Samuel Pepys: March 23, 1665
Up, and to my Lord Sandwich, who follows the Duke this day by water down to the Hope, where the Prince lies. He received me, busy as he was, with mighty kindness and joy at my promotions, telling me most largely how the Duke hath expressed on all occasions his good opinion of my service and love for me. I paid my thanks and acknowledgement to him; and so back home.
March 23, 2020
For a few hours yesterday I thought that we were going to be able to keep the church open. There were only 37 people at the service, in a building that can easily seat a couple of hundred, so everyone was able to spread out. There was no morning tea, and no touching, and in a brief meeting after the service the church council wondered if we could continue to meet this way, recording the services for those who could not attend. But then I heard of the decision, made either by the Prime Minister or the Premier, to close all non-essential businesses, including places of worship. Now churches know our place in the government’s thoughts. In Victoria hairdressers and beauticians will be able to stay open, but we must close.
I imagine that hairdressers and beauticians are allowed to stay open because their work is impossible to do at a distance. The worship of God, on the other hand, can be done virtually. (I was amused to see that the Pope has told Catholics that they can confess their sins without seeing a priest during the pandemic. Five hundred years after Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses the Catholics are catching up!) Christianity has a long history of the isolated and imprisoned worshipping God as part of a spiritual community on which we can now draw. I have pulled my cope of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Letter and Papers from Prison out of the box of theology books in my bedroom cupboard as inspiration and encouragement. I am no Bonhoeffer, but if he managed to preach and teach while imprisoned by the Nazis I should be able to teach and preach while socially isolated in the 21st century, with all the tools of social connection at my disposal. I loathe the thought of being filmed while preaching to no one, but as I remind myself every time I enter a pulpit: it’s not about me.
The Government’s stimulus packages, especially the increase to what was Newstart, are deeply satisfying. Newstart will be doubled for the next six months. Surely, surely, after this crisis it will be impossible for it to return to the previous, well-below-the-poverty-line, limit. It probably won’t be able to stay at that rate, but even a permanent 20% increase would make a huge difference to so many lives. Surely the government will see how productive it is to not have a permanently-impoverished underclass?
It has been hard to watch people responding to the pandemic with grocery hoarding. It has been extremely frustrating to see the appeals from food charities, including the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, that have been unable to access their usual supplies of non-perishable goods because scared people have been clearing supermarkets of them. I sympathise with the politicians’ ‘stop hoarding’ messages. But do the politicians realise that they have caused the fear that has led to hoarding? The LNP government has been saying for years that they support ‘lifters, not leaners,’ that it’s those who ‘have a go’ who will ‘get a go’. They have told us over and over again that if we fall we will be left on our own. If we are in need, the government doesn’t care. (Unless the body in need is a mining company, or maybe a major agribusiness; they get government subsidies.) When the government ended the support that had made an Australian car industry possible, and car manufacturers pulled out, destroying entire communities, we all got the message. Of course, in a crisis, people now think they can only rely on themselves. Of course people don’t believe they can trust the government. The government has deliberately created the conditions in which hoarding happens; it’s a bit disingenuous for them to condemn it.
Let alone the fact that the hoarding being condemned is the minor hoarding of groceries, not the massive hoarding of investment properties and multi-million-dollar superannuation accounts. There are enough properties in Australia to house everyone; there is enough food produced to feed at least twice the Australian population; Australians go hungry or live in insecure housing because some people hoard the country’s wealth. Given that, I don’t particularly feel like condemning scared people buying toilet paper; although it would be lovely if people who have massively over-stocked donated some of their excess to charities.
I’ve been reading Rebecca Solnit’s 2019 collection of essays, Whose Story Is This? and in it I found this:
The idea of illegal immigrants arises from the idea of the nation as a body whose purity is defiled by foreign bodies, and of its borders as something that can and should be sealed. There is a dream of a nation that is autonomous, uncontaminated, a sort of solid block of impenetrable matter, a dream that defies the reality of circulating air, water, goods, migratory animals and histories in which other borders or no borders existed, in which most of us crossed borders to arrive here. It’s a fantasy of safety, in which self and other are distinct and the other can be successfully repelled, one that begs and refuses the question of who us is and who they are. Isolationism works on both scales.
Is it too optimistic, too utopian of me, to wonder if this pandemic might be our generation’s ‘World War Two leading to the Welfare State’; the time when we realise that we are all in this together, and that it makes no sense to organise a society on the basis of individualism? Could this be the reminder we need that self and other are not distinct, and that what affects one of us affects us all? I thought maybe climate change, a problem without borders, might do it, but the Abbott Government and the Murdoch media politicised it. COVID19 is so much more immediate; we cannot avoid our interconnections; even the Morrison Government has realised that now is a time for community rather than their false god of individual freedom (to succeed or fail, live or die). Can we hold on to that truth when the pandemic is over?