Friday 21 August 2020

Fighting The Fear Virus.

The Sum Of All Our Fears: What we should all be fearing and hating, right now, is Covid-19. And if we must rage against something; if we must blame something; then let it be this frighteningly adaptive coronavirus. Because it is only in New Zealand’s – and the World’s – collective rage that the intellectual and moral energy for defeating this deadly virus and conquering our anxieties will be found.


WHAT IS THE SOURCE of this awful social poison? The evidence of its presence is everywhere. In the abuse hurled at nurses and check-out operators. In the contemptuous defiance of social-distancing rules displayed by the young couple striding down the footpath. In the commentary threads of Twitter and Facebook. In the inexhaustible malice of talkback radio. And, most disturbingly – from the perspective of someone who has spent his life writing about politics – in the almost complete absence of social solidarity amongst this country’s Opposition politicians.

 Is anger the cause as well as the symptom of this anti-social behaviour? Are we being poisoned by rage? And if that is the answer, then what, or who, is brewing it?

 The psychologists would tell us that the emotion fuelling all this belligerence is fear. We hate what we fear, and many of us are filled with an overwhelming desire to destroy it. And if we cannot destroy it? Why then, we hate it all the more! Worse still, we begin casting about for someone to blame.

 It is easy (and very tempting) to condemn hate in all its forms. The rage which hate inspires can certainly be terrifyingly destructive – and all too easily inspire the very fears which give it birth. It is not, however, an invariably negative phenomenon. The great Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas, writing about lives lived well and badly, and the fear that Death’s inevitability ends up making a mockery of both; rejected all counsels of passivity and acceptance:

 Do not go gentle into that good night.

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


The trick, it would seem, lies in knowing what to fear. What to hate.

 What we should all be fearing and hating, right now, is Covid-19. And if we must rage against something; if we must blame something; then let it be this frighteningly adaptive coronavirus. Because it is only in New Zealand’s – and the World’s – collective rage that the intellectual and moral energy for defeating this deadly virus and conquering our anxieties will be found. Some of us have scoffed at the slogan “Unite Against Covid-19”. Our cynicism is, however, misplaced. Uniting against the virus is exactly what we should do.

 And yet, so many of us are not uniting against the virus. Instead, frightened and hateful people are lashing out in anger against their fellow citizens, and against their government. Rather than grasp the brutal – if humbling – truth that, notwithstanding their overweening pride and self-confidence, human-beings are not in absolute control of the biosphere, many are determined to give this global disaster a human cause. It’s China’s fault. It’s Bill Gates’s fault. It’s Jacinda Ardern’s fault. They’re the ones to blame!

 It’s but a small step from believing that Covid-19 is a human creation, to deciding that it isn’t even real. It’s all a hoax – a way of placing us under the One World Government’s thumb. Why can’t people see it? Why is everyone so blind!

 That Twitter and Facebook are awash with these mad conspiracy theories is bad enough, but when their paranoid style is borrowed by talkback hosts and “opinion formers”, then the situation moves from bad to worse. And when the Deputy-Leader of the Opposition starts dog-whistling the same looney tunes? Well, that’s when we should put our fear of Covid-19 on “Pause”, and start worrying about the National Party!

 Clearly, the fate that the National Party fears much more than Covid-19 is another three years on the Opposition Benches. Equally clearly, it is their belief that the most direct route to victory lies through political fields sown with mistrust, suspicion and rancour. What need is there to offer the electors detailed and persuasive policies, when your own frightened and angry supporters are so obviously desperate for someone to blame, blame, and blame again – all the way to 17 October?

 Were it not for the presence of Dr Shane Reti in the National Party caucus, I would be close to despair. His calm, rational and generous performance, carried on RNZ’s Morning Report only two days after Gerry “I’m only asking questions” Brownlee’s conspiratorial sonata, was profoundly reassuring. Like Prime Minister Ardern, Dr Reti understands that the only antidote to social poison is social solidarity, and that the only thing New Zealanders have to fear – apart from Covid-19 – is fear itself.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 21 August 2020.


John Hurley said...

I don't like Jacinda Ardern because she acts as though NZ is a wonderful place, when I see it as a product of media culture.

If you read Jon Haidt's The Righteous Mind you question the basis of morality. On what basis is a nation that "celebrates diversity" moral? Whatever people see and understand many will experience dissonance between the world described and world experienced. The economy, society and Covid are joined at the hip but we won't experience Covid Part Two for a few years. Argentina shows how once wealthy countries screw up.

Bernard Hickey and others have been tweeting about Facebook and it's misinformation. The solution isn't to ban them the solution is to gather them and have it out with them. However tribalism appears to have crept in to even the Lancet.

Gad Saad discusses Trumps lies here

but he points out that post-modernism in humanities is much worse as it has undermined the whole basis of epistemology. We are even seeing the results of that in Treasury and I wonder if Ngai Tahu were consulted before Otago University refuted "a junior" epidemiologist?

Tom Hunter said...

It's not fear Chris. It's anger at having sacrificed so much - time with loved ones, funerals, weddings, jobs, little businesses, money - only to be asked to something close to it once again, and with no end in sight as to how many times we're going to perform this Jack-In-The-Box routine.

Now personally I'm quite relaxed about it all, given my lifestyle. But others in my family are pissed off, while others further afield are angry, dispirited, annoyed, exasperated and just plain bloody tired of all this.

Even some of the very old people I'm in contact with via phone are no longer filled with "fear". They're just tired of the whole thing. Perhaps they're not as afraid of death as we thought? Or perhaps they see the futures of their kids and grandkids going down the tubes?

But all-in-all it's not fear.

greywarbler said...

I think not so much fear, as anger. Why should I have my life mucked about in this way. So the upper class take the Labour government to Court - are 'they' entitled to stop this or that just because some people, not us, may get sick and die, they are acting without specific legal rights. It's bloody annoying. We can't sort out what is important when we are confronted by so much trivia masking what is important.

Don McLean sang about it in Prime Time.
Well will you take the car, or will you take the trip?
Remove annoying hair from your upper lip
What's it really worth? Does she really care?
What's the best shampoo that I can use on my hair?
Hey what's the real future of democracy?
How're we gonna streamline the bureaucracy?
Hey, hey, the cost of life has gone sky-high
Does the deodorant I'm using really keep me dry?...

My supper's on the stove, the war is on the screen
Pass the bread and butter while I watch the Marine
The shot him in the chest--Pass the chicken breast!
The general is saying that he's still unimpressed
"We had to burn the city 'cause they wouldn't agree
That things go better with democracy!"
The weather will be fair, forget the ozone layer
But strontium showers will be here and there

oneblokesview said...

I was with you until you could not resist attacking the opposition.
(remembe, its their job to ask questions - even if they are unpopular)

What I am truly amazed at is the lack of a bilateral approach by Parliament.
Get the best from all sides rather than continue the attack and divide approach.
Can you imagine Tony Ryall as Person in Charge of health rather than Clark or Hipkins!!
I am convinced we would have had a different outcome.

Maybe this would have been a better approach than the spreading of fear.
It was indeed the spreading of fear by the current government(remember the reasoning behind the original panic in to Level 4) bodies in the streets, 80,000 dead, hospitals ICUs being unable to cope etc etc

As the reason panic & fear was dissapated and debunked, perhaps a government of national unity may have achieved your nirvirna... no fear & blaming.

David Stone said...

It may be that we have always been misled and lied to by our leaders and the media when matters are discussed that are of real importance rather than of societal trivia. To some extent that has always been so. but whether synchronised and orchestrated misinformation has exploded since the MSM is owned and controlled by the wealthy elite, or whether it now has a readily available alternative media telling a different and often contradictory story, very often with far more plausibility attached to it, the interested public has come to doubt everything the MSM reports. Or at least the reasons behind the events and the instigators of them.
We have an article in Stuff this morning warning that Russia might try to influence the result of our election. That's far king ridiculous . But it's called news along with updates on covid cases given the same coverage. We are told that Russia is a threat to the world while America and the UK drop hundreds of bombs on people in countries in the middle east , Africa and elsewhere every day for years on end while we are asked to believe they are a leading force for stability and peace in the world.
No one knows what to believe any more and the most preposterous theories have an open field of possibilities where anything you read or hear in any publication might be true or it might be false. The only guide to the truth is to look for who it is that gains and who it is that looses from each story.
And the push to have the alternative media including Facebook and Twitter become to police of true and false information under the authority of those that suffer most from people doubting the MSM will do nothing but exacerbate the mistrust.

AB said...

When an undistinguished provincial GP like Shane Reti sounds more sane and rational than the last 3 National Party leaders, including the current one, there is a problem. (Personally, I'd say the last 6 leaders, which would take us back to Bolger, but I'll settle for 3 right now.)

It shows how deeply instinctive it is for National to wage class war. They want power desperately - so a status quo that shifts wealth up the economic tree to themselves, their donors and their supporters, is not disrupted. They'll mislead and misinform the public even during a deadly pandemic in order to achieve this goal.

It seems that National have a 3-pronged strategy: Reti is all sweetness and light, Brownlee goes full nutbar, and Collins comes through the middle as firm but fair. It's a very cynical attempt to hoover up votes from all quarters.