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We live in extraordinary times, one where police powers have been increased for our own benefit. Now, more than ever, we need to make sure we place limits on what we allow.
It was the use of the word ‘blatantly’ that got to me. There she was, the Queensland Police Commissioner, wearing her uniform, with two lanyards (obviously a very important person), with the Premier behind her. People had gone ‘blatantly’ for a drive, being out of their homes ‘for no good reason’.
Should be shot. Pity we can’t do that anymore. But now, with the new rules and police discretion, we can fine them. And we will. With abandon. Finally, some real power!
The day after, we were confronted with our own Gladys, telling us to follow the rules, ‘or else’. Here we go, I thought, I am watching the disintegration this pact we’ve made, this trust we have in our leaders to do the right thing. Already. Because that, I’m sure you’ve realised, is what we are in the middle of an experiment to see how long an agreement between governments and their citizenry can stand, and what is needed to keep it going.
Of course, there is the virus. That is crisis number one. It concerns our health, and especially the health of the old and the sick. That makes us afraid, and willing to give a little, to help ourselves and those in need.
In order to do that, we look to our leaders to tell us how. But also to make that proportionate. We don’t mind surrendering some freedoms, but there are limits to what we are prepared to do, or not do. Don’t, for instance, punish us for eating a kebab on a bench, sitting in a car minding our own business, or conducting a driving lesson with an L-plater. Or my all-time favourite, for ‘being too far from home’.
In order to do that, we look to our leaders to tell us how. But also to make that proportionate. We don’t mind surrendering some freedoms, but there are limits to what we are prepared to do, or not do
Then they remind us of our parents on a bad day. That is why the language (‘blatantly’ and ‘or else’) was so wrong too. It didn’t address us as partners, but treated us like wayward children. And because The Pact is a contract between equals, you overstepped the boundaries. Once you do that, we start to respond accordingly, as ticked-off ten-year-olds: we raid the cookie-jar when you are not looking.
One of the issues is that the virus is not the only crisis. There are at least two more. First of all, obviously, the economy. Most of us are financially in deep doo-doo. If we are not losing money now, we will in future, with our Superannuation tanking, our houses and our tiny savings accounts (if we have managed to scrape those together) becoming less valuable by the minute.
Then there is the way our lives have shrunk, which I would call crisis number three.
We are at home, in houses that were never meant to be lived in 24/7, with people we love but don’t need to be with all the time. We miss our normality, the person we were and the place we had in the world. We can’t travel, we can’t visit our nearest, we can’t walk out for a coffee, and on the footpath. We have no control over our lives, and the second we start to cough we think we are going to die. All of this comes after most of us have lived through a summer that was ruled by the fires-near-me app; and quite a few of us were already exhausted by the consequences of drought and other horrors.
So we are tired. And tetchy. And we don’t mind The Pact if it really is for our own good. If it has an end point. And if we are treated like adults. The Pact is based on trust. We as citizens do things (or refrain from things) because we trust our governments to have our best interests at heart. Once they start handing out fines for ridiculous infringements, they put another brick in the wall, à la Pink Floyd. Surveillance by tracking our phones: four more bricks. Asking us to dob on each other: six to eight.
What is that golden rule again? ‘Tell us: we won’t. Ask us: we might. Involve us: we will’.
If we are not careful, we will soon have another crisis on our hands, one of our own making. Because in times when we don’t have a parliament, when democracy doesn’t function, when we are ruled by a police force with far too much discretion, disobedience becomes not only a normal instinctual response, but a must.