The spread of the coronavirus has become an issue that not only dominates global news, but has come to directly affect how we conduct ourselves in our everyday lives. As late as the first week of March, talk and gossip about the pandemic may have still remained subject to an air of skepticism regarding the severity of its impact. With Ireland now under a lockdown, the social, cultural and economic impacts of this are now beyond doubt.
The emergence of a crisis such as this is an extreme test for liberalism as a global ideal. Whilst most speculators and commentators will bemoan the economic problems that this pandemic brings, it is also something that brings social and cultural restraints too. Solutions and reactions that have been made to tackle the crisis have been far more national than global.
As we speak, the European Union is busier attempting to negotiate the entry of Albania and North Macedonia as member states than tackling the spread of COVID-19. A union which was forged with the supposed intention of being a ‘peace project’ is failing to pacify any of the panic that has emanated from this.
As of writing, Italy has reported the most fatalities, followed by Spain, China, the US, France, Iran and the UK. Ireland as of writing has 3849 cases and 98 deaths. Many theories have emerged as to the actual origin of the disease. Some have suggested that the transmission originated from bat soup, others have said that it originated from the sale of exotic animals (such as pangolins) on the open markets of Wuhan.
Others have said that the virus was a bioweapon that, depending on who’s telling the story, was either purposely or accidentally released into the public. Some will say that China deliberately weaponised the virus as a means to cripple Western economies in the hopes of gaining influence globally.
Some will say that Western powers worked in tandem with China to create the virus, whilst some will even say that the virus was an American creation. There are those of an American “paranoid style” conspiracy orientation who may outright deny that the virus is even a thing, going as far to say that the hype, sensation and discourse surrounding COVID-19 is a “test run” for a global totalitarian government.
We should ponder these opinions no further, but one thing should be clear; if the virus started in China, then it is the lax character of Western liberalism, and the political classes of all stripes that enabled the spread of the virus. This extends to Ireland, and certainly to Health Minister Simon Harris who insisted that banning flights “wouldn’t work” as they would undermine the EU’s principles of free movement early in March.
All axioms of “progress” in the modern West have been put on hold. Liberalism as a public idea is postponed. You are free to enjoy it but with strict social distancing and in your own dwelling. Until around early March, one could still easily get accused of racism for saying that a pandemic such as this justifies restraints on migration, travel, and who is or who isn’t allowed to come into a country.
Many of those who took the cultural orthodoxy of bemoaning the “evils” of populism, or conservative and nationalist political movement as the “sceptre” of the 1930’s now seem very content to virtue signal for police state measures.
If we are to make it through, as “business as usual” recommences, many of these people who wrapped themselves in a comfortable lie may well revert to it as if nothing happened. Like all true narcissists, they were using the prevailing ideology as a mere conduit for power.
Since last Friday, we have been encouraged to stay at home and not stray more than 2km from our residence, whilst international flights arrive into Dublin airport daily. Those who uphold the virtues of the contemporary liberal orthodoxy are now the ones who take a moral obligation on restraints of liberties. Whilst some of these stances might seem like pure common sense, it also speaks of how malleable such an audience can be in the face of political control.
Whilst the virus is known to have caused deaths, particularly amongst the elderly and those with underlying conditions, the real fear is that medical services will be stretched to the extent that they can no longer provide adequate care.
There is also the fear that supply lines may run out eventually. Products such as toilet roll, hand sanitizers and face masks, which have become prioritized in the consumer panic, have already become the subject of debates about price gouging.
News and information has been transformed almost overnight. The consumer habitat has changed from being based on the desires of the consumer to something with more of a basis in actual needs. COVID-19 now takes up a very sizable chunk of the notifications that you’ll see in shops. Public relations, marketing communications, branding and advertising have taken a severe hit and don’t penetrate the consumer experience in the way they did before. Public service announcements frequently accompany radio and broadcast and insert an aura of trepidation that simply wasn’t there before.
Celebrity culture is feeling the pressure too, and the mass media industry is feeling the effects. RTE’s Claire Byrne, who has now officially been diagnosed with Covid-19, presented her usual studio audience show from her garden shed, in what the Irish Times Ed Power described as “low-key terrifying”.
Without the glossy effects of multiple cameras, and an ensuing lack of dynamism from a lack of audience, the disconnect is very clear. In a video now regarded as cringeworthy, a series of A-list celebrities including Gal Gadot, Mark Ruffalo, Will Ferrell, Chris O’Dowd and Sarah Silverman sing a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” to try to somehow enhance global solidarity. Singer Sam Smith was also criticised for posting Instagram pictures of his “quarantine breakdown”.
All this seems to point to an obvious unease amongst the entertainment elite. Their new inability to directly connect with mass audiences in a physical setting clearly suggests that vampiric narcissists aren’t getting the blood they so desire, because they actually now have to live with themselves. However, while these sorrowful millionaires suffer from their mansions, begging for internet reacts, normal people will be losing their jobs and livelihoods.
The industries of mass culture and globalist hegemons are using this to double down on encouraging the individual consumer to consume more. One of the most cynical examples of this are websites such as Pornhub offering free subscriptions to users globally. This was first rolled out in Italy, where there have now been more than 10000 deaths as a result of the disease.
It is very telling about how many other actors of a so called “ethical capitalism” will try to seize gains amidst this. As the crisis rolls on, companies are trying more and more to sell the public a respectable face, in spite of representing industries that are often morally questionable in the first place.
These actions though have reeked less of opportunism than of desperation. With a new economic crisis looming, it is clear that the powers that be are starting to sweat. Irish economist Dan O’Brien, in language explicable of the ideals of the Celtic Tiger years, stated on RTE that the public need to spend “as much as they can” in what can only be described as a desperate attempt to prevent the inevitable.
Whilst many are encouraging us to stay home and watch television, you should not feel bound to a fate of merely indulging in entertainment. You can indeed challenge that fate, and instead do good things that you might not have found the time to do. Read books, write, compose, make food, learn courses online, be productive. Whilst we’re in a crisis, let us not be condemned to doom and gloom, and perhaps embrace the notion that in the middle of a struggle, great things can be created. Our ancestors at certain points gave their lives for such things. Right now, all that is being asked of us is our time, and God knows we have plenty of that right now.