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Hell in a handcart

We are the people

There’s been a really nasty outbreak of everything-ism over the Coronavirus and people’s reactions to it. A tweet from the comedy programme Have I Got News For You today was a good example: it captioned a photo of people queuing too closely outside ASDA as “natural selection in action”. The replies included lots of comments about the people in the photograph being “sheep”, a few swipes at some of the shoppers’ weights and in one particularly horrible comment, a description of how someone should park a tank in the car park and machine-gun the shoppers.

I find it hard to believe that anyone from HIGNFY or any of its social darwinist commenters hasn’t been to at least one supermarket in the last week and bought more than their usual shop or stood within two metres of strangers. But that’s different, isn’t it? They’re not like those people.

And that’s true. They’re not. They were able to stock up – not panic-buying, no, just getting a few essentials just in case – because they had a car and a credit card and the freedom to shop when they first started to worry.

They didn’t have to wait to finish a series of shifts or for a meagre pay cheque or for their universal credit payment before they could get a bus to queue with the others to walk past bare freezers, the contents long moved to the chest freezers in suburban garages, the shelves showing the last known location of the multiple packets of rice and lentils currently sitting in oh so many tasteful kitchen cupboards.

Just because you panic-bought quietly before everybody else started doing it doesn’t make you morally superior. I know I’m not: I bought some extra food before the freezers emptied and the rice ran out. And I also know that had one client not paid me last week, I’d have been queuing up with everybody else outside ASDA.

It’s a similar story with the elevation of people in parks to national hate figures on social media. How dare people without gardens of their own use public parks after being told to do so by the Prime Minister?

Those people are us. Yes, some people are idiots – but idiocy isn’t limited to a particular social class, income bracket, waist measurement or postcode, as contrarian columnists and rent-a-gob politicians frequently demonstrate. Most of us are trying to navigate terrifying times with inadequate information, vague and often contradictory direction and a flurry of misinformation in social media and in parts of the mainstream media too. Sometimes we’ll make bad decisions. Sometimes we’ll panic.

Don’t rage against people going to parks when the government told them to go, and when it won’t stop employers demanding many more non-essential workers cram into the Tube every morning. Don’t blame the panic buyers when the government leaks lurid tales of lockdown to the press and then unconvincingly denies them the next day; don’t blame people for besieging shops when all the online shopping slots are booked solid for six weeks by the worried well. Don’t blame the pubgoers when the PM’s own dad says a pint is your human right and the commentariat tells you it’s your national duty.

There will be a time to rage, and there will be people deserving of your rage. But not now. And not those people.