What the COVID Era Did
Ordinary people were no longer to be trusted to manage their own lives
Every nation cherishes an image of itself. We are often told that Australia’s was formed on the beaches of Gallipoli, but it’s older and more complex than that. Long before the Australian union, the people of the Australian colonies developed self-images of their own, in great variety. Few directly referred to the “convict stain,” but almost all stressed our independent spirit, our impudent mockery of authority, our strength and toughness in the face of adversity. Lawson, writing in 1888, asked “when Andy’s gone with cattle, who will cheek the squatter?” That nicely sums up the spirit of an age when a substantial chunk of the population tended to barrack for the underdog, including bushrangers. Banjo Paterson didn’t like “Breaker” Morant as a man (he does seem to have been callous) but being shot by a British court martial made him a hero in the eyes of many. Squatters of course had their own self-image as rural toffs and bush aristocrats, but such pretensions cut little ice with average working people. And then of course there’s the Ned Kelly story.
When the states finally agreed to form a federation, they drew many of their constitutional ideas from the United States and chose to call their new union a Commonwealth, which is actually the standard English translation of the Latin term res publica. That choice reveals that there was a tension, as there still is, between our nation as a monarchy and as a republic. I can’t recall who first coined the expression “crowned republic,” but it’s an apt term to describe the unique Australian political compromise. To paraphrase Sinatra, we did it our way.
Covid seems to have done what no other calamity succeeded in doing. It affected the psyche of the nation. The late Clive James reportedly claimed that Australia’s problem is not that there are too many descendants of convicts, but too many of the offspring of their jailers and prison officers! That may sound a bit cruel, but it looks truer now, when the platitudinous PC nostrums of our bosses and betters dominate so much of our lives.
Remember the mantra from Covid times “we’re all in this together?” Actually, we weren’t. If you had a government job, or a job sustained by government contracts, you probably felt fairly comfortable. If you were young and fit, the danger facing you was pretty negligible. But if you owned your own small business, or worked in hospitality or retail, you might have come close to losing your livelihood — all too many actually did. If you were undergoing medical treatment, was your therapy delayed or deferred? Did you spend dreadful days in hospital, sequestered from visitors, isolated from friends and family? Did a loved one die alone, deprived of the comfort of human contact, while family grieved at home? Looking back now, do we not ask ourselves why we sacrificed so much for, apparently, so little?
The mass media and so-called celebrities gave us poor leadership. Some journalists and public figures urged restraint, but not the ones who catch the headlines. A kind of passive and subservient “wokeness” dominated all discussion. Not only were we advised to wear masks, but we were told that it was ill-mannered or disrespectful not to do so. Here was the nanny-state in full flower: there was no science in requiring people to wear masks when on their own in public, but it was declared polite to do so — and of course blanket no-excuses legislation makes policing easier! What an appalling decline in standards: ordinary people were no longer to be trusted to manage their own lives.
In failing to report death rates and in focusing only on total numbers, the mass media skewed public opinion and heightened fear. Raw numbers alone are terrifying unless seen in context. Tens of thousands of people die every year in a country like Australia and the crude death rate remains fairly stable. When and if the final score is calculated, and weighed against the cost in ruined lives and livelihoods, and the degradation of human rights and liberties, will it all seem to have been worthwhile?
In retrospect, the Covid Era (to coin a phrase) looks like a kind of climacteric. It changed us in ways that go far beyond the management of a rampant disease. The ideas behind the Great Reset, as well as the conspiracy theories that have arisen in reaction to it, together amount to a disquieting challenge to traditional and customary notions about the nature of humane civilization.
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