Is a difference in opinion over the coronavirus pandemic a good enough reason to end a friendship? Our writer Sophie Kernachan thinks so.
In a year where political division has become evermore endemic and vicious, you might have thought an event like a widespread pandemic would be one of those instances where everyone comes together to tackle it. It’s a nice idea, that Hallmark-variety globalism where the politically divided set aside their differences and fight together to beat an external foe, but one that, if 2020 is anything to go by, is completely impractical. From the inevitable politicisation of the pandemic in the wake of the US 2020 election, to outright insane conspiracy theories (never would I have guessed that a pandemic would be paramount evidence for the looming threat of QAnon’s imaginary deep state, alongside Hillary Clinton’s apparent insatiable thirst for the blood of infants, the coronavirus pandemic has created a delightful new divide in the populace. No doubt fuelled by social media and a rather pathetic government response across nations, opinions on coronavirus are now as deep-rooted as many people’s opinions on politics. And just like politics, people fall out over it. The question of political beliefs being relevant to friendships and relationships has been asked many times, but with their similarities, does the same apply to coronavirus?
The answer is as inconclusive as that for politics; it depends on the person and on their views. Lockdown-induced cabin fever certainly had its impacts on people’s social relationships. Forbes, for example, reported that only 18% of surveyed quarantining couples were satisfied with their communication with their partner over lockdown. An understandable complaint; when you can’t work or leave the house and find yourselves breathing down each other’s necks for several months, even the most negligible of annoying habits can become unbearable. But opinions on coronavirus provided another notable obstacle for relationships, especially when it’s so easy to be bombarded by them when you find yourself doom scrolling social media once again.
Covid-19 has seen several iterations of science-denier crawl out of the woodworks, manifesting in the form of your anti-mask relatives, flatmates who simply must have their Tinder date over at once, and acquaintances who think Andrew Wakefield just may have had a point. At first it was fun to point and laugh at the petulant childishness of grown adults that wouldn’t wash their hands because the government told them to, but now we’re here, with 2 million people dead, with many more suffering symptoms for up to 8 weeks after contracting the virus (as many as 1 in 20, according to research from King’s College London). As we find ourselves in a second hard lockdown, or is this the third?, it’s hard to keep count, opinions like these can become even more disheartening. But what makes opinions about coronavirus more frustrating or harder to ignore than other hot issues of the day, say, ill-informed rants about big tech and censorship?
Perhaps, most notably, it is how close this is to home for many. Political opinions, by and large, can be kept to yourself. It’s a tired old trope, the idea of your racist relatives you only see at Christmas treating their extended family to slur-laden tirades about everything wrong with the modern world. Coronavirus and its opposition, however, have led to a fresh wave of disinformation in the bowels of social media, with many-a conspiracy about the ineffectiveness of masks, vaccines, and the idea it’s all a ploy by the monolithic government to keep us down.
It was somewhat disheartening telling my 73-year-old grandparents that anti-vaxxers were more common than a fringe faction of rabid science-deniers that anybody with two brain cells to rub together can disprove. I was quite shocked to find a mutual friend proudly declaring she would not be taking the coronavirus vaccine, and how coronavirus has made her wonder just WHY Wakefield’s infamous quack study linking autism and the MMR vaccine was shot down so hard. It was baffling, but in a year where science denialism has had a place to develop and fester, it was a sadly unsurprising discovery.
You might think that the ableist bile linking autism with highly unpleasant, and sometimes even fatal, conditions or dystopian theories such as vaccine-inserted microchips were the worst of it, but it’s easier to ignore these people or cut them off. What’s harder, though, is wading through the incredible selfishness demonstrated by many close to us. You know the type, the ones that are very sorry for all those who have died, but “If I get it, I get it”. Less cartoonish than the ravings of anti-vaxxers, but just sceptical enough to believe this is just an exaggerated flu and carry on as if nothing was happening. People who refuse to follow guidelines because it’s inconvenient for them. It doesn’t take much critical thinking to realise the sacrifices we’re making right now are for the greater good of people’s health, and acting like you can only catch coronavirus in your own personal vacuum is a baffling level of entitlement. At that point, the selfishness long surpasses the point of being benign, and more becomes an issue of core values. And this far in, when people’s physical wellbeing is on the line, you have every right to “be difficult” and cut them off for it.