THOSE of us tasked with providing comment on the ongoing effects of the coronavirus, daily risk disappearing up our own fundaments trying to be profound and meaningful. We are in the foothills of this global event, able to grasp only a sliver of what it might portend for our future existence.

In the UK, no-one under the age of 75 has ever witnessed this country being menaced on a scale such as this. Perhaps, having escaped the experience of war and the prospect of a hostile occupation, it was inevitable that sooner or later we would be asked to undergo something of war’s darkness.

Trying to gain an overview of it now is as futile as riding a bike in a blizzard. Yet, it’s possible, even at this stage, to divine two distinct currents of thought emerging amid our attempts to extract meaning from this apocalypse.

READ MORE: Fury over Toby Young's claims about elderly people

Those of us on the left regard coronavirus as an opportunity to re-order society by challenging embedded notions of capitalism. In a world that seems to have accepted the ultimate triumph of the market, coronavirus has arrived like an avenging angel, toppling the primacy of the individual and demanding a response based on collectivism and community values.

A political philosophy that promotes the idea of self-sacrifice and self-denial for the greater good would seem to be the natural way of coping with a pandemic which has ground the towers of Mammon into dust and spat upon them. It’s distilled now in the simple act of shopping. We are all learning not to purchase multiples of food items and to make do with one. Thus, there might be enough left to feed the community.

Those of us who have rarely had to worry about food, heat or shelter are now experiencing a little of the uncertainty our most deprived neighbours encounter daily. And if we can continue to thrive on consuming less then what’s to stop the nation adopting the same spirit of self-denial as it seeks to move beyond this challenge? It has been proven to work. Our national heroes are now those risking their lives for us and seeking little in return.

Already, though, a different response is finding favour from some predictable sources. It’s taken a few weeks but it was inevitable nonetheless. It’s almost as though the acolytes of this path have been rendered senseless by the sight of so much sharing and caring and a reactionary Conservative Government being compelled to put up the money and to ask questions later. When your default position is to assume those in most need are lying until proven honest, this must have come as a shock.

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They seem, though, to have rediscovered their mojo. Yesterday, the right-wing commentator Toby Young finally gave vent to the pent-up fury of the neoliberals at seeing all of this mercy and compassion being disbursed willy and too often nilly without anyone challenging it.

Writing in a new political magazine called The Critic, Young said: “Spending £350 billion to prolong the lives of a few hundred thousand mostly elderly people is an irresponsible use of taxpayers’ money.”

He added: “In the unlikely event of the NHS being overwhelmed, the majority of people whose lives could have been saved only have one or two years left and those will not be good years. It isn’t worth spending £185bn to save them.”

I’ve probably rendered Young a disservice here by selectively quoting from what is actually a well-argued essay on why we should apply pure market forces to the care dilemma at the heart of coronavirus. Later, for instance, he goes on to say the economic downturn which is certain to follow coronavirus will also claim a great many lives and that we can mitigate this by taking hard decisions about the worth of human beings right now. Predictably, he has been condemned as inhuman for holding such views. Yet they are merely the distillation of pure, neoliberalism and, as such, have already found a home in this Conservative administration.

We know this because it’s what ultimately defined the UK Government’s original, instinctive response to containing coronavirus: build up herd immunity by sacrificing those deemed to be weak, elderly and infirm. In broadly monetarist terms, where an asset or product must prove its future profitability, it makes sense. Predictably, there is rarely any mention in these types of treatises about recouping expenditure in times of national emergency by curbing corporate money-laundering and stopping the flight of taxable UK profits into tax havens.

The major flaw in such an approach is that it is completely lacking in humanity and fails to acknowledge the glorious unpredictability – the thrilling fragility – of our existence. It applies pure market values to all the stages of our lived experience and assesses them according to their ability to turn a financial profit.

The direction of travel that follows is a dismal one. For once you have dealt with the problem of the elderly and their financial indolence, who do you turn your sights on next?

DO we start fitting wheelchairs with self-destruct devices that get triggered whenever a user is deemed to be costing too much money? Perhaps we could take our lead from the Spartans and leave the physically and mentally infirm to spend a night on a freezing mountain top. The strongest will have survived and thus be worthy of any future expenditure.

Only the arrogance and complacency of unearned privilege can dismiss the existence of elderly people by saying they have merely a few years left and that these won’t be good ones. Her Britannic Majesty has bolted to one of her 10 UK properties to ride out the coronavirus. A lifetime of proper care, free from most earthly concerns, has left her looking like the cat’s pyjamas for a 93-year-old. Later this week she’ll impart her wisdom and advice to her 14th Prime Minister.

Yesterday, my own mum turned 81 and will spend her birthday alone, but she’ll thank God that she’s one of the lucky ones who can maintain daily communication with family and friends.

You can’t say that these last few years have been “bad ones” for her. After a lifetime of political indifference she came out for independence in 2014 and hasn’t shut up about it since.

Maureen remains the font of all wisdom in our family and, as with so many other older people, you simply cannot place a price on such knowledge and experience and how it has the acted as the sanctuary of last resort in many troubled families. All of them have earned the right not to have their later years measured purely on a balance sheet.

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