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October 22 feels increasingly ominous…

October 7, 2021
Hundreds crowd together in Temple Bar, Dublin despite Covid restrictions -  Irish Mirror Online

We’re not going to obliterate Covid as a matter of feasible medium term policy. Very few such diseases have ever been completely obliterated. The horrible line that I’m hearing is “reducing Covid to a level that we can live with”. I have major problems with the word “we” as well as the word “live” in this phrase. It reminds me of when people refer to some wartime race memory using the first person plural… “We survived World War II” – bizarrely forgetting the tens of millions who didn’t. It’s an oxymoronic collective affirmation that creates a spurious “we” out of exclusions.

All over the world, political decisions are being made about how much people are prepared to put up with in order to save how many lives. On October 22, we in Ireland will have decided that a certain number of casualties have become tolerable. And damn it, the decision will have to be made.

Of course, in practice, a world in which all risk is eliminated in order to protect every single life is unthinkable. As High School Homer Simpson declared when he heard of a formal debate in consideration of lowering the speed limit – “Sure, lives would be saved but millions would be late!”

Furthermore, the impact of Covid has to be weighed in the balance against other life-crippling phenomena such as unemployment and bankruptcy. Part of life is the preservation of the will to live. For a while, the will to live can be sustained by the thrill of the responsibility of an authentic emergency. But not indefinitely. On October 22nd, we give up pretending that fighting Covid is the most important thing that we’re collectively doing. Lives will be sacrificed. We should perhaps grieve for them ahead of time, or at least ready ourselves for grief.

Ireland has been celebrated for its “Covid Resilience”. We’re a nation that is policed by consent and An Garda Síochána are armed, for the most part, with a notebook and a stern expression. If the rules have been kept, for the most part, then it’s because most people have been determined to keep the rules. But October 22 will mark a kind of surrender. It will mark the moment when the national campaign to contain Covid no longer defines us, no longer provides a grand national imperative. We’ve been governed by flawed human beings who aren’t much better or worse than ourselves. We have not been governed by populist demagogues bereft of any concept of integrity or empathy. Our death toll has therefore been much lower. But we have lost 5000 of our fellow citizens and we knew how to save at least some of them.

Even after the political and economic context has been explained to them, I suspect that our grandchildren will be angry with us for not holding out longer, not being a bit more patient, and not having the collective will to save more lives. They will be angry with us because they will be better people than us and they will be better people than us because they will have to be better people than us.

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