ADELAIDE - I think that most of you will agree that 2020 has been the most strange, disruptive and, in many respects, disturbing year of our lives.
This has certainly been the case for me, where two major medical events have occurred leaving me seriously frightened and, for some time, in considerable pain.
Of course, in the wider world, what has happened in my life is of no consequence.
After all, why should it be otherwise, there being over seven billion of us living on this planet, each dealing with our own crises, triumphs and tragedies.
What we all have in common is trying to cope with a world hugely disrupted by a deadly pandemic.
This task has been made all the harder by the great determination of many people to refuse to accept that anything out of the ordinary is happening.
The extent to which people deny the severity of the pandemic or, in some cases, its very existence, bewilders me.
Societies that were hitherto thought to be composed mostly of rational, educated and intelligent people have been revealed as something very different.
The United States has been prominent amongst the countries which have displayed exceptional ineptitude and sometimes sheer stupidity in their attempts to manage the worst public health crisis in a century.
A story published in the US Huffington Post illustrates this point. Jodi Doering, a nurse working in South Dakota, reported upon her experiences treating people dying from Covid-19.
Ms Doering was clearly both exhausted and exasperated by her experiences as she treated people who refused to accept they had Covid-19 and that it was killing them.
She said that many of their dying words were, “This cannot be happening to me. It’s not real”.
Ms Doering described working with these patients as “a horror movie that never ends”.
It is a struggle for me to comprehend how a refusal to accept reality can persist in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary, not least the denial that what is killing you doesn’t exist.
But perhaps this phenomenon is not quite so mad or unusual as it may seem.
I recall that Monty Python brilliantly and hilariously referenced this bizarre human characteristic in the movie ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’.
The movie is a parody of the medieval tale about the knights of King Arthur’s court on a quest to find the Holy Grail.
At one point, their journey is impeded by the Black Knight, who insists they may only pass him by means of mortal combat.
In the ensuing fight the Black Knight is progressively shorn of his limbs. When each limb is removed he is chivalrously offered the opportunity stand aside but refuses to do so.
Even when the Black Knight is reduced to having no arms and standing on the stumps of his legs, he continues to hurl abuse and threats. The bemused knights eventually choose to simply ignore him and go on their way.
My interpretation of this scene is that the Monty Python writers were referencing the bizarre human capacity for wilfully denying the obvious.
It was an allusion to people refusing to accept any reality conflicting with their personal beliefs.
It is as if some of us think that we can literally wish away reality.
This is an amusing notion in a film but not when it is manifested in a figure like the president of the United States who maintains that Covid-19 will disappear like magic and then ignores any scientific advice that conflicts with this belief.
It is impossible to trust the political and personal judgement of such a person, especially when he has the power to initiate a nuclear war or, potentially at least, trigger a civil war.
For me the most frightening revelation of 2020 has been that this characteristic exists in many more people than I imagined, some of them in positions of great authority.
It is a chilling reminder of our collective vulnerability to people who believe that what they think is more important than what is happening in the real world of observable fact.
History tells us that it is people like this who frequently lead their naïve followers into a world of death, destruction and ruination.
A world that, even as they seek to make it real, exists only in their imaginations.