Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
175 years of history and you’ve blown it. From a prized free trade journal to this. The Economist’s Europe Editor Chris Lockwood was greeted with utter disdain on Sunday after he cast doubt upon the validity of Boris Johnson’s illness. A cacophony of voices from anonymous trolls to MPs denounced him and the publication he works for in a mass cancelling of subscriptions.
This is further evidence of the corrupted society we have created where the mistake is more important than both the context and the lesson to be learnt. Lockwood apologised for his comments and deleted the original tweet, but the cult of the screenshot allows his mistake to live on, to be dragged out into the social media spotlight whenever someone has a disagreement with the editorial line of The Economist.
The same pattern of behaviour can be seen in our response to politicians. It is impossible for a misjudgement or a mistake to be just that. We always treat them as if they are a gift to our own personal and political agendas. This is particularly evident in the response to the conduct of the government over COVID-19; any slip of the tongue or miscalculation is seen not as evidence that there is an opportunity to learn but proof that Matt Hancock is a terrible person.
This has created an appalling situation in our society wherein the goal is not to admit one has made a mistake but to cover it up and move on. We have created a world where politicians and the media have separated themselves so much from the rest of us that their actions are considered to have different intentions.
We must recognise that the people in government and the media are as human as ourselves. The idea that those in authority act only from a place of bad faith is a fallacy. I’m sure that they feel as pensive, and melancholy, and jubilant as the rest of us do at points. We run the real risk of being unable to separate genuine mistakes from malignant and corrupt acts if we always default towards believing in the latter. I argue that we should instead assume the former unless we have evidence otherwise.
I’m in no doubt that our government has made considerable mistakes in the process of dealing with coronavirus and I hope there is an inquiry into those failures once all this is over. But misjudgements, wrong calls, and even incompetence are a far cry from the Tories wanting to kill the poor or the media being incapable of holding the government to account
Politicians, journalists, voters- all are fallible and all have a part to play in recognising this common human fact and moving us towards a society which deals with mistakes maturely in place of one where reaching for the pitchforks is almost a reflex.