The Reckoning and The Great Revision: Quotes of the Week:-
1. The events of the past 2 years will need to be examined with dispassionate scrutiny but I’m sure they’ll be seen in retrospect as bizarre and disturbing.
2. Soon it will be impossible to find anyone who admits they were in favour of lockdowns.
Cosas de España/Galiza
In a country which can’t really be seen as efficient as, say Germany or The Netherlands, I’m sometimes astonished by a very high level of efficiency. One example is the Tax Office – the Hacienda – and the ability to submit one’s annual tax declaration on line. Another arose yesterday when I spoke to my local car mechanic about replacing the boot-lid struts in my car. With only the registration number – la matrícula – he was able to very quickly get the correct specification of these on the phone. Can one do this is the UK? Or Germany or The Netherlands?
80 years after being shot, one of Franco’s victims buried in a mass grave has been identified – by his glass eye.
One sees a lot of NHS employees on British TV. Not many of them are slim. Which seems rather ironic, given the constant messages from the NHS on the consequences of being overweight. . . . . By pure confidence, I’ve just read that: People struggling to lose weight can now get treatment at high street pharmacies, as part of an NHS attempt to tackle rising levels of obesity and type 2 diabetes. I wonder if this is also available for employees in hospitals and GP practices. Note: Three in five adults in England are overweight, with more than one in four being classed as obese. So, at high risk of diabetes.
3rd Quote of the Day: Ex Conservative MP Matthew Parris: Before too long, this prime minister will be gone. His successor will be working in a century in which the public has been educated in Westminster’s methods, having previously only had occasional peeks. We cannot attribute that to Johnson’s shambles alone. Ever since the MPs’ expenses scandal, veil after veil has been lifted one by one. AAnd the next Downing Street occupants should understand that – even with the Angel Gabriel in residence – the public’s willingness to take on trust has fled — never, I think, to return.
See the article below for some interesting reflections on where Covid had brought us to.
The wheel turns . . . For the first 6 decades of Germany’s existence, the Catholic Centre party was one of the most powerful forces in its political landscape. It defied Bismarck, propped up the Kaisers and played a decisive role in the dying years of the Weimar republic. Ultimately, however, it was wiped off the map in 1933, after disastrously colluding with Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. The party was dissolved, many of its politicians were consigned to concentration camps and it faded away into postwar obscurity. This week, however, the Centre party returned to the German parliament for the first time in 65 years, following the defection of an MP from the right-wing populist Alternative for Germany (AfD)
Finally . . .
Here in Galicia, it’s difficult to avoid the words El Camino, which mean ‘The Way’. So, I was interested to read yesterday that the Arabic word sharia also means ‘the way’, as does the Jewish word halakha. Both of these are guides to how adherents should live their lives. The difference is that, in Islam, sharia is also a ‘guide’ to politics, whereas halakha relates only to personal religious practices. In the Quran, Jews and Christians – the other Abrahamic religions and so ‘people of the book – are given their own ‘ways’ – their shir’atan – and so avoid persecution, unlike stubborn pagans and Islamic apostates.
Incidentally, this view that religion determined both the personal and the political spheres was not an invention of Islam; long before the rise of Islam in the 7th century it had become the Christian model in the Roman empire. Hence the Holy Roman Emperors. Personally, I’m not sure it was what Jesus would have wanted. And it didn’t work out too well in the long run.
A chilling totalitarian impulse is now subverting free societies from within. It is alarming how many people, even now, want to irrationally keep unnatural restrictions on our lives: Janet Daley. The Telegraph
Have you begun to suspect that at least some of the people who have been responsible for seeing us through, or reporting on, the Covid crisis are unwilling to let it go? Not the virus itself, of course. It would be quite wicked to suggest that anyone in a position of power or influence wanted the illness to continue as a real threat.
So no, it is not the existence of Covid-19 as a disease that is begging to be prolonged but the state of emergency that accompanied it. And it is not just those actually in charge of the policy who seem to be touched by this reluctance to accept its end: the sense that public discipline and social control were being imposed on justifiable grounds had an appeal not only to those who were doing the enforcing but, it is now clear, to an alarmingly large percentage of the population.
Leave aside those people who benefited materially from the various levels of lockdown and restricted movement – the comfortable professionals who saved a fortune in commuting costs by working from home, the businesses able to reduce their rented office space and the public sector unions who were allowed to party like it was 1979.
The motives of those self-interested lobbies who would love to prolong these indulgences are perfectly rational. They are not the people who should worry us. Nor are the actual engineers of these restrictions who may (or may not) always have acted in good conscience, seeking to impose and maintain whatever limitations on normal behaviour they could plausibly defend as necessary to reduce the risk. Presumably they would say that so many of those restrictions which we now understand to have been pointless, contradictory and even absurd could be defended on the grounds that they helped create an atmosphere of fear and anxiety which was conducive to compliance with the rules that actually did have some point.
This is the heart of the matter, the truth which must not be allowed to slip away in the moment of euphoria that comes with the return of our liberties. Fear and anxiety were deliberately induced in order to create what amounted to a national neurosis. (Or something worse – many of the habits we were forced to adopt in avoiding personal contact or physical proximity were nothing less than a simulacrum of psychosis.)
What is becoming alarmingly clear is how many people welcomed this assumption of unprecedented state power. This might have been understandable at the most extreme point of the epidemic, especially before the arrival of a clutch of effective vaccines. But why, as the risk has demonstrably declined to a level that is comparable with commonplace respiratory diseases, is there still a significant section of the population longing to keep such unnatural limits and restrictions on their own – and everybody else’s – lives?
The inescapable conclusion is that there is, at the deepest level of human consciousness, a totalitarian impulse which is beyond the reach of rational argument or moral conscience. The desire to be taken care of, to have decisions taken out of one’s hands, to be relieved of the responsibility for making choices is an ineradicable feature of our condition which has been exploited by every dictatorship in history.
In its milder authoritarian forms it simply applies moral pressure and social coercion to create an atmosphere in which obedience can be achieved without legal force. But quite remarkably for a country which created the historic model for civil liberty, Britain went the whole way during this memorable period by criminalising activities which had once been thought way beyond the proper reach of the law.
Even more shockingly, to an extent which took Government officials and their advisors by surprise, the country accepted this not just meekly but enthusiastically. The events of the past two years will need to be examined in future with dispassionate scrutiny but I am sure that they will be seen in retrospect as bizarre and disturbing.
For the moment, what can be said? That there is a constant struggle within every community – perhaps within every individual – between the desire to be free and personally fulfilled, and the need to feel protected and guided through the dangers that life inevitably presents. Maybe this need for trust in a parental figure whom we believe has our best interests at heart, is pleasurable. This makes the idea of a crisis (pandemic, climate change) strangely attractive: a pretext for falling into dependence on a controlling, comforting authority.
Freudians would probably argue that this is one form of the basic battle within the individual psyche – the struggle between the id with its primitive, brutal impulses and the super-ego which attempts to suppress raw instinct and make it socially acceptable. When people say that they want the government to continue to restrict even the most personal aspects of their lives, or to maintain the rule for covering faces (which is highly symbolic because it hinders silent communication), perhaps they are expressing a longing for some external force to protect them from their own inclinations. Or maybe this is too fanciful.
Could there be a more immediate political explanation? Since the collapse of the great twentieth century dictatorships, have we simply become less vigilant about threats to freedom and individual autonomy? The absence of an enemy determined to undermine the idea of liberal democracy may have left us complacent about our own values. Dictatorships may be malign or corrupt (even when they pretend to be idealistic) but an elected government cannot be a systemic threat to our way of life, can it? If it takes on dictatorial powers for what is assumed to be a limited time in special circumstances, surely that cannot be sinister – even if misjudgments are made along the way.
Even if all that is true, what is worrying is not that there might have been evil machinations behind the introduction of these unprecedented powers but that so many free people seem to become fearful when they are removed.
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For pilgrims:- If you’re either doing or planning to do the Portuguese Camino de Santiago and would like a (free!) 30 minute tour of Pontevedra’s old quarter, sign up for email receipt of posts and drop me a comment below. I’ll then contact you by email