Members event: has lockdown changed us forever?

June 25, 2021
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For 15 months, we have been unable to gather in large groups, walk into a shop without a mask or even go to your local pub without having to scan a code from your phone; it is the first time that western nations have locked down their populations — and they managed to do so with little resistance. What does this all mean for the way our society is organised? On the day the lockdown was supposed to be lifted, Freddie Sayers spoke to a panel of UnHerd contributors to ask: how has lockdown changed us? 

Don’t miss this highlights video — and make sure to join UnHerd to be invited to our next event!

On lockdown:

Mary Harrington

Over the past 15 months, we’ve had where we can go controlled, strictly limited, and confined to a narrow area. We’ve become accustomed to far greater levels of surveying one another. In a sense, we’ve all become helicopter children. And my fear is that unless we can shake our heads and clear that fog of being helicoptered from our entire way of being, then it will be the death knell for a general acceptance of the norms of liberal democracy.
- Mary Harrington, UnHerd

Aris Roussinos:

Lockdown itself is fundamentally just a distraction, a minor inconvenience in historical terms. But it’s been a catalyst, which is moving us to a new era of history…It took the Covid experience to awaken people to our societal dependence in China…Now we are seeing a return of the state and the end of this unthinking neoliberal consensus. Covid is the equivalent of the 1973 oil crisis in that it didn’t need to lead to neoliberalism…It was just a catalyst… So it has ushered in a kind of statist, dirigiste system and caused a vast historical pendulum swing in the other direction. 
- Aris Roussinos, UnHerd

Maurice Glasman:

What shocked me most was that the churches closed down. For the first time in our history, the church doors were closed, the lights were turned off… That led me to think what would our society be without that presence of love, compassion, mercy, forgiveness? And then that led me to reflect on the utter lack of forgiveness, mercy, compassion from the absence of a real physical presence, which scared me, and still scares me. 
- Maurice Glasman, UnHerd

Helen Thompson:

What’s worrying is the ways in which it became impossible really to have any political debate about what the policy should be towards this illness, particularly after the first few months. I understand why that was because there was clearly a pretty substantial majority that was in favour of lockdown policies and didn’t really want to have a debate. That teaches us how much health anxiety there is in this country — for understandable reasons. But it meant there wasn’t any possibility of having a discussion where we say, “okay, we’re going to take this short term risk, this medium term risk, these long term risks” and have a reasonable, reasoned discussion about these competing risks. That discussion never took place.
- Helen Thompson, UnHerd

On the return of the state

Mary Harrington:

The return of the state has been coupled with an annihilation of the Mittelstand, as they call it in German, ‘the middle people’… The self-organising institutions of society dissolved and some of them will never come back — or won’t come back in the way they did before…My fear is that, having been replaced by a sort of internet mediated simulacrum of civil society — largely run from the centre via platforms or pump-primed by the state — that those institutions just don’t hold a candle. 
- Mary Harrington, UnHerd

Aris Roussinos:

I think that’s a short term perspective…suddenly, the world of ideology has opened up again, and there are actually different ideologies. I think that Covid functions as a dummy war or an initial run-through of what a war with China would look like…it’s a case of boiling the frogs quickly, rather than slowly. Now, we are getting more people talking about things like antitrust breaking up the vast power of Amazon and Facebook — it’s become more politically salient. 
- Aris Roussinos, UnHerd



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