Sean Moncrieff: Dublin looks like the 1980s again

Recently, I started to absorb just how much the centre of Dublin has changed

Pumping the chest of our economy is just one of the problems we’ll have to deal with after the last 18 months.

Pumping the chest of our economy is just one of the problems we’ll have to deal with after the last 18 months.

 

During the course of our many lockdowns, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to leave the house and go into work. Yet I’ve been somewhat oblivious: I tread the same route, one I’m so familiar with I don’t notice much about it anymore. It was only on a recent day off that I started to absorb how much the centre of Dublin has changed. Along the quays particularly, there are numerous boarded-up places of business. It looks like the 1980s again.

Pumping the chest of our economy is just one of the problems we’ll have to deal with after the last 18 months. There will be psychological scars. There will be people whose non-covid medical treatments weren’t attended to. There will be people struggling with Long Covid. It’s far from clear how many people here are suffering from it. Estimates for the UK put it at a million.

It seems to be more a function of human nature when faced with a crisis. Fear and anger prompts the need to find a simple answer; no matter how ludicrous

There will be anger; and perhaps a change in the political complexion of our country. You don’t need me to tell you that the other virus that has spread wildly through our community is that of misinformation. Covid doesn’t exist. It is a bio-weapon, created by the Chinese or the Americans. The death rates are inflated. It’s not that dangerous. It’s a scam by Big Pharma to make money. It’s something to do with 5G and controlling oxygen in hospitals. It’s a way of controlling the world. The vaccine makes metal objects stick to your skin.

The various theories have been persistent and highly resistant to evidence, logic or even their own often contradictory nature. Yet this kind of thing isn’t a modern phenomenon. It seems to be more a function of human nature when faced with a crisis. Fear and anger prompts the need to find a simple answer; no matter how ludicrous.

During the Zika virus outbreak of 2015, there were theories that it was created in a lab, or was the result of genetically modified mosquitoes. During the Black Death pandemic, Jews were blamed. (And were attacked as a result) The cholera pandemic of 1832 was believed to have been created by doctors spreading it to make money. (And were attacked as a result)

In Ireland, a belief grew that cholera was supernatural in origin, and so after the inevitable Marion apparition (the Virgin Mary spent a lot of time in Ireland back then; a bit like Matt Damon), people became convinced that the cure was to spread smouldering ash from the fireplace of one house into the rafters of four others. It generated crowds of hundreds of people, running from home to home.

In some respects, we still have stone age brains prompting fight or flight from the latest threat. Various studies have identified around 40 Irish groups on Facebook pushing Covid conspiracies, and they’ve had hundreds of thousands of interactions. Anecdotally, it’s become startlingly common. It’s ended friendships and strained family relationships.

Irish political culture is far from perfect, of course. But it is one of the few European democracies where such beliefs have failed to get any traction in the political mainstream

Whether this will lead to any real-world change is another matter. The evidence from history seems to be that such ideas surge in popularity in the midst of an emergency, but fade when all the dread predictions turn out not to be true.

But they don’t fade entirely. Anti-Semitism didn’t disappear when the Black Death ceased to be a danger. Not everyone who believed in the Scamdemic will snap back to reality. Every crisis seems to produce an incremental increase in credulity. Some will cross the event horizon into a parallel universe of other made-up facts about who secretly runs the world, about the “threats” posed by people who don’t look like them.

Irish political culture is far from perfect, of course. But it is one of the few European democracies where such beliefs have failed to get any traction in the political mainstream. So far. There is a danger that the aftereffects of Covid may last much longer than anyone wants, largely due to the people who didn’t believe in it.

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