The self-isolation of fact from value:- the consequences for a culture suffering from split personality syndrome

Apr 1, 2020 by

by Gavin Ashenden:

Between last week and this week, everything has changed. It has been like moving from one world to another, without warning or preparation.

Last week I could go where I wanted whenever I wanted. This week I am suddenly under what feels like house arrest. Last week I could shop for anything and find anything . This week I am concentrating on toilet paper and paracetamol, neither of which can be found. Luckily I’m having a bit more luck with milk and bread.

So this is the new normal. House arrest, quarantine, whatever you call it. It’s not total of course; a very English kind of quarantine; as well as occasional food shopping, there is also one bicycle ride a day.

Part of me has always lived in fear of the state growing too powerful and imprisoning people. It happened often enough in a variety of states in the 20th C. But I always thought the threat to liberty in Europe would come from a political idea, not a virus.

So this is doubly strange. Not only didn’t I expect the house arrest but I approve of it in principle. I can see that it will be the cause of a great deal of anxiety for all those whose income stream is wrecked by it. But the trade-off might be worth it. Thousands of lives saved versus thousands of pounds lost?

If the only way to contain a virus and stop it killing people is to restrain peoples’ movement, then the price is worth paying; we accept the restraint.

But what is also strange is a sudden shift in values. Now that the pandemic has struck, our public preoccupation has moved from feelings to facts, from values to Viruses, almost from imagination to science. We straddled two cultures that didn’t relate to each other with clumsy awkwardness, and have toppled from one to the other.

Concern about living with two cultures that didn’t really understand each other, the divorce between arts and science, stretches back a generation.

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