By Leigh Armitage
Confirmed cases in US surpass 3 million. Illegal ‘Quarantine’ raves in England. Parts of Europe
and Australia imposing new lockdowns. Whatever is the mindset of the people behind these
headlines? Cussedness, Ignorance, Fatalism ... or something else?
In the hundred plus days since the WHO declared Covid-19 as a pandemic, millions
around the world have done their best to follow social distancing and quarantine measures to
keep themselves and others safe. However, a growing, alarming, number persist in disobeying
the rules, some flagrantly, others covertly. Never mind that in most countries these rules are the
In disbelief, we’ve watched the videos, seen the pictures, read the news reports. Few
democratic states who freely share information have escaped the collective folly of masses of
people indulging in reckless behaviour. They congregate on beaches or parks, party
indiscriminately, violate others’ space or loiter in grocery stores, dodge mandatory isolation,
refuse to wear masks. The list goes on. And the problem is not confined to any one adult age
group. It cuts across most of them as well as professions. Some of the most egregious incidents
have come to light through so-called leaders being caught breaking their own rules. It’s no
wonder front-line workers who are daily risking their lives and those who are working to bring
this virus under control are in despair? They and we are right to see the Yahoos (think
Gulliver’s Travels) as a menace to us all.
They fly in the face of warnings, pleadings, and threats of penalties. Nothing gets
through to them. Governments wring their hands but seem unable to control them. It would be
absurd, were the potential consequences not so lethal. Are they just plain stupid? Are they serial
lawbreakers? Do they truly believe they have an inherent right to do exactly as they please and
to hell with everyone else? For some these reasons may be true; for others not.
Perhaps for those others, it’s denial, a refusal to face reality? Perhaps it has something to
do with the initial branding of the virus –'Novel Corona’. Say it out loud, and it doesn’t sound
too nasty. Possibly that was the intent but, though the label might be correct, it evoked images of
a cosy book and a glass of beer. As the death toll spirals upward, we don’t hear that name so
So, here’s a theory that may explain the cavalier attitudes of those who are putting our
lives in jeopardy. It’s based on a deep-rooted fear of the unseen monster we’ve carried deep
inside ourselves since our earliest days. Remember being afraid to sleep in case the monster
came out of the closet or from under the bed to attack us? If we gave in to sleep it might get us.
And when we did sleep, it often haunted our dreams. By day we could banish it, not so much in
the dark aloneness of our beds.
Where did those night terrors come from? Maybe they started when someone first said
‘Boo!’ Or maybe they came from chilling fairy tales and folklore, or the lurid comics we later
read. In them though, evil was usually vanquished along with its perpetrators. These were
cautionary tales, and our fears could be contained within their pages, only to be magnified by
imagination. Images on the screen, though, were not so easily controllable.
Apparently innocuous programs like ‘Sesame Street’ could spawn terror. Remember The
Count? Plenty of adults probably still do and not with affection. Movies ostensibly for children
are loaded with wicked characters who could frighten the wits out of a five year-old. (Make that
a thirty year-old.) Video games and adult movies are jam-packed with violence, often with plots
of destruction threatening the world -- ultimately you or me. Yet, even Dracula -- the archetype
of vampiric fear -- may be tolerated if not confronted with his visual depiction.
Covid-19 takes us back to the fear of the grotesque, but unlike fiction it is real. It can get
us. And it’s not fear-mongering to say it. Nor is it anything like the world wars it has been
compared with. In those horrifying days, society came together as one to fight a common foe it
could see. Now society has been wrenched apart, fragmented, to fight an enemy it can never see
– until it catches us. As adults, few of us like to have our day to day freedoms curtailed and be
told what we can and cannot do. We’re social beings and crave physical contact especially in
times of trial, but we can’t have it. It’s too risky.
The virus doesn’t discriminate. The wealthy can’t escape it, nor can the poor, though the
latter are disproportionately affected. Weak and strong can be felled by it. It lurks on the lips of
a friend, on the hands of the courageous grocery store clerk on minimum wage, on the bags she
has so carefully packed for you, on the pump you lift at the petrol station. It’s anywhere and
everywhere, despite all efforts of sanitization. We now know that the young are not immune,
and the virus may be mutating. Scary stuff.
The media is not necessarily to blame, though social media sometimes propagates false
information and stokes irrational fears. As for fear -- our parents taught us well – they thought.
Don’t be afraid, they told us, or at least don’t show it. Confront your fears and they won’t defeat
you. If a dog threatens, stare it down and it won’t bite. If it smells your fear though, it might.
Stand up straight and stare down the bully. He’s really just a coward. It’s all you have to do.
Victims of bullies, or dogs, know this isn’t always so.
One piece of parental advice does hold true. Face your fears. But, while you’re doing it,
don’t imagine it will make this particular monster go away or offer you some magical protection
against it. This crisis isn’t going away any time soon. It may be a very long time before we feel
safe again even with a vaccine. How we live with such uncertainty will be another question for
those who survive.
We are not entirely helpless. Denial won’t help us. Accepting Covid-19 as real just
might. Based on what we know today, and knowledge shifts daily, our best hope of keeping the
virus away is to do what we’re told and whatever else we can think of to protect those we love
and everyone else.
Early April (Easter) saw the first examples of mind-boggling selfishness. As the world
has cautiously tried to re-open, the benefits of the lockdown millions have endured for the
greater good will quickly unravel if the irresponsible behaviour of a small percentage of
individuals (which translates into thousands) escalates unchecked as it seems to be doing.
Knowing the likelihood of this, it would be all too easy to give into the notion that
nothing we do to keep the monster at bay will be enough to save us. That’s fatalism, and its
infection is no less toxic than cussedness and ignorance. Or the virus itself.
[A footnote: since writing this, several states in the US and several areas of other
countries have reimposed lockdowns to try and stem the flood of new cases. Hopefully they
aren’t bolting the stable door after the horse has bolted.]
The writer has no medical/psychological credentials, and the views expressed here are her own.