Thinking of Holland …

Thinking of Holland, broad rivers I see, passing slowly through endless horizons is my clumsy translation of a world-famous quote (in the Netherlands that is, Marsman, 1936). My personal view is anno 2021 more prosaic: Thinking of Holland, epidemic waves I see, passing slowly through many a backyard.

I have been tracking the daily numbers of deaths and infections for over a year now. The latest version is shown in Fig. 1. That figure shows why, when asked, I have to think of epidemic waves that slowly plow through time.

The black line in both images shows the number of deaths per day per million inhabitants. Those numbers are small. But daily numbers add up. In the first wave, this resulted in more than 6,000 deaths. On July 18th we had the first wave under control, we could think. But then it went wrong again and new waves started to emerge and partly conquered. If we look at the numbers of registered infections (the red lines, unlike the black ones, are left and right in different scales) we are now in the fourth wave. After the first wave, more than 10,000 deaths were added.

The first wave has shown that Dutch society has a culture capable of controlling the epidemic in its own backyard.

The later waves show that we also have a culture that is unable or unwilling to convert that knowledge into an inviting view of a new normal, rather than the old.

It is tempting to think that this issue is closely related to possible prospects for a new political morality, rather than the old one.

This idea is dangerous because political morality is not a science that calculates with truth, but a story machine that is always on the look out for support for power. Consequently a new political morality usually heralds support for a new elite. And that can turn out badly if it proves to be harboring nasty people.

In the Netherlands, this storytelling machine could, in connection with the COVID image in Fig. 1, lead to the following types of stories.

  1. panic (Wuhan), later: consequences for medical practice and scientific research leading (even later) to the discovery of effective vaccines even later
  2. contact (‘intelligent’ lock down, vulnerability of the elderly), later: public debate about support, enforcement and regulation
  3. fundamental rights, later: protests, debates on freedom and social damage caused by digital education
  4. economy (negative growth, economic support), later: limited economic growth, rearrangement of profitability in the direction of digital and major grocers, discussion about the position of the pharmaceutical industry

There is a problem for constructing convincing stories about connecting new and old political moralities with what Fig. 1 shows. It is the phenomenon that the ins and outs of the Dutch political arena are characterized by tendencies to cover up white lies and quod licet jovi attitudes.

To be revisited.