In his critique of the 'authoritarian', 'populist' and 'bravado' style of masculinity, Gerry Hassan
holds Donald Trump and Boris Johnson responsible for the deaths of thousands due to their response to COVID-19.
While I won't try to defend the buffoon, boor and blowhard across the pond, domestically there seems little substantive difference between the UK's constituent nations, either in terms of fatalities or lockdown – perhaps more the 'narcissism of small differences'. And if Nicola Sturgeon's lockdown isn't authoritarian, then it's certainly not libertarian either.
But from the Nike cover-up and the care homes catastrophe onwards, Sturgeon and Health Secretary Jeane Freeman have hardly covered themselves in glory. Not to mention senior Scottish Government figures like Shirley-Anne Somerville and Christina McKelvie, both of whom are apparently responsible for older people, but a strong(wo)man leader like Sturgeon obviously thinks they should be seen and not heard.
And if Johnson and Trump have ignored expert advice, perhaps Sturgeon should have been similarly dismissive of her own female advisers like Catherine Calderwood and Devi Sridhar. In particular, the latter's summertime comments about the English border and ZeroCovid are now returning to haunt her, but perhaps her crude Hassanesque antipathy towards Boris Johnson helps explain this.
Then there's Margaret Ferrier.
Not that Gerry's piece isn't an engaging read, with many compelling points. But his fundamental premise is crude man v woman stereotypes, ably demonstrated when he equates 'women' as a homogenous group with 'less Alpha males', as opposed to more Alpha males (presumably). As if, for example, some women aren't more violent than many men. Or that women might be relied upon to provide more compelling evidence to the Holyrood inquiry into the Alpha Alex Salmond case. Again, perhaps Nicola Sturgeon has put paid to that, not to mention her most senior civil servant Leslie Evans.
In the jury room, it seems that old-fashioned concepts like natural justice and due process took precedence over the dominant political zeitgeist and trial by Twitter hashtags, the latter often based on an almost Manichean dichotomy of evil men and good women.
But in terms of attitudes to justice and law, and regarding politics and power more generally, the narcissism of powerful men is increasingly being supplanted by the hubris of elite women, both thinking that they're uniquely equipped for positions of power. But from my lowly vantage point, the patriarchy is simply being replaced by the matriarchy, perhaps with different qualities on average, but each containing their fair share of the good, bad and indifferent.
As the COVID-19 saga continues, there have been many attempts to sustain our national morale. One assumes that allowing vital pursuits such as cricket, football, rugby, tennis, golf and horse racing had more to do with morale than medical efficiency. Worryingly, there has been almost no effort to monitor and boost our morals.
Now, morals may be a personal matter but since Aristotle wrote about virtues and Horace epistled on the subject of vices, humans, rightly, have been concerned. During this pandemic, however, it seems an essential topic that has been completely ignored. As a starter, one suggests we need to turn a beady eye on our performance vis a vis the Seven Deadly Sins (SDS).
The SDS have their roots back to the Greeks and Romans but it was not until the 4th century that a monk, Evagrius Ponticus, listed eight evil thoughts with which we had to battle. By 590, Pope Gregory 1 had revised the list to seven – and they became the authorised version for all existing and subsequent Christian denominations. Jews have nothing exactly similar but counsel against any excess so are on the same wavelength, while Muslims have seven major sins which are very different. (Riba, meaning interest or usury, is one that might cause the odd problem in our London financial powerhouse.)
The Gregory mixture however is clear – lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. So, taken in order, how have we been doing and can we improve? Lust means unbridled desire... but not just for sex. Equally important is lust for winning, lust for power. One could contend, therefore, that the rush back to organised competitive sport might not have been a perfect idea nor the imposition of lockdown. Non-combatant exercise and slow creeping paralysis might have been better choices.
Gluttony comes from the Latin gluttire – to gulp down. Medievals refined it to eating too expensively, too daintily, too eagerly, too much, and too soon. This never boded well for Jamie and Nigella but the pandemic panic over pasta must cause serious worries for large chunks of the population. On the plus side, those on food banks and free school meals may be okay.
One might think that greed would be linked to gluttony but in fact it focuses on rapacious pursuit of material possessions, seeking more than you need. Empty supermarket shelves and toilet rolls spring to mind instantly. Followed rapidly by Serco, Indian takeaways and chocolate. COVID-19 may have reduced the nation's ability to gather and travel but it has not reduced our appetite for excess.
The trouble with sloth is that the original sin was an absence of interest not only in physical exertion but mental as well. It was a failure to do what one should do. Sloth would seem to have become the most popular, rather than deadly, sin during COVID-19. From holiday homes in Fife to Castle Durham, from masks to untreated surfaces, the failures have been almost a daily occurrence. We have not been great on the sloth measuring scale.
Wrath, irritatingly, is not just about losing one's rag. It encompasses impatience and self-destructive behaviour. Suicide was important in the olden times. Failure to self -distance and too much booze are their current replacements. Again, we have not done well.
One is not too sure how we have done with envy. Defined as an insatiable desire for the traits and possessions of others, COVID-19 restrictions may well have undercut the opportunities for this. It is hard to get upset at one's neighbour's new kitchen when it is forbidden territory, tough to grind a tooth when even millionaires have had to endure intensive care.
The most serious, most demonic, most hidden, and most deceitful sin is, of course, pride. Some consider it the root of all the others because of its dangerously corrupt selfishness. One would love to record that British traditional reserve had ensured some humility. Fat chance. From world-beating this to most generous that, there has been a positive wallowing in pride. We have been hectored to be proud to be British, sovereign, and 'of our unique role and place, in history'. The Book of Proverbs 16:18 succinctly intoned that 'Pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall', so there will be a comeuppance. Sometime in the autumn of 2021 would be a reasonable guess.
This country's SDS rating, therefore, does not look good. Quite clearly, we must blame our leaders for this failure. They have not shown us the true humble path. They have not set the perfect example. On the other hand, we could have worked it out for ourselves. Or would that just have made us proud?
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