Tennis had its Dominic Cummings moment this week, when four Top 50 male players tested positive for Covid-19 after playing in Novak Djokovic’s Adria Tour. This series of exhibition tournaments, held in Belgrade, Serbia and Zadar, Croatia – where they were abandoned on Sunday – turned from an expression of goodwill, raising funds to fight the pandemic, to a completely avoidable nightmare that set off virus outbreaks in both countries. Hubris governed a tour where social distancing was ignored, stadiums were filled to capacity and some of the ATP’s most tactile players were given free rein on the basketball court and in nightclubs. Grigor Dimitrov, visibly ailing in a match on Saturday, flew home to Monte Carlo before taking a test revealing him positive and symptomatic for Covid-19. Borna Coric, Victor Troicki and Novak Djokovic himself also tested positive without symptoms, with Djokovic similarly willing to carry his disease across international boundaries before deigning to take a test. At least his competitors, shaken by Dimitrov’s revelation, waited in Zadar to test themselves before fleeing the scene of the wreckage.
This arrogance reveals the danger of bringing back international sport amid a novel pandemic and, like Dominic Cummings’s trip to Durham, suggests the existence of an elite – political or athletic – who need not concern themselves with trivial public health measures. Cummings contravened lockdown rules, but likely infected few. The reckless administration of the Adria Tour may have caused the infection of thousands of spectators, many of whom will be symptomatic and pass the disease on. The official numbers speak for themselves: having brought the pandemic under control in mid-May, Serbia reported 137 cases today and Croatia 95. Croatia has reimposed a quarantine for visitors from neighbouring Balkan states. The source of the outbreak is contested – Dimitrov may have been the “super spreader” introducing the disease from Bulgaria or the United States – but ultimately it was Djokovic who organised and set the breezy tone for the tour. It was probably a matter of if, not when, the virus would emerge in such circumstances.
Like Cummings, Djokovic needs to be rebuked – removed from his position as President of the ATP Player Council, at least – to reinforce the magnitude of the public health crisis caused by his Adria Tour. The Serb has expressed his sorrow for the infection caused, but his statement of Tuesday suggests that organising the event with a ‘pure heart and sincere intentions’ – rather than social distancing – excuses his irresponsibility. And, like Cummings, it seems unlikely that he will face further sanctions. Djokovic has been a popular leader of the Player Council, advocating for better remuneration of players ranked outside the Top 100 (although his attention has strayed during the pandemic). It would require a majority of the 12-player board to replace him: a momentous, political move for a council containing both Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. Djokovic’s online fan base, or #NoleFam, already regard the journalistic pile-on as a conspiracy engineered by supporters of his great rivals. The toxic world of social media echo chambers, anti-truth fervour and the decline of conventional wisdom would have it that Djokovic escapes this unscathed.
Novak Djokovic has always had an on-again, off-again, relationship with science. As commentator Mary Carillo warned on MSNBC yesterday, ‘He's one of so many people in this world – and especially in our country [the US], it seems – who think that science is just another opinion.’ In 2010, having suffered a series of physical breakdowns on court, Djokovic took a consultation involving a piece of bread rested on his arm – which felt weak in consequence – that inspired him to cut out gluten and take up the plant-based diet he follows with such great results to this day. But the success of this evidence-free reasoning was fluke, rather than design; Djokovic’s penchant for spirituality led in 2017 to his hiring a “mental guru”, Pepe Imaz, to teach “the power of lengthy lungs” and “quantum theory”. Unsurprisingly, his period with Imaz coincided with poor results by Djokovic’s standards.
Since the onset of Covid-19, the Serb’s naïve acceptance of fringe “medical” beliefs has strayed from the idiosyncratic to the dangerous. First came Djokovic’s contention that he would probably not take a vaccine if it was required to return to the tour. Perhaps this was an expression of caution in the face of a novel disease, but his later hosting of several Instagram Live sessions with Chervin Jafarieh, an entrepreneur – if the spirit of the word extends to con-artists who charge $50 a bottle for homeopathic water – would suggest that the world #1 is a full-on anti-vaxxer. With Jafarieh, Djokovic discussed “self-mastery”: a capacious title covering such nonsense as how the power of “gratitude” can change the molecular structure of food and purify dirty water. (Mary Carillo: ‘Try telling that to the people of Flint, Michigan.’) Meanwhile, his wife Jelena was busy sharing the conspiracy that 5G masts transmit coronavirus. For a couple who treat science as a game and think witch doctors might provide interesting viewing for 7.3 million Instagram followers, the catastrophic Adria Tour error seems unsurprising.
The impact of Djokovic’s actions on legions of diehard fans makes it so important that he is sanctioned after the Adria Tour blunder. We cannot allow the narrative from Djokovic’s father that Dimitrov was the virus carrier at fault; it has already been rebuked by the Serb’s perennial critic, Nick Kyrgios. The Serbian and Croatian authorities must be questioned for failing to monitor the event, but it is not their fault for allowing the tour, in good faith, to proceed. Nor is it a reasonable excuse – from the #NoleFam – that some athletes will inevitably get Covid-19 if sports restart before a vaccine, making the Adria Tour proof of an unavoidable reality. Dozens of Premier League footballers have tested positive for Covid-19, but self-isolated and prevented a wider outbreak. Unblinkered loyalty to a champion who stands underappreciated in the eyes of many cannot mask Djokovic’s egregious flouting of public health restrictions amid a pandemic. Social media may not reflect reality, but the doubling-down I have seen to defend Djokovic – notably on Twitter – has reached Trumpian levels.
If tennis is to survive this pandemic, in reputation and financially, Djokovic cannot head the Player Council. The American No. #225 Noah Rubin has questioned his continued tenure, having been critical of Djokovic’s decision to play basketball with Adria Tour compatriots rather than attend a Zoom call on the US Open and future income status of Top 400 players. The remaining 11 council members, who have the ultimate power to replace Djokovic, are yet to speak out on the issue, despite reports of growing discontent within the ATP. Perhaps this situation will change, but it seems likely that such a decision would have to be made unanimously to prevent appearances of factionalism that could further weaken tennis’ reputation. Heavyweights Federer and Nadal, while members of the council, are habitually reticent in tennis politics. During lockdown they have participated in a botched PR effort to take credit for the idea of an ATP-WTA merger (first proposed by Billie Jean King in 1973) rather than serious discussions about the logistical future of the sport. As such, it seems likely that without a groundswell against Djokovic, he will remain like Dominic Cummings – in post: an exemplar of the out-of-touch establishment that has seemed all too real for his mortal colleagues since March.
As Andy Murray noted yesterday at the Battle of the Brits – an indoor event, devised by his brother, with rigorous pandemic measures in place – Djokovic’s tour was ‘not a good look for tennis… maybe this has put the US Open in doubt’. The measures imposed by the United States Tennis Association so as not to cancel their annual event are stricter than those in Balkan countries: Murray conceded, ‘no fans for a start’. Yet the Adria Tour raised the question of whether players can be trusted to isolate in hotel rooms between matches, which is a requisite for the US Open to function. Should a player foray into midtown Manhattan, contract the virus and pass it on, the whole tournament might have to be cancelled and the USTA itself would sit on the verge of liquidation. Should they consider banning attendees of the Adria Tour? This would be extreme, but future ATP and WTA events may have to consider draconian measures to ensure safe tournaments, with adverse effects on privacy, coaching access and mental health.
It is too early to tell whether this error of judgment has humbled Djokovic and led him to consider his pandemic-resistant worldview. He concedes that the Adria Tour was held too soon, but the key point is that it was held in an imaginary, virus-free world, disregarding public health. The tour was an extension of his personal sense of infallibility, as a 17-time Grand Slam champion: a mental and physical specimen. I’m not convinced that he has lost it.
Review: The Test: A New Era for Australia’s Team (Amazon Prime Video, released 12th March 2020)
A chest infection sparked my interest in cricket. Prostrate on the sofa on a hot afternoon last August, I was enthralled by the miracle of Ben Stokes’ run chase at Headingley – aided by the glasses-wiping stalwart, Jack Leach – to keep the Ashes alive. Glued to the Test Match Special commentary, I lamented what I’d missed, from the heroics of England’s 2019 World Cup to the Ashes, Tests, ODIs and T20s of years gone by. My abiding memory of cricket had always been circa 2005, spectating at Lord’s with my dad. As a child more interested in museums and the London Underground than the gruelling, attritional phenomenon of a Test match, I wrote off cricket as about the most boring spectacle I’d ever seen. But listening to the Ashes last summer – particularly that third Test – I appreciated the magic of the sport, its potential to inspire and the almost foreordained quality of Stokes’ performance.
That same sense of destiny permeates Adrian Brown’s compelling docu-series, The Test: A New Era for Australia’s Team. His crew follow the Aussies from the national disgrace of the ball-tampering scandal in March 2018 to their retention of the Ashes – perhaps the greatest prize in cricket – in September 2019. Under the leadership of a new head coach, former batsman Justin Langer, the team is revived from villain status to model sporting ambassadors. With fascinating, fly-on-the-wall access, the eight-part series observes how a relatively inexperienced squad devoid of its leaders (Captain Steve Smith, Vice-Captain David Warner, and opening batsman Cameron Bancroft were suspended for their roles in the scandal) cohere, packed with entertaining characters.
It is the human side which The Test captures best. The Australians are battered by the torment of 2018, losing a disastrous ODI series 5-0 to England (who scored the highest one-day innings total ever recorded in the third match) and both an ODI and Test series to India, 2-1, on home soil. Yet head coach Langer combines tough love with constant allusions to the historical tradition of Australian cricket to rekindle the motivation and sense of identity within a team castigated at home and abroad. The ceremonies in which debuting players are presented with their “baggy green” cap, or where spinner Nathan Lyon leads the roasting of his teammates after every victory, are deeply emotional rituals that speak to the significance of cricket within Australian culture, alongside those relatable characteristics of respect and humility stripped from the team following the cheating in Cape Town. Langer undergoes personal turmoil as he lives each match, and it is no coincidence that his decision to dial back his intensity coincides with an uptick in results for the squad. Their victory in ODI and T20 series in India in early 2019 is seen as perfect preparation for the upcoming World Cup, for which the disgraced Smith and Warner will be eligible for selection once again.
As Australia’s summer in England approaches, we grow invested in the squad. We see the eccentric genius of Steve Smith – who shadow bats for hours in his hotel room – determined to revive his reputation with a series of stunning World Cup and Ashes performances. Smith is the subject of adoration from the quirky batting revelation Marnus Labuschagne. Test captain Tim Paine seems the quintessential, down-to-earth Aussie, enjoying banter with the highly-strung Indian captain Virat Kohli. Small details like the bromance between coffee-obsessed Adam Zampa and Marcus Stoinis reinforce that these teammates relish each other’s company. Perceptions of this are enhanced by interviews from players, coaches and insightful pundits such as Harsha Bhogle and Jonathan Agnew.
While Australia are defeated by England in the semifinals of their winning World Cup run, Langer’s side have the last word by retaining the Ashes (drawing 2-2, but victorious as the previous winners). The ultimate prize in The Test, however, is the rehabilitation of the gold-standard image of Australian cricket. Brown’s is a satisfying story of progress, vanquishing the obstacles of injury, absence and media reputation. But it still felt that there was something missing. Was the rehabilitation of Australia’s team really so definitive?
Herbert Butterfield (1900-1979)
In 1931, Regius Professor of History and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Herbert Butterfield, published a ground-breaking essay entitled The Whig Interpretation of History. Butterfield attacked a tendency in all history writing to warp events of the past to suit motivations in the present, allowing the historian to pick and choose to suit their argument. In so doing, the historian creates a perception of inevitability: a preordained route of progress when events, in reality, are never that simple. The historian employs teleology: explaining an action in terms of its result (Australia lost in the semifinals of the World Cup because that allowed the necessary contemplation and training to go on to retain the Ashes) rather than in terms of a process of events (Australia lost in the semifinals of the World Cup because poor decisions were made tactically/ England had certain home advantages).
Butterfield calls this a “Whig” interpretation in reference to a school of historians associated with the 18th and 19th century Whig political party, who viewed English history as a gradual progression – of personal freedom against tyranny; of Parliament against the Crown; of Protestantism against Catholicism – from Magna Carta to the 1688 Glorious Revolution. Nonetheless, “whig” in the lower case can apply to a historian employing the above principles more generally. That is where the parallels between a Cambridge don’s essay and a present-day documentary about cricket become clear. My criticism of The Test is how Brown, as the director/ historian, places a whiggish spin on the events of the Australian team in 2018-19 to bolster – and obscure – their story.
From the start of Episode 1, Brown’s breezy treatment of the ball-tampering scandal seems disproportionate to the damage wrought on Australia’s cricket team and even the national reputation. In a ten-minute opening montage, The Test glosses over the context, rationale and consequences. Why was ball-tampering deemed necessary in the 3rd Test against South Africa? Were there omens of arrogance and rule-breaking leading up to Smith, Warner and Bancroft’s actions? What was their reaction to suspension by Cricket Australia? Perhaps these questions detract from the mantra of the series – and head coach Langer – not to brood on past mistakes. But as it is, adopting a narrative of relentless progress makes for a first episode that puzzles viewers about the cheating that required this “new era for Australia’s team” in the first place.
And what of the nature of this progress? Wishy-washy references substitute for focus on the strategic and tactical elements that helped Australia’s success. We see simplistic graph projections in musty hotel boardrooms suggesting which Test sessions Australia need to win. We see Langer exhorting his squad to focus on “one ball at a time”. One episode focuses on T20 and ODI captain Aaron Finch’s batting struggles, but glosses over the media scrutiny this attracted at the time – given his place at the top of the batting order – and suggests that the solution was a bit more time in practice. I’m hardly a cricket expert, but I doubt it was that simple. At times, The Test treats the cricket itself as an irksome sideshow that he struggled to fit into the teleology that the series required.
The blind spots in Brown’s whiggish interpretation led me to consider the sacrifices required by a filmmaker who commits to an extended journey with a sporting team or individual player. Granted, I don’t have much knowledge of the financial and contractual intricacies of the industry. But I wonder what Brown might have produced if the Australian cricket team, for instance: never revived its good name; never cohered as a squad without Smith and Warner; or never returned to its pre-ball tampering form. For how long does the filmmaker continue invest their time and resources in the squad, hoping for a revival? If the team maintained its dismal late-2018 form, would he bail out? Might the head coach force him to stop filming? Or would he try to fabricate a success story because – like President Johnson in Vietnam – he has invested too much to lose face?
While there is a sense of jeopardy for Langer and the team in the doldrums of late 2018, the editing of the series portrays a positive arc such that later losses are blips: an inspired performance (like Stokes’ at Headingley); low energy; or bad luck. Maybe by last summer there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the team, but Brown’s framing seems to assume that good results will come. In fact, Australia drew the Ashes – rather than winning outright – which leads to a somewhat confused, less triumphant crescendo than he might have hoped. Nuance is lost in service to the story and leaves the viewer to contemplate realities beyond the locker room.
At least Brown’s 18-month investment paid off. The revival of the Australian cricket team must rank as one of the greatest sporting stories of the last two years. Everybody loves an underdog, and the depiction of triumph over adversity is the most relatable tool in the filmmaker’s arsenal. Some whiggish editorial decisions are ultimately necessary to create a narrative of excitement and entertainment, building to the final victory. Viewers can never expect a full, objective picture; but equally, they should be under no illusion that they are going to get one.
Nowadays, a whiggish approach looks facile and anachronistic for writers or politicians – who still employ this selective history to rouse their nations in a time of pandemic crisis. But even Herbert Butterfield, writing in 1944, conceded that whig history has its uses. In the entertainment realm, there is no better way to convey a sporting story of redemption. Even if the results had not come for Australia, framing The Test around conduct and reputation ensures a happy ending: internal critics are silenced; the nation’s respect for its cricket team is restored. Perhaps the Whig Interpretation of Sport is here to stay.
Review: Mark O’Connell, Notes from an Apocalypse: A Personal Journey to the End of the World and Back (Granta Books, 2020)
It is a fundamental part of the human condition to be preoccupied by thoughts of destruction and our ultimate demise – both individually, and as a species. There is no known immunity from death. Apocalyptic thinking has permeated human societies from the fall of ancient empires, to the Fifth Monarchists of the 17th century English Republic, to the Kennedy brothers contemplating an imminent nuclear holocaust in the midst of the Cuban Missile Crisis. The end of days is again in stark focus amid the ruinous Covid-19 pandemic, which has claimed nearly 350,000 lives worldwide, decimated national economies and upended individual livelihoods. Apocalyptic omens appear everywhere from empty supermarket shelves to an American President claiming that having the highest number of disease cases is a ‘great honour’.
Let’s not forget the ongoing context too: Cyclone Amphan in Bengal may have displaced 500,000 people in yet another example of the extreme weather hastened by the global climate crisis. Our immobility since March has provided a glimpse of the positive ecological impact of emissions reductions, but one which we will likely ignore once the pandemic subsides. The Mercator Research Institute (Berlin) suggests that we passed the point where it would be realistically possible to prevent catastrophic climate damage (1.5C above pre-industrial levels) in September 2018. With negative feedback loops that we can never appreciate until they start to happen, who knows if and when the planet will be sent into a runaway warming spiral which will render it uninhabitable for human life?
For many – myself included – that prospect does not bear thinking about. But Irish journalist Mark O’Connell has spent years thinking about nothing else. His latest book, Notes on an Apocalypse, chronicles O’Connell’s pre-pandemic, personal journey to grapple with the reality of a world on fire. Never before has life on this planet been under threat from fundamental human-induced changes to its natural processes. For forty years, nuclear war posed an immediate threat of obliteration, but it always relied on an accomplice in the Kremlin or the White House. Thus, O’Connell reasons, it is climate change that will trigger the end of the world, as states fall to environmental devastation ‘slowly and then all at once’.
Rational as O’Connell believed his apocalyptic thoughts to be, they were an all-consuming addiction for which he received therapy in order to enjoy a normal working and family life. As such, the research for this book is framed as a painful panacea. His hypothesis, ‘I myself am the apocalypse of which I speak’, opens out to an engrossing survey of the fringes of what I’d call apocalypse fetishism: a chiefly Western phenomenon rooted in deluded, hypermasculine ideology at one extreme and fatalistic self-flagellation at the other. Indeed he ponders whether the impulse to catastrophise in this way can only be the ‘pursuit of a mind shaped by leisure and economic comfort’. This book attempts to seek out his fears: to tame them; understand them for the cancer that they are; and transform them into a cause for positive action against the system that has led to their propagation. Thus, from despondent beginnings, O’Connell’s thesis is a hopeful, entertaining analysis of the comfort and danger of apocalyptic thinking.
Crucially, O’Connell discovers that it is crises of the present, rather than the future, which ground views about the end of the world. Studying “preppers” – overwhelmingly white, middle-aged, American men who offer advice and safe havens for when the apocalypse arrives – he diagnoses a crisis of control and masculinity within apocalyptic thought. The stereotypical “prepper”, it seems, is a part-time IT technician and divorcee from Omaha, Nebraska; a Trump supporter (or better – Libertarian party member) enraged with “big government” intervention into his liberty, who relishes the impending downfall of the state. Imbued with the classical ethic of American individualism, he yearns for the opportunity to live like the early settlers out on the frontier, rather than be infantilised by modern society. O’Connell cites the example of J.J. Johnson who sets out his fantasy of the breakdown of civilisation, allowing preppers to step up and maintain private property and the safety of “good” American families – with violence if necessary. Apocalypse thinking is a conduit to reimpose ugly Anglo-Saxon, patriarchal ideologies, where hundreds of Dwight Schrutes revel in their vigilante police power while the American Leviathan collapses.
This twisted logic is more dangerous when demonstrated through the Silicon Valley magnates poising themselves to dominate when the apocalypse arrives. O’Connell spoke with Robert Vicino, a San Diego property developer who has converted a South Dakota munitions facility into an apocalypse-ready bunker complex for rich Americans to cower once migrant crises, climate-related resource wars and mass contagion arrive. These luxury bunkers would ensure the survival of a ‘post-apocalyptic petit bourgeoisie’ and more importantly would provide Vicino – a man who goes around rating women out of 10 – with a tidy profit. Meanwhile a crop of billionaires are constructing safe havens in New Zealand – a nation set to be relatively unthreatened by climate change – from which they can continue to propagate their wealth and technology empires should the U.S. be rendered uninhabitable. This is of particular importance to Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, who in 2009 claimed to stand ‘against confiscatory taxes, totalitarian collectives, and the ideology of the inevitability of the death of every individual’. (I doubt he’s very popular at funerals.) The notion that Thiel can build a beautiful mansion at Lake Wanaka, New Zealand, to shelter from future crises, while the entire nation of Bangladesh will sink into the Bay of Bengal, reinforces O’Connell’s revulsion towards apocalypse preparation and the perverse societal priorities that could allow individuals to prosper from it.
The crassest example of apocalypse fetishism, and O’Connell’s strongest chapter, analyses the private enterprise to send humans to Mars. This is of course spearheaded by another tech billionaire, Elon Musk. This mission embodies the fantasy of the prepper man-children who would rather abdicate responsibility to the nations and earth that sustained them for a pipe dream on a planet which is utterly inhospitable to humans. O’Connell suggests that American ‘terminal-stage capitalism’ has provoked this behaviour. Privileged individuals are so bored with a reality where they could have anything they possibly want that they have hijacked the optimism of Cold War Space Race ideology and stuck up two fingers at the eight billion inhabitants consigned to the apocalypse they foresee. They can jet off and plunder the galaxy with the depleted resources that those of us left on earth require. As O’Connell writes, this is an exercise in “future nostalgia”: reviving an idealised version of the American past for the present, to escape the future. Musk feels a birth right to push the frontiers of the cosmos just as his forebears pushed out the native settlers of the American continent. The Mars mission encapsulates an impending apocalypse of the American way of life, hastened by climate change or not.
O’Connell’s book is not simply an exercise in America-bashing. He interrogates the more fatalistic side of apocalypse thinking with similar insight, from the Ruinenlust (German for disaster excitement) demonstrated by day trips to Chernobyl to the Dark Mountain Project, a movement convinced that climate catastrophe is real and imminent, so therefore impossible to mitigate. At Chernobyl, he demonstrates the irony that the site of one of humankind’s most apocalyptic accidents has been reclaimed, in essence, as one of Europe’s largest nature reserves. The Covid-19 disaster has similarly shown the planet’s capacity to rebound from human “abuse”, with widely-cited examples of dolphins in the Venice canals or record low air pollution in New Delhi and Beijing. This notion of a planet suffering from human violence animates the Dark Mountain group, who O’Connell joined on an expedition to the Scottish Highlands. Their mission is to rebalance our relationship with nature; for instance, one task on the retreat had each participant spending 24 hours without human-made distractions, just contemplating the landscape. O’Connell has sympathy with the notion that nature is formulated as cultural product to be consumed ‘before getting back in the car and continuing on.’ But members of the group suggest that humans have abused the earth to such an extent that climate crisis is our comeuppance: we do not deserve to live on for future generations. As such, these activists inhabit the opposite end of the apocalypse fetishism spectrum to “preppers”, almost delighting in self-criticism analogous to O’Connell’s own end-of-the-world thinking.
As he is well aware, the Dark Mountain Project’s thought is derived from a First World position that expunges them from real action to help those who will be most affected by man-made climate disaster. O’Connell suggests that for less fortunate peoples – perhaps a Syrian refugee – the apocalypse is already happening. But however accurate, the book’s focus on apocalypse fervour as a white, Western phenomenon neglects the question of how those in impoverished nations that will be hit first by climate peril might envisage the end of days.
Nevertheless, O’Connell’s principal mission - to mitigate his own fears for the end of the world through what he labels ‘exposure therapy’ - might be considered a success. He credits the birth of his second child in summer 2018 to refocusing his mind on the ‘beauty and meaningfulness and basic worth of being here’. Being a child or parent is to be an integral link in a chain, community or culture greater than yourself: as Benedict Anderson argued in his conception of the “imagined community” that galvanises national identity. The act of having children, O’Connell claims, should be seen as a message of hope for a future worth pursuing, rather than stoking the flames of a world imbued with apocalyptic despair. He recounts how his son’s simple description of the world as ‘interesting’ embodies our infectious natural enthusiasm for life, so often warped by the pressures of a consumer- and technology-driven society.
O’Connell’s wider point about rejecting apocalypse thinking is simple: focus on what you can control. The disaster may come, but there is no use in expressing what Susan Sontag called an 'imaginative complicity’ with it. The most difficult part of this is to embrace the fear of death; it is life’s finite nature that sustains the impetus not to worry about what there is to lose. The finale of Netflix’s The Good Place demonstrates that logically, the Thielian notion of an eternal, utopian life becomes very boring, very quickly.
T.S. Eliot’s quip that humankind cannot bear too much reality has never been more relevant amid a two-month lockdown to contemplate these apocalyptic anxieties. O’Connell adds that as a father, there is a sense of ‘moral duty to be deluded about the future’ and keep the innocence of your children intact, as with Father Christmas. But there is a meaningful middle ground to be found between the extremes, and we recognise our stake in the world by mobilising against the fatalistic state of mind. O’Connell ends with a stark but inspiring warning: ‘Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.’