March 26, 2020
Author: Ralph Berry
‘Any man’s death diminishes me’ said John Donne. Frankly, not all that much now that I learn about that proportion of Britons that is subject to Covid-19. It turns out that the average age of those admitted to intensive care units is 63, and 70% are obese or over-weight. In other words, Britain is being put through the mangle to protect a handful of elderly fatties. This does not seem, in a favourite phrase of our rulers, ‘proportionate’.
Our rulers give further cause for disbelief. Their ‘rules’ (invented on the hoof) ban mass assemblies but allow travel on the Underground, where people are conspiring, in the literal sense of breathing together. We think of ‘rules’ as being determined over time and deep discussion, as with sports; not hustled out by the Government as a rhetorical for whatever it is they have decided to do. The rhetoric is now that of war: The word is not used openly but as a metaphor. Boris speaks of the nation ‘enlisting’; the Secretary of State brings in the ‘military’, and sends nurses ‘up to the front line’. The priorities for essential workers, and their children, are ill-thought out and breeding great resentment. The Government’s capacity for thought is already undermined by its own words. A top medico said that ‘we should all be ashamed’ by the gross actions of panic buyers in supermarkets. No, we shouldn’t. I didn’t participate in them and I see no reason why I should feel ashamed on account of the bad behaviour of a few. Feeling shame on behalf of others is a mis-direction of what is properly an individual emotion, a sense of personal guilt. The Government is shifting the responsibility for its own actions onto the shoulders of the public.
I pass over the ridiculous ‘two metres’ space between people. In the narrow aisles of my Tesco Express, half that distance between shoppers is not possible. The Daily Mail strikes a blow for our native language by referring to the edict as ‘six feet’—distance, in this country, is measured by the old units of miles, yards and feet. I am always grateful to the Americans, on whose highways you drive in miles, while above the 49th parallel the Canadians drive in kilometres. We owe no allegiance to metrics in this sphere. (When Charles II was on the run after his defeat at the battle of Worcester, the Parliamentarians sought him as ‘a tall young man two yards high’.)
Whatever the outcome my instincts are with President Trump, who is all against the rigidities of the national lockdown. He is well aware that the cure may be worse than the disease, and is looking to relax social distancing rules in a the near future. He does not believe that the united front of the medical profession should have the final word on the nation’s conduct of itself. For the reasons I’ve given above, I side with the President—and against the Prime Minister. I do not know what the present Dean of Westminster thinks, but a previous one—John Donne—might have had to re-think his sermon on this matter.