The danger now is that we run out of things to say. At the start of this crisis there was always something to write about; there was always some new angle or statistic or event that we weren’t prepared for. Then the figures started to rise alarmingly and each day we waited for the afternoon update and the latest score…
What is it about us as a species that allows us to get so used to it all so damn quickly? How can we go from disinterested to mild butterflies to gentle panic to mass hysteria to general tension to used to it in such a short amount of time? I have often bemoaned the state of us as a species and the mess we have made of our opportunities with the time that we’ve got. I’ve fretted about the modern world and the modern individual’s tendency to substitute the virtual for the real. I wrote not that long ago that we would never survive a great war or similar crisis because we’re soft and we’re spoilt and we’re lazy and we can’t see beyond the screen of the closest device that we’re peering into for some sort of escape from truths that bite too sharply.
But we do survive these things because we’re like a virus ourselves. We feed off whatever’s there to eat and we somehow come through it and the worst of it is that we come through it congratulating ourselves and patting ourselves on the back in a new and frightening sense of justification and pride that we have achieved something. All we did was not die and for most people, all they were asked to do was not go anywhere.
For most people it has been heaven. In a lot of minds there have been nagging doubts that maybe we should be doing something more cultural; maybe we should be making the most of these extraordinary times, but while it’s justifiable to do nothing – that’s what most people do. Yet they will all – we will all – be called heroes for getting through this ‘war’; for not backing down in the face of this ‘adversary’ and for standing up when we needed to. What a load of bollocks. For the most part we sat on our arses and pretended to care that we were only allowed out to exercise once when otherwise we’d be out all fucking day exercising man – I was going to start my running programme when all this shit kicked off, they’ll say. I was about to start the healthy diet when the supermarkets all got messed up…all bullshit like that.
I have neighbours a couple of doors up. Nice enough people but very righteous and better than the rest of us. At midday today I took them some rhubarb from the allotment and they came to door half-sozzled from drink. From my regulation metreage I could smell the gin.
“We’re in the garden” she said. “We’re on our third G&T. There’s nothing else to do…” heroes or what. The grim truth of it is, though, that this is precisely the thing that we’re being told is the most helpful in fighting the virus: stay at home. Do fuck all.
That generation, my parents’ generation, is a strange one. It’s tempting, as a default, to revere them for the groundwork that they have done in creating the world that my generation is now in charge of – the generation that educates the next generation; that brings up the kids and that puts things in place for the next lot and that, ultimately, cleans up the mess of the generation above. What have they done that we should revere? They have fought in no wars, they have developed no great political systems. They have had it easy and they have secured habits like too much drinking and too much of a sense of entitlement, too much ease in getting what they want without stopping to think of the consequences. They threw divorce around like it was a hobby; they have decimated the public welfare system and now they sit, newly retired, drawing a pension that will screw the rest of over when it comes to our time.
There are not many heroes left in the world yet we are fed the idea that all old people are such. On the news today it’s all about the crisis in care homes and how the elderly are being left to die while the young are being prioritised. A functional society wouldn’t do that and it is the duty of governments and the health services to provide the same health-care to each individual, however uneconomical that may seem. I don’t necessarily agree with that idea (I’ll talk about that in the next post) but I accept it and I pay my tax and I hope that nobody suffers too much. But where the myth becomes a little twisted is when, like someone said today, the people in the care-homes are lauded as the heroes to whom we owe a debt.
“These people fought for use, now we must fight for them” one care worker said today. It is a meaty cliché that few people argue with, but it is used as a very wide brush these days and applied liberally to anyone who is infirm and wrinkled and has difficulty waking or standing or feeding themselves. The last war, the one to which they are referring, started 81 years ago, which means that anyone who played a significant part in it and ‘fought for us’ is by now well into their nineties. There are some, that is most definitely true, and they deserve our praise and support and all the help that we can get. But of the very few nonagenarians still alive in this country, how many actually fought in the war? How many actually fall into that category?
Not many. Yet the old myth persists like a tired old religion that we’re either disinclined to let go of, or lack the courage to realise?
The generation that matters is the one that’s out there now and working; the one that’s making a difference or striving to learn how they can do better. It’s not sitting in the garden in the middle of the day drinking gin because there’s nothing to do. We have little, other than our existence, to thank most of the older generations for and a lot to berate them for. If we thrive then we thrive in spite of them – not because of them.