By Tom Penn
As ongoing infringements upon life continue to make the poor of the world even poorer, I recently received this message from a dear friend during a discussion concerning pre-‘Freedom’ Day restrictions:
‘On a personal level, as I mentioned before, I’m thoroughly enjoying the whole thing. I’m mostly interested to observe how western people are dealing with their freedoms (pub closures in particular) being taken away.’
It was a slant on lockdowns I’d not yet encountered, but the more I reflected upon his words, the more eerie I found the thinking behind them: that citizens of the world’s WEIRD countries (Western, Educated, Industrialised, Rich and Democratic) are long overdue a dollop of societal suffering, in the form of reduced ‘privileges’. We have enjoyed far too long a stint of personal liberty and luxury; paid for in part, with the direct or indirect shackling of those in the developing world.
It’s fair to say that our foreign policies do indeed keep our pantries brimmed with a disproportionate amount of plundered resources – and subsequently, a tasty selection of opportunities and freedoms – and that our gleeful materialism is dependent upon both the atrocious labour conditions of those who manufacture our cretinous distractions, and the resultant poisoning of their own natural habitats to boot.
Yet if our advantages must come at the cost of widespread, international misery, then in what sense can we possibly regard ourselves as inhabiting the land of the free? If, out of sheer necessity it seems, we must partially enslave the citizenry of the developing world to prop-up our vainglorious and aimless lifestyles, then westerners are not luxuriating in selfdom, but drowning in the self-deceiving whirlpool of sympathetic deficiency.
And just like exploited, neglected people the world over struggling to clamber their way out of repression, swimming free of the vortex will likewise require both monumental effort, and serendipity. One demographic is imprisoned in an acrid mega-factory, the other in empathetic depravity.
Pub closures were not what caused us all of a sudden to squirm in the face of prohibitive new boundaries on our liberty: we’ve been squirming for decades already – in the internment of our ideological psychosis. A case of irritating eczema was merely added to the leprosy we had long-ago learned to live with.
Our collective Legoland of FisherPrice mansions has created a sprawling slum of callous indifference toward those who pay dearly for its unrelenting expansion, and yet we somehow perceive this Faustian favela to be the heart of civilised existence.
To a degree then, we’re as enslaved as those who have nowt, except that they know exactly where they stand in the global pecking-order. We on the other hand believe ourselves free to act almost as we please; demented in our stubborn insistence that we reside somewhere in the upper echelons of human achievement. Yet we are simply exercising a phoney autonomy, and one that our Parliamentary line-managers must find utterly hilarious.
Both are downright shambolic, painful states of being. One throbs with the honest, yet excruciating vagaries of a human condition forcibly confronted. The other is an ultimately no less smarting fool’s paradise – the depressive bubble-wrap of a self-aggrandising schizophrenia.
Severely draining the fundamental lifeblood of our existence – human interaction – is corrosive to our vital sense of interconnectivity. If Covid-19 had a survival rate of only 50% our hand would have been forced on the matter, but at 99%+?
Excessive bloodletting of the weirdos of the West, is like withdrawing the one aspect of treatment capable of tackling their sympathetic anaemia. And this will mean a fresh batch of life-sentences for some 5th class global citizens residing somewhere in the neo-unreality of Bongo-Bongo Land – official classification ‘invisible’ under the triennial review of the traffic-light system for travel – who NEED someone to cast them a glance now and again. But nobody will be looking up from the rabid Netflix-marathons of their new, kennelled lives.
According to Oxfam: ‘The 1,000 richest people on the planet recouped their COVID-19 losses within just nine months, but it could take more than a decade for the world’s poorest to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic… We stand to witness the greatest rise in inequality since records began. The deep divide between the rich and poor is proving as deadly as the virus.’ 
If you drive a wedge between people using repressive NPIs (non-pharmaceutical interventions), you begin eroding their capacity for global human empathy.
In March this year the British government exemplified this by slashing its aid to Yemen by almost 50%, yet remained quite content to continue selling arms to Saudi Arabia, who seem determined to preserve the world’s largest humanitarian crisis for as long as possible.
Sorry guys, we spunked it all on some empty Nightingale hospitals, unusable PPE, paying employed people not to work, and the health-app equivalent of a Tetris game in which every third block is a ball.
Meanwhile, as we were paid handsomely in fear-dollars to sit on our asses at home, I suspect that the average Yemeni famine-victim would’ve ripped someone’s ventilator off and stuck his tongue down their throat in order to secure one square meal a day and a modicum of dignity for his family; consequences be damned. Less than two months later, we on the other hand needed the BBC to educate us on the new and safer way to hug.
Piece by piece our commonality is being dismantled, and if we truly are the puppets of the collective of nations manning the Punch and Judy show of geo-economics, then our additional string of suffocated interactivity is going to have dire consequences for a developing world quickly being fictionalised.
Whilst we’re still wary of each other’s breath, still stepping back from each other in queues, and persistently fist-bumping instead of hugging – thus abrading the precious insights gleaned from millennia of exchanges and interplay – the numbers of actual human beings squatting in the dust of some far-off land, awaiting an aid convoy long-overdue, will slowly increase a hundred-fold.
For some, going to the pub was one of the few ways in which to bolster their sense of being a living, breathing, conscious organism; capable of participating in the two-way street of a conversation, or the socially-intimate rubbing together of shoulders with strangers at the bar. Inhibit such mingling, or rob it of its essential essence with stifling Covid protocol, and people will remain at home and do nothing but peer into the fantasy-infested screens of their televisions and smartphones – the outside world and the plight of its people dissolving with every tap, scroll or hour comatose.
Interventions that senselessly constrict vital human interaction, won’t wake the West up to the reality of the meagre privileges that legions of developing world inhabitants endure as standard. So enjoying the temporary, retributive ‘levelling of the playing field’ therefore, is of deadly harm to both, but an insult only to one.
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