Lockdowns and the Proportion of Fear

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Just after Christmas, – at least they waited until after, and we must count all our blessings – Mr. Doug Ford decreed another interminable lockdown in our province in Ontario, as is the case in a good portion of the rest of Canada, and the world. A date may be given for the misery to end, but the goalpost keeps moving; oh, you may have relief for a while, then, yes, the looming hammer strikes again, like some nightmarish Kafka novel. To paraphrase Mark Steyn, we began with 15 days to ‘flatten the curve’, and we’re now heading towards 15 months to flatten all of us. Here is one commentator on his site which pretty much sums it up:

Clearly, if cases are rising exponentially while we are under lockdown and wearing masks everywhere with no entertainment, physical activity, schooling for our children, family gatherings, social events or other forms of human normalcy, what we need is more curfew. A stricter, stronger one – one that is much, much, much more punitive ‘coz our leaders have seen that there’s not quite enough misery, not quite enough human wreckage, suicides, bankruptcies and overdoses. There’s just not enough despair yet, people! Not enough bodies and spirits have been crushed yet by a Thousand Chinese Communist Cuts so the evil, spineless goons governing us are going to put the screws to us even harder and squeeze and squeeze and squeeze.  

What will future historians, presuming there are any, write about Ontario in this epoch, to say nothing of the rest of Canada, as it undergoes its own assassination – let’s call it a slow, strangling euthanasia – by the likes of Doug Ford and his medical mandarins? How could they have been so unhinged from reality? I just read that, besides the totalitarian lockdown, he is now pondering police-enforced curfews, reminiscent of the worst days of any dictatorial regime. They are putting one in place in Quebec, from 8 pm to 5 am, and Ontario’s being urged to follow the statist suit of our neighbours. Curfews? I never had those growing up – my parents, perhaps not wisely, trusted us boys – and am not about to submit to one now.

I try to avoid ad hominen arguments in these pages, so will avoid piling on Doug Ford. But I do wonder whether he really believes this alleged pandemic warrants this drastic reaction? Is he being coerced by powers beyond him? Is he just a man in the grip of fear, whose physiognomy puts him in the slightly higher risk category (although still statistically very low)? Or is he in thrall to those with more will and mien and degrees than he?

We may never know, but whatever the impetus, his policies are sowing a bitter and tearful harvest. As Ford says, ‘nothing is off the table’, and ‘we will have to watch the numbers’. Nothing?

And what numbers? As my own dear Dad said, a retired physician, what’s happened to the annual flu, which has just apparently ‘disappeared’, a physiological and epidemiological impossibility? Subsumed, we presume, in the ‘Covid’ stats. Rising cases due to increased testing, with most – and a vast majority of ‘most’ – getting over what illness ensues with some bed rest and hot lemon juice.

Yet, here we are, flattening – one might argue eviscerating – society. As some friends said to me the other day, people may never get over this, as divisions metastasize between families, acquaintances, people snitching, eyes upon everyone, and an apocalyptic curfew will only exacerbate the fear, the disintegration and distrust.

But here is the upside: We Catholics should know, or at least should learn, how to suffer, and ‘offer things up’. Our ancestors have been through far worse, and we are paying the price for our sins, at least vicariously. How does a province, and a nation, immerse itself in evils for so long, and not expect some sort of retribution?

As such, all of this, far from driving us to despair, should make us more holy, more trusting in God, more desirous of eternal life. After all, as Pope John Paul pointed out, this life is but a ‘penultimate’ good – the best, and by far the best, is yet to come. To cling to this life – a frantic search after security and safety and quite literally damn the costs – is simply not a Catholic way to live.

There should be a balance in fear, as Saint Thomas says (II-II. Q.125, a.1) when we fear, and so avoid, things that we should, in proportion to the harm of the evil, and what ‘goods’ we are willing to give up. When we disproportionately fear an evil – avoiding what we should in reality face up to, risk and even endure – then we fall into the sin of fearfulness, or, as it is put more vividly, cowardice.

Frantically trying to kill a wasp in your car, and so losing control, causing a fatal multi-car pile-up is a case in point. And, one might argue, destroying the very fabric and economy of our society; instilling distrust, extending police control into the very intimate nature of our lives; instilling malaise, depression, and a dependence on the state; and, most of all, undermining the work and mission of the Church. All of these are disproportionate in the attempt to avoid the ‘evil’ of a virus that almost everyone from, and to which many are likely already immune.

To paraphrase one author, a risk-averse society is a dying society, curled up into a fetal position in their foxholes, awaiting the inevitable. Months ago last spring, when all this first started, I walked out of my house, and a middle-aged lady – one the early maskers – walking down the sidewalk, swerved onto the street to give me a wide berth, her glare full of incipient fear. What popped into my head almost involuntarily was the phrase ‘bug-eyed boomer panic’ The demographic that is just slightly more at risk, and that runs most things, is allowing that panic to govern policy.

Such is the lot of those who cling to life and to the things of this world, whose fear of illness and death is, to put it mildly ‘inordinate’. Our treasure should not be in the here and now, soon to be consumed by moths and rust, but rather in the life to come. And we should live accordingly. As Saint John reminds us in the readings the other day, perfect love casts out fear, at least fear of a crippling sort, and ‘crippled’ is a good description of our social fabric and economy here and elsewhere.

We may discuss resistance in a subsequent post, should this continue much longer, for we are either a free society, or no society at all.

Then again, perhaps we will regain some level of sanity and proportion. We should always live in hope.

Whatever the next days betide, be of good cheer, dear reader, for our redemption is always close at hand.