Admittedly, until now I belonged to a group of Dutch people who avoid the national corona debate as much as possible in daily life. The love, family, career, ambitions – there are plenty of things in my sphere of influence that crave my attention. As a citizen I am more of a fish that wants to swim freely in the water than a marine biologist who wants to study the state of the water (to use a metaphor by Pieter Hilhorst).
Let me have a nice swim, while I smugly leave the corona discussions to people who are paid for it: civil servants, politicians, scientists, journalists. I allow myself free time, in which I analyze the new Rob van Essen and the new R&B album by the Cameroon-French singer Tayc in detail with friends.
However, my position is becoming untenable. First, because it is a myth that you can make a rigid distinction between the personal and the political. Secondly, because dominant answers in the corona debate do not do justice to reality.
You would love to keep your distance from the corona debate to focus on important things in life, but the ability to focus on those important things is partly influenced by the outcome of that corona debate. What good is free time and a private life if your favorite activities are hampered or even canceled due to corona developments?
That is why it is worrying that the corona debate has a one-sided character and is dominated by the same figures. Since March last year, it has been about nothing but technical interventions to contain the virus. Every day we are confronted with experts, politicians and commentators who present us with a menu of measures. We are being told that we can be for or against a lockdown, that our opinion matters when it comes to whether face masks should be mandatory. And what do we actually think of compulsory vaccination and admission tickets?
In an effort to swim like a fish out of water, I have so far persisted in not taking a position on which measures are most desirable and effective to tackle the virus. I insisted that there are ‘no easy solutions’ and that experts and politicians make ‘conscious decisions’.
But it is becoming increasingly clear to me why we as a society are in danger of drowning, despite the expertise and ‘well-considered’ decisions of our administrators.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle, who described man as a social animal, argued that man is naturally blessed with the ability to communicate. This enables us to build a just society with others. As political animals, we cannot therefore leave the fate of our society solely to experts, administrators and professional commentators.
It is an insight that is increasingly permeating to Dutch people like me. There is a charged atmosphere in the country and we are awakening from our own comfortable position. We realize that technical solutions fall short. Despite the corona dashboard with all that extensive data and a relatively high vaccination rate, we run into a wall, not knowing whether we can visit the concert of our favorite artist in a few weeks.
The corona debate needs more votes. Which expose what is behind the collective gloom the country is now in as a result of the pandemic. Please fewer opinion makers who tell us about the sense or nonsense of 2G. Not just another comment on government strategy. But more voices reminding us that we cannot solve the crisis with the push of a button and that we must prepare for a post-Covid trauma for the coming years.
It starts with the insight that the Dutch are not easily programmable machines, but complex beings that act on the basis of certain values. One is conservative and the other progressive, one spiritual and the other not.
It is not too late to add a chapter in the new coalition agreement. On the basis of the corona crisis, this should outline how we will take into account the various perceptions of the Dutch in our decision-making in the coming period. So that our society does not drown in an abundance of technical solutions.
Kiza Magendane is a political scientist and writes a column here every other week.
A version of this article also appeared in NRC in the morning of November 26, 2021