(Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Life has become the avoidance of death

In the continual absence of metaphysics, life – shaped for many years by the pursuit of comfort – is now defined by the avoidance of death.

I must confess that gratitude was not always forthcoming whilst jostling for service at a crowded pre-Covid bar.

Yet the now silent sterility of Britain’s once bustling pubs perfectly personifies our ‘new normal’. Separated into smaller ‘bubbles’, prohibited from interacting with others, the demise of such establishments is an inevitable consequence of enforced estrangement.

While pubs on one level are just a convivial way to dress up our social hopes, the pandemic state of them illustrates a wider truth. For life, the way we live it now, means that the avoidance of death is more important than what we do with what we’ve got.

When Covid-19 emerged, many millions of drifting souls, finally forced to confront their own mortality, looked to their governing elite for direction, and unsurprisingly found neither courage nor perspective, just naked fear.

Politicians quickly established that success would not be measured by the moral integrity, sustainability, or wider consequences of their decisions, nor even on nuanced comparisons between affected nations, but solely on the headline number of direct deaths from Covid, screeched repeatedly by ratings-obsessed ‘journalists’.

As such, they eagerly, noisily, affected to cede control to ‘experts’, tasked not with a holistic consideration of risk and reward, but pursuit of a tunnel vision crusade to defeat a highly communicable disease by any means necessary.

This well intentioned desire to ‘save’ too often results in callous indifference to those who were dying

Almost immediately, every relational, fulfilling, communitarian component of human existence was sacrificed, with society – whipped into frenzy by a compliant press, happily policing its own lack of dissent – transfixed by the fallacious elimination of ‘preventable death’.

As television cameras scoured intensive care wards for the most dehumanising footage of suffering, death was afforded unprecedented power as a weapon; transformed into a tool for behavioural modification.

But in the avoidance of death at any cost, life is homogenised and cheapened. Whilst well intentioned, a desire to ‘save’ too often results in callous indifference to those who were dying.

Family members – their deepest instincts dulled by daily prophecies of doom at self-aggrandising briefings – were prevented from embracing those in the final throes of life. Little comfort the Health Secretary’s subsequent acknowledgment that it ‘might’ have been a mistake to stop people from attending the funerals of those they loved.

Likewise, those unable to access desperately needed non-Covid-related medical treatment. So long as their illness and demise are not easily identifiable on a Good Morning Britain graph, they are forgotten or ignored.

The collective mantra, ‘stay home, save lives’ hastens a shifting emphasis away from the solidarity of communal living towards narrowly defined social networks. Masks, intended to be a performative act for the comfort of others, instead reinforce the notion that the unfamiliar are a threat to our health and wellbeing, so relegating the warmth of a human smile from the public square to private realm.

Constantly haunted by warnings that reunion might result in a ‘deadly second wave’, innumerable ‘little platoons’ have not and will not return. This is the harm actually, irrevocably being done to society now. Note well the shrillness of those insisting, ‘what harm can masks do?!’ They screech this disingenuous question precisely because they at some level know exactly how much harm is being done to freely lived life by this medical-security theatre.

And throughout all this, as the signature tone of our secular times, civic righteousness is defined as blind adherence to guidelines.

Take the instance of a bakery worker, sacked after 44 years, for accepting cash from elderly customers unable to pay by card. Little matter that her actions were motivated by kindness and care, she was, apparently, “endangering staff members’ lives”. Evidence for this claim is of course unnecessary: we’re taking metaphysical crimes here, not physical ones.

Obviously, for elites surrounded by established, mobile support networks and insulated by their furloughed Deloitte wage, afternoon gin and tonics in the park will only ever taste so bitter. After all, ‘better safe than sorry’ has a particular resonance for those with most. But for those to whom the beauty of a church service or hug of a grandchild is everything, the compulsory removal of the joyous and particular is catastrophic.

As R.R Reno articulates cogently:

‘The Coronavirus pandemic is real, just as the problems of obesity and adult-onset diabetes are real. The virus spreads and sickens. People die real deaths. But the “crisis” was constructed by elites, just as other health crises are constructed’.

In vain, some naively optimistic characters looked to the church – once a provider of belonging and identity – for an alternative narrative. Instead they witnessed a decaying institution retreat behind the nonsensical idea that the intimacy of worship and complexity of fellowship could be replicated online. Leaders muttered that ‘people’s safety is paramount’, while tacitly reinforcing the notion that eternity must bow to the temporal.

In the continual absence of metaphysics, life – shaped for many years by the pursuit of comfort – is now defined by the avoidance of death.

Doctors and scientists insist we can ‘win the war against Covid’. Perhaps they are right.

And yet, though measured precautions against any transmittable disease are desirable, it seems unwise indeed to spend life in perpetual physical battle with inevitable mortality. Better surely to cultivate faith, intimacy, courage, beauty, truth, and dignity –without which human existence can barely be considered life at all.

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