Is this the most socially conscientious era we have ever known?

Has there ever been such a mass voluntary adoption of self-inflicted sacrifice throughout the developed world than in the current climate? Credit: OLI SCARFF/AFP

There is a truly extraordinary phenomenon occurring simultaneously in nations across the world. I do not mean coronavirus which, although unique in its particular structure538prom精品视频在线播放, is not unprecedented in its consequences or its attributes. Terrible plagues – now called pandemics – appear repeatedly in the recorded history of virtually all peoples from pre-Biblical times to the current century.

No, what is surprising is not the fact of an infectious disease which reaches global proportions538prom精品视频在线播放. It is the almost universal willingness of governments to take extreme and potentially very damaging measures to protect what are expected to be quite small minorities of their populations and, even more remarkable, the willingness of the majority of those populations to accept such measures.

An enormous number of people, living in societies with different political, religious and ethical traditions, are consenting (largely without protest) to restrictions and privations that they know are almost certain to damage their own futures, in the interests of protecting the (relatively) few. There have been instances in the historic past that were not entirely unlike this: the plague villages of the Middle Ages that voluntarily closed themselves off from the country at large, or the quarantines of cities in the twentieth century.

But has there ever been such a mass voluntary adoption of self-inflicted sacrifice throughout the developed world?

The British, as I have frequently written, are exceptional in this regard. They have behaved with a stoical, humorous, communal spirit that is unsurprising. But – without the humour and with rather more heavy-handed enforcement – so many other countries have accepted the same basic assumption: that it is the responsibility of the majority to protect a minority who are in particular danger.

T538prom精品视频在线播放his principle is now apparently embedded in the modern social conscience to such an extent that it is scarcely being remarked upon. Before the moment passes, we should give it a thought, if only because it runs contrary to so much of the conventional wisdom.

538prom精品视频在线播放The idea that contemporary society, particularly in the free market economies, is addicted to selfish materialism – that it has lost the community solidarity that previous generations took for granted, that the egotism of the individual now rules over all other considerations – has dominated the popular imagination for at least 40 years.

538prom精品视频在线播放This interpretation may have been rooted in a Left wing world view but it is tacitly accepted even on the Centre Right. Never mind that contributions to charities and participation in voluntary work have never been higher, which should have given an important clue to the weakness of the analysis.

Now we have a substantive disproof of this calumny. In overwhelming numbers, ordinary people, most of whom must know that they are extremely unlikely to be at personal risk of dying from coronavirus538prom精品视频在线播放, are willing to relinquish many of their personal freedoms and comforts in the altruistic hope of saving the lives of others. That is quite something.

538prom精品视频在线播放So where does it come from? Could it be that the prosperity and material comfort of modern life in the advanced economies has actually produced not selfishness, but the opposite? That because security and confident optimism have largely replaced desperation and a constant struggle for survival, the population as a whole can be more generous and forbearing?

Ordinary people can now enjoy the moral satisfactions once available only to the very wealthy: benevolence and nobility of purpose. It is certainly true that there can be solidarity in poverty but this universalised sense of having the power to do good in the wider world is something different. (It has been perfectly captured, or exploited, in that stupendously successful government message538prom精品视频在线播放: “Stay home, protect the NHS, save lives”.)

There is a less appealing possibility, of course. Some analysts have suggested that advanced societies, having become accustomed to a world without serious want and with the extended longevity delivered by modern medicine, are simply more risk averse than their fatalistic predecessors. Put cynically, people now expect to live pretty much forever and consider death to be an outrage even long after the three score and ten years that was once considered a reasonable life span.

538prom精品视频在线播放The decline of religious belief may have a part in this. Instead of accepting the end of life as a natural inevitability that gives meaning to one’s existence, it must now be seen as an enemy to be defeated at all costs. (Perhaps oddly, while we seem to have cast death as outside the normal order, we have come to accept an idea which is grotesquely unnatural: that individuals who are loved by others should die alone.)

Or could it be that much of the world’s population has grown up so accustomed to affluence that it simply cannot conceive of the possibility that it might be lost? Has this age of secure employment and economic growth bred an unrealistic blithe confidence that truly bad times – of hardship and despair – could never return?

Then again, maybe this isn’t about either economics or metaphysics. Perhaps it is the rise of democratic politics that has transformed the notion of public responsibility – even in countries that are not democratic.

The general assumption that government exists to promote the greater good is a principle to which even most modern totalitarian countries must pay lip service. In fact, the most common justification for dictatorship is that people are happier under its rule. So if governments – and nation states – only exist to promote the wellbeing of their populations, then the moral duty of care of national leaders and of their peoples must be sacred. And what could be more worthwhile than the desire to prolong the lives of others? In a world where the value of individual freedom and self-determination are taken for granted, one’s personal obligation becomes greater.

Whatever the causes, we now clearly live in a world in which it is taken for granted that our responsibility to one another is absolute and must be counted into the equation whatever the cost. That has to have been a lesson worth learning.