Living alone has taken on a new meaning for me and countless others in lockdown Britain. Now two weeks in isolation from those beyond my household, otherwise known as everyone, I exist apart, away from human contact for fear of contagion and fear of a further infringement of my liberty at the pleasure of the police.
We are free to associate no more; the ‘little platoons’ have been disbanded for fear of the visible arm of the law and the invisible touch of the Coronavirus. The place I call home is now my cell where I am kept both for my own safety and that of others. We must suspect all beyond our walls of some sort of a viral impurity.
Unless a nurse or a doctor, humanity is perceived at its worst and most destructive; we are a plague upon all others. We are all in need, but avoiding those who can help us, namely, each other. We are told to live this way to shield the vulnerable: those at greater risk and greater peril. My family and friends are beyond a divide that Skype, Zoom and WhatsApp cannot fully bridge.
The most sacred bond of family has been cut, desecrated by the lockdown. Living alone I no longer belong with anyone; I only belong apart. Having a broad-brush approach to lockdown made some sense as an emergency; but two weeks in and who knows how many weeks to go, it’s time to begin mitigating the unintended consequences. Loneliness and solitude cannot describe what it means to live in isolation, forced isolation, and a solitary confinement in the case of me and countless others. The beauty of living alone is the choice to do so, and the choice of when and how to be ‘social’ with others.
Those who live alone are the ones who prefer to choose the manner of social company, all in the knowledge of the welcome retreat to home as a sanctuary, a temporary relief from others. As a homebody who is most relaxed and contented with his head in a book, or writing to discover his thoughts, solitude is a blessing. But that solitude is safest in the knowledge that it can be willingly undone at a short distance to a friendly face or a family embrace.
Normally my solitude is a chosen relief; indeed, it is the last act of defiance in this overconnected world. Now an act of defiance would be having dinner with others; this defiance is now illegal. Hell is not other people; not quite anyway. Hell is being subject to other people. We are subject to ‘the people’ as a collective whole, governed by the fallible daily statistics of a single cause of death, and the data models which did not predict nor prepare for this event.
Never in our history, have the British government subjected its people to a perpetual purgatory. A temporary place, yet with no means of self-redemption. Where is the morality, or the utility, in sacrificing not only liberty, but the god given right of human contact, for the want of a slight deceleration in the spread of something already spread far and wide? We see with clarity that the Lord giveth and the state taketh away. Individuals are lost, particularly those alone and out of sight. We are social animals, so they say, now we are caged animals.
It has taken Coronavirus to make Rousseau correct in his statement, ‘Man was born free, and everywhere he is in chains’. I resolve myself to KBO (‘Keep Buggering On’ – Churchill) through my indefinite solitary confinement, for what else is there? I listen to records, watch films and television, write a little, ostensibly work, and mostly read. Reflecting after two weeks of isolation alone I begin this writing, and then I start the new book ‘Morality’ by Jonathan Sacks to see if this has a useful perspective. An early chapter is ‘Loneliness’; I discover that ‘Separated from others, we experience stress’, no kidding.
I read the list of physical and mental conditions caused by loneliness and find that ‘Social isolation is itself as harmful to health as smoking fifteen cigarettes a day and more harmful than obesity’; alcohol is missing so I pour another scotch. Oh, and loneliness and isolation weaken the immune system, undermining us against infections, a heavy burden at the healthiest of times. Whilst I am deeply concerned about the ‘We’ and the effects of our once frenetic lifestyles on the further spread of Coronavirus, my present concern is the effect on the ‘I’. If many ‘I’s are diminished, then so is the ‘We’.
Human contact may very well be safer than ‘social distancing’ and ‘isolation’ for many, particularly the healthy who live alone. It is of course natural to give priority to those key workers and the vulnerable, but can we save humanity by enforcing a less than human existence for the growing numbers in healthy isolation alone? The so called ‘Right to a family life’ is oft cited by criminals and terrorists to lessen the effect of the justice system; this right should now benefit regular citizens.
I realise that I risk public crucifixion in this Holy Week by speaking out against the full extent of the media consensus and government policy, but individuals matter, regardless of what their occupation may be, or how they choose to live and interact with their family and friends. Release me from my Rousseauian chains and let me use my judgement to interact with those friends and family members who are not vulnerable; we can be responsible for and with each other. If we are to face illness and economic collapse, we may as well face it together.