Any crisis, financial, military or medical, is a test. The question posed can be paraphrased depending on the circumstances, but in essence it’s always the same:
Can our society and institutions survive as our society and institutions? Or will they transmogrify into something alien and unpleasant?
Judging by the plan put forth by Health Secretary Matt Hancock, our score on this test is near to failing. If Mr Hancock gets what he wants, within a couple of weeks everyone over 70 will be confined to house arrest, euphemistically called quarantine, and kept there for at least four months.
Any wrinklie venturing outdoors will be summarily arrested, confined to detention and fined some draconian amount. This, irrespective of the person showing the symptoms of any condition other than old age.
Now, fascism is an emotionally charged word bandied about by all and sundry, often with no taxonomic rigour. However, if understood as the state arbitrarily exercising despotic powers, the term fits Mr Hancock’s plan like a glove.
I’m not defending a libertarian rampart here. At a time of plague, it’s sensible to isolate as many carriers of the contagion as possible, even if that means suspending essential civil liberties. When the country is in danger, the interests of the many have to take precedence over the interests of the few. The utilitarian argument carries the day.
However, this isn’t the situation here. For the state isn’t out to protect many from few. It’s planning to impose tyrannical measures to protect the few from themselves. Rather than isolating the subjects of infection, those who spread it, the government is planning to isolate its objects, those on the receiving end.
There’s absolutely no evidence that the old spread the infection faster or wider than the young. On the contrary, the young are much more likely to carry the virus without showing any symptoms, whereas those whose immune system is weakened will be instantly identifiable as ill.
It’s true that the death rate is much higher among the old, and they should be made aware of the risks. However, that done, they should then make their own decisions on how best to protect themselves, and I’m sure most of them would welcome helpful advice.
The state’s function isn’t that of a strict but fair father spanking his wayward son for an imaginary transgression to the accompaniment of the ubiquitous mantra: “It’s for your own good, and it hurts me more than it hurts you.” A state that assumes that role thereby takes on a fascist trait – and where there’s one of them, there eventually will be many.
Amazingly, the little matter of civil liberties hasn’t had as much as a mention. Worked up as we are about the sacred right of women born as men to impregnate men born as women and then turn public lavatories into freak shows, we’re placidly lackadaisical about millions of Her Majesty’s subjects being locked up in solitary confinement on a whim.
One wonders how our powers that be see the ensuing practicalities. How will the new law be enforced?
Will the army move in, patrolling the streets, stopping everyone with grey hair and demanding at gunpoint to see proof of age? How will the virtual prisoners, millions of them, feed themselves? (And don’t tell me they could rely on delivery services – those are already failing to meet the still-moderate demand.)
Provided they display civil disobedience – as any self-respecting person must in the face of naked tyranny – do we have enough prisons, or hospitals converted to prisons, to hold all resisters in anything other than concentration camp conditions?
Slopes don’t get much slippier than that, nor tests much tougher. I hope we won’t let the bastards get away with this outrage.
P.S. Even at my decrepit age, I can still wipe the tennis court with our youthful PM, who fancies himself a player.