One of the earliest depictions of the “common” handshake was a relief painting of the 9th century BC, showing the Assyrian King Shalmaneser III, pressing the flesh of a Babylonian ruler to seal an alliance. Handshakes are more common than kisses in public and said to be popularised by 17th century Quakers in America who found it easier to extend their hands in, “a brief clasp” instead of tipping their hats.
“A symbol of good faith when making an oath or a promise?” When they clasped hands, people showed “their word was their bond.” “An agreement can be expressed quickly and clearly in words,” noted the historian, William Burkett. Pre the advent of the mass hysteria around Covid-19, mostly men from the 19th century and forward used the gesture as an initial sign of recognition, camaraderie, friendship and even a subconscious affiliation to the “in-group.”
Thus as handshakes have evolved to include more complicated physical gestures to imply brotherhood, it seems that an invisible enemy has spelt its death knell.
Handshakes remained perfunctory at the beginning of 2020 until the World Health Organization and governments like the ANC suddenly banned its use! Their logic was the hands were the primary spreader of diseases, not that we should develop a better hygiene regime of face and handwashing, nope, that only came afterwards. The belated idea that huge, transnational chemical companies can make a mint off steriliser sales forced people to buy alcohol sprays, but for their hands, not as a temporary aperitif for the seasoned drinker.
It was now okay to ban some alcohol, but not all of its products, after all, most come from similar sources, so it’s a case of “swings and roundabouts” for the white capital class.
Post-2020, with the pandemic still raging, at least on the front pages of local and international newspapers, all other diseases have been demoted and a sexier one introduced, kept in the public conscious, and relentlessly used, as a form of social control. See the lockdowns as a softer form of martial law, but with the same costs, not to the capital class, but the average person in the street, with black people being hit particularly hard.
We have officially entered the era of masking in public as “de rigeur” and elbow touching instead of handshaking. Thus the most common form of human physical interaction has been unceremoniously relegated to the dustbin of our histories, and great-great-grandchildren, shall one day wonder what pictures of extended arms ending in handshakes was all about anyway because their world will be all the more sterile, clinical and colder as a result of the death of the handshake and its close cousin, the hug.
Goodbye handshake, you served us well, but we should have known that globalisation meant not only the quicker and more reliable transport of goods around the planet, but also the frightening spread of its tiny, but deadly hitchhikers too.