james debate
james debate

Wednesday 6 May 2020

The Ephemeric is back, and first let me apologise for being so absent at a time where we could all do with a little distraction. I chalk it up to a combination of busy season at work and frankly having other things on my mind. I am blogging again, with plans for a number of posts not all of which will offend you. But to begin with, I just wanted to say a few words about everything that is currently happening.

2020 coronavirus pandemic message of positivity thank you nhs
There is no avoiding the fact that what is currently going on is a horrific event. Historic for all the wrong reasons, traumatic to the global confidence in a way most of us have never seen, and more than a little bit frightening. Even now, with the initial shock of pandemic having passed and many nations beginning to chart an exit strategy, we are still hearing estimates of months or even a year or two before we return to normalcy. I have heard it expressed by more than a few perfectly rational individuals that things may never be normal again, or that we are on the verge of some dystopian "new normal" (a meaningless phrase that I hope never to hear again).

So I guess the first thing to say is that things will get better. No doubt you have heard such exhortations from your local politicians in recent weeks, and I know it is difficult to hear those words coming out of their mouths and not interpret it as "here's me trying to sound inspirational, please vote for me". But really, they will. The Human race has achieved far more remarkable things than the containment of one virus, and we will deal with this one even if it takes six months, a year, or two years.

In actual fact, incidence has slowed greatly in recent weeks, and the number of virus deaths is shaping up to be far fewer than the worst case scenarios initially suggested (unless you live in America - more on that in a moment). The swift and severe measures taken by most world governments have proven a success, and this is due in large part to the efforts of regular people, with greater than expected compliance during these lockdowns. The unfortunate exception is the United States, the only country in the world where incidence of the disease is expected to increase over the summer, a sad cautionary tale of what happens when governments refuse to do what is necessary and alternate realities go mainstream.

So as you can see, now is not the time for pessimism. On the contrary, from my viewpoint the story of the past several weeks has been one of renewed positivity and remarkable compassion. From the rainbows painted on our windows and the weekly cheer for our care-workers, to regular tales of everyday heroism. People have come together in a way that has surprised many, but really should not have done so. People have an inherent pull towards good. A billion years of evolution has made it our natural instinct to be supportive of one another and to succeed together. The sensationalism of public information has always tended to focus on the negative, preying on our morbid fascinations like a bad itch that you can't stop scratching. The greatness that we are seeing in one another is not a new thing. What has changed is that we have all gained a renewed appreciation for recognising the positive in the world, and I hope that continues when this is all behind us.

It is also worth remembering that disruptive events can serve as a catalyst for change, both big and small. Remote working has become the norm in many industries, and to everyone's surprise it seems to be working pretty smoothly. What will our daily lives look like in a year's time when companies realise that they can continue to function without spending vast amounts on office space?

There has also been a notable change in how we consume culture in recent weeks, with greater efforts being made to provide online streaming of theatre and live concerts, and movie studios pushing cinema releases direct to streaming platforms. The entertainment industry, of course, is notoriously slow to embrace new ideas. After all, we didn't have Netflix and Spotify until piracy forced the industry to accept the Internet as a better platform for content delivery than brick and mortar shops. It will be interesting to see what permanent effects may persist going forward as a result of these forced adaptations.

But perhaps the most profound shift that we have seen is in the newfound respect we have for one another, particularly our healthcare workers. For most of us it will be absolutely mind boggling today that just a few months ago we were seriously debating cuts to the NHS, and that mainstream American politicians have spent a decade campaigning to cut down access to medical care. The number of stories coming out of governments cutting down pandemic response measures in recent years seems like a case of tragic hindsight, but really it was never justified and hopefully that is clear now. If there is one big takeaway here it is that we have sleepwalked into this crisis by undervaluing the infrastructure that keeps us safe, and that includes policy and people. I can only hope that going forward more people will appreciate the importance of both.

Now before I go, I would like to leave you with a selection of my favourite, strictly non virus-related stories from the past few weeks as a reminder that good things are still happening in the world:

The ozone layer is healing, has a chance for a full recovery.

Wales is building a national forest that will span the length and breadth of the entire country.

After 240 days, the wildfires stopped in Australia.

NASA fixes Mars rover by telling it to hit itself with a shovel.

Dozens of blue whales spotted in Antarctica for first time since 1980s whaling ban.

And finally, make sure you are all checking out John Krasinski's excellent new YouTube show Some Good News, a channel dedicated entirely to the sort of uplifting reporting that I have attempted to celebrate with this post.

I'm sure there are many more great stories out there that I have missed. If you have any, please do leave a comment. I will be writing much more in the coming weeks, but until then I wish you all great happiness and good health.

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