There’s a HuffPost headline I think about a lot, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot this week:
“I Don’t Know How To Explain To You That You Should Care About Other People”
Because I honestly and truly don’t know how to explain to the UK that you should care about other people.
At the start of the week I wrote about how being scared of becoming ill was making me ill. Since publishing I’ve had some really good conversations with other people anxious about the COVID19 outbreak. I’ve also stuck to only reading the facts.
And as the week continued, the facts made it totally clear that I was worrying the exact right amount.
And now I’m scared of how few people are worrying at all.
I live in Toronto, but am incredibly plugged in to UK news and I don’t know how to explain to people in the UK that you should care about other people.
Logging onto Instagram on Sunday morning and seeing story upon story of people in bars, in cinemas, at gigs, in restaurants. Logging onto Facebook and seeing people still going on holiday. People stockpiling bog roll but then going to an arena to see the band Stereophonics?
In Toronto, most people I know with office jobs are working from home for the foreseeable. Schools are closed, events are cancelled, and the government is advising all Canadians to return to the motherland ASAP “while the option is still available”.
In the UK, people are still setting off on holiday and partying and going to school and work.
I guess it was only inevitable that Britain would end up this way.
Brexit was a complicated matter, and it’s not fair for me to say that the people who voted to leave are selfish. There are a lot of genuine issues around wealth distribution, chronic underfunding of services, and bias in the media that led many people to vote leave.
But the “I’m alright, Jack”-ness of large portions of the Brexit vote should have been a warning.
The element of selfishness has ran through UK politics over the past decade, and the impact of that is about to become a catastrophe.
Most people aren’t inherently selfish, but they are influenced by their situations. When you’ve been living under extreme austerity for a decade, it’s very easy to worry about yourself first.
When you have a 0 hours contract on minimum wage, you’ll want to make sure you eat. When your wages haven’t risen but your rent sure has, you can feel like you really deserve that holiday. When your family hasn’t had a good day in years, it can be easy to put yourself first.
But approaching a pandemic from an individualistic stand point is a guarantee of disaster.
There’s a reason that Pandemic, the board game, is a co-operative battle.
We need to think about how our actions will affect others. Sure, you might not get seriously ill — but you could be a carrier. And if you met a friend for lunch in a crowded space, the person next to you might pick up the virus (that you have carried). And if they then have to go and work in a supermarket they might infect another person. 8 other people. 100 people. And if 80% of those 100 people get ill, then anywhere between 1–4 of those people will die, as it currently stands.
Think about how many of those 100 people wouldn’t die if you’d both stayed at home.
Think about how many times a day this situation is happening. Think about people travelling from their town to another, and introducing the virus there. Think about people travelling abroad, and bringing the virus with them.
Social distancing will help slow the rate of infection. We need to make short term sacrifices for long term stability.
We also have to, inherently, believe this is happening.
The people of the UK fought on the beaches and the fields and they can keep calm and carry on through any disaster, natural or man made.
But the problem is a) lots of people didn’t survive WW2, and b) you can’t ‘positive vibes’ a pandemic away.
Experts are experts because they know more than you. Experts are experts because not every person in the world can be expected to know all things. Instead, we share the things around, ask everybody to know 1 or 2 things.
Experts are experts because we need their expertise.
During Brexit it became very clear that the UK is “sick of experts”.
“people in this country have had enough of experts”
— Michael Gove, the then Justice Secretary of the UK, in 2016
With the wealth of information on the internet it can be easy to skim the facts and assume you understand a situation. But I don’t think that’s whats happening here. I don’t think any of the facts would result in the amount of blasé that the UK seems to be experiencing.
I think that people are hearing the experts and choosing not to listen. I know the government are hearing the experts and choosing not to listen.
The government, especially, are acting reprehensively at the moment. They are choosing not to act at all. When our near and far neighbours are closing the borders and the schools, the UK government is advising people to wash their hands. The NHS is chronically under funded and struggles to cope with a normal flu season. This passiveness will directly lead to deaths.
But for the people who have access to the facts and are choosing to ignore them? Now is not the time for selfishness.
And it’s really hard, you know. The structures of society are against us. We can’t afford stable housing, or good food, or regular relaxation. Our jobs are hard and our families are sick and we’re very very scared of falling so far in the hole that we can’t crawl back out.
But in the past week, these structures have proven themselves to be flexible. We *can* work remotely in lots of jobs. We *can* get forgiveness on debt interest. We *can* have a mortgage holiday. The government *can* magic up more money for Wall Street. We *can* cancel flights and be refunded.
Knowing that these structures that keep us in this selfish mindset are changeable is greatly hopeful for the days and weeks after the pandemic. But it also means that we shouldn’t be using these structures as an excuse for selfishness now.
It’s easy to conflate the “experts” giving advice to stay inside with the “experts” in government who cut local funding again and again and again. It can be hard to trust when you’ve been lied to so many times.
When things are so hard for so long, it’s natural to want to indulge in something good.
When you’ve survived so much, it’s natural to think you can survive a little more.
And I get it. I really do. With great sadness I cancelled a much needed trip home to the UK in April. But it’s not fair for me to travel at this point. The responsible thing to do is stay in Toronto for the time being.
It’s easy to lean into the “this virus isn’t going to stop me living my life” narrative, but it’s really really important that this virus stops you living your life for a little while. To protect the wider community.
If you have the privilege of not having to go into a workplace at the moment, you should take that. If you can cook at home rather than eat out, do that too. If you can pass on a gig, you should.
Now isn’t the time to keep calm and carry on.
If everybody acts quickly now, it’ll seem like we all overreacted in a month. And that’s the goal.
People are “sick of experts” because they don’t see the work that experts do.
We don’t see the disasters that experts prevented.
The Millennium Bug is commonly cited as a time the world overreacted to something that turned out to be nothing. But that’s because we didn’t see the hard work that experts put in to prevent it from becoming something.
20 Years Later, the Y2K Bug Seems Like a Joke-Because Those Behind the Scenes Took It Seriously
After a sigh of relief in the first few days of January 2000, Y2K morphed into a punch line. What would have happened…
But with the current COVID19 outbreak, it’s past the point where experts can fix it alone. They need us to step up.
It’s truly shocking that none of the “we survived WW2” lot have jumped on the chance to be heroes yet, but there’s still time. Every day of inaction now is another day of disaster later.
Think bigger than yourself today, this week, this month. Listen to experts. Stop going on holiday. Practice social distancing. Encourage others to as well. Take the sesh digital — Google Hangouts is a great option.
The world will still be there once this is over, let’s make sure as many of us as possible are still around to enjoy it.
Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now
Politicians and Business Leaders: What Should You Do and When?
Social Distancing: This is Not a Snow Day
Originally published by Ariadne Labs on March 13, 2020