The Fever Shed: COVID-19 and the Dominion of Presentism

Clinging to the coast of Kyushu, in western Japan’s Fukuoka Prefecture, is the charming city of Fukutsu, home to such curiosities as a gargantuan five-ton rope talisman lashed to the Miyajidake Shrine, and a crowd-pleasing statue of a wave-surfing rabbit situated on the grounds of the Namiori Shrine. The former is thought to ward off disease while separating the sacred from the profane, never a bad idea, while the latter, installed in 1866, evokes the Japanese myth of the Hare of Inaba. Following the travails of a god who took the form of a hare, only to be mauled by sharks while swimming from the Island of Oki to the Hakuto Coast, the tale is to be found in the Kojiki, Japan’s oldest extant literary document. After washing ashore in a pitiable state, it was said that the hare stumbled upon Ōnamuchi-no-kami and his eighty older brothers. While the senior siblings cruelly urged the hare to bathe in briny ocean water and dry itself in the coarse wind, Ōnamuchi took pity and bade the creature wash itself in the mouth of a river and roll amidst the spongy, pollen-laden cattails. This act of beneficence towards the disguised god earned Ōnamuchi the hand of Princess Yakami of Inaba, and in time he would come to be known as the Shinto deity Ōkuninushi, ruler of the unseen world and patron deity of farming, nation-building, medicine and business—quite a portfolio.

This essay appears in May’s Quadrant.
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It is generally understood that the story of the Hare of Inaba is that of an early clash between barbarism and civilisation, but it also speaks to a keen awareness of the diverse facets of the natural world. Sometimes a source of peril, and sometimes a salve, nature gives and takes in equal measure, according to the dictates of the kami (if you are of the Shinto persuasion), or of the laws of biology, thermodynamics, and so forth (should you be of an unimaginatively scientific bent). The Japanese, situated as they are on the Pacific Ring of Fire, have long understood this. In the city of Fukutsu, the all-pervading struggle against nature has not always been an existential one—at least when compared to the usual tsunamis, earthquakes and mudslides—but it has proven vexing all the same. Until 2007, the Kamisaigo River that runs through Fukutsu’s downtown proved an unceasing source of trouble for the townsfolk. Canalised, bound by ugly concrete banks, devoid of wildlife, and altogether prone to flooding, the Kamisaigo served as a textbook example of the challenges inherent in mankind’s quest to tame the waters and subjugate nature.

In a bid to put an end to endemic flooding from river overflows once and for all, the city undertook a restoration project in conjunction with a design team from Kyushu University, led by Yukihiro Shimatani of the Laboratory of Hydrosphere Sustainability Engineering. After consulting local residents, the team worked to return the Kamisaigo to its original state as a countryside stream, removing the unsightly concrete revetments, doubling the span of the river, removing dams, rehabilitating pool and riffle habitats, and adding rock weirs and logs to facilitate the formation of eddies and verges, thereby creating a habitat fit for the Hare of Inaba’s ablutions. The project was not finished until 2013, but the results were worth the wait. “Old designs,” as Shimatani put it, “focused on human intentions. This one was natural. You can’t control a river. But you can recreate a natural environment for wildlife.”

By accepting nature’s vagaries, the city found itself with a new source of civic pride, a lush park in which children can hike, play and catch loaches, and a downtown far less prone to flooding. And by replacing brutalist revetments with lovely stone embankments, narrow constraints with generous proportions, and a sterile environment with a verdant landscape, the people of Fukutsu exposed a great many of modernity’s flaws.

G.K. Chesterton, in his 1931 essay “Holding on to Romanticism”, lamented:

The modern world seems to have no notion of preserving different things side by side, of allowing its proper and proportionate place to each, of saving the whole varied heritage of culture. It has no notion except that of simplifying something by destroying nearly everything.

The “simplification” of the Kamisaigo River via canalisation, one notes with interest, served only to expose the city to the constant risk of destruction. “Old designs,” by which Yukihiro Shimatani actually meant modern designs, focused on “human intentions” without realising that nature itself has no interest whatsoever in human intentions and designs. It is this larger lesson that we are realising as we try to adapt and survive in the face of the plague which has emerged from China’s Hubei Province, and as we face what Nicolas Hulot has rightly called “une sorte d’ultimatum de la nature”.

The lessons from the Kamisaigo restoration have only a tangential bearing on the current crisis, admittedly, but the notion of operating in conjunction with, rather than directly in opposition to, the forces of nature is rapidly becoming a matter of the utmost importance. I am in turn reminded of an extraordinary building erected by the University of Michigan back in 1914—the twenty-four-bed Contagious Hospital, which was of a design so clever that it could only have been produced in the past. After the smallpox epidemic of 1908 struck Ann Arbor, the city offered to provide funds with which to construct a hospital for the plague-stricken, so long as the university there provided the land and staff. As Dr Reuben Peterson observed in a May 1914 article for Transactions of the Clinical Society of the University of Michigan, the city “has found it a very expensive proposition to care for its contagious patients”, while:

the University has been in even a worse condition as regards contagious disease. House quarantining of students not only was ineffective but meant great loss to the student and the University. The University Hospital at times has suffered a great deal from different contagious epidemics which on a number of occasions has led to the quarantining for months of certain portions of the hospital.

Given the increasing awareness of the efficacy of the aseptic technique, and the novel realisation that, as Dr David Cowie wrote, “the very great majority of contagious and infectious diseases are communicated from one individual to another, or from one place to another, by means of direct or indirect contact. In other words, the infected person has come either in direct contact with the patient or with something that has, directly or indirectly, touched him,” the Contagious Hospital was designed accordingly. Resembling a pleasant bungalow, with each room given plenty of access to natural light and fresh air, the structure more importantly:

had an ingenious design, created entirely for infection prevention. Each room held two patients, and had two doors: one that opened into a central hallway, for doctors, nurses, cleaning staff and medical trainees to pass through, and one that opened onto a porch that wrapped around the entire building. The porch door allowed the patient’s bed to be wheeled through without passing other patients when they entered or left the hospital. It also allowed them to be taken out on the porch for some fresh air, which was considered to have healing properties. And large windows allowed medical students to stand on the porch as their professors discussed the care inside.

Upon the completion of the structure, Dr Peterson expressed confidence that “all patients, whether they be university students, city charges, or citizens of Ann Arbor, will be treated alike and that the administrative policy of this new pavilion will be satisfactory to all concerned”.

The proof of the pudding would be found in the eating, of course, and the facility was quickly tested by everything from measles and mumps to diphtheria and tuberculosis. The establishment was particularly well-timed, given that the Spanish flu arrived in Ann Arbor only a few years later, on September 23, 1918. A 1919 report to the University of Michigan Board of Regents testified to the value of the Contagious Hospital, finding as it did that only five students had perished of influenza, even though the disease, with its attendant cytokine storm, inflicted its highest rate of mortality on young adults. Thus did this early evidence-based facility, which differed so much in aesthetics and layout from the hospitals before its time and even of today, earn its place in the annals of Western medicine.

The landscapes of the past were once dotted with lazarettos, fever sheds, pesthouses, plague houses, and, unfortunately, plague pits and waste ponds for the rapid disposal of victims. These of course no longer exist, though the jury-rigged hospitals in China and the US Navy hospital ships dispatched to Los Angeles and New York City are now serving a similar function. Indeed we find ourselves unexpectedly in need of buildings “created entirely for infection prevention”, with the average modern hospital seldom fitting the bill. An important March 21 article written by clinicians in hard-hit Bergamo, Italy, “At the Epicenter of the COVID-19 Pandemic and Humanitarian Crises in Italy: Changing Perspectives on Preparation and Mitigation”, argued that “Western health care systems have been built around the concept of patient-centered care, but an epidemic requires a change of perspective toward a concept of community-centered care.” The authors likewise observed:

hospitals might be the main COVID-19 carriers, as they are rapidly populated by infected patients, facilitating transmission to uninfected patients. Patients are transported by our regional system which also contributes to spreading the disease as its ambulances and personnel rapidly become vectors. Health workers are asymptomatic carriers or sick without surveillance; some might die, including young people, which increases the stress of those on the front line.

Given that COVID-19 appears to manifest itself differently depending on the level of viral load, and appears to be a disease that thrives inordinately on population density—though microbiologists and epidemiologists will naturally have the last word on the specifics of the virus and its spread—the importance of keeping hospitals from being overwhelmed for the sake of the infected, the uninfected, health workers, visiting priests and family members is obviously critical. Regrettably, the nature of our health system and even the physical layout of most hospitals make this a positively herculean task. Footage of, for instance, Spanish victims of the coronavirus lying in hospital hallways, coughing and groaning, and potentially infecting and re-infecting any and all who pass by, amply demonstrates the wisdom of Drs Cowie and Peterson, and all those responsible for the marvel that was the Contagious Hospital. Somewhere along the line, the hard-won wisdom of previous generations—hamstrung as they were by limited knowledge of infectious diseases and even more limited anti-bacterial and anti-viral resources—seems to have been lost.

One of the hallmarks of our modern civilisation is the self-soothing conceit that we somehow exist outside the broader course of nature and history, our society’s predilection for virtue-signalling in the form of ersatz environmentalism and historical grievance-mongering notwithstanding. Consider Francis Fukuyama’s 2006 afterword to his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, that book which notoriously identified “the end-point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”, a theory which is not exactly being borne out by the socio-political data furnished by our own era. Reflecting on subsequent developments, Fukuyama held that:

There is thus a twofold agenda that faces us. In the developed world, Europe faces a major crisis in its welfare state over the coming generations of declining population and unaffordable entitlements and regulation. But in the developing world, there is an absence of stateness that prevents economic development and that serves as a breeding ground for a host of problems such as refugees, disease, and terrorism. Consequently there are very different agendas in the two parts of the world: to cut back the scope of the state in the developed world, but to strengthen the state in many parts of the developing world.

None of his observations here are wholly misguided, at least from the bog-standard liberal perspective. But there is a suggestion that disease is a problem specific to the developing world, even though he was writing in the immediate aftermath of the SARS outbreak that originated in Foshan, China, but ominously spread internationally, albeit with a relatively small number of deaths (774 or so). There is also a lack of awareness that problems originating in the developing world invariably become those of the developed world, particularly when the states that comprise the latter similarly lack the “stateness” required to combat, or at the very least shield themselves from, global threats.

It is, in the end, rather more comforting to avert one’s gaze from the lessons of history than to heed them. One of the most important of these lessons, as expounded upon by the brilliant Hans Zinsser in Rats, Lice, and History (1934), is:

Swords and lances, arrows, machine guns, and even high explosives have had far less power over the fates of nations than the typhus louse, the plague flea, and the yellow-fever mosquito. Civilizations have retreated from the plasmodium of malaria, and armies have crumbled into rabbles under the onslaught of cholera spirilla, or of dysentery and typhoid bacilli. Huge areas have been devastated by the trypanosome that travels on the wings of the tsetse fly, and generations have been harassed by the syphilis of the courtier. War and conquest and that herd existence which is an accompaniment of what we call civilization have merely set the stage for these more powerful agents of human tragedy.

We have been thrown back into history, and must again consider the implications of epidemics on internal politics and geopolitics, from the Plague of Athens onwards. Recall Thucydides’s vivid description of the effect of the plague on the first democracy, during which:

among other things which they remembered in their distress was, very naturally, the following verse which the old men said had long ago been uttered: “A Dorian war shall come and with it death.” So a dispute arose as to whether dearth and not death had not been the word in the verse; but at the present juncture, it was of course decided in favour of the latter; for the people made their recollection fit in with their sufferings.

We are learning, of course, that “dearth” and “death” are not mutually exclusive.

More and more we are obliged to consider the relatively successful approaches to Spanish flu adopted in places as far-flung as American Samoa, St Louis, and Gunnison, Colorado, as well as the unsuccessful efforts in places like Western Samoa and Philadelphia. We are forced to look at Dr John Snow’s efforts to combat cholera in mid-nineteenth-century Soho, and the botched approach to that same disease in 1892 Hamburg. We must grapple with what Steven Johnson, in The Ghost Map, called our “conversion to a city-planet” and its implications for public health, given that “traditional bombs obviously grow more deadly as the populations they target increase in size, but the upward slope in that case is linear. With epidemics, the deadliness grows exponentially.” Historians and archaeologists have long known that cities are traditionally massive mortality sinks. Advances in modern medicine and hygiene gave those like Jane Jacobs, writing in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, cause to believe that, contrary to the historical record, cities might serve as “great disease conquerors”, but it is much more likely that the diseases were merely taking the age-old approach of reculer pour mieux sauter.

Historical ignorance has allowed us the freedom to engage in pure folly, for example the inexcusable failure of the United States to substantially replenish its strategic stockpile of face masks after the H1N1 influenza pandemic of 2009, or the willingness to almost wholly outsource the manufacture of vital medicine and medical supplies to a strategic rival. At the same time, historical ignorance has created a citizenry with no frame of reference for the pandemics of the past, like the Spanish flu that infected as many as 500 million worldwide (killing roughly a tenth of that number), the 1957-58 H2N2 pandemic that took 1.1 million lives worldwide, the 1968 H3N2 pandemic that killed another million, and a myriad of other pandemics throughout time. Even the 2009 swine flu pandemic killed somewhere between 150,000 to 575,000, while an average flu year on its own produces 290,000 to 650,000 deaths globally. These numbers have hardly been mentioned during the coverage of COVID-19, though they would provide valuable context for policy-makers and those frightened members of the populace who have (by definition) lived through these grim events.

Archaeologists are fond of utilising the concept of systems collapse to explain civilisational catastrophes and anastrophes, and we are witnessing just such an event, one which has, according to the French journalist Renaud Girard, “mis en lumière la faillite de trois idéologies: le communisme, leuropéisme, le mondialisme [brought to light the bankruptcy of three ideologies: communism, Europeanism, and globalism]”, amongst other public and private institutions. If this is the result of “the final form of human government” then I suspect a great many people will be looking to go back to the drawing board. Whether the world that emerges from the rubble is characterised by the sort of post-liberalism espoused by UnHerd’s Peter Franklin—with its short supply chains, radical localism and “deep optionality”—or whether it will be marked by an increased reliance on the dystopian Leviathan owing to mass panic and unemployment, time will tell. And all this because of that microscopic, crown-shaped, positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus we now call SARS-CoV-2. One begins to understand the original meaning of the Chinese word for crisis, wēijī, the “danger at a point of juncture”.

How did we arrive at such a momentous juncture? How could policy-makers have been so unprepared for nature’s ultimatum? The aforementioned twentieth-century pandemics, even the most fatal of them, did not produce such a profound societal bouleversement as the Wuhan coronavirus has managed in a matter of weeks. It is clear that the virus encountered a global system anything but anti-fragile in terms of political cohesion and institutional infrastructure, but there must be something more deep-seated at work, something inherent in modernity itself. The neo-Kantian sociologist Georg Simmel, in his treatment of fin de siècle civilisation, identified a phenomenon we can all recognise: “the temporal dissolution of everything substantial, absolute and eternal into the flow of things, into historical mutability, into merely psychological reality”. In his 1900 masterpiece The Philosophy of Money, Simmel further noted:

We are supposed to treat life as if each of its moments were a final purpose; every moment is supposed to be taken to be so important as if life existed for its sake. At the same time, we are supposed to live as if none of its moments were final, as if our sense of value did not stop with any moment and each should be a transitional point and a means to higher and higher stages.

Collective cognitive dissonance is only natural, particularly when we have been further subjected to “an extreme acceleration in the pace of life, a feverish commotion and compression of its fluctuations, in which the specific influence of money upon the course of psychological life becomes most clearly discernible”. And that was in 1900—imagine the effects of twelve more decades of progress. As Lawrence Scaff elaborated in his valuable 2005 article “The Mind of the Modernist: Simmel on Time”:

the dominion of presentism—erasure of the past, effacement of inherited connections, domination by the immediately visible sublime—is an integral part of modernity, an essential feature of “lived experience” under modern conditions.

Modernism is all about the eternal present, and a desperate adherence to whatever the latest form of enlightenment happens to be, as opposed to Chesterton’s proper and proportionate society dedicated to “a long historical view and a patient political experience”. Modernism has given us brutalist, canalised, flood-prone rivers, and brutalist hospitals with recycled air and recycled cross-infections. We have chosen the brine and the dusty wind, instead of fresh water and cattails. Is it any wonder our flesh has been flayed? As tens and even hundreds of millions of people languish in quarantine, in twenty-first-century fever sheds, it is just possible that we are gradually shedding the fever of modernism, that “feverish commotion and compression” that has left us unexpectedly vulnerable to the return of history, and to those eternal agents of human tragedy which dwell not in the gun barrel or the smokestack, but rather in the most minuscule fleck of sputum, just as they always have and always will.

Matthew Omolesky is a United States-based human rights lawyer. He wrote “Our Father Cain and the Rise and Fall of Human Rights” in the December issue.


20 thoughts on “The Fever Shed: COVID-19 and the Dominion of Presentism

  • lloveday says:

    It’s good to come across an unfamiliar English term and find it was correctly used – in this case I’d never seen “jury-rigged”. Found it in my Oxford Concise Dictionary, texted one wordsmith, rang another and I was somewhat relieved that it was new to them also.

  • Geoffrey Luck says:

    I’m not sure that the term is quite apt, although it is eye-catching. A jury rig is usually applied to the makeshift repairs improvised when the “rig”, i.e. the mast of the sailing vessel comes down. I was told that “jury” was a corruption of the French ‘jour” signifying a temporary mast or spar for the period of the emergency. The U.S. hospitals were not broken, not even overwhelmed.

  • Michael says:

    Elizabeth Beare, Michael’s wife

    It is axiomatic that human beings must forget or normal life would be intolerable. We must all ‘believe’ in our present, even though the past, on examination, readily belies our seemingly untroubled realities and queries the comfortable certainties we hold. History simply lets us grasp the magnitude of the horrors people have faced and countered and survived in spite of bad odds or poor management in other times. That way lies hope. History offers us behavioural and philosophical clues for a hopeful outcome in any sudden threat to our present, but history always takes the long view. The fact that history is largely out-of-bounds for modernism doesn’t help today’s panic merchants to gain perspective, and the chaotic free-for-all of post-modernism helps even less.

    The Great Influenza was followed by major post-war and post-epidemic changes in social mores and behaviours brought on by demographic and technological transformations, allowing a nihilistic and hedonistic reaction to the great dying just experienced. Another form of reaction was in the ‘cleansing’ puritanism of prohibition, which just encouraged the further bootleg alcoholic excesses of the Jazz Era. Till it all came tumbling down in the economic reckoning of the early thirties.

    Wonder what we will get from the Covid19 experience. A heavy dose of further earnest ‘green’ puritanism is my bet given the generation we’ve currently educated so badly. More drug abuse and social breakdown? And more socialism in the form of dependence on government assistance until the usual happens, and other people’s money runs out. History? What’s that?
    Luckily, ‘there is a lot of ruin in a nation’.
    Given time, maybe Australians can regain their pride, their perspective, their history and good sense.
    Fingers crossed!

  • lloveday says:

    Geoffrey Luck,
    I took “jury rigged” in the article’s “the jury-rigged hospitals in China and the US Navy hospital ships dispatched to Los Angeles and New York City” to refer only to “hospitals in China”, which, so I read, were overwhelmed and maybe broken.
    A (ex-)military mate said it was from “Age of sail”, but now commonly “meaning to improvise” in general.
    ., which I read before my original post gave examples:
    “She jury-rigged a new topmast after hers broke in the wind.” Although this expression is rooted in the nautical world, it can refer to any makeshift MacGyver-like fix: “He jury-rigged a raincoat from garbage bag in the garage.”

  • pgang says:

    A judge in Oregon has declared their emergency shutdown order null and void.

    Imagine getting something like that even close to a court in ScoMo-stan. Imagine our churches standing up for their right to worship.

  • lloveday says:

    I’ve read of earlier similar decisions in Nth Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas, with a NC judge ruling:
    “There is no pandemic exception to the Constitution of the United States or the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. Plaintiffs have demonstrated that they are likely to succeed on the merits of their Free Exercise claim concerning the assembly for religious worship provisions in Executive Order 138, that they will suffer irreparable harm absent a temporary restraining order, that the equities tip in their favor, and that a temporary restraining order is in the public interest. Thus, having considered the entire record and governing law, the court grants plaintiffs’ motion for a temporary restraining order”.
    I’m not up on the time-frame for Australian Court cases other than the FCA, but when I told my wife about the NC decision, I opined that by the time such a case winded its way through the Australian system I may have missed Christmas 2021.

  • pgang says:

    Elizabeth, yes I think you are right. We will probably get more of the same, and worse. Maybe in two hundred years Australia will look back on this period of wasted decadence built on the hard work of pioneers, and vow never to return.
    It’s not just poor education that is the culprit, but our entire worldview that is failing. I’ve been beating this drum for a long time. The humanist Enlightenment was not as its name suggests, as most of the benefits of modernity have their roots in a Christian worldview (eg science, engineering, medicine, parliamentary democracy, equality before the law…). Until we realise that humanism is a bad joke that we play on ourselves, we will continue this descent into darkness.
    This hysterical over-reaction to an almost harmless new virus is rooted in pagan thinking, in which Nature is the playground of the unpredictable gods of chaos and creativity/destruction. Hence a virus emerges to taunt us, and we must melt in fear and obeisance. The weather changes, and we must sacrifice our wealth at the altar of the god of carbon dioxide.
    Only Pharaoh can save us, with his almighty hand that brings order from the heavens to the chaos of the earth. In exchange we become Pharaoh’s slaves. The high priests are what are loosely called ‘scientists’ whose ‘models’, as some have pointed out at Quadrant, are akin to the the reading of entrails.
    The Judeo-Christian mindset (as far as it still exists) is the exact opposite of the humanist’s. We are not in control and nature is not chaotic. Creation is ordered because it is the medium though which God plays out His revelation of Himself, and God rules it in its entirety. We are not in control, and we are commanded to be still, and not to worry about the things that we need because there is a much bigger picture at play for our good.
    Science and logic are not even conceivable without this worldview, as we are finding today, when even the basic concept of ’cause and effect’ is being over-ruled by the high priests, and fear becomes the core driver of human behaviour and thinking.
    The fundamental inversion of Judeo-Christian thinking compared with all others is painted wonderfully in one of my favourite anecdotes, which comes from Ussher’s ‘Anals of the World’ and is attributed to a historian called Hecataeus, via Josephus. The scene is 312 BC, not long after Ptolemy has raided Jerusalem and scattered the Jews once again. A band of Jews was returning to Egypt with Ptolemy (go figure), and a priest named Ezechias had this story to tell.
    ‘”When I went towards the Red Sea, there was one among the rest of a troop of cavalry of the Jews, who escorted us, a man called Mosollamus. He was a very intelligent man and the best archer of the entire company. He noticed a certain seer in the company stand still and request that all the company do the same, while he observed a certain bird flying, so that he could divine by it. Mosollamus asked him why he was standing still. The seer showed him the bird he was watching and said that it would be best for the company to stay there, if the bird were to stay where it was. If it arose and flew ahead of them, then they should go forward too. If it flew back, then all the company ought to return also. Mosollamus said nothing, but drew his bow and shot and killed the bird. The seer and others present there were angry about this and reproved him for his actions. He replied by asking why they were angry with him, and why they had picked up this unlucky bird. How could this bird, which had not known what was about to happen to it, predict what would happen to them on their journey? If it had any knowledge of things to come, it would never have come there to be shot to death by Mosollamus, a Jew.”‘
    The more things change, the more they stay the same.

  • lloveday says:

    I have only now caught up on the Irish High Court Judge last week dismissing John Waters and Gemma O’Doherty’s legal challenge against laws introduced by the State due to the coronavirus pandemic.
    “Mr Justice Charles Meenan, in dismissing their application for leave to bring their challenge, said they had not provided the court with any expert evidence or facts to support the view that the laws challenged by the applicants were disproportionate or unconstitutional.
    “The laws brought in by the State to help deal with the pandemic, he said in his judgement, are “constitutionally permissible”.
    “Unsubstantiated opinions, speeches, empty rhetoric and a bogus historical parallel are not a substitute for facts,”
    I suspect the same result would occur in Australia despite the governments’ actions being based on, in my opinion, “Unsubstantiated opinions, speeches, empty rhetoric” – why the pair brought up a “historical parallel” (Nazi) is beyond my comprehension.

  • Michael says:

    pgang, One of the fascinations I have with Bernard Cornwell’s vision of ‘The Last Kingdom’ Chronicles is the playout developed throughout these novels between Christianity’s civilising certainties and literacy that allow ordered explanation of human purpose and the Nordic Fates and Dooms where humans are mere playthings of disordered caprice in the heavens. We should not forget though that during the Medieval period under the stress of the severity of the Black Death, religious life often, but by no means always, turned to penitential excesses. Seeing plagues as the handiwork of God for sinfulness, the Jeremiah response, was apparent earlier too. We see it as an explanatory mode displayed in the immediate post-Roman period in Britain, harking back to anterior Biblical examples. In the only two pieces of writing we can identify as original to the two hundred years of literate silence, from the early 5th to the early 7th century, human disobedience is called out (i.e. in.the extensive treatise of Gildas regarding the ‘ruin’ of Britain and the writings, limited as they are, of St. Patricks).

    Now I am hoping that the tickets we have for Wagner’s Ring Cycle, to take place in Brisbane in November this year, will still be usable and that the grand Germanic cycle of the fates will still go ahead. As the stuff of operatic psychology and cultural heritage I have no issue with it and the music is extraordinary. As a recommendation for social life … goodness me, no.

  • lloveday says:

    Judith Sloan has this to say:
    “While initially there was a case for seeking expert opinion at the earliest stage of the emergence of COVID-19 cases, because it was an instance of political decision-making under conditions of extreme uncertainty, as time has gone by it has become clear that these experts are really just making it up”.
    Hear, Hear!

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    Sometimes the present is all we have, for “that ways lies hope”, as suggested above by EB, wife of M.

    At the end of Jean Giraudoux’s Electra (1937), Narses asks the Beggar this question:

    “Is there a name for the moment when the day breaks, as today, when everything is ruined and the world is bereft of loo paper, when so many lives and livelihoods have been destroyed, ravaged; and covid-cops patrol the cities and beaches to enforce social distancing; when fears of an invisible enemy seep into the mind and the opium dens and bottle shops remain closed, yet the air is still fresh ..?”

    Beggar:: “Cela a un tres beau nom, femme Narses. Cela s’appelle l’aurore.”

  • lloveday says:

    An article published in The NY Times had this to say:
    Presented with growing doubts about democracy’s ability to deal with the pandemic on the one hand, and the seeming ability of a totalitarian China to address the crisis on the other, Australia unexpectedly, if only briefly, returned to its best traditions of communality and fairness.
    Verbatim! OMG.

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    While there are many good arguments on both sides of the lock-down/quarantine questions, I always treat reports of American lower court decisions with a truckload of salt. I think that, on any given day, an American court could be seen to find that the moon is a balloon. The judiciary there are all political animals, far more so even than ours.

    Regardless, on issues like this, what may be unconstitutional there is pretty much irrelevant here.

    Once again, the weeping, wailing and gnashing of dentures in these hallowed pages, by utterly unaccountable people complaining about decisions being taken by our politicians with actual accountability and other political skin in the game, acting on the advice of “experts” is getting beyond a joke.

    Nobody here, perhaps with the exception of those with medical qualifications, can claim to have any idea about what might have happened without the draconian lockdowns. Nobody here, that I have read to date, has offered any reasonably practicable alternative policy that would have could be guaranteed to have avoided the economic or health disaster so far experienced or foreseen.

    But what can be predicted with absolute certainty is that the leftist media, led by their ABC, will be utterly merciless in their criticism of a Coalition government no matter what action they take, and no matter the eventual outcome.

    Unfortunately, in practice, the “one size fits all” policies will have disproportionate effects across such a large country. Hundreds of thousands of people in rural areas and communities are governed by unrealistic restrictions designed for high density cities. But how, short of a telephone book-sized bunch of regulations can all possible contingencies and exceptions be legislated.

    Keeping it simple, Stupid, means that people can more easily be protected from stupid people, and stupid people can more easily be protected from themselves.

  • ianl says:


    > “Nobody here, that I have read to date, has offered any reasonably practicable alternative policy that would have could be guaranteed to have avoided the economic or health disaster so far experienced or foreseen”

    You’re one of those who positively refuses to discuss the Taiwanese example, are you not.

    Until you do, insulting those who have examined it is stpid. Got it ?

  • Doubting Thomas says:

    Taiwan is irrelevant to Australia, politically, geographically, and demographically.

    It’s the constant harping, criticism of our democratically elected politicians – under Morrison’s multi-party National Cabinet – for being petty dictators or worse, that is getting up my nose. Everybody enlightened by the dazzling glare of hindsight, and absolutely confident that they know better and would have done better all other things being equal.

    I hate what has happened, I’m terrified for the future of my sons and grandchildren, and have enormous sympathy for the victims of all aspects of the pandemic. Those at the coalface have my total respect.
    But I cannot escape the feeling that the situation has almost certainly been exacerbated by the cynicism of the mainstream media still playing “gotcha” political games, and making it difficult for governments to act sensibly and quickly for fear of mischievous second-guessing.
    The constant accusations of political bad faith being levelled by people claiming that allegedly draconian powers are being abused by ‘ScoMo’ is not helping.

    And I’m not insulting people. I’m simply asking people to remember that politicians are effectively bound to act on “expert” advice, even if, as Judith Sloan says, (thanks, lloveday) “…they are really just making it up”. The cynical media will slaughter them if they don’t. (See also CAGW)

  • Michael says:

    Forgot to add my name to the above comment listed as Michael.
    Written by Elizabeth Beare, Michael’s wife.

    Will add too that when the scientific attention-seekers really do seem ‘to be making it up’, the role of the media is to start debate and not to quell it, which is what has happened over so-called Climate Change ‘Consensus Science’ where no alternative views are canvassed and critique of supportive ‘findings’ is just not heard. As we see now from the variable epidemiological models and views presented to politicians re CoV2, politicians do have to somewhere make choices, on balance, concerning the management of numerous risks, and to seek many opinions on the validity of the differing risk-models. I am not saying that is easily done, but that is a politician’s lot and job. I agree that hindsight offers better clarity. It also suggests that ‘experts’ aren’t always all they are cracked up to be… a lesson learned perhaps?
    Bringing the ‘cynical media’ to heel concerning a realistic appraisal of various threats, rather than letting journalists get away with hysterical spin or political posturing regarding the magnitude of any threat – well, that is also the job of a capable politician. I hope we can see more of that sort of critique of the media’s use of uncertain scientific modelling by politicians now. How about they start with the ABC? A genuine debate on energy policy for instance?
    Failures of communication are very evident from this pandemic; we have certainly some some petty dictatorial methods being used to enforce some questionable decisions. Some of the decisions have been very poorly explained, and often contradictory to the explanation given for the same decision elsewhere. Even worse, it is common for no real explanation to be offered concerning some of the more risible bans which seem to have no scientific base to support them; and I say this as someone who has studied population and medical epidemiology at Masters level and with due recognition that some of the features of this virus are still under investigation.

  • Michael says:

    Elizabeth Beare, Michael’s wife

    Concerning alternative ways of tackling this virus without total lockdowns, there is a wealth of information available on the internet about the range of policies taken by different first world governments and by different states within the US as well as by the US overall. Sweden, Ireland, Germany, Hungary, Taiwan, Japan and South Korea have all had slightly different approaches. Obviously isolation remains a primary initial mechanism but there are numerous ways across a nation to achieve this, often selectively in terms of location and Covid19 clustering.

  • Alice Thermopolis says:

    Perhaps I haven’t been paying attention, but the current international rush to LET OUT – “flatten the political curve” – seems almost as remarkable as covid-19’s global spread in just a few months.
    Will the credibility of all modellers of the future – be they climatic or viral – take a hit after this episode?
    Will folk admit more readily that Nature controls us and not vice versa?
    As for finding precisely how, when and where covid-19 came into existence, there’s an interesting challenge. Bets, anyone?
    The Bat Woman of Wuhan may know, but she’s unlikely to appear on CNN anytime soon.

  • lloveday says:

    Another successful court action on closing churches – full reports widely available on news sites:
    France’s highest administrative court ruled Monday that the government must lift a blanket ban on meetings at places of worship imposed as part of measures to combat the coronavirus.
    After receiving complaints from several individuals and associations, the Council of State said that such a ban on freedom of worship caused “a damage that is serious and manifestly illegal”.
    It told the government to lift the ban within the next eight days.

  • rosross says:

    Materialist reductionist mechanised science-medicine is the problem. Sure it is brilliant surgically but a failure in providing health because it betrays and mocks Nature with its artificial drugs and vaccines and denies the wisdom of the natural world. Modern allopathic medicine is not about healing but profit through factory processes. Sunshine, good food and caring are major factors in healing and our medical cult today will have none of it.

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