Issue 5, Volume 17
I’m writing this anonymously, because I don’t want to come across as a martyr.
I live in an area with a higher-than-average proportion of elderly people. So, when COVID-19 reached Victoria, I did what seemed intuitive. I went around to the houses of elderly people on my street, and offered to do their shopping for them, so that they could minimise face-to-face contact. Of course (and apparently, this needs stating these days), I did not accept any money for doing this.
Many took me up on the offer, and over the last two weeks, sporting masks and gloves, my little brother and I have made many deliveries. I felt like we were doing real good, so I decided to try to expand our operations, and help the whole suburb if we could. Some of my friends had offered to help out, and so I thought we’d be able to handle it, even if study had to take a back seat for a while.
Armed with a dozen A4 posters, I approached the local woollies. However, my plans hit a snag when I got in a blue with the store manager. He told me that I wasn’t permitted to post my fliers on the premises, which was fair enough. However, he also said, unprompted, that if I attempted to buy more produce than my personal limit, that he would call the police, even if I wasn’t buying for myself. He added that this applied whether I was acting individually, or as part of a group, as they had to ‘keep up appearances’.
I was still boiling with righteous anger later in the day, when my phone rang. The middle-aged voice on the other end said that she was a representative of the local trader’s association, and that she’d like me to please take my posters down. ‘We want to keep **** beautiful,’ she said. I wasn’t too stupid to realise that her concern was tied more to a decrease in foot traffic, than an interest in aesthetics. She ended, sweetly, by saying that if I persisted, she’d contact her friends in the local council, and ensure I was fined for unauthorised advertising.
Far out! All this trouble levelled at me, for what I was sure was a good deed. However, the harshest blow came that evening, when my own mum said that she didn’t want us making deliveries anymore. ‘We’ve got to look after ourselves first,’ she told me, not unkindly. I’m not an emotional guy, but I still felt like crying. An international crisis is unfolding before our very eyes, and all anyone can think of is themselves. Was it too much to hope that people would rally together to support one another? I wasn’t looking for praise, but I wasn’t looking to be threatened with arrest, either.
I decided to write this piece out of the mish-mash of emotions that followed these setbacks. After much soul-searching, I still believe I was doing the right thing, and I refuse to be discouraged. I am not suggesting in the title of this piece that civilisation ought to be abandoned in favour of some kind of nihilistic anarchy. However, Australia’s culture of individualism must be reassessed.
It is the nature of a pandemic, that our interpersonal reliance is exposed. After all, if one person gets sick, we all likely do, in a very real sense. Therefore, it is not only morally reprehensible to abandon each other in times of need, but also highly illogical. If those with potentially compromised immune defences are forced to do their own shopping, then community infection rates are almost guaranteed to rise. This increases that chance each one of us has of getting infected, to say nothing of the financial burden this will impose on society through social programs and the healthcare system.
We in Australia often look conceitedly down upon people of other nations, labelling them highly-strung, or backward. We snorted in derision when we saw Chinese shoppers buying up Australian baby formula, and listened, eyes wide, to tales of American children having to dumpster-dive for lunch.
What this crisis has revealed, is that our purported enlightenment as a society is little more than arrogance. We are not above panic-buying essential goods. We’re not above guarding profits, and leaving others hungry. When the going is tough, we jealously guard what’s ours, at the expense of the vulnerable in our society.
Forgive my venom, but I believe this is a message that must be aired. Not only so that we can stop sauntering around the globe like seigneurial lords, but so that we can fill in the fault lines this crisis has exposed in our society.
If nothing else, this rant was cathartic, so thanks for reading.
Anonymous is a frustrated JD student.