Aiming to keep safe may not be the ideal way to live

It’s beginning to look as if coming out of lockdown will be more stressful than lockdown itself. Well, you know what Kafka said: “It’s often safer to be in chains than to be free.”

And we do tend to worry an awful lot about safety nowadays. Even before the dreaded coronavirus, most of what we did in life seemed to be directed into ensuring our safety: insurance for everything, ridiculously low speed limits, plenty of exercise, the “right” food, contorted health and safety regulations, dubious dbs checks, cameras everywhere and much, much more.

Now it’s face masks and protective clothing, social distancing and quarantine.

I am not one to criticise politicians for making radical decisions in the face of a threat none of us has ever experienced before – a threat that is unpredictable in who it affects, the way it affects them, the way it spreads and the possible ways of stopping it. It is a no-win situation, and if anyone makes the right decisions, it is likely to be down to luck or prayer.

But what about the science? That might work if there were such a thing as “science”. What we actually have is scientists, and to no-one’s surprise, they disagree with each other. Why wouldn’t they? That is how “science” makes progress. When politicians say “the science” they mean “what our own scientists say”. They try to pick the top scientists, but history shows the top scientists are not always right.

A week or so ago I had a COVID-19 test. This was a bit of a miracle in itself, because the nearest test centre they could offer me was not even in my own county, but more than 30 miles away. I am not sure how I would have got there if I had some of the more striking symptoms of the virus. As it happens, I wasn’t feeling too bad, which wasn’t surprising, because I turned out to be negative. A lot of people have always regarded me as negative; so that was no surprise.

The test itself, which took place in an empty leisure centre car park, was Kafka-esque. A group of young soldiers were supervising, but I had to do the test myself. This involved making a phone call to someone standing just outside my car, a pack being thrown through the side window furthest from me, together with a formidable set of instructions. I had to manipulate a swab of my throat and nose, then pop the swab into a tube, on which I had to stick a bar code. There were lots of bar codes. I then had to put it into a bag, and the bag into another bag, find my way out of the car park and throw the bag(s) out of the car window into a kind of sack. Then drive home.

I may have missed out a couple of stages. On the plus side, I did not turn into a giant insect. At least, I haven’t yet. As far as I know.

Obviously I understand that everyone wanted to be safe. I want to be safe. We all do. But we tend to forget that there are large parts of the world where no-one feels safe, and with good reason. Their lives tend to have different priorities. They look for a high quality of life, taking risks and offering hospitality and love, sacrificing themselves for others. They do not fear death, because we all die. They are likely to look beyond that.

Some of these people live among us.

That, in the end, is surely a life more worth living than one bound up in the chains of safety? Helen Keller said: “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.” 

And Helen Keller was deaf and blind; so she knew what she was talking about.