Like most of my readers, I have been locked indoors for the last month because of precautionary measures the world’s governments have taken to combat the Covid-19 pandemic. After a long-time pondering what to make of it all, the moment has come to share a few upbeat insights.
The coronavirus pandemic has exposed some very pessimistic myths about modern society.
Before the pandemic, we used to believe – to varying degrees admittedly – that there was a crisis of trust. Trust survey after trust survey revealed that the public claimed it no longer trusted politicians, experts, firms or the media.
Commentators never stopped telling us that social media had created a toxic all-about-me society, in which everybody communicated their prejudices within their chosen echo chambers. The public, it was said, was so fragmented that it could only be understood and connected with at the micro-level. Social solidarity, it was believed, was dead.
Yet to fight Covid-19, the experts advised that we impose mass lockdowns. The politicians ordered the lockdowns and enacted legislation to give them unprecedented emergency powers in a peace time crisis. These measures had substantial, immediate negative impacts on the social life, livelihood and future prospects of the mass public.
Instead of getting angry, the masses have come onto their balconies or stood at their garden gates – keeping a safe distance – to applaud the essential workers who are putting their health on the line during this crisis. The call for volunteers to come together to support the elderly and other vulnerable sections of society has also been met with an overwhelmingly positive response.
The truth is that the public has mostly accepted that politicians will not abuse the temporary powers they have been granted to curtail our freedom in order to protect our health.
That rather suggests that, even if the underlying, polarising social tensions, which this blog exists to examine, still exist, the death of trust, selflessness and social solidarity has been much exaggerated. This unexpected discovery places a big responsibility on the shoulders of the authorities to make the right calls in the near future.
The real test of the sustainability of public trust will be whether the management of this pandemic withstands informed criticism over time. If the leadership of the authorities loses credibility, they will not be given a second chance to obtain the benefit of public trust in a moment of crisis.