Clearance required to travel outside your suburb. No work given to anyone without the government supplied injection. One hour of outdoor time is allowed daily. No more than one person in a household allowed out at a time. Faces are to be covered in public at all times. Helicopters and cars will patrol at random. A curfew of 9pm to 5 am is necessary for problem people. This sounds like a scene from a dystopian novel. Yet here we are in Sydney, August 2021, in the midst of the COVID19 delta pandemic. In efforts to control the spread of the virus, the government has pulled and tugged at every straw.
They’ve tried to become the hero the people want, rather than the one they need. I don’t know whether these Herculean expectations come from the people or from the politicians presuming to be the new patheon on Olympus. I suppose it’s a bit of both. After all, I don’t remember governments ever being blamed for failing the eradicate the spread of a virus. I mean… did people blame the king for the bubonic plague? Like Medicare, if something’s broken, people want the government to fix it. And in trying to fix everything, they inevitably make everything else… well, worse. Vaccines be damned.
The truth is it’s the world that’s broken. So being the hero people want is a dangerous game to play. I don’t fully blame them. The people made it necessary. This government has had to enforce and coerce and infringe on as many freedoms and privileges it can, short of a riot, just to cajole citizens to obey the advice they were giving before. ‘I strongly advise you to have no more trips to Bondi.’ It’s sad that we’ve come this far.
The limits of a scientific imagination
The government’s not without sidekicks. Their best one is “what the science says.” Scientists? Which ones? It’s often portrayed in the media as though science is a uniform term with enshrined dogma no one can disagree with. That’s not how it works though. Especially not in a postmodern age. Modernity’s fetish for rationalism keeps coming back. But it’s bunk with the people. All they’ll see are politicians playing power monopoly.
Is listening to science, even if it was unanimous going to work? By making eradication of COVID the measure of a healthy society, I think the government inevitably misses things. Like the effects on the economy. Like the widening gap between rich and poor. Like the mental health stress of the vulnerable whether elderly, ill, female or child. Going with what the ‘science’ says assumes that science also defines the good life. From a scientific point of view, this is no less than life without death, without viruses and illnesses.
We’ve yet to see the full cost of pursuing a solely scientific mindset to addressing this virus. One would think that now would be a good time for Plato’s philosopher king to make an appearance. Because many scientists a wise man does not make. Science as it is, tries to look at the world objectively, to make detached judgments, focusing on empirical data, to the expense of all that is natural and human; to the expense of life itself. Listening to “the science” under the pretense of objectivity actually makes people and society more detached and less human. NSW after all isn’t a laboratory and people aren’t lab rats.
The relationship between a government and its people
The biggest thing it has missed here is the relationship between power and responsibility. Uncle Ben was right. With great power comes great responsibility. The more the government tries to lockdown the virus and its people with science, the more it’s taking responsibility both for the virus and the welfare of its people. I wonder if it’s up to the task of making people happy. If it has the power to lock anyone and anything down, it should also be able to reimburse forced closures. It should be able to reimburse mortage debts. It should compensate for suicides and abuse under lockdown. That’s a tall order the people will ask for. It’s like what 1 Samuel says, the people will cry out for their king to deliver them but he will not hear.
People say that the lockdown brings out the worst in us. But I think it reveals what’s in us. We’re seeing where everyone’s faith was placed (or perhaps misplaced). That’s why the government is under so much pressure. It’s where our faith’s been all along. We’re desperate for order in a disordered universe. We need someone or something to blame so that we can at least pretend we’re in control. And our government happily plays along to be the hero in our darkest hour.
Every disaster requires a sacrifice to the gods believe will save us. Whether it’s mortgages or mocha takeaways, we’ll find an offering to plead the gods we believe will take COVID from us. But people don’t sacrifice their livelihoods easily. They don’t do it without requiring a return — one that’s eternal. The question is — is the government’s treasury big enough?
See the Joker was also right. You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become a villain. The heroes we want, like science or the government, won’t save us. Because what the hero we need is the one who’ll save us from ourselves. So when the gods we put our faith in, inevitably reveal that they’re human and all too human (vaccine rollouts perhaps?), then there’ll be a clamor for new gods on Mt. Olympus. But trying to replace a society’s gods never goes smoothly.