March 3, 2020

The Great Toilet Paper Run of 2020

no toilet paper

It will become known as The Great Toilet Paper Run of 2020.

And we’ll laugh about it next week.

Unless it becomes The Great Coronavirus Plague of 2020.

And the history books will record it for years to come.

Wanna toss a coin on it?

It’s amazing how skittish people are in the modern Western world.  We watch apocalyptic Netflix series after apocalyptic Netflix series from the comfort of our beds, snacking on chips and chocolate.

And we think, “That could never happen.

Or could it?

A virus that’s fairly, well fairly, virulent, gets up a head of steam, and the confidence drains from us faster than [FILL IN THE BLANK].

Screen Shot 2020-03-03 at 8.30.02 pm

There’s a thin veneer of confidence in the Western world that is completely untested by any major traumatic event that sweeps all before it.  Oh I know we think climate change, but no one’s really thinking about that at the moment, are they?  After all, the fires are out.  For the moment.

No, we’re thinking about toilet paper. Or the lack of it. Or we are thinking about coronavirus. And the presence of it. We’re thinking about what a run on toilet paper says about the state of our minds, and why, when we ourselves casually – too casually (?) walked down the empty toilet paper aisle in Coles and Woolworths, we felt a slight disturbing pang.  Go on, admit it.

That thin veneer of confidence is an untested veneer.  It is a confidence that has held no weight and has  no knowledge of anything that could break it. Yet.

This is not Sarajevo.  This is not Rwanda. This is not a place that once knew peace and happiness, but is now a byword for horror.  Yet.

It’s like those videos of people in turbulence-rocked planes, with oxygen masks and luggage bouncing around, crying and screaming out that they don’t want to die.  And then the plane lands and they don’t die. And they have their holiday in Fiji and their massages and their cocktails on the beach.

But somewhere tucked in the back of their mind is the fact that actually they don’t want to die, but they will someday have to. It just wasn’t today.  And it just wasn’t that way.

So maybe we’ll get to laugh at the Great Toilet Paper Run of 2020.  Or maybe shake our heads in twenty years time, still aghast at the Great Coronavirus Plague of 2020.  Time will tell.

The cracks in our culture are sitting there, the fear of the unknown, the so many “what ifs” that go around our heads, but which we keep to ourselves. Perhaps it would be a good time to speak about them.

We laugh at classic The Simpsons episodes in which within five seconds of one power blackout, there  is chaos and looting by the ordinary, respectable citizens of Springfield.  But there’s something to it. Panic buying sets off panic buying which sets off panic buying…

A friend said that he went back to his car at the shops and a woman was loading toilet paper into her car boot.

“I have no idea what I am doing,” she said, almost sheepishly.  Or more to the point, precisely sheepishly, as she’s simply following the herd.

Most of us have no idea what we’re doing. Or what we should do if the fiction we watch suddenly became fact.

We watch shows about apocalyptic events designed to keep us watching shows about apocalyptic events, and we do so on a network that, when we’ve finished watching the show, lines up another bunch of similar shows based on our viewing habits.  It’s confirmation bias.

We have no idea what we’re doing. but we’re doing it anyway. I think that’s all of us. On a hair trigger. You see it in people’s anger on the roads.  The way they snap back hard on social media. We’re the cracking of a thin veneer away from a societal breakdown.

Or are we?

The casual, well-informed, well-travelled, well educated, well entertained “worried well” are just one day away from an all encompassing, all consuming sickness that would see people fighting over toilet paper as if it were a flatscreen TV on sale on Black Friday.

The confidence of our secular culture is all smoke and mirrors. The self-aware casual irony of a culture that has never had its centre tested by anything is disappearing faster than a nine pack of triple ply Sorbent.

Read the newspaper tomorrow to see how this plays out. Though you might have to read it online. For as my mum reminds me about the bad old days on the farm in Northern Ireland in the fifties, newspapers had other uses too.







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There is no guarantee that Jesus will return in our desired timeframe. Yet we have no reason to be anxious, because even if the timeframe is not guaranteed, the outcome is! We don’t have to waste energy being anxious; we can put it to better use.

Stephen McAlpine – futureproof

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