Spiked! – Excerpts from a very long article:
The culture of fear has made a lifetime of quarantine look attractive.
Words like ‘irrevocable’, ‘unavoidable’ and ‘inevitable’ convey that all too familiar fatalistic message: ‘There is no alternative.’ Others happily suggest that masks and social distancing will be necessary for years to come.
For almost half a century, fear has dominated the outlook of Western societies. One of the distinctive features of this outlook is the tendency always to think the worst. And it is this tendency that has exerted an all too powerful influence over policymakers and experts during the Covid pandemic. And it has led to safetyism – that is, the establishment of safety as the foundational value of Anglo-American culture.
We can see the deleterious impact of safetyism and worst-case thinking in the sphere of childhood. Indeed, childhood has been increasingly organised around the anticipation of the worst possible outcome. Parents are now reluctant to let their children out of their sight. And children have come to view themselves as fragile and vulnerable. During the pandemic, this fearful view of childhood and children intensified. Children’s mental health was said to be at risk, and their physical development threatened. This worst-case approach actually incited children to feel hopeless about their future.
So, fear is socially dominant. But this is not fear as an emotion, which arises when we instinctively feel threatened. Rather, this is fear as a perspective, a cultural orientation towards the world. It provides the prism through which we interpret everyday experience. It feeds risk-aversion, a heightened sense of vulnerability, a preoccupation with safety, and a lack of confidence towards the future.
The prevalence of this fearful perspective is turning lockdown into something approaching a permanent state. Policymakers and commentators talk of ‘the new normal’ – a post-pandemic world in which freedoms and customs we once took for granted are no more. And public-health professionals frequently hint that social distancing between people will be in place for years to come.
An Ipsos Mori poll, from 25 March, captures the growing, fatalistic acceptance that there will be no quick return to normal. Thirty-six per cent of respondents said it would take at least six months to a year to restore normality; another 36 per cent stated that it will take a year or longer. That a combined 72 per cent of respondents believe that Covid-related restrictions will be in place well into the future shows how many have learned to accept lockdown as a part of everyday life.
More troubling still, a significant section of the public is embracing lockdown as a lifestyle. A recent study revealed that a majority – 54 per cent – felt they would miss aspects of lockdown. This acquiescence to, or even celebration of, lockdown often coexists with a reluctance to get on the commuter train or get back to the office. It has become fashionable to declare that Covid has taught us to work ‘better’ or ‘smarter’. ‘Professional-services firms need to work smarter in “new normal”’, writes one consultant, before adding that ‘the professional-services industry will be irrevocably altered by the Covid-19 pandemic’.
Underpinning such a fatalistic acceptance of the omnipresent risk of viral contagion is the absence of any belief in humanity’s capacity to solve the problems it confronts. Instead, we are encouraged to make a virtue of lockdown and even to embrace the ‘lockdown lifestyle’.