August 8, 2020

LIONEL SHRIVER: Never has a virus been so oversold.

I’m currently in New York, where the medical paranoia is sustained, and social life is nearly nonexistent. This week, a rarity, a couple came inside our house. They didn’t sit down, didn’t stay long, and were careful not to touch anything. When they left they were clearly relieved, and immediately doused themselves in hand sanitizer. I don’t think it’s going to be any different next summer. Google, for example, has already advised its employees to work from home for the next 12 months.

The graph of new cases in the UK roughly leveled off throughout July — but it has not plateaued at zero. The PM gives every indication that only zero will do. Thus as long as the coronavirus persists, the fearful prophylactic measures will continue. In trade for this valiant vigilance on our behalf, we merely have to sacrifice: our friends. Any new friends. All live performance — music, plays. Restaurants. All occasions, like proper weddings, funerals, birthdays and extended-family celebrations. Travel. Colleagues. Any search for love. Any moving communal experience, like festivals. Dentistry. A functional National Health Service. Oh, and the economy — and in case you need translation, that means the country, full stop.

Boris’s ‘nuclear option’ of another total national lockdown remains on the table. Why on earth? The one constructive conclusion to draw from this debacle is that long, indiscriminate national lockdowns to suppress infectious disease are a catastrophe. Yet the most horrifying consequence of COVID-19 could be that lockdown — which once applied only to prisons — becomes officialdom’s established knee-jerk response to any new contagion.

There will be a new contagion, too, and a new one after that. How many times can you send the national debt soaring, devastate small business, paralyze government services — including healthcare — and cancel for months on end the civil liberties of an erstwhile ‘free people’? In preference to this repeated carpet-bombing, a literal nuclear option might at least get the agony over with fast.

Hopefully that’s a Biden-style “literal” unless Shriver is going full Gen. Jack D. Ripper, which I doubt. Which is why, Virginia Postrel warns: Depressed Now? Just Wait for the Rest of 2020:

Last year, more than 55 million Americans traveled at least 50 miles for Thanksgiving. The most traditional Thanksgiving songs are “We Gather Together” and “Over the River and Through the Woods.” It is a holiday celebrated by coming together. Its meaning depends on gathering around a festive table.

Not this year. “This will be the first Thanksgiving in 20 years that we don’t fly to Maryland to see my family,” says an L.A. friend. “That’s particularly hard as this will be the first holiday season since my dad passed. It’s depressing, honestly.”

When Walmart and Target recently announced they’d keep stores closed on Thanksgiving, they weren’t signaling a more meaningful, less materialistic holiday season. They were anticipating the exact opposite: a lonely fall and winter, devoid of the rituals and gatherings that give the season its emotional resonance.

Black Friday is more than a retailing bonanza or consumerist frenzy. It’s a celebration. For many Americans, it’s a way to get into the seasonal mood — to go out in public with friends and family and anticipate Christmas.

Covid-19’s medical and economic impact is notoriously uneven. Its psychological toll is less so.

Even if you’re a healthy, highly paid online worker with a big house, a surging financial portfolio and no homeschooling duties, you can’t host a big dinner to celebrate Rosh Hashanah, visit your extended family for Thanksgiving, or attend a Lessons and Carols service on Christmas Eve or a performance of Handel’s “Messiah.” All that singing is dangerous.

No matter how insulated you are from the medical and economic effects of the pandemic, you feel its social repercussions.

“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbles Jo in the opening line of “Little Women.” This year, Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presence.

It’s gloomy stuff, straight with no chaser, and was too much for at least one person: Postrel published a “Redacted version of the weirdest hate mail ever” on her Facebook page.

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