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Lockdown loneliness is here to stay Even with the lifting of restrictions, this age of isolation will never end

The Age of Isolation is just beginning (Photo by MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP via Getty Images)

The Age of Isolation is just beginning (Photo by MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP via Getty Images)


April 6, 2021   4 mins

Now was supposed to be the era of the “new normal”: a brave new world that had learnt the lessons of a horrifying pandemic, that was epitomised by the death of the city, remote working and a new-found love affair with the “great outdoors”. And yet, I fear, we are entering a completely different chapter in our sociological lives: one that will come to be remembered for our loneliness.

Before Covid, few believed that the British people would accept population-wide restrictions for over a year. Yet official concerns over whether we would obey the rules swiftly dissipated as it became clear that a national lockdown was not only the most effective way forward, but also the most popular one.

You don’t have to buy into fusty caricatures of the plucky, liberty-loving Brit to find something rather troubling in this. It is one thing for people to run for cover when confronted with a terrifying new disease. It is completely another to become so cautious of each other that we look to the Government to tell us when we can hug our Grandma or let our children play freely.

It is not that we have suddenly become a nation of introverts; nor, given all the low-level rule-flouting that has been going on, does it appear that we have actually stopped seeing our nearest and dearest. Instead, we seem to have tacitly embraced loneliness as a way of life.

In 1950, when the project of sociology was more about developing big ideas than deconstructing them, David Riesman published his bestselling book The Lonely Crowd. Riesman’s central thesis was that the typical American had transformed from being “inner-directed”, with norms and values passed down through the generations and internalised at an early age, to “other-directed”: trained to be continually responsive to present-day influences — and, therefore, better suited to a bureaucratic era dominated by advertising, television and HR departments.

It spoke to an unease about the tension between the individual and “mass society”. But while Riesman’s insights fell on fertile ground, particularly in Richard Yates’s bleak 1961 novel Revolutionary Road, his diagnosis of conformity has continued to be misunderstood. Indeed, his depiction of an atomised society attuned to the “radar” of other-direction, as opposed to the “gyroscope” of inner-direction, continues to chime with prejudices about mass society; the cover of the book’s 2001 edition predictably features a flock of sheep.

Riesman, however, insisted that he was not pointing to an increase in conformity, but rather a change in how people came to conform. “Other-directed” people were not behaving as an undifferentiated mass, but as individuated souls searching for cues about how to act from those around them. Critics who interpreted Riesman’s insights as a problem of the conformist “crowd” missed the bigger point about loneliness.

This is where his discussion has most relevance today. In a similar manner, some lockdown critics choose to deride the public as misguided “sheeple”, mindlessly conforming to Government diktat; at the other extreme, some lockdown proponents assume that people are incapable of making sensible decisions and need to be banned from thinking for themselves. By constructing their claims around caricatures of “the individual”, they fail to engage with the kind of people we have become.

A quarter of a century after Riesman theorised about the changing American character, Christopher Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism diagnosed post-war American society as suffering from a pathological insecurity, brought about by the long corrosion of family and community bonds in the face of increasingly intrusive cultural forces.

But it is Lasch’s far less well-known book The Minimal Self, published in 1984, that contains the most prescient warning for today. In it, he describes how the belief that political action can create a better world has given way to an inward-looking focus on personal survival, with the primary ambition being “to hold one’s own life together in the face of mounting pressures.” Crucially, he says, the result is a self that is “beleaguered”. And like today, one consequence of this beleaguered selfhood was “a kind of emotional retreat from the long-term commitments that presuppose a stable, secure, and orderly world”.

Fast forward to the 1990s, and the kind of personality that was valued by Western societies was already shaping up to be both “other-directed” (as Reisman warned) and “beleaguered” (per Lasch). As the end of the Cold War finally brought about the collapse of political institutions and grand ideologies, this minimal self stood exposed and increasingly alone: as if to vindicate Thatcher’s famous claim that “there is no such thing as society”. There was, in essence, no such thing resembling a crowd.

Of course, both Lasch and Riesman have their critics, who correctly point to the differences between constructed “ideal types” and people in real life, who, as the past twelve months have shown, get on with living, loving, and taking responsibility for their families and communities. But our response to lockdown indicates that their theories are not as abstract as they might appear. Indeed, the past year seems to reveal a character type that is not merely other-directed or beleaguered, but what we might call other-deflected: yearning for contact and intimacy with others, while attuned to pulling back at the whiff of potential danger.

Other-deflection has been around for some time. We see it in the hesitant character of public speech, shot through with fear of causing offence; in the ambiguous value attached to sexual relationships, where people are continually encouraged to approach commitment with caution. And we have seen it, writ large, with the pandemic. For frightening and deadly though Covid has been as a disease, the enforced cessation of all spontaneous human contact has been as much about our quest to balance our desire for social contact with fear of its consequences.

When public health officials claim that we have got used to certain social distancing practices so they might as well persist, or psychologists advise people that they should “just say no” to family and friends who break lockdown rules, they are tapping into this sensibility. And even though people in real life may be bending The Rules, the absence of a public validation for physical interaction has given social life a nervy, provisional quality. For example, hugging Grandma in secret becomes a risky act that we choose to do even though it’s wrong, rather than something that is taken for granted that we ought to do because it’s right.

And so as we slowly emerge from lockdown, with our radars constantly scanning for dangers that we might pose to others and that others might pose to us, a grim truth is slowly coming into focus: that, in this age of the “New Normal”, we are loneliest when we are together.


Dr Jennie Bristow is a sociologist of generations and author of Stop Mugging Grandma


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Mike Boosh
Mike Boosh
3 years ago

I think Peter Hitchens described it best: its like waking up in a country with a new religion which you don’t belong to and which makes no sense… You go along with the trappings in public, partly so as not to upset the faithful’s feelings, and partly out of fear of being lynched, but you resent the idiocy of it all and your own cowardice in not standing up to it.

Last edited 3 years ago by Mike Boosh
Alex Lekas
Alex Lekas
3 years ago

People warned of this months ago. They were ridiculed and accused of wanting to kill grandma. People suggested that a version of house arrest despite the absence of a crime would end badly. And they were called conspiracy nuts. How lovely that we wait until the problems manifest, until they are impossible to hand wave, for someone to notice what has been a reality from the start.
There will be papers and studies in the months and years ahead that will call this a massive failure of govt, but those papers will miss one point – that this was a routine mistake, an error in judgment, or an oversight. No, the results are intentional. Foreseeable consequences are not accidents. Forcing people into lockdown and unemployment, and into isolation never ends well. Ever.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Did the article make any sense at all to anyone?, because I could get none from it. The writer is a sociologist so gives sociology book excerpts which may mean something to her but are meaningless to me, as used. Why can’t the writer just say what she means?

“Yet official co nserns over whether we would obey the rules swiftly dissipated as it became clear that a national lockdown was not only the most effective way forward, but also”

W TF? Effective if you feel destroying the education for a year – and it will not be made up, destroy the economy, wreck mental health, and put millions out of work, and is killing more people years by missed health screenings and procedures than it saved by a power of 10 is the most effective way to have handled it my guess is you burn down your house to get rid of mice.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

The majority of British people went along with the madness not because they believed it was “the best way forward” but because they didn’t feel that fighting was worth the price. The spectre of arrest, or even being accosted by the police and threatened with arrest or fines, is horrifying to most nice, law-abiding people, a humiliation. Better to endure the humiliation of submitting to arbitrary rules. I understand it, because I make that judgment call every time I put on a mask to go into a store or any public building. I don’t want to, I hate it, believe it’s useless, but to me it’s just not worth getting into a conflict over.

Geoff H
Geoff H
3 years ago

Same with me. I eventually put it on as there was no virtue in getting stares and comments, and if it made people feel ‘safe’ to see me with it on, so be it. I had exhausted all the arguments and myself in giving them. In the end, all I wanted to do was get my shopping and go home with minimum fuss – the mask made that possible. 2 + 2 = 5, whatever you want, can I go now?

Last edited 3 years ago by Geoff H
Christiane Dauphinais
Christiane Dauphinais
3 years ago
Reply to  Geoff H

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

Geoff H
Geoff H
3 years ago

Yes, that is a great quote isn’t it, and quite right too. But it joins all the other quotes that are regularly thrown around, so much so that they now come to resemble confetti – pretty to look at, lightweight and easily brushed off.

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago
Reply to  Geoff H

Yes many of us complied and now we are seeing the same push for experimental vaccines with the push of ‘you won’t be able to travel’ etc. Complying is giving the pushers of these mandates ammunition to keep doing so.

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Education lost? A percentage weren’t listening anyway and the bright ones will catch up. The economy has been paused and will recover. There were 3 million out of work in 1982. Now inward investment and the gig economy will resurrect the economy after Brexit. Mental health was a problem pre pandemic. Missed medical treatment was a decision by PHE and the NHS. Many in need of treatment and screening with lowered immune systems could have died by exposure to one of the most dangerous Covid spreading zones in the country after care homes, another NHS decision, not government.
You should adopt a more positive attitude instead of spreading your second hand doom and gloom over the proceedings like some red top journalist.

Dave Smith
Dave Smith
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Following my old teacher’s three year time interval for the effects of any seismic event to be really apparent I expect 2022/ 2023 to be very interesting years indeed and that those in power now and in positions of influence to be gone and that this country and the world to be very different for good or for bad. That is going to be up to us, For now this government needs to back off and be very fast about it. It has past the point at which it could just about to be held to be able to control events. Johnson’s latest failures on Monday have shown that all too clearly. AS for sage and the tame media both need to remember that this is an old and once stable nation that is being put in grave peril of destruction. Our children are not being safeguarded. No society can long continue under this burden .

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Dave Smith

Bill Gates said he didn’t expect the pandemic to be over until 2022.Hopefully people with businesses will be cautious and not spend too much money they probably won’t get back.-some shops at Christmas were left with thousands pounds unsold stock

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

And why in heck would anyone listen to Bill Gates? 🙁

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

The people making these decisions are all on full pay, working mainly in comfortable homes and saving themselves the bother of a commute further than their home office. It shouldn’t be a surprise that people in this position would say that we should all work from home (or tolerate unemployment) when their working lives are unaffected or improved.

eloyacano
eloyacano
3 years ago
Reply to  John Wilkes

Indeed. As Thomas Sowell has said, “It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”

Geoff H
Geoff H
3 years ago
Reply to  Alex Lekas

Forcing people into … isolation never ends well. Ever.
If it did, solitary confinement would never be used as a punishment.

David Brown
David Brown
3 years ago

“[I]t became clear that a national lockdown was not only the most effective way forward, but also the most popular one.”
There are two “facts” presented as such in that statement.
Firstly, that “a national lockdown was… effective”. Various academic studies have been done which suggest that lockdowns have been spectacularly ineffective. When nations, and even various US states, with hard lockdowns, soft lockdowns, or no lockdowns at all have been compared, the severity and timing of lockdowns has been shown to have very little effect. There are factors which do have an impact, such as population density, the proportion of multi-generational households, etc, but not lockdowns.
Secondly that “a national lockdown was… also the most popular one.” Yes, if we look at various opinion polls, we do find considerable support for the authoritarian measures being imposed by our supposedly “libertarian” PM. But why is this? The Government, aided and abetted by the Opposition and the media, have convinced the people of this country that they are at huge, almost unique risk, from this virus. A poll was conducted some months ago of young people of university age, asking them what their chances of dying of COVID would be, should they become infected by it, and the average respondent not only over-estimated the risk, but did so vastly.
We have been misled, possibly inadvertently, about the efficacy of lockdowns, and we have been misled, almost certainly deliberately, about the dangers of the virus to the greater part of the population. Now we are effectively being told that we must have the vaccine if we want to resume anything even vaguely resembling normal life, but that it probably will not work, anyway.
We are incredibly lucky that not one vaccine, but several have been developed so rapidly. Of the most vulnerable groups all but those individuals who could not or would not have the jab have received it, and increasing numbers are now having the booster. Rather than wait for those at least risk to be inoculated, the country should re-open now.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  David Brown

They lied to you on purpose. It is 100% ‘The Great Reset’! Or seemingly must be as lockdown made NO sense unless you hunt a conspiracy, it was not only insane, it will burden the West for decades in loss of life to closed NHS, lost education, lost jobs, lost economy, lost business, and LOST FREEDOM.

Mark Preston
Mark Preston
3 years ago
Reply to  David Brown

“[I]t became clear that a national lockdown was not only the most effective way forward, but also the most popular one.”
There are two “facts” presented as such in that statement.”

Remember the author is a sociologist, a group that’s not really good when it comes to hard evidence.

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago
Reply to  David Brown

China started with the lockdown of every citizen and ‘lockdowns’ grew from country to country like wild fire. It has been monkey see-monkey do ever since.

Tino Joseph
Tino Joseph
3 years ago

I don’t have any problem going back to hugs, handshakes and any other normal social behaviour.
I feel lonely in the sense that I see that many others don’t feel the same way. It’s a little sad that you’ll never know in future what reaction you’ll get to these gestures.

Perhaps those who are frightened should wear a special COVID band to alert people that they are not up for social contact of any kind.

The rest of us can get on with the business of enjoying this brief passage of time on earth to the max!

Fiona Cordy
Fiona Cordy
3 years ago
Reply to  Tino Joseph

I agree with your point about feeling lonely because others don‘t feel the same. But I don‘t like your comment about the band. Smacks of… I have been worrying that people might start expecting non vaccinated people to wear such things – or at the very least carry a bell and go around shouting leper.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago
Reply to  Tino Joseph

I do. I hate that people think they have a right to kiss or hug a person. Back off. Regardless of Covid.

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
3 years ago

Wow! You don’t think we have a right to kiss or hug each other?
Could you explain that extreme position please? I was shocked by it.
Or do you just mean don’t do it to you personally?

Last edited 3 years ago by Michael Hanson
Jane Awdry
Jane Awdry
3 years ago

It’s a shame that you hate the idea of people ‘having a right’ to hug or kiss a person. It suggests that you have been the recipient of much unwanted attention. But I demand the right for myself to be hugged and kissed by anyone that I know and love but also, with my consent, new people I am introduced to. We humans are social animals and anyone who actively enjoys being physically ostracised is missing out on one of life’s great pleasures. No, more – one of life’s great necessities.
Being told we might “kill grandma” if we even went near her suggests that Grandma is an imbecile who cannot understand anything, or assess her own risk. I’ve been visiting an elderly neighbour (90 yrs old) throughout the entire pandemic, with her full consent. She is not mobile and I have been doing her shopping etc for the last 5 years. She says would rather spend her last years in the company of those she cares about and not in isolation. I have respected her choice. She is stronger, happier and emotionally healthier as a result. And still very much alive.

Last edited 3 years ago by Jane Awdry
Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago
Reply to  Jane Awdry

Very well said Jane. Many aged people would rather have some quality of life including laughter, hugs, and visits than sit alone scared they may die. Most realize they are going to die at some point. They do not live in denial.

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago

You may want to seek some help for that.

Jane Awdry
Jane Awdry
3 years ago
Reply to  Tino Joseph

Completely agree. The only thing that terrifies me these days is the thought of having to live in this horribly proscribed fashion forever, always fearing others to be the ‘pathogen’.

John Lewis
John Lewis
3 years ago

Your first sentence rather belies the rest of your comments.

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
3 years ago

The mass compliance with the Covid tyranny has indeed been both shocking and depressing. Ze Germans would have had no problems in Britain had they invaded.
Fortunately I know enough people who saw through the Covid racket very early on so we have continued with our various pastimes, with no ill effects.

Vasiliki Farmaki
Vasiliki Farmaki
3 years ago

The term atomised society is an oxymoron the way social distancing is. Yes there is no society, but communities and culture.. Is it only me I see that there would be no global virus any time soon, without TV and mobile phones? The virus of loneliness is pouring through the evil machines we voluntarily put in our homes and hold on our hands. .. We are being reduced to both children and idiots with ever new toys which however If you look carefully there is nothing new about them other than making us lazy. Long before we become atomised-although that is far from truth- our surroundings were restricted in four walls and self-serving machinery and facilities: this is how conformity started, with the illusion that it does not matter if my neighbour and friend suffers as long as my heating works and there is enough food in my fridge in atomised packaging. Those thinkers and writers, every single of them, propagate for the same purpose: we must be guilty for everything and therefore we deserve to control nothing.. All of them is writing to narrow down the life we could have never wished for. What if there would be no electricity and water coming into our houses? What if there would be little food on the supermarket shelves? What if the satellites go bust and there is no internet? What if there is no transportation? What if there is no doctor? Who you rely on? Our neighbours is the first thing you see in the morning. Neither the old nor the new normal has been ours, and that is our opportunity to create Our Normal.
 

Wulvis Perveravsson
Wulvis Perveravsson
3 years ago

One of the stupidest rebukes I ever hear or read from the older generations towards young people complaining about the current state of things is “well we never had iPhones or all these fancy gadgets”. Poor folk who never had these inventions in their youth. They seem to forget that nobody has ever cared about not owning things they don’t know will ever exist. It also assumes that quality of life can be measured by the number of gadgets it is possible to own, and disregards the fact that we have given up much of our autonomy and freedom to drink from the chalice of materialism and poorly-focused technological progress.

Last edited 3 years ago by Wulvis Perveravsson
kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago

Of course they probably had whatever was the latest ‘thing’ in their own youth. Surprising the number of people over the age of 50 who get total amnesia where apparently they were always polite , hard-working etc in their youth but you say ‘ You were a punk, you went round with a shaven head and safety pins through your nose’ or ‘you drove your parents mad practising on the drumkit at all hours’. I think old people in the past were probably more tolerant as they usually grew up in larger families and had to put up noise etc which people today won’t. It is dreadful what we are doing to young people.

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

Well I can assure you that we never had the latest ‘things’ in our youth. The biggest mistake many parents have made is to give everything to their kids because they didn’t have those opportunities and now we have created a generation where they do want all the latest gadgets. But you are right, it is dreadful what we are doing to young people and especially for those under 20 who are very impressionable.

Hilary Arundale
Hilary Arundale
3 years ago

Some of my friends have changed a lot. For reasons that aren’t clear, as they’re not especially vulnerable, they’ve become scaredy cats. I wouldn’t bother to try to discuss the politics of lockdown with them. By carefully reading people, I try to gauge whether it’s worth talking about it. I’m wary. Thanks to this writer and to Unherd, I can sit in lonely isolation and know there are others who feel as I do. That’s life now, isn’t it?

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago

Twaddle

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago

My family members are like that, and I can’t discuss this with them for the same reason. It’s the constant exposure to and unquestioning consumption of the scaremongering mainstream media, combined with sheeplike trust in government. I’m too old to start alienating my nearest and dearest.

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago

So true Kathy. But it makes it difficult to have real conversations because one has to stay clear of the topics that cause the divide. It just doesn’t feel freeing or authentic. The scaremongering put out by the mainstream media, government and public health has been so destructive I think there will be many who will never recover. I say turn ‘off’ the television and radio programs who keep pushing this agenda.

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago

I can definitely see the divide between people, even within families and close friends. Finding like-minded people is very important – now more than ever.

Johnny Sutherland
Johnny Sutherland
3 years ago

I agree with your final paragraph.
I know too many who believe implicitly that if you walk into or out of a shop without using hand gel or step outside without a mask then “you are killing someone’s grandma”, who also believe the vaccine passport is a good idea.

Slightly off subject. The media generally are to ready to quote “the expert(s)” without giving any details of who or what sort of expert. No one seems to question this.

Marianna Kunna
Marianna Kunna
3 years ago

If everyone took the time to look for them, there are many, many experts with very different opinions. They have been silenced by social media platforms and the mainstream media. Among them are Oxford and Harvard epidemiologists.

Hilary LW
Hilary LW
3 years ago

Some very good points in this article – but Jenny Bristow herself seems quite susceptible to this “other-deflectedness”, over-anxious to avoid causing offence by appearing too Covid-sceptical… “This horrifying pandemic… terrifying new disease… frightening and deadly though Covid has been… As we slowly emerge… with our radars constantly scanning for dangers that we might pose to others and that others might pose to us…”

Oh really? Horrifying, terrifying, frightening and deadly to everyone? Who are these people creeping fearfully out of their houses waving radar dishes and flinching at the approach of strangers? There’s little acknowledgement of the role of government and the media in generating panic from natural caution and terror from normal anxiety. When people are terrified they stop thinking – they become paralysed, unable to think or ask questions. Terrified people are very easy to control. And yes, if they’re constantly being told, every time they switch on their televisions or connect to Facebook, that there’s a horrific deadly disease out there, that they may be infected with this plague themselves without even knowing it, then of course they’ll cower in their houses and look to others to tell them what to do. Even at the cost of loneliness and despair.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago

LOCKDOWN was a way of putting the burden of a present situation which only effects the old for the most part, on the shoulders of the young.

I think Lockdown’s destruction of education, and MMT money printing wrecking the future economy and pensions and jobs, , are analogous to a situation where the people in The Blitz (WWII bombing of the British Cities) could have the bombs dropping put off for 30 years so they would not have to endure them, but their children will instead.

82 year olds make it to 83, youth who were poor students never catch up and become unemployable with mental issues. Good Trade!

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Yes and it would seem a lot of 82 year olds approve of this as I don’t remember seeing their million strong march protesting and they certainly come out in strength for other ‘urgent’ matters such as the TV licence.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago
Reply to  kathleen carr

Sweeping statements again.

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago

ok it is, but bossy old people can mobilize when it suits them.They are the ones who run all the charity shops after all.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago

“…a national lockdown was the most effective way forward….: wrong. “Terrifying pandemic”…wrong. Government and media made it terrifying. In truth it was (and still is) nothing more than a cold virus, harmless to most of the population. It was a bit more dangerous to the elderly and infirm, but even people from those groups who caught it had about a 94 percent survival rate. The most effective way forward would have been to let it run its course through the healthy population, perhaps see a spike in time off work due to illness with a cold that was a bit harder to shake than most, while focusing prevention efforts on the frail and elderly. “Asymptomatic transmission” was a load of bollocks. People who are actually sick with a virus have always been counseled to avoid contact with vulnerable people, and would have followed the same guidelines with this virus. If nothing whatsoever had been shut down, if normal life had continued, probably about the same number of people would have died (most of them being people who would have died sometime in 2020 regardless), without the lives of millions – and particularly those of those same elderly and vulnerable people that all this was supposed to protect – being plunged into lonely, abject misery..

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago

I remember wondering if ‘they’ were protecting us from something else -a metorite hurtling towards earth or something as it was on a global scale and they seemed very keen on us staying close to home . It doesn’t seem to make sense to destroy the economies of western countries as poorer countries which rely on us will suffer the most.

Vikram Sharma
Vikram Sharma
3 years ago

The article may be confusing two things. One is the atomisation of society in the West, and the books she cites are wonderful expositions of that. I would also add to the list Bowling Alone by Robert Putnam who illustrates every statement about atomisation in USA with hard data (including uncomfortable findings that homogenous societies like Scandinavians are more trusting and communal).
The pandemic response on the other hand is a recent and sudden event whose long term outcome and impact cannot be foretold.
It is easy to think ahead a year or two and suggest that we will still be nervy, jumpy, anxious lot covering in our lonely hides. But it may not be so. We may come to value things we took for granted before the pandemic, including hugs and other marvellous magics of human contact. We may travel less but savour more. We may celebrate communal events more often and better. We may belatedly recognise that interdependence is comforting and independence isolating.
I am not predicting it will happen. But I don’t think the alternative is guaranteed either.
The bigger danger to society comes not from the loneliness from the lockdown but the tribal fissures caused by the Guardian, the BBC and the race hustlers who thrive on dividing us. The author mentions it briefly in the hesitant nature of political debate lest things cause offence. Therein lies greater risk.

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago
Reply to  Vikram Sharma

Well I look to what has occurred after 9-11. People very quickly looked for and hoped for things to be put in place to ‘protect’ us. I am generally a very optimistic person but I am concerned this pandemic may bring about changing the course of our lives forever in regards to social contact, work, play and living. I want to be wrong about this.

David J
David J
3 years ago

Your first paragraph seems to echo little more than the media commenters’ view of it all.
People I know are just getting on with life, accepting what we can and can’t do, and rolling with it, with little or no whining.
Meantime, we are looking forward to building out our social lives step by step through 2021. For example, next Monday I go walking with friends, one of whom has flagged a lunch stop which should be possible. If not, we’ll take sandwiches and drinks instead: no prob.

Swiveleyed Loon
Swiveleyed Loon
3 years ago
Reply to  David J

@DavidJ – You and your friends are just accepting what you can and can’t do and rolling with it. I am fighting the whole damn psyop with every ounce of courage and determination I can muster. How DARE they shut our lives down, destroy our businesses and towns, condemn us to loneliness, and remove the fundamental principle of English common law that everything which is not prohibited is permitted – and all for a disease with a trivial infection fatality rate and an average age at death the same as before the pandemic? How dare they?
I know I’m in the minority but I don’t care. I will go down fighting. I remember these words whenever I feel downhearted, and they still ring true even though we are no longer a united Kingdom:-
we have been nurtured in freedom and individual responsibility and are the products, not of totalitarian uniformity but of tolerance and variety.’

Fiona Cordy
Fiona Cordy
3 years ago

Hear hear!

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago

My feelings exactly. I am so angry about all of this I worry that it’s changed my disposition permanently. I’m becoming a bitter, argumentative hag! But better than being a sheep.

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago

I agree! As Robert F Kennedy Jr. says, “I would rather die standing up than on my knees”. Too many are on their knees.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago
Reply to  David J

“Accepting what we can and can’t do”…but who gets to decide what you can and can’t do? And what gives them the right to decide that?
The government of my western Canadian province recently ordered (yet another) closure of all cafes and restaurants, due to rising cases of Covid in the province. Not rising deaths, mind you, or even rising hospitalizations, just rising CASES. Only takeout service is available until April 19. There are exactly two coffeeshops in my immediate neighbourhood (one of them currently struggling desperately); both of them were already closed at 3 pm today when I went for a walk, meaning that, in the city of Vancouver, I was unable to get a cup of coffee in the mid-afternoon. Tell me again how exactly this is “saving lives”. People are NOT catching this virus in f***ing cafes. We know that; everyone knows that. And yet we continue to submit. Yes, I know, it won’t kill me not to be able to get a cup of coffee on my walk. I can drink coffee at home. But it’s the reason why I can’t do it that pisses me off. And the destruction of small businesses in my community makes me even angrier.

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago

In Ontario, same thing. With the Premier, saying he is locking down harder than anywhere in North America. Why be so proud of that? Mass protests like we see in parts of Europe are needed in North America.

Russ Littler
Russ Littler
3 years ago

Medical practitioners are complicit in the crime. They had the knowledge to halt this in it’s tracks and failed to do so.

Andre Lower
Andre Lower
3 years ago

Sure, lockdown magnifies the effects of loneliness. But let’s not exaggerate its role.
If people were really that keen on sharing life with till-now-strangers, they would show different attitudes towards potentially different opinions, enforce better personal hygiene & grooming standards, discuss relevant matters instead of platitudes and stop being offended so damn easily.
Human contact is not for everyone. And not everyone is worth the required effort.
What, you’re offended?

Last edited 3 years ago by Andre Lower
Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago
Reply to  Andre Lower

Enforce better personal hygiene?

Arild Brock
Arild Brock
3 years ago

The article is to the point, in my opinion. „Indeed, the past year seems to reveal a character type that is not merely other-directed or beleaguered, but what we might call other-deflected: yearning for contact and intimacy with others, while attuned to pulling back at the whiff of potential danger. “
We risk ending up like “a wood of” trembling aspen leaves. When the part of the population not reasonably self-confident exceeds a certain percentage, the last holders of self-confidence will land in a position where the outcome of their actions towards others is no longer reasonably predictable. Then also the last holders will rightly suffer from anxiety.
Perhaps we are already there. I guess we have to look for something radical. 

elephants54
elephants54
3 years ago

lockdwon was never about health.It was about transferring wealth from the poor to tehr ich,without having to consult Parlaiment or face protests from working people in the uk., we have lost our righst over a flu which has a 97% survival rate, with a fully operational NHS with all the right KEY professionals eg Respeiratory phsycians. phsyiotherapists,immunologists/virologist/lab techinicains and radiographers. so, why has the NHS not left to deal with a 0.$% serious viral pneumonias with complications, with additional support??

Graeme Archer
Graeme Archer
3 years ago

Mrs Thatcher didn’t claim “There’s no such thing as society” and then stop, triumphant in some fatuous, chilling assertion of hyper-individualism. You know this. You know we know this. You know that we know that you know this. I know that you know that we know this to the extent that I can’t even be bothered typing out the rest of her phrase.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
3 years ago

A series of theoretical emotive and partial assertions. Some comments below are illogical. You can’t moan about alienation whilst attacking most other people who have been patriotically rule following during an exceptional crisis and caring for others. The opposite of alienation! It’s been fascinating watching people thrashing ideologically around in the face of a completely amoral organism. Tellingly Corbyn and Steve Baker are together on one side of the argument. That monstrous pairing ought to indicate what rationalists ought to do- the opposite. Like Guardianistas, these people always end up whinging that life isn’t perfectly fair to everyone so we should somehow illogically prevent alienation by doing as we individually please? Ye Gods.

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
3 years ago

For some maybe. For others the reminder we are lonely when the mob, the crowd, are a gang of mindless cretins, either obeying the letter of the law to extremes, snitching, pointlessly wearing a mask when alone in a car for example, or joining baying mobs excited by second hand outrage or some sort of playground gang mentality of “be cool to be with us or you’re out.”
Any single parent will tell you, being in the house with two chidren can be lonely at times, they being at a different communication level to an adult. The pandemic has reminded people they were lonely already, sometimes by choice, sometimes by circumstance. Same with mental health, the problems just highlighted.
I suggest we will return to the old ‘normal’. Like going to the darkened cinema in daytime, we emerge into bright daylight, slightly surprised until the sensation subsides. Our friends will still be friends, unless their pandemic behaviour, similar to their Brexit attitude, has been so odd we’ve seen them in a new light. Our enemies were always there and, judging by the MSM, we may have discovered some new ones .

Michelle Johnston
Michelle Johnston
3 years ago

I returned from New Zealand on the 28th March and once out of quarantine I have been fascinated to observe the residual effects (to date) of the last year. Several matters have surprised me:-
1) The call centre phone calls to trigger credit cards, a vehicle, whatever have been characterised by a transformed sense of “Be Kind” rather than the bureaucratic stand offishness there is a sense of come on lets work through this together. Lets not make things worse.
2) When I meet old acquaintances on the street we are as connected and as interactive as ever. This morning I was spontaneously given a bunch of welcome home lilies at my fav flower shop.
3) In New Zealand last year whilst moving away from each other we made an extra effort to say g’day I am astonished to find the same thing happening here (except in the young and some very nervy elderly actually out).
4) The co morbid and elderly are entirely absent from the streets and my suspicion that we have saved the elderly for years of loneliness will come true and will require real effort to prevent. They are quite simply terrified.
I think the desire to reach out remains and I see people in the parks chatting away over shared coffee’s but I think what this was all about, keeping those co morbid elderly alive whilst you trash everything and everyone else, will look exceptionally ironic as they continue to hide away. Because as the health authorities and media will tell us there will always be threats its just the young are fine and the thoughtful have not lost their capacity to calibrate risk (an issue which has been shown few people are able to do and need to be told).
As some one said to me of course the usual suspects are suffering from Long Covid, just like they suffer long everything else. Not entirely true or fair but the last 15 months have tilted in favour of the weak and the elderly having more reason to be obsessed by health and that will remain for a very long time. Self imposed exile.
For me to be in my home town without a million and one visitors this spring and summer and to reacquaint myself is exciting and I also live alone and very happily so and I am never lonely.
It will not be long before there are calls for a department of reconnection and of course many here will raise their eyebrows who never needed to be herded anywhere in the first place.

Last edited 3 years ago by Michelle Johnston
Neil Blunt
Neil Blunt
3 years ago

Very refreshing to read this poignant and accurate summary. A fitting response to the horrible self-righteous smugness of the previous poster.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
3 years ago
Reply to  Neil Blunt

No, the ‘medical practitioners and scientists’ have been a major leader in this disaster. SAGE and NHS, two of the Problems! Not the solution. NHS showed how useless they are, SAGE showed how monstrous they – both given power, both abused it TOTALLY!

David Collier
David Collier
3 years ago

other-deflected: yearning for contact and intimacy with others, while attuned to pulling back at the whiff of potential danger”. Yes this has been happening for many years, it’s the attitude of being risk-averse to the extent of assuming that if you surround yourself with insurance you can live with no risk at all. This was a lot easier to achieve in static coherent groups of people as used to pertain much more than it does anywhere now, now whoever you are you’ll likely come into contact with all sorts, which if you’re not feeling fully self-confident can appear as a threat to what you hold to be the glue of society. Covid has dramatically exacerbated this – it’s the enemy without – but it will subside, it will become manageable, the question is the one that the article raises, will the feeling of need for insurance against all conceivable threat subside in unison? Seems unlikely, as the author suggests. That is unless there is guidance from those in authority – state agencies of one sort or another – to extol the benefits of openness and creativity, i.e. risk. To stop bitching and get constructively disagreeing, though, er, I wouldn’t want to unequivocally censure those who given to bitching either of course!

Last edited 3 years ago by David Collier
Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago
Reply to  David Collier

We should not need guidance from state agencies and others to give us permission to live and mingle with others.

elephants54
elephants54
3 years ago

06/04/21
Active cv flu Cases
22,842,672 flu Infections
22,744,079 (99.6%)
in Mild Condition
98,593 (0.4%) Serious or Critical meaning needing admission intoa respiratory ward or HDU SETTING.
WHY HAS NICE NOT CREATED A NATIONAL POLICY ON TREATMENT ON THIS SPECIFIC VIRAL PNEUMONIA???

eloyacano
eloyacano
3 years ago

The author said, “it became clear that a national lockdown was not only the most effective way forward . . .” Evidence suggests that lockdowns are actually ineffective. As pointed out in an article covering an interview with Knut Wittkowski, Ph.D., biostatistician and epidemiologist: “‘If the vulnerable had been shielded and the virus had been allowed to be exposed, naturally acquired herd immunity would have been reached in around six weeks.
“‘What lockdowns did was treat everyone in the same way so that people with vulnerabilities have an EQUAL [emphasis mine] chance of being exposed — so those who are most vulnerable become MORE [emphasis mine] heavily infected and consequently ‘they are the people who die.’
“Wittkowski says ‘Lockdowns are not saving lives, they’re costing lives. Every respiratory disease 
 virus epidemic 
 every one one of them, ends with herd immunity. There is no other way for an epidemic to end. So it’s not an invention — a strategy — it’s just the way nature regulates respiratory disease epidemics.’ . . .
“Wittkowski is resolute that it is lockdowns that give the greatest chance of creating new variants. The more stringent and longer the lockdown and the longer it takes to achieve herd immunity, the greater the risk. Spain, he says, the country that had one of the most draconian lockdowns, incubated the first resistant strain. It then came to the UK in October or November 2020.” (Interview from Lifesite news.)
Of course, Wittkowski is hardly the only one saying this.

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago
Reply to  eloyacano

Ahhh but ‘they’ wanted to wait for the silver bullet – vaccines to save us all. That is their idea of herd immunity.

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
3 years ago

Precisely, well said.
Consummatum est!

kathleen carr
kathleen carr
3 years ago

Exactly so. There are some people who never use their common sense ( or perhaps it was stolen from them). So normally even if you bought food from a reputable place with a good sell by date , nevertheless, if it smelled ‘funny’you would leave it alone. However I know people who would insist on eating this food-but complaining later when they felt ill-but its a top food shop and the date was ok. Well something has smelled funny since last March & I don’t like it & I intend to leave it alone. If you are foolish enough to go along with officialdom because ‘they know whats best for us’-then on your own head be it.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
3 years ago

I find this article unconvincing and the usual anti-lockdown whining, all too evident in these columns, increasingly boring.
I think a year ago the British people realised that they were on the edge of a precipice and were persuaded that difficult and radical measures would have to be taken. As they did in 1939 they decided to knuckle down, exercise common sense and patience and make the best of it. Realising this was an emergency of huge proportions very difficult decisions would have to be made. They could only be made by our elected leaders who would be accountable to the electorate.
My view is that there will come a tipping-point when the numbers of infections and deaths will be more or less the same as other respiratory viruses and we shall decide we can live with Covid. That will be the time when we shall fully take up on our lives again because we are sociable beings. Meanwhile we should be patient, sensible, put up with inconvenience for the sake of others, keep things in proportion, and some of us, stop whining.

Claire Olszanska
Claire Olszanska
3 years ago

Well said. Biggest moaners on Covid are on this forum. Nature can be nasty. Man up.

Hilary LW
Hilary LW
3 years ago

It’s not nature in this case: it’s a political response to a virus modified in a lab.

Kathy Prendergast
Kathy Prendergast
3 years ago

We’re not “moaning” or “whining”; we’re furious. There’s a difference. And these lockdowns haven’t directly impacted my life too much; I’m not young anymore, have a good employer (who is however struggling like hell right now) and have been a pretty solitary person for many years. I’m angry on behalf of those whose lives have been wrecked, needlessly. Those who have died due to lack of access to health care. Those who committed suicide due to despair and loneliness. Those who have lost their businesses and their livelihoods. Those for whom nothing will ever be the same in this “new normal”.

Michael Hanson
Michael Hanson
3 years ago

Well said!
Furious is what we are.

Michael Whittock
Michael Whittock
3 years ago

Many people have been tragically affected by Covid. You have encapsulated that very effectively in your response. I too am angry at the havoc this evil thing has wrought and I am also deeply sorry for the 126,000+ people who have died and their families. I am sure that if we had not had the lockdown the number of dead would have been 200,000+. Either way people would suffer but the greatest number of deaths, by far, would have been through Covid.

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago

“Either way people would suffer but the greatest number of deaths, by far, would have been through Covid.” You have got to be kidding. We also have to look beyond deaths. The death of businesses that are employing people. The spin-offs are far greater than death Michael. Look at the big picture.

Elizabeth W
Elizabeth W
3 years ago

Yes, short term I think most people were on board but we are now looking at 14 months of this nonsense. It isn’t about whining over a little inconvenience. This is life altering to many and we will see the fall-out for years to come especially for our children and youth.