When I was a boy, we played the game ‘Tiplatch’. This involved kids knocking on the door of someone’s house, and then running away from the irate owner, without getting caught.
However, I often seemed to be the one captured and slapped. Nevertheless, under many different names, throughout the world, it reminds me of our present-day response to Covid19.
We have been encouraged to knock on neighbours’ doors, to see if they need any shopping; but we have to step well-back, six metres from their door, for fear of infection. Strange how memories interlace with contemporary realities. This development of neighbourliness, however, is cited as a sign of increasing community-mindedness in our cities.
People are offering help, clapping our health workers, and spontaneous community organisations are springing up, to supply meals, where government services are inadequate.
Local groups form surprising alliances, to meet immediate needs.
For example, The People’s Army of Islington, and conservative evangelical, Angel Baptist Church, combine to cook hot meals for people.
Community leaders distribute newsletters, either physically through letter-boxes, or virtually online, via WhatsApp groups, to ensure everyone is in touch.
Some believe we are on the verge of a recovery in civil society, the restoration of communal bonds. But does the crisis presage stronger cords of community or islands of isolation?From observing the parks, it seems like some people are exercising more than they ever have, in obedience to government instructions, suggestions, or at least permission to go outside once a day.
My son, however, notes that these numbers may simply represent the ‘gym crowd’, who have nowhere to exercise, now that Gyms are closed.
Likewise, some families now appear to enjoy more time with their fathers, playing in the parks, than when they were busy at work or at the pub. But, reports of domestic violence are also rising.
The role of government is, by default, increasing too. The possibility of introducing a Universal Basic Income is now more likely, because the State is already guaranteeing salaries and extending benefit. Even the much derided ‘Universal Credit’ is easier to claim.
My niece, laid off since her theatre production closed, was asked only one question, ‘Do you have a job?’, before she got the benefit.
The fact too, that (eventually) many homeless people have been housed in London hotels, demonstrates how many social problems could be quickly solved, if the political will was there.
So what will it be like, when we return to ‘normal’? Will there be a ‘new normal’? An ‘ab-normal’? Such epochal emergencies typically often cause the fall of governments, and systems of government.
And while optimistic futurologists, like David Smith, try to spot fresh business opportunities, many companies will simply not survive the crisis.
So the picture is mixed. Like Slavoj Zizek we must see things ‘dialectically’. There is no clear scorecard for positive and negative trends.
Rather, they occur together, wrapped up in each other; the one is a Janus-like reflection of the other. Political science is therefore paradoxical.