|Poisoning The Social Bloodstream: 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!|
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
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?
psychologists would tell us that the emotion fueling 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.
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!
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
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.