Pandemical Discourses 7: Happy now..? Optimism or Hope?

Distantly Related: ‘Fieldwork’ at 42 Carlton Place by Jamie Limond
17th May 2020
Judith Butler’s ‘The Force of Nonviolence’ by Johnny Rodger
25th May 2020

Are we starting to see a more positive prospect as countries start to move out of lockdown, and the frightful toll of deaths per day starts to fall at last? Not according to the National, with a grim assessment by Tom McTague of the Geopolitical aftershocks set to be unleashed post-pandemic.  The National – Tom McTague -The Pandemic’s Geopolitical Aftershocks  

In a short video at The Intercept, Naomi Klein initially seems to concur, reminding us –yet again – of the classic pessimism of her ‘Shock Doctrine’ that in the wake of any social catastrophe authoritarian governments will exploit the public’s disorientation to clamp down on the commonweal and distribute privileges amongst the corporate few.  The Intercept-Naomi Klein-Coronavirus Capitalism As we come out of the pandemic crisis, however, she sees a once in history opportunity to snatch progressive victory out of Trump’s tiny grasping hands and the making of a just and sustainable future with a New Green Deal.

So what are the stirring signs for such optimism? One is that we might be able to see further into the future because there is clearer air. Kate Connolly notes in the Guardian that in cities across the world from Budapest to Bogota’, the public realm is being reshaped radically in favour of cyclists and pedestrians. The empty streets of the lockdown have meant that major alterations to cities roads, streets and public spaces were planned and able to go ahead to change the way we travel – much to the ‘disgruntlement of car lobbyists’ – The Guardian-Kate Connoly-Cleaner and Greener Further support comes from of all places, the Financial Times, here reporting on the boom in renewable energy. Financial Times -UK renewables success in pandemic

A more immediate and drastic case of saving the world seems to have been taking place in Ireland. In the 2 Irelands 2gether Blog, Andy Pollak relates how the experience of Covid 19 has actually healed some of the sectarian wounds and divisions in the North. Graffiti and murals extolling the heroism of fighters and slandering the enemy have been replaced with praises of the NHS –although ‘National’ is still a difficult word in that context 2Irelands2Gether-Andy Pollak-Solidarity and Kindness

In the New York Times, Amanda Taub looks to political leadership to explain tone case for optimism, and some of the ‘successes’ of the pandemic crisis, with her ‘Interpreter’ piece, ‘Why are Women-led nations doing better with Covid-19?’ Is a woman leader in a male dominated world of politics, she asks, a sign that a country has more inclusive political institutions and values and is thus more versatile in facing a social crisis like Covid? The exemplar is, of course, Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand (no mention here for Nicola Sturgeon, despite the citing of an Edinburgh University expert)-what lessons can be learnt from her handling of the crisis? NYTimes-Amanda Taub-Coronavirus Women Leaders

As said crisis matures, the dynamic between leadership and scrutiny is one of the most pressing concerns – and a major dampener on this nascent optimism. Starmer may have – for now – reinvigorated the opposition at Westminster but journalists have been a mixed bag at best.  We need look no further than either side of the M8. While the Herald pursues conspiracy- fawning over David Icke and refusing to acknowledge early press coverage over certain Edinburgh conferences that cheapens perfectly valid lines of enquiry, the Scotsman has proved the more robust pillar in the crumbling fourth estate. Much does depend on the authorship, however. Dani Garavelli’s long form, detailed writing was an important factor in how the Salmond verdict has been received, and may prove the same in the case of Scottish Care Homes and its Coronavirus experience. The Scotsman – Dani Garavelli – Care homes and coronavirus

But as Drouth-stalwart Peter Geoghegan, writing with Mary Fitzgerald in the Guardian warns, there are many signs that careful, thoughtful weighing of the evidence over Covid-19 and the associated measures will suffer the same fate as careful, thoughtful weighing of the evidence over Brexit. Far right bruisers and contrarians have already hijacked the term ‘sceptic’ to make lockdown, the conservation of public health and due attention to expertise a culture war. The Guardian- Geoghegan and FitzGerald – The ‘lockdown sceptics’ want a culture war

 We can expect to see the same streams of dark money, analytics and propaganda propelling it along (something Geoghegan has also written on). It may be more likely that Trump’s tiny, grasping hands will use such means to snatch victory back this November and make the post-coronavirus world even darker than Tom McTague speculates.

Which is why we should never confuse optimism with that favoured word of Obama’s – hope. Optimism is a (daring) consideration, an evaluation of prevailing conditions and trends there to be coaxed and supported. Hope is the shredded, tattered thing we have been clinging to these past five years, with optimism effectively out of the question. So to pose the question – are we right here, right now, coaxing or just clinging? Only hindsight can answer that.