• Stephen Balogh

Après la Covid-19, le déluge

Adapting the famous phrase attributed to Louis XV, what happens after Covid? I’ll return later to this choice of title because I think it offers a mildly interesting meditation on fate and agency. (For those interested, the gendering of Covid in French as feminine in French is because it relates to the feminine noun maladie, as ruled by the Académie Française.)

My own prediction about the world beyond la Covid-dix-neuf is that there will be no abating of le déluge of post-Covid projections. There, that was easy.

There is of course the obvious, calamitous debt overhang that people as yet unborn will have to repay through higher taxes and the consequences of balance sheet destruction across entire sectors. There are the as-yet almost unnoticed geopolitical issues from the reversing of global growth engines affecting the world’s poor on a vast scale, wealth creation and distribution being far and away the biggest drivers of social improvement. There will be undoubted redistribution of public funds to healthcare.

However, when it comes down to it, I don’t think anyone really knows whether the events of 2020/21 will prove to have been a truly pivotal moment in human history rather than a temporarily serious blip or mild gradient change in the trend lines of so many graphs. Without wanting to trivialise its all-too-human effects at the time, how many multi-decade timelines highlight the Spanish Influenza pandemic as the moment when the course of history changed?

With the only available historical analogy being “not since wartime …”, I suspect all these multi-trillion-scaled dimensions merely add to the generalised sense of social and geopolitical instability that has been inexorably rising throughout this century so far.

Beyond the time-honoured twin certainties of death (brought forward for too many as measured by excess deaths, any future “compensating” balancing out from negative excess deaths unknown) and taxes (more and more), what might be the real effects on individual people? This is where there is the almost mystical not-quite-joining point between the “macro” of aggregate effects and the “micro” perspective of the individual.

Amidst the plethora of projections, one recent article did strike me as being much closer to home, in fact within the home.

My first entry in this blog series was a set of reflections about the loss of random social interactions in public spaces such as in streets and on trains and buses and the resultant thinning of cross-community encounters (https://www.baloghblog.uk/post/coronavirus-and-a-loss-of-social-capital-from-thinner-random-interaction). Encounters unlikely to be replaced by online equivalents for reasons of self-selection and herd instincts except for the minority who happen to have a proactively cross-social state of mind. But I suspect most people would put this in the ‘dispensable luxury’ category just now, much bigger concerns predominating.

But if casual random interaction amongst strangers is deemed optional, what about between those supposedly on familiar terms, perhaps even literally on family terms? On this, it is an article in the Telegraph on 25th Feb 2021 by columnist Sherelle Jacobs that caught my eye. It was entitled ‘Beware the post-lockdown youth crime explosion’ (OK, doesn’t affect me, someone else’s problem) with the by-line ‘Middle-class children are being sucked into a world Tories wrongly see as only affecting the working class’ (uh oh, maybe it does, better pay a bit of attention).

The article is at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/2021/02/25/beware-post-lockdown-youth-crime-explosion/. It is behind a paywall (you might get lucky if you click) but, hoping not to impinge on copywrite material too much, I have paraphrased it a little below.

The article is built on comments made by Sheldon Thomas, ex-gang member and CEO of charity Gangsline. He observed that increasing numbers of middle-class children are being drawn into crime, and that this is being exacerbated by coronavirus-induced cabin fever in what he calls “the phenomenon of loveless middle-class homes” in which children are more tolerated than lovingly nurtured, the past year in cohabitational arrangements in which almost all of life now takes place with many fewer obvious safety valves. One chilling vignette: the teenage girl from a good home caught up in county lines who mused that even in lockdown it takes her high-flying father "three days to respond to a text, but the drill rappers respond online in 30 seconds". For anyone interested in reading more about it, Gangsline is at https://www.gangsline.com/.)

Albeit focused on parent-child family settings (which so much evidence shows is a primary indicator of adult prospects as children gain their majority), there is also a wider point to be made. Bare, transactional interaction, whether by means of physical proximity or even non-proximate correspondence, is necessary but simply not sufficient for true enrichment and a cumulative count of mere encounter an empty metric.

In the other posting I am preparing in this small batch, I cite one of my favourite poems (see www.baloghblog.uk/post/whose-baby), which is a plaintive paean to authentic human relations. It is this that I think will really count when the coronavirus deluge recedes and we truly see what choice of clothing our human interactions were bathing in: adorned with genuine intent for the betterment of others or denuded of true sensibility.

I have been pondering this last year or two on a couple of phrases: ‘intentional accompaniment’ and ‘faithful presence’. I won’t elaborate on them too much here as I intend to write more later on, but they would seem to me to be complementary, overlapping expressions that express something quite deep in the way of ideal relationships between people, whatever the context.

I will also defer to another blog entry my intended reflections on the dichotomies between fate and agency embodied in ‘Après moi, le deluge’, instead asking this question by way of mild challenge to anyone reading now: how truly faithful is my presence and how genuinely intentional is my accompaniment, to those I consider close to me, let alone others further afield?

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