Learning Common Sense

The UK is about to go into compulsory lockdown. We have been in lockdown here in France for just one week and Italy for quite a bit longer. Still, some people are in denial and spout all kind of conspiracy theories – or they grumble and moan because their employers have been unable to provide masks and sanitising gel for everyone. Sophie and I got our supplies in at the end of February and sanitising gel was still available in supermarkets and the chemists’ shops. We bought two small bottles, and they are quite enough when used sparingly. We were even able to order four FFP2 masks from Amazon that protect against viruses and extremely fine dust. They haven’t yet been worn, but I will probably do so for our next food order and necessaries from the chemist. I remember the Parable of the Ten Virgins. Sophie was once in the Girl Guides and I had a good formation at boarding school and my other formative years. Be prepared! When you see a crisis coming, you get ready for it – you don’t go into denial. When the chips are down, we have oil in our lamps for when the Bridegroom comes in that image of the eschatological Kingdom. It is not a reason to be smug, but a moment to be grateful and humble – and assume responsibility.

One thing to learn right now is that most supplies we normally buy in the shops are not available because the shops are closed. Amazon is now only supplying essential goods. It’s no good thinking about doing jobs around the house unless we already the materials and tools. Otherwise it has to wait until the end of our confinement. We can go and buy food, go to the chemist and see a doctor for anything other than coronavirus. The banks are still open, but I do all my banking by internet. The dustbins are still emptied and the postal service is still working, because those people don’t need to take risks. If they have registered mail or parcels, they leave it at the door and take a photo as proof of delivery – no signatures or contact with people. We learn to think in a new way and take all these precautions not only for self-preservation but to avoid infecting others in case we have the virus. In the absence of a diagnostic test, we just don’t know. The probability goes down dramatically after one week’s quarantine and almost to zero after two weeks. I last went to a supermarket one week ago, but with all recommended precautions. So far, so good… I keep praying and I keep on my guard.

A while ago, I wrote an article on My Take on Transcendentalism which includes a reflection on Emerson’s Self-Reliance. Our time of crisis is one for creative thinking and not “groupthink”. One example that has annoyed me here in France is the controversy over chloroquine which is usually used to treat malaria. It contains quinine and is not something without potential side effects. It has been used for Covid-19 in China and has produced results. Dr Didier Raoult in Marseille, a highly qualified specialist, has been appealing for the use of this drug until something better becomes available. The medical establishment in France wants to put it through the full test protocol before approving it, though now the French Government is in favour of its use. At present, there is nothing else, and Dr Raoult has been called a charlatan and just about everything else. Now, I don’t have medical expertise, but my immediate reaction is to ask the simple question – Is it better to leave someone to die or risk side effects using a drug that can do some good? At least, let doctors use chloroquine until a properly formulated and tested drug becomes available. I hope and pray that common sense will prevail.

This seems to be an example of creative thinking coming from a professional doctor who doesn’t seem to be an idiot! Groupthink seems to ignore the fact that many patients who are at the stage of pneumonia and needing intensive care are going to die. What is wrong with giving them some hope? We need to pull the blinkers away from our eyes and come out of denial.

* * *

Stop press as of 23 March 8.15 pm: Chloroquine is now allowed in French hospitals for serious cases. Deo gratias for pragmatism until a more specific drug can be formulated and approved. See this article if you read French.

* * *

Creative thinking is a part of our ability to be self-reliant. For the time being, many of us have some money (dwindling away) and the possibility of buying food. We might not have that forever. Perhaps this is the moment to turn our garden into a mini-farm, but this is not time for dreaming and being in illusions. There are things I do well, but I know precious little about permaculture and animal husbandry. The garden isn’t that big, so meat would essentially be from chickens (less heart-wrenching to kill than rabbits). In any case, at this time, the garden shops are closed. The next opportunity will be bartering with farmers, but they are hard-nosed characters! I do have assets like woodworking and just about every manual trade I turn my hands to.

One thing is sure. We have to be able to solve our problems by anticipating. We don’t go to the doctor or call the emergency services unless we are really in trouble – not even in normal times, but especially now. Our isolation from other people is above all going to force us to be self-reliant in spiritual and psychological terms. Some people are unhappy unless they are in a crowd and socialising. Now, they are shut in their small and grim flats in town, or in a house in the country. I am well adapted because I rely less on being with other people and am used to solitude or my “brother and sister” marriage.

Perhaps something is going to come out of this crisis. We are going to travel much less, and especially by air. I have always hated flying, not because of the risk of the plane crashing and killing everyone on board, but being forced into a kind of “factory” that processes people through the stages of checking tickets and documents, luggage handing, getting people to the right gate, onto the plane and to the right seat where human bodies of strangers are bustling together. There comes a time in life where world travel is just not worth it, especially on a budget. Those who are “people” people like cruises on modern ships built for that purpose, but promiscuity is to such an extent that sickness goes through the whole ship like a fox in a chicken coop. Life has taught me the joy of travelling much shorter distances to have a week on my little sailing boat or the two of us camping in some quiet and remote place. The main cause of this pandemic is mass tourism. That has to change in the future.

Being at home or away from home, I do like self-reliance as much as possible. My experience of quarantine gives me another angle from that of many who live it as a kind of imprisonment. Whatever kind of home we have, we can at least make things and read – but if we have at least that level of culture. The way some people live is unimaginable. Whoever we are, confinement and being away from society is going to bring us face-to-face with ourselves. Faced with ourselves, will we find heaven or hell? The ultimate solitude is being at sea in a boat or high up in the mountains, the laboratory of Nietzsch’s philosophy. I once wrote about a sailor who was all wrong with himself, and his solitude at sea drove him to madness and suicide.

We have to learn from necessity and live with it…

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14 Responses to Learning Common Sense

  1. I have long appreciated your essays, Fr. Anthony, and this one in particular has struck a sympathetic chord within me. I therefore intend on two things: re-reading Emerson’s ‘Self-Reliance’, and beginning again writing in my wretched little weblog. Cheers!

  2. David Marriott says:

    This Economist chart reflects your comments on ‘social distancing’ around the world…many thanks for your work in this blog! I have taken hydroxychloroquine for years to treat my rheumatoid arthritis (it turned my fingernails & skin blue!!), so I am hoping that the new studies being undertaken might show some benefit – for all of us, a glimmer of hope….https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2020/03/22/many-britons-are-not-taking-social-distancing-for-covid-19-seriously

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    If I read the name of Dr Didier Raoult before, it did not stick in my memory until reading this – and then I encountered this older interview with him, learning he wanted to be a sailor, had piano lessons young but did not find himself a very good musician… (there is a medical puzzle and its solution interspersed – but I enjoyed it as well):


  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I just met with this post, and its attractive matter (for anyone who likes hearing something read aloud, in principle):


  5. barrowdownes says:

    Just seeing you mention of the Parable of the Ten Virgins made me think of the billboard outside the Evangelical chapel.
    “Which would you prefer, to stay awake with five Wise Virgins or sleep with five foolish ones ?”

    Isn’t that the sort of thing we should think about in these difficult days – a light hearted thought or two won’t do us any harm ?????

  6. Martin Hartley says:

    May I take this opportunity to draw your attention to Ampleforth Abbey (EBC). They are streaming all their daily offices and Mass in audio only. This is particularly useful for those to whom bandwidth and data usage is important. Details such as timings (GMT at present) on their website. If you like monastic liturgy, then you may find this useful

  7. Simon Cotton says:

    Chloroquine doesn’t contain quinine. They are two distinctly different molecules. Quinine occurs naturally, chloroquine is a synthetic substance, first made in the 20th century. Both are best known as anti-malarial substances. See http://www.chm.bris.ac.uk/motm/quinine/quinineh.htm

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