Coronavirus and the disease of individualism


Supermarket shelves are being cleared of soap and toilet rolls. 

Whilst some people are taking precautions they need to because of pre-existing health issues, for others it's more selfish. Never mind that, in reality, the more people who take basic hygiene precautions, the better for everyone.

One thing that this attitude of 'haul-the-ladder-up-Jack-I'm-alright' reeks of is individualism. It's all about ME. What I want and making sure I have enough.

Yet this simply does not work in society.

I'm not an expert in infectious diseases. I'm a social scientist, so that's the perspective I speak from. I rely on the wisdom and expertise of doctors in those areas to educate me on the medical disease piece of the puzzle, but what concerns me here is a social disease.

The disease of unchecked individualism

Any contagious disease needs a collective effort to contain, let alone eradicate. When the healthy and wealthy use their privilege to stock up and leave nothing for those who cannot stock up (not least elderly, disabled, poor and those who rely on public transport so can only carry what their arms can lift), they also leave themselves vulnerable.

This is not a political post in any way. I know some will read it and apply a filter according to their own perspectives. They are wrong.

This is a human post. This post is about how, when we only look out for ourselves, the people that we overlook become vulnerable, and their vulnerability WILL impact us ultimately.

Hoarding my resources may make me rich or give me a false sense of security, but if I do not look out for the vulnerable in society, if I don't care beyond the end of my own nose, then, my soul is corroded and I have bigger issues than I realise.

In what is happening worldwide with this emerging and quite unusual COVID -19 outbreak/epidemic/pandemic (goodness knows what it will be by the time you read this), is a challenge beyond the disease.

It is a challenge to the rampant individualism we have merrily embraced. It is a challenge to the 'my rights' culture that conveniently overlooks any corporate responsibilities. It is a challenge to the idea of being 'self-made' and ignoring the opportunities, privilege, support and relationships that have given you the security or wealth you currently enjoy.

This disease may be scary- not least to those of us with pre-existing health conditions- but it is made more so in a culture that cares for itself to the exclusion of caring about others, and one so concerned that I not miss out that I don't trust in others' decency not to leave me out. 

At its most basic level, this means doing what has been recommended and hand washing regularly, coughing into the crook of your elbow, staying away from groups if you think you might be ill... really basic stuff... and yet I still see people using the bathroom for example, and not washing their damn hands... or coughing without covering their mouth. I mean, COME ON! 

This is truly where this disease has the power to hurt on a much bigger scale. 

If we do not act with concern for others, more people will become vulnerable- both directly through the illness, and indirectly as the knock-on effects of our selfishness put even more strain on the health service, food and goods supply lines,, and more.

We have an opportunity to catch ourselves and begin thinking more about others. To start acting more neighbourly, like generations before us did, understanding that we do not exist in a vacuum and we really do need each other, whether we like it or not.

Not everyone has the option to stay home, many cannot afford to buy more than minimum in any given shop. We can all do our bit not to make this any harder than it needs to be, but it will require us to dial down the individualism for the sake of society.

And to wash our damn hands.