While preachers preach of evil fates
Teachers teach that knowledge waits
Can lead to hundred-dollar plates
Goodness hides behind its gates
But even the President of the United States
Sometimes must have to stand naked.
It’s Alright Ma, (I’m Only Bleeding) BOB DYLAN (1965)
These pithy words of The Great One came to mind when listening and reading this week’s testimony, before the Commons Select Committee, from the ghastly Dominic Cummings. Another literary reference also offered itself, the words of Kurtz in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness: “The horror! The horror!” In the context of the story, Kurtz is reacting as a witness to colonial abuse, but it is widely taken than this is also a universal comment on the human condition. Both these quotes speak to the realisation that humans have a tendency – or could it be, a requirement – to see ourselves in a different light to our realities; and, more significantly our capacities.
The most powerful scene in The Wizard of Oz is, surely, when Toto, Dorothy’s little dog, lifts the curtain on the very un-powerful true wizard. (Enjoy this scene again here). This scene has its parallel in the infamous whiteboard which was revealed as part of the Cummings’s self-serving lambasting assault. We want to believe that our government’s response to an emergency resulted from ‘tablets of stone’ delivered to the inner sanctum by wise authorities; but when that particular curtain is lifted, why should we be dismayed to find that decisions have been made on the back of an envelope? And it’s not simply (sic!) the format, it’s the wording. Should we be surprised that the key players are referred to in Beano-style acronyms; that “our current plans means 4k p/d dying” should appear as a modest scribble; similarly “full lockdown which means ⍨ 2weeks (?) before we catch up with Italy”; that the choice of contact options are simply bracketed as “less contact? no contact? contact illegal?” or the simple banality (the horror, the horror?) of the bracketed (!!) questions: “(who looks after the people who can’t survive alone??)’ and ‘(who do we not save?)”
You might recall The Ericle’ suggestion that ‘we get the government we deserve’? 😉 Besides being a truism, the deal is a 2-way one. If our political masters are a reflection of ourselves, we can not totally ostracise them when their behaviour is revealed to be similar to that with which we would resort to in similar, less national, situations. We have people we like and those that we don’t; we fall out with friends and treat then as pariahs; we gossip and tell tales and we contrive alliances, which we make in haste and repent at leisure. Most tellingly, we live our lives through our own lenses. So why should anybody – Boris & Dom included – have, at any time, believed that their relationship would end in any other way? Did Johnson believe that a self-opinionated egoist, who has fallen out with everybody that he has worked with, would make the perfect advisor? What was it about him that led Dom to believe that Boris could be part of a process-driven decision chain, be strong on personal relationships and be capable to taking timely hard decisions? Neither of them could have surely thought this but, equally, each of them believed that together they would be stronger and more capable. Haven’t we all done that in our lives, and when it all has gone wrong piled it on strong with ‘that was not how the deal went down’ and ‘it was all the other’s fault’?
The Human Being is a pack animal and our continuing evolution is dialectical; in other words our responses to events/change evolve via action and reaction. As the Global Village becomes more and more real, fuelled by the exponential rate of development of information technologies, we are having to deal with a degree of unprecedented individual expression and exposure. Not surprisingly our sense of self entitlement is in over-drive. And though I may protest otherwise, The Ericle has to seen as an example of this. All this has resulted in our having to manage our Egos, Alter Egos & Ids like never before; which in turn has stretched the synaptic connection between what we really think and what we say. For proof of this you only have to look at the result of the US & UK elections over the last 5 years, where what the electorate were telling the pollsters varied dramatically from how they actually voted. However, there is evidence that the dialectic is moving on and that the platforms afforded to movements such as the ‘Cancel’ & ‘Woke’ cultures are receiving some counter-reaction.
Returning to the plot … some time in the not-too-distant future, the government handling of The Pandemic will be subjected to formal review. This review needs to be conducted, and consumed, in terms that take a reasonable and responsible view of what has happened. Part-and-parcel of this must be not to demand foresight and response that ignore the realities of the human condition. All of us heard the news stories coming out from Wuhan and the vast majority of us minimised the risk on the basis of the earlier Sars experience. Some of us reacted quicker to the threat than others. Possibly Cummings was a little bit quicker off the mark than Johnson, but only by a matter of a half dozen days or so. Sadly that half dozen days proved to be significant. Don’t get me wrong; we have every right to expect sound intelligence and best practice from Government, but if the deliverable is “they should have known better”, we will be missing the mark again; perhaps not via a future pandemic but on other fronts such as Climate Change. I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep saying it: we can not disassociate ourselves from outcomes if we don’t engage with the process. And in this age where self-entitlement abounds, if we are to avoid catastrophes we have to walk the walk, and not just talk the talk. We also have to be able to criticise, reasonably & responsibly; also to praise despite our tendencies for cognitive dissonance. (Both qualities that the Dom Cummings mind-set is palpably incapable of.) One crumb of comfort that I take from the recent election results, is that the English electorate has reasonably balanced the eccentricities and deficiencies of the Prime Minister against the phenomenally successful vaccination programme. Sadly, though, it is an inescapable truth that on many fronts we are moving in wrong directions and cliff edges are clearly visible on the horizon. Despite this, The Ericle tends towards optimism in most matters. In this vein, let me leave you with one of my favourite aphorisms, which is very much part of my personal credo:
Thank you for reading.