Covid-time has revealed some interesting perspectives on the state of things – perhaps cutting through the fog of confusion, bewilderment, malaise of pre-Covid times. Aside from taking stock of environmental issues and what we can actually do about these (I.e. stay at home, don’t fly, reduce movement, allow nature to re-flourish in our leave of absence), human behaviour has become more overtly available to the spotlight.
Now we have the forum of social media to pontificate, observe, proselytise from, alongside the slew of other media drowning us in the opinions of others, both well and ill informed. How does one tell the difference – after all the Leader of the Free World regularly tells us it’s all ‘fake’ and we can wash our mouths out in disinfectant if we feel otherwise?
A crisis perhaps brings out the ‘true colours’ of people, be that to positive or negative effect. Sides are drawn, insults are hurled. Friendship boundaries are redrawn, or consolidated. Them against us.
The not-too-surprising latest revelations concern the wanton pillaging of the nature that has been so recently rediscovering its serene place in the scheme of things. The ‘end’ of lockdown, so ‘apparently’ obediently observed now brings the slavering hordes out in their droves, laying waste to beauty spots throughout the land with their beer cans, crisp packets, loud music and brattish behaviour. Why shouldn’t we do as we please? After all Boris has rung the dinner bell and let us out to play. Pass me the Stella so I can lob it in the drink and scatter the ducks.
The wisdom of crowds. Something about gathering in large groups is infectious. Quite literally as it has been made all too clear in recent times. But also in terms of a capacity to blend in, become nameless, get away with naughtiness. To in effect regress to a tribal sensibility and let the ‘powers that be’ sort out the mess.
At what point does 2 or 3 ‘become a crowd’? We might start off well intentioned and mostly individualistic, but soon, exponentially, things change, peer exerts pressure, organisms gather and form some kind of emergent mass entity. We flock therefore we am.
It is increasingly difficult to maintain autonomy in the face of a group of others encroaching on our space and our identity. Perhaps this lies in a relaxing of attentional effort. Once ensconced with-in the tribal structure, there is little need to ‘pay attention’ to threats outside the perimeter fence. Behaviour can become laxer. Oops where did that crisp packet go? Doesn’t matter, someone over there will see it and pick it up. Let’s have another tinny and we can all sing songs about the here and now and not worry too much about the aftermath.
I suppose the burden of responsibility lies in doing one’s best to avoid becoming subsumed into the masses. Perhaps that is easier said than done – when I turn up the place is empty, I stake my flag on the beach and enjoy the surrounding space. Awakening from a snooze I am perplexed to see that I am now at the heart of a seething mass of bodies. Think turning up early at Glastonbury, revelling in the pick of a pristine field to set up your little fortress of solitude. Fast forward a few hours and in the darkness you are trapped in a web of guy lines, haphazard tarpaulins and collapsed forms – where the hell is my tent??!!
So you can try to not go to areas where others congregate. Mmm, tricky. What was once a treasure map of hidden jewels is now laid bare for all to see. No more ‘special laybys’ for one’s campervan. The roads are chock-a-blok with every man, woman and dog setting down their bivouacs. The frontier has been torn down and replaced with a car park. That car park is called Nature...
At the risk of becoming Orwellian, perhaps we can develop some kind of Artificial Intelligence that is able to take action against (or even pre-empt) the formation of crowds. An exponential-coalescence algorithm...A proximity alerting system with bells and whistles – rising in pitch as we get close to critical mass in an expanding social bubble...Wincing becomes the new deterrent. Maybe a special breed of the populace (hitherto known as ‘chavs’) will develop a special imperviousness to such sounds – a sensory filter that blanks out the nails-down-a-blackboard warning noise. Like a virus in itself that cannot be eradicated, it becomes stronger for being attacked (strike me down and I will become drunker than you could possibly imagine, Luke: use the farce and all will be well).
All one can hope, in the urge to defend the fragile sensibilities of a bewildered nature (which needs to be-wild) is that when the pub bells ring ‘time’ (to open) then the virus will swarm indoors, chug their pints and fall over comatose in their social bubbles surrounded by twiglet wrappers. Then ‘normal’ service can resume and nature can get back to being natural, rather than plastic. We can but hope.
But moving forward we have to realise that the accessibility that nature has grown accustomed to comes with the curse of populism. And with that, the carelessness and the inevitable ‘relaxing of attention’ which causes litter, detritus to coalesce all around. Unfortunately in today’s society, everything is in place to devolve responsibility for one’s actions, one’s attentions to a system that will clear up after one. Somehow, we have to break this assumption, enforce ‘effort’ and with that social responsibility. Surely Covid has evoked (in some quarters at least) an increased consideration for the welfare of others – the welfare of the tribe even when it comes down to it. The trick is maintaining that sensibility and proliferating it out ‘into the wild’.
So next time you sit back into the crowd and celebrate your commonalities (be it in singing football songs or waxing lyrical to your neighbour about the lovely weather), try to invest a little attention in making your contribution worthwhile. Long live the individual!
Now who has nicked me twiglets??!!!
I write about various subjects.