• Someone tell me what to do

    (Photo by Grant Durr)

    The world already had ‘strong leader syndrome’. And now this… Behind all the shock at the sudden curtailment of freedoms (in countries where they existed), how many of us are secretly relaxing into it?

    A few years back, I read Witold Szablowski’s book Dancing Bears: True Stories of People Nostalgic for Life Under Tyranny. Its basic premise was this: even after rescue and recuperation, dancing bears will still dance whenever they see a human. It’s hardwired into them. 

    Szablowski argued that the same goes for humans. Even after the chains of Communism were removed across Eastern Europe, give people a strong leader who tells them what to do, and they’ll still dance for them. 

    Who’s dancing now?

    There was much disapproval of the rise of leaders like Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. Then democracies like Hungary and Brazil voted in Viktor Orban and Jair Bolsonaro. Westerners shook their heads some more. 

    Then mature democracies like the US and Britain began voting for a bigger, culturally narrower, more intervening state. In Britain, they even voted voluntarily to curtail their own freedom of movement. 

    “The choice for mankind lies between freedom and happiness and for the bulk of mankind, happiness is better.”

    George Orwell

    I want to be free

    But with freedom comes pressure. If what comes next is up to you, then on your head be it. Suddenly we are confronted with the tyranny of (almost) infinite choice. 

    As soon as I limit those choices, things get easier. I can be anything! No, I can be male. I can be anything! No, I can be heterosexual. I can be anything! No, I can be British…

    I can do anything! No, I can’t leave my country. I can do anything! No, I can’t leave my house. I can do anything! What are we current allowed to do? 

    From one perspective, it looks like a prison, from another, it looks like the happiness of someone else telling you what to do, so you don’t have to think about it anymore. 

    Talking of freedom, Is It Your Right To Migrate?

  • Are you social distancing?

    (Photo by Everton Vila)

    This is an emergency. Where is the urgency, Sweden? Well, the same accusation was being flung at the UK until this week, but let’s look a little more closely at the facts. 

    Slowing the curve

    So, the scientific evidence is clear. During epidemics you get ‘the surge’, and the only way to avoid an uncontainable spike in cases is to limit people’s contact with each other, or ‘social distancing’. 

    This means, essentially, avoiding large-scale organized fun, no kissing, no bear hugs, dammit no shaking hands. It involves a nod at best, or if you’re getting avant-garde, a foot rub (through sealed footwear). 

    It means keeping chat to a bare minimum, and certainly making sure to avoid animated chat on subjects liable to impassion (to minimize the spread of saliva). Since coronavirus is the only subject in town, and a passionate one at that, it means zipping it. 

    Supermarket sweep

    It means heading to the supermarket at asocial hours when you are least likely to bump into people you might have to interact with either verbally or otherwise. 

    It involves dressing soberly, betraying no emotion, and acting as if everything is entirely normal. This, despite the fact that it’s clear there has been a run on legumes and toilet roll, like some strange inversion of a midsummer BBQ weekend. 

    But remember, the greatest scientific minds in our nations have been studying the facts, not the fake news. They have observed quite clearly that social distancing measures have been rigorously enforced by Swedes and Brits for generations. 

    Put out the fire

    Clearly, drastic measures were required in Italy, where social distancing was a concept so alien as to be entirely uncommunicable. The same goes for Spain and France. Even those hot-blooded Danes (the Latins of the Nordics) had to rein it in. 

    Meanwhile, life has continued entirely undisturbed in Sweden. Policy only started to shift in Britain when it was realised that eradicating free movement of people was a central plank of government policy. Talk about win-win…

    Yes, Swedes and Brits were separated at birth, and Swedes are just Brits with good branding