Sue Hackman is following the language of the crisis to explore what it reveals about the political thinking of our leaders.
When Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, explained on the Today programme that we were depending on ‘herd immunity’ to solve coronavirus, there were two things I didn’t like: the first was being classified as cattle – lumbering, uncomprehending followers who can’t wash their hands or keep inside their sheds, and the second was the idea of waiting until 60% of us had the virus before hoping that the other 40% would be saved by a mysterious immunity that would seep through society without the need for costly medicines or beds.
Vallance also advocated a deliberate degree of social contact so that a manageable number of people could be infected, thus allowing the NHS to manage the flow of sufferers and soon reach the 60% mark.
It turns out that Vallance was wrong about herd immunity in this context, and was quickly trounced by the research community. It is not a magical phenomenon and is untested on humans. The backlash caused the government to rethink their strategy and introduce bolder measures within 24 hours. There was hardly any time to be offended.
Vallance had gone on to explain that what we need is a ‘grown-up conversation’ about who to save when the NHS has limited resources. It turns out it’s not me because I’m older and have – in that coy phrase – ‘an underlying issue’. The factors that put me at risk are the very factors that exclude me from Vallance’s ark. If I were a gazelle, the lions would get me. If I were alive in Nazi Germany, I would be erased from the gene pool. I am, regrettably, a weak and expendable member of the herd.
Jungian philosophy is running rife. It’s more virulent and perhaps more dangerous than the physical virus itself. Swiss psychiatrist Jung asserts that species have a ‘collective unconscious’ that controls their behaviours and instincts, especially their social behaviour. He even cites scientific discoveries as an expression of this unconscious will.
You can see how Jung’s theory dovetails with populist politics. It represents people manipulated by a natural ineluctable force they do not apprehend. All sorts of prejudices can be justified this way: racism, herd immunity, survivalism, white supremicism, patriarchy, chauvinism. The Nazis jumped on Jungian theories to justify their atrocities. At first he embraced Nazis and delighted them by proclaiming the superiority of ‘Aryan consciousness’, though later in his life he was more wary.
So talk of ‘herds’, unnamed ‘underlying issues’ and ‘grown-up conversations’ give me a cough. I’d rather put all we have into supporting the NHS and rapidly expanding it to cope with everyone equally. The Chinese heroically built two huge hospital in Wuhan within 10 days. It can be done.
I advise Boris Johnson to lock away that bit of his consciousness that belongs to Jung.