Rosencrantz, Guildernstern, Coronavirus Incubators and The Rule of Law Are All Dead

One of the awful things about COVID-19 is that the moment of infection passes unnoticed. It’s the asymptomatic period that drives up the exponential spread and makes it so difficult to stop. This point by Christina Paget is chilling:

Those who die, do so after about two weeks in hospital on average. This means that almost all the people who are going to die from covid over the next four weeks already have covid.

Christina Paget, ‘A circuit-break will save thousands of lives’

There’s a marvellous line at the end of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard that I’ve been thinking about a lot recently:

GUILDENSTERN: There must have been a moment, at the beginning, where we could have said — no. But somehow we missed it.

This ‘missing of the moment’ is not confined to the COVID crisis. It’s also relevant to our democratic crisis. Right now the British Government is pushing Bills through parliament which:

  • Protect military personnel from being prosecuted for war crimes;
  • Allow the security services to break the law with impunity; and of course
  • Allow Ministers to break international law; whilst
  • Preventing the Courts from properly overseeing the exercise of powers granted by parliament.

(I’ll write another time about just how despicable this is. An act of vandalism on the democracy that generations have built. That my grandmothers’ brothers died for.)

What I want to note here is an (almost) semantic point about the true nature of our situation. These measures do not ‘open the door’ to authoritarianism and dictatorship. They do not ‘threaten our democracy.’ Such phrases are forward looking. They warn about possible dangers to come.

Our current situation is not like that. We have already crossed the line. Regardless of whether these Bills succeed or fail, the very fact that they have been attempted means that authoritarianism is already here. Present tense.

Damage has been wrought. We have sustained a great wound, even if we do not yet realise it.

There must have been a moment, in the beginning, where we could have said no. But somehow, we missed it.

This idea, that when something is bad enough to notice then it’s already gone too far, is the foundation of one of my core beliefs and motivators: we have to sweat the small stuff. We have to be pedants for human rights, kicking up a hullabaloo about the smallest of infractions.

The Awkward Squad and the Horseshoe Nail

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