Many years ago now, I was on a panel at a sceptics’ conference with, among other luminaries, professor Richard Dawkins (it’s on YouTube if you look for it). Towards the end of the discussion we were asked if there could be a version of ‘God’ which we could find easier to believe in than those presented by the major religions. The Prof, naturally, started musing on the idea of a scientifically plausible God-model (I forget if he settled on one he liked); when it was my turn, I simply answered that while I‘ve never been persuaded by the One True God of the Abrahamic faiths, I’d have a lot less trouble believing in the Ancient Greek Gods.
It’s not that I find the existence of the Hellenic Pantheon more likely, it’s just that this notion of the relationship between humankind and ‘the Gods’ does at least seem to map onto the reality of the human experience. I find it hard to credit that we’re the beloved children of an all-powerful and all-loving creator because life’s just not like that. I find it much easier to believe that we’re the hapless playthings of a mountain-full of bitchy, jealous, histrionic immortal egomaniacs; the disposable extras in a celestial soap-opera. Life is like that.
There are times when it definitely feels as if ‘the Gods’ are toying with us, setting us up, knocking us down, either to prove a point to us or indeed to each other. And the one thing that definitely seems to hold true is that the Gods really don’t like it when their lessons go unheeded.
I think I’ve mentioned this before (and by “mentioned” I do of course mean “whinged about”), but there are times when the 48-hour gap between my deadline for submitting these pieces and this newspaper’s publication makes this gig slightly more hazardous than usual, and now is definitely one of those times.
Sometimes there is just the one big elephant in the news room, one story which can’t be avoided, but which is developing so quickly and in such seemingly random directions that anything one can think of to say on the matter may well be completely irrelevant – or worse, horribly inappropriate – by the time that two-day period has elapsed. One doesn’t like to tempt fate, even if the world’s one remaining ostensible superpower does appear to have adopted ‘tempting fate’ as official policy.
For that, folks, is the aforementioned wheezing orange elephant: the ongoing saga of The President And The Virus. As I write this, it’s not long after the Leader Of The Still Nominally Free World discharged himself from Walter Reed hospital in apparent triumph, posing maskless and Duce-like on the White House balcony, proclaiming himself to be feeling “better than 20 years ago”, which doesn’t really tell us anything.
Given that dexamethasone, one of the cocktail of extremely expensive – and publicly funded – drugs he was administered while hospitalised, again at the people’s expense (I bet the president is glad he ponied up that $750 a year income tax now) is a powerful steroid which could temporarily mask the symptoms of Covid infection while simultaneously suppressing one’s immune system (and, apparently, causing possible cognition-impairing side effects), it’s literally anybody’s guess what state he’ll be in by the time you read this (in both senses of the word ‘state’, given that he seems determined to resume campaigning).
However this all plays out, one can’t help but marvel at the levels of hubris on display in Washington DC just now, which brings me back to my mention of ‘the Gods’ and their displeasure at being ignored.
The fact that many of the high rollers of the Republican Party, up to and including the man himself, are currently being struck down by the very virus they’ve just spent the last seven months encouraging their constituents to ignore, is classic Ancient Greek stuff.
The very strong possibility that these people contracted the virus at that big all-day socially undistanced and largely mask-free smugathon they threw at the White House last week in order to congratulate themselves on nominating Judge Handmaid’s Tale to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Supreme Court seat before RBG herself was even room temperature is exquisite. Straight through Homer and out the other side, both in the Iliad and “d’oh” senses. Chef’s kiss in the direction of Mount Olympus. Serious return to form from Zeus and the gang there, after a quiet couple of millennia.
There’s tempting fate, and then there’s laying out a massive buffet for fate when you know fate is meant to be on a diet. I’m sure I don’t need to tell any of you that whatever the Great Orange Hope may be telling his faithful, not only are we not out of the woods yet virus-wise, we haven’t even seen a decent sized clearing in the trees. Stay safe.