Archive for October, 2020

On a personal note…

October 28th, 2020

I need to apologise to those who have subsribed to the blog. There hasn’t been much material of late, and I’m not all that confident that I can promise to do a lot better in future.

Partly, that’s due to the fact that I keep writing a few lines and then realising that it’s a topic I’ve already written about on the blog. Mostly, though, it’s because I’m just finding life (and particularly thinking) difficult in the face of various things over which I have no control. Yes, I try to use the Serenity Prayer (“God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change”) as much as possible, but most days see me shedding a tear or two in the face of that inability, and finding the weight of these things making everything harder.

Covid is not the most prominent one of those, but it does present an underlying dis-ease, particularly in the face of a government which doesn’t seem to me to be dealing with the pandemic particularly competently. OK, I have well in mind that government has been presented with an extremely difficult set of problems; as I’ve written before, Covid presents something close to the most difficult set of parameters for a pandemic which I could have contemplated inflicting on my emergency planning colleagues back when I was active as a civil defence scientific advisor. The lag of three weeks or more before an infection results in a reliable indicator (i.e. death), the fact that many people are asymptomatic, the difficulty of testing reliably for something which is genetically a cousin of the common cold, the lack of a complete picture of the means of transmission (albeit, the last two are becoming clearer with time), all of those make the life of emergency planners more difficult. As if it wasn’t difficult enough balancing the preservation of life (and, increasingly it seems, long term health) against severe economic disruption…

No, the things which are really weighing on me remind me of my daughter’s favorite white-knuckle ride at Alton Towers back when she was small, and demanding that daddy take her (my wife and son get vertigo stepping off the kerb, so weren’t candidates!). It’s very simple – you get strapped into a carriage, several people abreast, in two rows (raked so you have a good view forward) and are steadily winched up to the top of a tower, at which point the carriage tilts forward so you have a really good view down quite a long way to a hole in the ground (where the message “don’t look down” is prominently painted) and pause – for a random number of seconds. Then they drop you. Of course, once through the hole in the ground, the carriage is guided by rails back to the horizontal fairly quickly, and the whole thing is actually very safe indeed.

Brexit strikes me in that way. We’ve been effectively stuck in the carriage looking down on the drop for four years now, since the referendum result in 2016. Up to the 2019 election, there was actually some slim hope that we could winch the carriage back down the way we’d come to at least some extent, but that hope was extinguished with an 80 seat majority out of a 1% increase in the Conservative vote (as the Brexit Party withdrew from all the seats winnable by the Conservatives and their vote collapsed) and Boris Johnson proceeded to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement to remove the possibility of a customs union – and refused to ask for any extension of the transition period. Short of a revolution, there is now no serious hope of anything much better than throwing away every trade agreement we have (a “no deal”); anything which remains possible will be minimal, and certainly not include a customs union. (To clarify, the lack of a customs union means that a massive volume of our imports and exports, which is to and from the EU, will be subject to customs; the backlog of lorries at both sides of the English Channel is estimated to be something around 100 miles worth, and the delays in excess of two days. This will make fresh food imports very difficult, at the least, and will no doubt deter many suppliers from trying to negotiate the barrier, even if duties on the goods and the paperwork to go with that didn’t do that.)

So, the country will drop from the metaphorical tower on 1st January 2021. The difference is, we don’t have any guide rails or tunnel, and it may effectively just be like a 100 metre drop onto solid concrete. The anticipation of this has already reduced the UK from #4 in global exports to #11 (behind Mexico). We will have food shortages. We already have medicine shortages (in anticipation, again) and that could well kill at least three friends.

We may even have a revolution, and I’m averse to revolutions, as they tend to kill a lot of people and rarely produce the result the instigators wanted. But as I sit here, I’m not sure that isn’t actually warranted by the severity of the shock the country faces.

And, if that wasn’t sufficient, there’s climate change. I will probably not live long enough to see the bottom of the drop from the tower on that one, as it will probably take 20-30 years, and I doubt I’ll live that long, given my underlying health conditions, even if Covid doesn’t do the job earlier. But, constructive noises in the UN notwithstanding, I just don’t see the international will to take the kind of steps necessary to avoid a catastrophic rise in temperature, sea level rises, widespread crop failures and, of course, the collapse of the world’s economic systems.

The international will is not there despite the fact that Covid has shown us that we actually can reduce carbon emissions sufficiently to avoid catastrophe – but at the cost of really major economic effects. Chiefly, it seems to me, it’s not there because the most prominent emitter of carbon in the world, the USA, is collectively a climate-change denier. Will that change in the event of a Biden victory? I don’t know. I don’t have much confidence in India or Brazil either. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have had much confidence in China either, given that they were massively expanding coal-fired power production, but there have been some signs that they may be at least somewhat onside, and they do have the advantage of a totalitarian government which can act, and act fairly quickly.

But as things stand, I think my children are likely to be living in a “Mad Max” style post-apocalyptic landscape, assuming that they survive the transition, and that much of the major achievements of Western civilisation will have gone the way of Atlantis. And that would represent the failure of everything I’ve ever hoped for from civilisation and technology.

Up to 2013, I lived 17 years with major depressive illness (before some factor, whether it was different antidepressants, the confidence that my doctors were actually listening, working a 12 step programme or constant prayer, brought me out of that). In the latter years, the only emotion I could muster was “it’s all wrong” as anhedonia set in (OK, with occasional bursts of anger). Rationally, I see much the same picture now – what, I ask myself, is the point of anything?

Emotionally, however, I don’t seem to be quite in the same position, deo gratias. So there are some blog posts. But please excuse me, as producing anything is a mountain to climb…

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