Economic (and social) collapse on the ground

Maybe each of us knows one or two people suffering COVID vaccine damage. It’s only when those sufferers are grouped together, for some reason, that one realises the scale of the problem. A YouTuber (now an ex-YouTuber, like so many other cancellations in these fascist times) who usually does shock-jock treatment of current affairs, uncharacteristically did a very quiet and sober piece because two young, professional friends had reported severe anxiety states in the wake of the Covid restrictions, acute enough that they had had to abandon their cars because they could not drive. He asked others to share similar experiences.

With 24 hours or so, he’d had over 1,700 replies, mostly from people directly experiencing panic attacks, agoraphobia, new or relapsed alcohol addiction, and a range of similar mental health issues in the wake of lockdowns and masking. They also reported a lack of ability to access any help via the NHS. This is a silent epidemic, and all of it is a direct result of government policy, not of a virus (as those who remember the utter non-memorability of the similarly serious Hong Kong flu back in 1968 will testify). But you knew that already.

There’s a similar situation going on regarding the economic catastrophe foisted on us by the powers and principalities at the same time. We all see sporadic news reports of damage to the hospitality industry, for example, but if you’re reasonably well to do, or live in the country, and venture out for a pub lunch only occasionally and after booking, the immense scale of the problem is not obvious.

Yesterday it became so to me, in the context of the “inalienable right of the Englishman to go to the pub” lauded by Boris Johnson just before he shut them all down in 2020. They’re officially restriction-free now, though, and a musician friend of mine is moving from the area, and invited the dozen or more folks in our band for a farewell drink after our Tuesday rehearsal.

I had already seen on my way to the rehearsal that the nearest hostelry to our practice venue, the Old Inn, was shrouded in darkness, and we knew from a previous occasion that the nearby (and uninventively named) New Inn is only open a couple of days a week now. So my friend suggested we repair to the large and recently (pre-pandemic) restored George Inn in Axminster where we could be sure of a welcome.

When I got there, though, it too was silent and dark, and one of the band was stationed in the car park to direct us to the Axminster Arms instead. Historically that was a music venue anyway, and one of my former bands actually used to rehearse there. But though the lights were on, the doors were locked, and the landlord called through the glass that trade had been so slack they’d shut early (and weren’t reopening even for thirsty saxophonists).

The nearby Conservative Club bar was open, but entirely deserted, and anyway they wouldn’t let us in because we weren’t members. Eventually we gained entrance to the Italian restaurant (empty) across the green, and found a table for those who’d manged to keep up with the paper chase to chat over our tall glasses of their only beer (an Italian lager). But I noticed on the way in that the new cafe across the High Street was now boarded up. Axminster is a small town, but it was never comatose before.

Now, I’m not aware that any of these pubs has actually closed down, but once a casual-clientele business has to shut unpredictably for a couple of days each week, a downwards spiral has begun. If you have been able to get staff at all – between self-isolation, fear of infection and so on – they will soon desert you if there is no steady income.

I’m not clear about all the reasons for lack of trade. People have got out of the habit of meeting to chat over the last two years, if indeed they’re not still paranoid about each other because NHS posters advising against meeting are still up everywhere. And increasingly, unemployment and escalating inflation are making an evening at the pub unaffordable anyway. And it’s all due to to ill-conceived public health policies, quite deliberately lacking cost-benefit analyses, or ignoring them.

So not only does the situation indicate the death of a national tradition as well as an entire industry, when multiplied up across the country, but the heart of the community’s social interaction, in these days when people don’t for the most part go to church, has been silenced. Even the Conservatives have no politics to discuss, it seems – unless they’ve all resigned their membership because of Partygate anyway. Pacing around Tesco, where far too many still glower suspiciously over their pointless masks at you, is not going to create a body politic.

All this was entirely predictable, and so was apparently quite deliberate, given how universal the pattern is across the world. At least a part of it seems likely to have been a deliberate ploy to weaken the institutions where public thought might develop – Burke’s “little platoons,” which he regarded as crucial to English existence. At a minimum, that made dissent against lockdown measures harder, though declaring public protests illegal helped too. And even martial law could be used in extremis, as Justin Trudeau and Emanuel Macron are finding, not only to terrorise those who group together in a cause, but to starve them of the means to meet together at all.

Totalitarian regimes dislike informal gatherings on principle, for not only truckers’ eating houses, but boy scout troops, saxophone choirs, pubs and, of course, churches all provide opportunities for people to realise they are not the only ones suspecting they are being oppressed for others’ profit.

In the Cold War, as Rod Dreher reports in Live Not by Lies, a few wise Christians in the Eastern Bloc saw the writing on the wall and began to develop Christian gatherings in secret, not only for worship but to keep free culture alive: they read literature and poetry, discussed science and politics, and in general reminded each other than humanity is bigger than the banality of corrupt ideologies. And, of course, they also prayed.

If places for people to meet freely continue to go out of business, maybe it’s time for churches to recognise a golden opportunity not so much to be relevant to the community, but to be the community when the rest of it has been destroyed.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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