I watched a program about coronavirus in Italy last night. So sad, seeing an 18 year old guy on a ventilator and a teenage daughter sobbing with fear over the safety of her two doctor parents. While here we have Bournemouth and in the USA people coughing over others to proclaim their right to not wear masks.
I remember the start of the Aids pandemic. It was new. It touched gay men especially, at a time when they were stigmatized even more than now, some even having been to jail for their sexuality in the not so distant past.
And I remember the panic, the fear and discrimination. I remember the plastic gloves put on the board in the staffroom where I worked in Liverpool for us to wear in case a customer bled on some of the building society's money. I remember the obscure iceberg adverts and the prejudicial bile smeared over tabloid front pages. The horror when Diana touched "these people".
And I remember the dead. So very many of them.
There was prejudice aplenty and alongside that discrimination and lack of care. But one thing stands out - no one doubted Aids was real. No one said it was invented or caused by TV ariels or whatever. No one said it was made up. No one said it didn't pose a danger, although admittedly there was plenty of misunderstanding and exaggeration, a good dollop of it the product of homophobia.
But now, 30 to 35 years on, as covid spreads, what has happened to us? Tens, hundreds of thousands die while millions have been on ventilators or at death's door, yet tens of millions more ignore simple safety measures, demand the right to have a haircut or get to a pub. They've not been sick. They don't personally know any corpses. They want a f***ing burger and they want it now.
We shouldn't be surprised. For 30, 40 years, our rulers have told people to look after themselves. No such thing as society, community is the nostalgically misplaced wetdream of smug liberals' imaginations. If you have a hard time, it's the fault of migrants, shirkers, malingerers and thieves.
The private has replaced the public. The individual trumps the collective.
So if you've not been sick.... Or maybe even if you have been, mildly... Other people's problems aren't yours, though maybe they are inconveniences, problems in themselves. Why should you stay at home, or wear a mask, or miss a pint or haircut or the sales...?
It's actually wildly against human nature not to care, not to help. The folk who claim otherwise are misguided or signed up sociopaths. Our nature is to pull together, to hold each other up. The archaelogical table, historical records, psychology, even faith... All speak to the essence of homo sapiens being our social nature, our compassion and empathy, our ability to see ourselves reflected in the eyes of others.
Apart of course from when we've been subjected ceaselessly to propaganda saying we don't, that we are inherently selfish and need to look after ourselves as otherwise no one will. When we have been excluded, stigmatized, fed a diet of hate by supposedly responsible media and with ultimately anti-social "social media" amplifying rumour, innuendo, conspiracy, threat and downright falsehood multiple times over, the common breaks down and the individual stands, and falls, alone. Thatcher's legacy comes finally to its toxic fruition in a bleak, terrifying wasteland.
But set aside our inherently good Nature, our compassion and empathy. Atomise our society, look inwards and destroy the solidarity and deny the common good, and one day the problem, the barrier bayed at by the Angry, the scapegoat driven into the Wilderness...
Today it may seem a ridiculous thought, but it could so very easily be you.