Opinion

Will we metaphorically hold hands or turn on each other post-lockdown?

Mark Barnes is worried about what sort of world awaits us

24 May 2020 - 00:02 By Mark Barnes
Someone had better be creating a wonderful new world to go back to that hasn’t turned nasty on us, writes Mark Barnes.
Someone had better be creating a wonderful new world to go back to that hasn’t turned nasty on us, writes Mark Barnes.
Image: 123RF/kzenon

I worry. I think a lot. I can't help it. Of all the thought processes that our brains take us through, the most difficult to control, the impossible to push back into our sub-conscious, is worry. If something's bugging you, it needs to be resolved. At least you need to see a pathway you can take towards resolution, towards truth and certainty. Angst is a killer disease. We need to know what's happening.

I extrapolate, often taking myself to the unlikely (if not impossible) worst-case outcome, to see what I would do, to see whether I'll cope. Either that, or to resign myself to the inevitability of it all and re-calibrate my expectations, come to terms with the new self that I will have to embrace, the lesser, damaged me that I'll have to accept. Weep, laugh, whatever?!

Nearly always, though, it's not that bad - not every pimple becomes a boil.

Often, the worry is about lesser measures of happiness, like money, or status, and not something fundamental, like health or personal freedom or security. Still, with enough extrapolation, a mini-crash in the stock market or a drop in house prices can morph into bankruptcy, or a dry cough can get you checking your will.

With enough extrapolation, a drop in house prices can morph into bankruptcy, or a dry cough can get you checking your will

We have plenty of new things to worry about nowadays, beyond our familiar enemies of poverty, unemployment and inequality, or even our new clear and present dangers like Covid-19.

As unpredictable and seemingly impossible to resolve as these obvious circumstances are, it's the trouble below the surface that keeps me awake at night. It's those evils and dangers that lie well below the waterline in a prosperous, peaceful society, exposed now in a time of crisis. Horrible new behaviour that an enduring crisis will make habits, entrenched in the new normals that will dictate who's in charge and how much we give a damn about each other.

Survival of the fittest comes at a price. Who is "fit", anyway, in human society? It is worse than that, it's about who will prevail in a society of scared, dependent people. Who will wield the power? The baddies, that's who!

Will we summon our plentiful collective goodwill to hold hands (metaphorically, of course) and protect the innocent and endangered, or will this be an opportunity to overpower, to dictate? God help us.

The human spirit will not be squashed into submission. It may be pressured into retaliation. Whether the outcome of the lockdown is kind and caring, or harsh and mean, will influence what becomes of us as individuals - how we'll behave, what'll be the new OK between us. I'm worried.

Once this is all over, and it will be, what examples will we have set for our children? What kind of 24/7, confined-space people are we after all?

I've been in lockdown alone. There are more than one of me in me, but we've lived together forever and we know what to expect. We fight, make allowances, laugh at each other, accept, move on. We're not going anywhere. I'm stuck with my me's no matter what level of alert the country is on. So we cope. In any case, I think having to be alone alone is much easier than having to be together together for an extended period. As working grown-ups we're usually only awake and together for maybe five or six hours a day, with lots of distractions, and choice. Try 18 hours and even the slightest irritable habits can turn into deal-breakers. Social media escapes make it worse.

Then the kids find out how little we know about the "new math" and how we've no clue about the difference between discipline and teaching. Sit! Work! isn't teaching.

While we're all trying to cope with each other (sans booze and cigarettes, nogal) someone had better be creating a wonderful new world to go back to (not happening) that hasn't turned nasty on us, despite the fact that it can feed less of us than it could before.

We will need to go back to an expanding universe, not a compacting sphere on the verge of a Big Bang. We need to step back out (into a wounded economy) to find capital is more eager than ever to build, to invest, to take risks. We cannot be held back by worst-case hesitance, we cannot pause.

We have to move away from social dependency and rescue towards social development. That'll take partnerships among us never previously embraced. We can't close in on ourselves. We can't afford the survival of the fittest — it'll be the death of us all.

We need to be "set free" as soon as we can reasonably be trusted to keep up the protocols, but we need to know that we're going back to a world that has opened up, not closed down.