Ignorance isn’t Bliss

The sales of the Mexican beer Corona have gone into free fall. Absolutely nothing to do with the flu. There’s probably a word for this idea of two completely separate things which are only linked by the use of one word. I’ll ask someone. She’s bound to know. Which reminded me of the true story of how an English paediatrician was attacked at home by banner-waving locals whose literacy did not extend to an understanding that a paedophile was not the same as a paediatrician.

Yes, we’ll get to the pandemic in a moment. In the meantime, spare a thought for the poor old stock market, which has dropped astronomically over the last few days. A bit like Corona, but bigger.

The despotic regime in Iran, infection numbers and statistics unknown, described the pandemic as a ‘blessing’. Indeed, since, as usual, the Israelis are ahead of the curve and may be the first to strike Eldorado with a vaccine prompted an Iranian cleric, Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, who is 93 years old, to decree that it’s okay to use a vaccine against novel coronavirus made by Zionists if ‘there’s no substitute’. As late as last Wednesday, however, the ayatollah had said, “It is not permissible to buy and sell from Zionists and Israel”. Make up your minds.

Karl Popper

Our greatest enemy is ignorance. And, ignorance isn’t bliss. If you’re an ayatollah, please write that down. And please remember Karl Popper’s famous statement: “True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge, but the refusal to acquire it“.

Whole countries, mine included, are in lockdown. Most shops, restaurants, cinemas and bars are shuttered. Traffic is unusually light. Crowds dissipate and reduce their density – veering away from their fellow pedestrians and there are longer supermarket queues although the same number of people are at each checkout – everyone is politely keeping their distance.

The world has been taken rather by surprise by this new corona-style virus. There are a number of them, apparently, so-called because of the crown-like structures on their outer surface.  This one is particularly nasty because of its relatively high contagion rate and a propensity to target the old and sick. A Jewish friend joked that she’d got the blood ready to paint on the doorposts of her house. Leaders are telling us to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ twice while washing our hands with surgical diligence, disinfect surfaces, cough into your elbow, keep at least one metre distance, don’t wear a mask unless you’re infected… the list goes on and on. Some are predicting a death toll almost as large as the Spanish flu outbreak in 1917/18.

I’ll stick my neck out and say it. I think this is unlikely. And as one in a high risk category, I don’t say it lightly. Yes, this is a nasty one – highly contagious and often extremely unpleasant. Some, mostly young people, whose immune systems are robust, barely know they’ve got it. Others – mercifully few – get pneumonia and die. Newspapers are full of dynamic graphics explaining on a day by day basis how the thing has spread. Which looks very scary, as if the angel of death is crouching at the door ready to devour us all. I watched someone unload their 4×4 yesterday after a spree of panic buying and the image of over 100 toilet rolls stayed with me. At least I know who to ask if I run out – they live on the sixth floor.

Following the science is the safest way to proceed. Flatten the curve so the number of new infections is decreased so they can be managed. Isolate if necessary. Keep your distance, 1-2 metres or more. And stop listening to social media. Somebody posted on my social media page that I would be shot on sight if I ventured out of doors. The troll farms are working overtime to overturn common sense and encourage panic. I am thinking of closing my Twitter account.

But then, over the last few weeks, everybody has had all the safety regulations hammered into them and there might even be an upside. Human beings, by virtue of natural selection and modern politics which encourage us to look after number one first, or ‘the devil take the hindmost’, have insulated us perhaps too well from operating collectively for the common good. When all are threatened equally, the instinct is to huddle together like penguins. And it does rather seem as if a little bit of huddling is going on, ensuring appropriate social distance, obviously. As Jerry Springer used to say at the close of his show ‘…look after yourselves. And each other’.

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