, increasing social interactions and rising case numbers as a result, it is only a matter of time before the government is forced into imposing a lockdown. People will argue it isn’t worth the cost especially as we will likely be in this position again because of inept governance. These people will be hostile toward any restrictions imposed upon them. Yet we need to keep healthcare systems from falling into an abyss and we still need to protect vulnerable people in our families and among our friends and neighbours if not for the collective then for our own selfish interest.
We’re caught between a rock and a hard place but it is abundantly clear that the problem is not individuals, it is useless governance.