The vast social experiment going on around us cannot last for long

ISOL
The public got a telling off last week, as a significant proportion were ignoring official advice to stay at home and were thus putting more lives at risk Credit: TOLGA AKMEN/AFP

Isolation is antithetical to modern living. It is wrong to write off those leaving their homes as selfish

The population got a grave – if restrained – telling off last week. There had been, the authorities told us, a concerning rise in road traffic over recent days. Clearly a significant proportion of the public were now ignoring official advice to stay at home and were thus putting more lives at risk as well as threatening the ability of the NHS to cope. In other words – they almost said this in so many words – if the crisis deepens to uncontainable levels it will be your own fault.

The clear implication was that such activity could only be selfish and antisocial. All those car drivers whose journeys must be unnecessary at best and frivolous at worst, were needlessly prolonging the worst phase of this national emergency. What might have occurred to you, and possibly to most of the people who made those trips out of the house, is that a government spokesman’s idea of a nonessential journey538prom精品视频在线播放 can be a matter of life and death to the person making it.

I am willing to bet that a huge proportion of those cars on the road were not being driven for trivial reasons at all. Their owners were not seeking pleasure or diversion but just trying to survive in either the literal physical sense or the economic one.

They were almost certainly struggling to do some sort of paid work, or to buy provisions for themselves and their families, or to carry out essential functions which had been put off during the first week of lockdown. The fact that they were in their own vehicles rather than using public transport is an indication that they were trying to be socially conscientious: to cause as little exposure as possible to themselves and others. (There seems to have been a slight uptick in public transport use as well but this was almost certainly for similarly critical reasons.)

To put it bluntly, it is simply not possible538prom精品视频在线播放 for the entire population to remain under strict house arrest for more than a short time. Modern societies are utterly dependent on mobility and interconnectedness. Their highly complex, sophisticated services and goods distribution systems are designed to be used by people who are able to access them by moving around and being in constantly shifting proximity to one another. You cannot undo these arrangements at a stroke even with the sincere commitment of the citizenry.

On Friday, I heard the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan solemnly warning the city’s inhabitants not to give way to “complacency” about the prohibition on leaving home. Believe me, in many – almost certainly most – instances, this increase in movement was not complacency: it was desperation. In London at the moment, for example, it is almost impossible to book a supermarket delivery.

Being able to get enough food for a reasonable length of time in order to avoid further outings, thus requires a trip in the car. (Londoners may actually be at a disadvantage by comparison to much of the rest of the country in this. My daughter living in Berkshire is being offered delivery slots while my north London neighbours – who have officially registered with Sainsbury’s as being over 70 – are not.)

Then there is the matter of earning a living. Everybody is told to work from home if they possibly can as if that were a free choice. Politicians and their advisors talk blithely of those who cannot do this as if they were an anachronistic minority so maybe this will come as a surprise to Whitehall: it is largely professionals and those in the most technically advanced fields who can adapt to home working.

538prom精品视频在线播放Anybody who works with his hands, such as essential  tradesmen and all the service providers whose work requires their physical presence, have no such option. It is they who are bearing the brunt of this commandment now and whose indefinite future is being written off as well. The classes of people with which government advisors are most familiar will, ultimately, be fine. The ones they depend on, as we all do, to keep the mechanics of life running smoothly, will not.

What is happening before our eyes is a monumental social experiment. Is it possible for contemporary life to be lived in semi-isolation? The edict on social distancing proposes to reduce human contact to an absolute minimum in an age in which that contact has never been more essential to everyday existence.

We certainly get the message: ideally, you should not leave your own premises. The old wartime goal of self-sufficiency as a country is now being proposed for every household. But we do not live in a way that makes that feasible and we have not done so for many generations – for so long that most people cannot recall a time when it was remotely possible. Each family homestead does not have a cow, a few chickens and a vegetable garden – let alone the sort of heating, lighting and plumbing arrangements that require no outside support. That was left behind with the first industrial revolution, let alone the most recent technological ones.

You may feel, in a moment of despair, that this is a matter for regret: that the dependence of an urbanised, advanced country on all these inter-related service industries and supply chains has left us vulnerable to the most primitive dangers – a plague, of all things. Maybe it’s time to buy a cow and return to the simple existence of our ancestors. But of course that isn’t true.

The modern economy with its enormous degree of specialisation and occupational expertise has provided mass prosperity and personal freedom on an unprecedented scale. Of course, it increases our dependence on each other and on the complex systems in which everybody plays a part, but that is no bad thing. The very fact that almost all the advanced countries are at this moment engaging in such extraordinary acts of altruism to protect their most vulnerable citizens is a testimony to that.

We will get through this by using the ingenuity that created our contemporary world, and by staying true to our modern conscience.