Coronavirus has exposed how years of infantilisation have left England a nation of children

Boris Baby
Kerry-anne Mendoza

The highest coronavirus (Covid-19) death toll per capita in the world so far, together with one of the highest infection rates, but England is abandoning lockdown. And without the necessary safeguards in place for any rational adult to even consider it if they have the option. Nevertheless, a significant number of English people are carrying on regardless as a second, more devastating wave looks all but inevitable. The devolved nations of the UK, along with many other countries around the world, look on in confused horror. Why are the English committing mass suicide? Years of hyper-individualisation, and the normalisation of the devastating costs of late-stage neoliberal capitalism, have de-civilised England. Decades of infantilisation have left England a nation of children.

Adulthood

One of the most liberating aspects of adulthood is the ability to act in concert with our intentions. We want to be a decent person; but we also have jealousy, defensiveness, fear, insecurity, and other barriers to being that at all times. Adulthood is a quest to understand, master and ultimately liberate the self. The outcome is an adult; a person capable of connection, empathy, endurance, respect, acceptance, patience, and so much more. Even when tested.

Age is not the issue. This is a process, and a 15-year-old can be further down this road than a 55-year-old.

We learn that our wants and needs don’t always come first, but also that it’s important for us to understand and advocate for them. We come to understand that there is more that connects us to each other than separates us; we abandon judgements over superficial things like class, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, or sexuality. And we learn to appreciate the impact of our actions on others, and to take responsibility for that.

There will be painful lessons along the way that teach us these things. But the lessons are invaluable nevertheless. And no adult really wishes they were a child again. Because they retain their childlike wonder for the world, coupled with the privilege of exploring it freely as an independent person. This is the privilege of adulthood.

But for some, unwilling or unable to do that work, childhood retains its allure. They see blind obedience to the higher-ups, the abdication of responsibility for our shared home, and the liberty to nurture (rather than challenge) their prejudices, as true freedom. It’s largely that group which put a manbaby in charge of Britain in December 2019, and which is currently dragging England into an unthinkable wave of death and destruction.

‘Don’t call me baby’

To quote every exhausted parent in history: ‘if you don’t want to be treated like a baby, don’t act like one’.

Expecting a virus to act at your convenience is childish. Violating lockdown rules because you’ve just had enough is childish. Sitting on a crowded beach complaining about the crowds is childish. And walking off a cliff edge because all your friends are doing it is childish.

As Dr Gabor Maté expertly put it, neoliberal capitalism has created a population of “hungry ghosts”: empty, alienated consumers, frantically purchasing and devouring in the hopes of satisfying a hunger that never ends. For them, lockdown was like going cold turkey. Suddenly unable to mask reality with trips to the shops, cinema, restaurants, friends’ houses, and so on. We were forced to sit in reality, all together, separately. For some, it was an awakening. For others, they wanted nothing more than to go back to sleep. And they would take any opportunity, however obtuse, to do so.

And so neoliberal capitalists turned all the pretty lights back on and told everyone everything was fine. We could all get back to normal. All while every scientific indicator told us the exact opposite.

Do Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and this parasitic clusterf*ck of a ‘government’ bear responsibility for this? Absolutely. But they are not alone. Decades of hyper-individualisation, and the hyper-normalisation of neoliberal capitalism’s detrimental impacts on our society made this moment possible.

Hyper-normalisation ate our humanity

For many, this disaster has clearly been our trajectory for decades. It was clear that neoliberal capitalism was in crisis, and unwilling to be replaced by something more workable. And so its failures had to be ignored, minimised, or blamed on something else. ‘Immigrants’, a ‘bloated’ public sector, ‘too many skivers’ (but only among the working class, of course).

Four million children living in poverty, normalised. Astronomical rises in homelessness, normalised. People starving to death while the government refused to grant them the benefits to which they were entitled, normalised. Millions of others reliant on charity foodbanks to eat, normalised. 120,000 sick and disabled people dying because of cuts to health and social care, normalised. All while the rich got richer.

While bailiffs are bashing in the doors of desperate benefit claimants over a few quid, billionaire companies like Amazon are permitted to pay zero tax. This normalisation of selfishness and corruption has consequences. There are two entirely different sets of rules in operation. One for the haves, one for the have-nots. And that iniquitous status quo has been normalised too.

I’ve seen good friends, otherwise decent people, literally shrug indifferently about these injustices. ‘It’s bad,’ they’d say, ‘but what can we do? I mean, I just try to get on with my life and leave the politics to the people who know what’s going on.’ And I would stand there in shock. Who did they expect to clean up the mess? Mummy and Daddy? We are the adults. It’s our job to pay attention, and our duty to act.

Why aren’t English people rioting in the streets over government failures? Because, among other reasons, too many have been infantilised to the point where they simply aren’t active participants in our already-defective ‘democracy’. And so that system is on a ventilator too.

Enough

As we are witnessing in the United States, the tipping point, when it comes, will be sudden, violent and chaotic. We missed the chance for a peaceful transition of power with the destruction of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, and Bernie Sanders in the US. In both nations, ‘liberal’ centrists chose to enable fascism, rather than socialism. And we are now paying the price for that betrayal – one repeated throughout history. Change will now have to come from the bottom, and it will not be a pretty process.

People are going to be forced awake by what will in all probability be a truly devastating wave of death.

Wales, Scotland, and the north of Ireland have all severed ties with England’s collective cliff jump. The devolved nations are going their own way. In all likelihood, a precursor for the dissolution of the United Kingdom.

And then England will be left alone, to reckon with itself.

It’s time to put away childish things. England needs to be wrestled back from the grip of the zealots willing to burn it to the ground in pursuit of the last quid they can extract from it. And for that to happen, the sleeping need to wake, and the children need to grow up fast. Because it’s happening whether they feel like it or not.

Featured image via Flickr – DonkeyHotey / Wikipedia / Free SVG

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  • Show Comments
    1. I’m not stupid. Stupid.
      I truly am worried for the sake of my vulnerable elderly parents, that I live with who I am trying to keep safe by staying at home and only going out shopping twice a week.
      Next week I end my 12 weeks away from work but I’m worried that, despite the lengths my employers have gone to to keep it’s employees safe, I am going to catch this virus from someone.

    2. This is an excellent much needed analysis of our collective emotional and intellectual poverty. The challenge is to see how much of one’s self has been coerced and seduced into this state. We all have the capacity to be more ‘ grown up’ and more responsible for the public realm , not just in this current crisis but in response to the ongoing precarious state of human life on earth.
      Well done Ms. Mendoza!

    3. This is just about the best piece I have ever read on the Canary!

      So true and so obvious to anyone who lived through the thatcher years which for me was where it all began. We have gone from a market economy to a market society where disabled are seen as costing our NHS and benefit system way too much cash. Where we as a nation are quite happy to see children forced to use food banks to survive and where the old are seen as parasites.

      This isn’t my country this isn’t my fellow citizens this my friends is evil

    4. Dear Ms Mendoza ,
      On a couple of occasions in my adult life I’ve marked the series of steps which have brought us here . A grammar schoolboy plucked from a close knit Cheshire industrial town going to Uni. I wondered at the gauche buffoons I met in my brother’s Oxford classes . Little care had I as we were part of a ‘meritocracy’ who were well underway academically blowing them out of the water . My family and I emigrated for a few years , on return later a botched comprehensivisation and the non integration of the public and grammar schools quietly eradicated the ‘meritocracy’ .
      A modern version of ‘noblesse oblige’ was peddled by a first generation US economist from the Central European imperial tradition and ushered in decades of inequality in a ‘race to the bottom’ , cheered on by partisan interests . Once again I go abroad to work . In the UK a whole young generation was intellectually and economically sacrificed under Thatcherism and BS becomes ‘normalized’ . God help us in 1997 , when the nonsense of Thatcherism becomes undeniable which even the bounty of N Sea oil can’t hide , the Labour Party has been taken over by hypocrites who regard their objective as completing Thatcherite goals .
      After another ‘false dawn’ of Corbynism eradicated once again by Labour hypocrites , the ‘scepter’d isle’ is shown up as the dysfunctional state it has been for decades , however the rot is so embedded I really despair of seeing it sorted out in my remaining life . I hope I’m wrong .
      Derek Hopley

    5. Christopher Lasch was writing about this in the last quarter of the 20th century: The Minimal Self, The Culture of Narcissism etc. “Dumbing down” became a recognised phenomenon in the late 20th century but less attention was paid to infantilisation. There’s a nice observation in Antonio Damasio’s Descartes’ Error that what makes us rational is emotion. Hence the deliberate pursuit of emotional regression as a means of discouraging people from rational decisions. Babyish emotions keep people from the recognition of the impersonal. Lasch was right in arguing (in The Revolt of the Elites) for command standards and impersonal values (think of the speed limit – it’s a common standard and it upholds the impersonal value of safety, which provides safety for all of us). The paradox is that our personal freedom and well-being depend on impersonal values. Of course, babies can’t recognise this. They are too sunk in their immediate needs. They can perceive no reality beyond themselves. Our culture has pursued this reduced form of selfhood with the deliberate purpose of depriving people of the grown-up emotions which can permit them to resist. Commercialism requires self-abandonment. People who can make their own decisions, choose against what is being promoted are bad for profit. Hence the tactic of by-passing parents and getting kids to spend their money. Mobile phones are a great example. Parents don’t have a chance. Every 8-year-old demands one. Thus, the corporations get their hands on the parents’ money through the immature. Children have become a mass, lucrative market. The power must be theirs. The mature are a disaster for consumerism. You can sell the latest song to a twelve year old but a sixty year old Bach-lover is much harder territory. Popular culture is a vital weapon in breaking down mature responses. And now the world is the hands of the emotionally regressed. Spoilt children with nuclear weapons to play with. Trump, Johnson, Putin, Bolsanaro, Netanyahu. If we don’t turn this round, it may be the end of the human adventure.

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