Readers of this blog can probably identify with some of these feelings over these past months. First, I have found the situation quite unreal and, while making all the domestic adjustments that governments have required of us, I have also been watching carefully to assess how much I am being manipulated by the political forces using the pandemic for their own ends.
Note, that is quite different from allowing the denialists a hearing, and I simply don’t listen to conspiracy nonsense. But it must be possible to begin a serious critique/conversation about the politicians who have messed this up in Spain, the UK, the USA, wherever, without giving any oxygen to the conspiracy nutcase department on Twitter, Facebook and other discredited social media. I no longer contribute to those unaccountable anti-democratic platforms, and each day brings news of their control-freakery which undermines our democracies and facilitates authoritarian regimes. The evidence is fully out there. I’ll be referencing it.
The months of lockdown seem a distant memory already. I spent the first weeks fretting about what future there would be for my four donkeys if I was to succumb to Covid-19 and die. I even put together a long testament explaining to friends and family why it would be necessary to try and ensure all four donkeys remained together, if their present Peasant unpleasantly died.
In lockdown I was conscious of spending far more time with the donkeys – talking to them, reassuring them, grooming them. As many people discovered in the lockdown, the extra time at home provided a new quality of everyday life. There were sometimes periods of three of four days when I only spoke to donkeys!
I kept seeing this challenge more and more as The Sacrament of the Present Moment, after the title of a valuable spiritual guide I once found very helpful when I was ‘locked down’ as a Franciscan friar in Glasshampton monastery, after the heavy pastoral work we all did in Liverpool following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
The writings of the Jesuit Fr. Jean Pierre De Caussade (1675–1751) were collected as Abandon à la Providence Divine in 1861, long after his death. In treating the exercise of the virtue of abandonment, he dwells on thirty-seven points, including such things as useless fears, submission and confidence, simplicity, acceptance of duties, patience with oneself, etc. The Sacrament of the Present Moment was the title used more popularly for this book when I first encountered it in the monastery library in 1989. Reading it again online, all of it was useful in the lockdown and most of it was already well understood by donkeys!
So what next for this blog? In my Journal of the virus year: Chapter 10 and the next chapters the real work will begin. I shall be moving out of the rather parochial space I have been inhabiting for some months and examining a few wider questions. I believe we are all entitled to a say in the world that we will have to construct now, and this is my contribution.
The last thing we should do is leave this debate to the professional politicians. Their incompetence has already killed hundreds of thousands. That was unnecessary and I’ll provide references. All of us have a right and a duty to engage in this debate. My simple blog has never sought a wide audience, but it is – as often explained – simply my diary. But my diary is now emerging from the lockdown after a great deal of reflection and developing views:
- I will look at why this pandemic was entirely predictable, predicted, and unforgivably missed by all the people whose job it was to alert us to it in January 2020. The failure to communicate intelligence regarding Wuhan and the failure of pandemic planning in the UK and USA – and the west in general – needs to be the main focus for a broad enquiry.
For example, in Switzerland in January 2020 all the elite political and economic movers in the western world flew in on private jets and spent a week in Davos mainly debating whether a fifteen-year-old climate change guru was a future Nobel prize-winner or a freak. There were people present at Davos who wanted to alert everyone to a killer virus in Wuhan that was going to cause the biggest economic upset for a century, but the Great Elite looked askance and carried on admiring or insulting Greta Thunburg.
- I am going to put the blame for our present Covid-induced global collapse primarily on China and explain why that country is our greatest threat in the times we live in. One contributor to this blog sent me an email some time ago – a well written and polite explanation – explaining why my view of the Chinese was racist and why she was no longer reading my blog. When you are addressing an authoritarian political regime and you call out its lies and propaganda, and someone then accuses you of racism; this says something very important about the world we live in. I shall be addressing this question head-on. The superficial remarks I made about China – that offended one reader – will be nothing compared with the full-on critique of China that I am going to present here now. I shall give full references for this and suggest that you join me in boycotting – as far as is possible these days (!) – anything that comes out of China.
- There are good reasons for avoiding all news that comes out of the USA. Like everyone else, I am not interested in the morning news about the latest moronic “tweet” by the occupant of the White House. But please do not switch off from the US election news. I shall explain more about this and say why I am hopeful, particularly because the Covid-19 crisis is going to remake US politics in such a way that the anti-democratic forces in Europe will have the wind taken out of their sails. Support the Lincoln Project and rejoice that many Republicans are fighting to defeat the naughty rude man in the White House.
- I also want to look at the future, because there have been so many statements along the lines of “We will never return to the world we knew in 2019.” Other pundits debunk that idea, quoting the Spanish flu’ epidemic etc. I will explain why Covid-19 is not the same as what happened in 1918, and why it is true that we will not return to the world we knew. Young people in their twenties today will be explaining to their grandchildren in 2060 what the world was like in 2019, and those grandchildren will be amazed. That (not “will there be a second wave in October…?”) is the most interesting question now. I have my preferred sources for this scenario and will share their historical and economic wisdom with you in a redacted and digestable form.
- Finally, in the Journal of the virus year, I’ll return to where I began in March by looking at the thoughts of Daniel Defoe in his Journal of the Plague Year and see if we have learned anything about pandemics in three hundred years. Spoiler alert: no we haven’t!