I would like to hug my neighbor, whose wife recently passed away from something that had nothing to do with covid-19. I can’t do that, for her sake and mine, but when this ends, I will be grateful for the opportunity.
I would like to shop without worry, to go thrifting again. I would like for my children to return to school, hang out with their friends, and have a normal routine. I would like, as my daughter says, to “get in the car and drive for an hour” and then get out and do something different. And although I can’t do any of these things, not really, there are opportunities for renewal.
Our individualistic society, we are learning, can’t really be about the individual. No man is an island, as a poet once said, and now we feel that. We are not islands, and we don’t want to be. Island living is part of the sadness of this experience. Islands staying indoors, maybe alone. Islands in hospital beds, dying alone. We don’t want to be islands.
“The market,” we are learning, increases the price of scarce medical supplies when people are dying. “The market” is a very poor god. Maybe “the market” is not a force for good. Maybe, just maybe, we should return to the concept of the higher good, the common good. The common welfare of all citizens, not just the few who live in gated communities. After all, at the end of the chess game, even the king goes back into the box with all of the other pieces.
When disaster strikes, we are learning, it doesn’t just affect one group of people. The dominoes fall, one by one, until they’re all on the ground. If people don’t have money, they can’t spend it. If no one spends money, businesses fold, causing more people who have no money. The gambling den that is the stock market trades in currency that is largely imaginary and subject to whim and fear, so “value” disappears overnight.
If we’re all bankrupt, is anyone bankrupt? If the system is collapsing — and it is — that is an opportunity for a reset. The zeroes and ones that fill our bank accounts are no more real than the actual paper currency we carry in our wallets. Currency that isn’t even backed by gold. It’s only backed by belief. Belief that it’s “real.” Change the belief, and the thing disappears.
Capitalism, we are learning, doesn’t plan for a crisis. That would be wasteful and inefficient. It doesn’t plan for ecocide, climate change, or pandemics. There is no profit in it. Profit that is based on imaginary currency.
Profiteering, we are learning, is very real and very ugly. The guy who bought up all of the hand sanitizer was shamed. Corporations are not shamed. They are rewarded with bonuses and government bailouts. The people, though, they are individuals who must wash their hands and die alone.
The covid-19 pandemic is a slow-motion disaster that will play out over as many as two years. Nothing will be like it was. And really, do we want it to be? After the sadness, death, and grieving, don’t we want something better? Are we tired, yet, of the cruelty? Of hunger, poverty, and environmental suicide?
If so, this is our new opportunity. Let’s make the most of it.