I very nearly gave up trying to write anything either original or useful about the Coronavirus crisis. I thought that I would sound crass, trite or worse still both of those things combined. On further reflection, I believe that this is an entirely appropriate time to take a considered assessment of the past fortnight`s events.
This crisis is unlike any other we have experienced. In reality we have never had to deal with events like these even though we have imagined similar disasters unfold in our popular culture, especially in film and television.
However we have forgotten how relatively unsophisticated we were as a nation before the advent of rolling news and live streams. The 1970s were barren in comparison. Britain, throughout this decade was literally another country, so far beyond the modern nation that we recognise today. Television and print media were the only source of information. In the popular imagination human extinction was always a possibility as we lived a much more precarious existence.
We did not have as many luxuries and we were isolated from the rest of the world. Many of us were convinced that the future of humanity itself was at the mercy of hot headed and irascible Generals and Presidents. In 1975 an eerily prescient drama was unleashed on to our television screens. It was called “Survivors” and it was originally written as a kind of allegory of humanity under siege but ostensibly it was a story of a people living under the shadow of a deadly virus.
This drama series followed a community struggling to rebuild after a deadly plague wipes out most of the world`s population. At its heart it is a painful story which reminds us of our human frailties. It soon became a deeply uncomfortable reminder of our numerous foibles and inadequacies as human beings.
The simple pursuit of survival is a fraught one, and shows how fragile we all are. We are completely defenceless in the face of an alien and indiscriminate biological agent with the potential to annihilate all of us. Our response to such a threat is often inadequate, some of us are so overwhelmed a blackly comic approach is often the only means to shield our pain before the bleak reality intervenes. Sometimes we don`t like to admit that we feel helpless, angry or guilty. Shock and grief does all of these things to all of us at some point or another. We need to be kind to ourselves and to others.
Our altruistic natures only work to a point, it is hard to be noble when the risk to our own health is so great. When the drive for own survival is paramount some of us seem prepared to step over the weak to simply acquire the limited resources to live.
The 1980s arrived in the shadows of possible nuclear annihilation. The fear of complete nuclear destruction had not receded completely. A hastily devised guide for survival after nuclear strike was issued entitled “Protect and Survive”. This pamphlet did little to assuage the fears of a nation. The publication of this coincided with a revival of interest in the fiction of John Wyndham. In 1981 the B.B.C. dramatised his novel “The Day of The Triffids”. This was the story of how a parasitic and venomous plant proceeded to destroy humankind. During the first stage of Triffid attack humans are blinded, which is yet another example of how vulnerable we can become as soon as a dangerous and unknown agent attacks. In 1984 I.T.V. adapted his novel “Chocky” in which a boy is placed under the psychic influence of aliens. This situation was replicated in the psyche of a nation frightened and paranoid about a possible Soviet invasion.
Later on in our history there was a general consensus that a “New World Order” would emerge. This would be a beacon of light once the “Iron Curtain” fell. However all that happened in the interim was that the world situation just became much more complicated. The proxy war in Afghanistan concluded in 1989 but this simply lead to the growth of the Taliban who had been funded and armed by the Americans.
Almost as soon as the Soviet troops withdrew from the region Islamist extremism flourished. There was an influx of foreigners seeking jihad, including Osama Bin Laden. Al Qaeda emerged out of the impasse. A new kind of terror entered our world when 9/11 happened, an event quickly dubbed as the moment “when the twenty-first century truly began”. The fear and paranoia experienced by all of us throughout the seventies and eighties was overshadowed by the September 11 attacks. It was harrowing to witness such a brutal and callous attack on live television and then to see it reproduced on the Internet in the years which followed it.
This new digital age of communication has altered our comprehension of disaster. It hasn`t clarified our understanding, it has merely clouded it. But now we have a different reason to feel afraid. 2020 began with a much more terrifying prospect, an unknown biological agent which has become an insidious and stealthier killer than nuclear weaponry, terrorism or even world war. We are now all civilians battling an almost invisible army and I am already scared that we are losing.