Some of the most simple of life’s pleasures have become verboten during the lockdown, and with it comes the sinking feeling that it’s going to be a long time until we get back to normal. From having friends visit you at home, to going on an adventure, suddenly these most human of behaviours are frowned upon and ridiculed if one dares to tread where no locked-down soul has went before.
In 1948, when fear was rife that the dawn of the atomic age heralded impending doom, CS Lewis famously wrote that if the atomic bomb is to fall on us, that we should not be found “huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs.”
In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.
This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.
For many people, the past number of weeks have been endured, not lived, and there is of course a reasonable argument to be made that we should do this for the good of others, so as not to pass on the virus to vulnerable people or overwhelm intensive care units.
The fear being generated is not justified however, when one considers the mortality rates associated with the disease. As of writing, slightly over 125,000 people have died of Covid-19 since late last year, whilst almost 140,000 have died of seasonal flu since January. Accidents, abortions and many ailments claim the vast majority of lives globally.
All this is to say we should be vigilant when politicians and elites tell us that many restrictions will apply for a long time to come, or until a (mandatory?) vaccine is developed. Their authoritarian mask is surely beginning to slip despite the readily available statistics.
The endless political PR exercises and knights in shining armour (Bill Gates) who come to the globe’s “rescue” will always be with us, but it’s worth keeping in mind that they only have power if enough people give it to them. Whilst rigorous science has to be respected, the common good of society is a deeper question about what it is we value most, and how we should act in the light of the facts.
The answer to that question of priorities and prudence will not necessarily be answered well by those who lust for power, prestige or position.
When considering the best course of action in the current maelstrom of emotion, where health is invariably considered the highest good, it must be remembered that merely existing is not the same thing as living. The current measures cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely, and the insidious fear must be examined more rationally.
Because three years after the last atomic bombs fell, the frightened sheep of CS Lewis’ essay were still spending precious time they would never get back worrying about a bomb that would never fall.