WE WERE in the age of extreme individualism before Covid-19 brought our lives to a stark and sudden halt. We had reached the nadir of our evolution with the arrival of the ‘selfie’ and the populist politician.
Nothing exemplifies how base and pathological our preoccupation with ourselves had become than the ‘selfie’. I have often written about this modern phenomenon because I have been struck with some of the conversations I have had with young adults about appearance and steroids. It seemed to me that we were in the age of superficiality where a vulgar, egoist reality TV star could become president of The United Stated of America and truth no longer mattered, optics alone is what counted. Truth had become a commodity, bought and sold.
The last number of years marked the rise of populist and irresponsible politicians and now that we are in a crisis we are bearing the rotten fruit of that terrible phenomenon. Human beings like to organise themselves in hierarchies, so we must ensure that those leading us have the intellectual and emotional wiring to do so. If there is to be a silver lining from this horrible self induced mess it should be this: we should take the election of or leaders more seriously, because we never know when we may really need them, and we should defend resolutely against any attack on free speech and science.
There is truth, and what we say matters. Science, not someone’s gut instincts or irrational deluded self-belief, will get us out of this crisis. It took scientists only two weeks to identify the correct virus and genome so that we had a good understanding of what we were dealing with. When we come out of this, we must listen to our scientists when they warn us about the warming of the planet, because we should no longer tolerate label’s like ‘hoax’ or ‘fake news’ to describe ecological collapse. This is too serious, and our very existence on this planet relies on our leaders to pave the way in a more deliberate and responsible manner.
America is a great country. My grandmother was American. We have always looked across the Atlantic for our cue to progress. It has been our big brother championing us, building our national self-esteem. But we must look within now, there is nothing coming from The White house that talks of a shared experience and a mutual collective response. The lack of international cooperation and global solidarity illuminates just how dangerous it is to have a leader who is more interested in launching insults and pejoratives about countries and other world leaders than healing and nurturing international relationships because it plays well with the electorate. It is all steeped in the world of reality TV — it’s about ratings and image, nothing about substance, responsibility and the greater good. And we are all being brought along for the ride.
We have been fortunate on this island that we had a doctor as our leader and that he understood the implications of what was coming. He made some difficult decisions relatively early in the crisis which helped slow the spread of the virus – obviously allowing Italian tourists into the country the weekend of the six nations and Cheltenham were poor decisions but it was a rapidly evolving landscape. A pandemic requires a unified global response to effectively deal with it and what we have seen from The White House is at times bizarre, absurd, a little amusing maybe but utterly depressing because we are watching a man vie for ratings while more than 50,000 of US civilians have lost their lives.
I think we are all impacted by what we are seeing on our screens. It leaves us disillusioned and despairing for the human race. The philosopher and writer Yuval Noah Harari recently said: “I’m not so afraid of the virus, I’m much more afraid of the inner demons of humanity coming out, people not reacting with solidarity but with hatred and greed.”
Yet, we have witnessed some truly wonderful moments during this crisis too. Capt Tom Moore, the 99-year-old war veteran who raised more than £20m (€23m) for the NHS by walking 100 laps of his back garden was an inspirational story and illuminated that crisis doesn’t build character it reveals it. There have been many stories of people engaging in altruistic acts to help and support the vulnerable in our society.
The question we must ask ourselves now is, what do we want to bring forward from our old way of life when things go back to a new normal? Extreme individualism is not going to help with climate change. It is not going to help us if another pandemic should strike. We need to be a more unified world. There is no them and us. We all share the same genetic code. If Covid-19 has taught us one thing it is that a virus does not revere money, position or creed. It is indiscriminate. If we want to survive on this pale blue dot a little while longer we must make sensible choices when it comes to who represents us. We have seen the chaos and destruction that comes from bad leadership. Let us not take that forward with us into the post Covid world.