Dear Fellow Humans,
Over the last six or so months, we have seen our world turned upside down twice. First came Covid-9 and the sudden shutdown of practically all societies on earth and a new lifestyle of fear and social distancing that it brought in its wake. Then came the worldwide anti-racism, anti-police brutality, pro-social justice protests sparked by George Floyd's cruel, tragic death in Minnesota. Both crises have exposed underlying weaknesses, contradictions and , I have constantly wondered where these twin global crises will take us in terms of how we regard society, the economy, the environment--really, EVERYTHING. Because everything seems up for grabs right now. We are at one of those rare times in history where difficult, indeed deadly events have stripped away all the superfluous fluff of daily life and focused worldwide attention on injustices and inadequacies that have been tolerated for too long by populations too beaten down, too depressed and dispirited, too apathetic, too self-absorbed or too distracted to actually consider the proposal that "just the way things are" is NOT the way things have to be. All the great rivers of the world occasionally change their courses over time, and it is the same with societies. The waters are rising. The current is accelerating. The shores are losing their old definitions. Trees are being uprooted. The river of life is shifting. Things that seemed impossible six months ago are now regular topics of conversation.
I do not think that the outcry over police brutality and racism that resounded all around the world last summer, with continuing echoes still, would have happened if not for the Covid-19 pandemic. The profound shock of seeing normal patterns of life abruptly halted and vast numbers of people sealed off in their homes for self-protection while other worked and sickened and died, with rates of sickness and mortality replacing stock market averages and sport team results as the statistics of greatest popular interest, has given people time to think, reflect and feel deep things, troubling things, things they might have preferred to avoid in pleasanter times, but now can relate to much more easily than before, because we are ALL facing the firing squad of Covid-19. However, some get to lock themselves away in comfortable homes with plenty of space and comfort, but others do not, particular poor people, African-Americans, and other racial minorities. Others have to walk out into that viral hurricane every day to earn their daily bread and have to worry they when they come home to their families at the end of very long days at very hard jobs, they may be putting virus on the table along with that daily bread, with their loved ones partaking of both. Others are trapped in institutions for the elderly and the disadvantaged with totally inadequate staff and resources to effectively protect the most vulnerable among us. The spectacle of mass suffering, unjust suffering, unequal suffering has penetrated the popular consciousness and raised awareness that our social order is sick, unstable, and cruel.
Another spectacle, that of ignorant, incompetent leaders like American President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Belarusian Alexander Lukashenko, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, blustering away on television, brushing aside the advice of medical scientists and the health professionals for us all to practice social distancing, ramp up our hand-washing and general hygiene, and keep coverings on our face to reduce viral transmission, has caused at least some supporters of the aforesaid leaders to lose their faith in these men. When your country's people are dying in large numbers, and the head of your government proves to care much more about protecting corporate profits than the population, you just might lose your faith in the man who you previously thought was so "entertaining," so "different," and so refreshingly "honest" with his free-flowing hostility toward minorities, elites and others and his seeming sympathy for "forgotten people" like you imagined yourself to be. Now you can see that your Dear Leader may not quite be all that you thought he was and that all he has to offer you is more animosity toward this or that group, no real solutions, no real plan.
The collapse in the popularity of the aforesaid "leaders"--that word does seem a bit ironic in this context, doesn't it?-- is just one part of a much bigger domino effect, of false idols of many sorts crashing to the ground after bring struck with the twin thunderbolts of the coronavirus and what seems a new consensus about how sadly warped our societies are by racism ,and how poorly served we are by militaristic police who seem all too eager to use lethal force. We can also see crashing and crumbling the long-standing assumptions that businessmen and entrepreneurs are the real heroes of society, that the "magic of the market" so much more efficient and reliable than government (see Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Milton Friedman for past advocates in this point of view); that government is in fact a menace to "freedom;" that the government should never intervene in the economy; that the anti-government rhetoric of leaders like Reagan was just a bit of political sloganeering that would do no harm; that if people are poor or poorly paid, it is their own fault, and not something that should trouble the rest of society; that it is perfectly fine if many people have no health care or health insurance; that having large numbers of people homeless and in prison is acceptable; that even the most extreme inequality is part of the proper functioning of the economy; that faraway peoples in other countries have nothing to do with us in our own home countries; that the needs of businessmen are more important than the needs of ordinary people; that public health and the natural world are less important than the health of the stock market and corporate profits. Let's break this down a little more.
False Idol #1: Government bad, business good. When the coronavirus pandemic took hold in March 2020, governments worldwide struggled to respond, because in many cases health services had been stripped down and cut back in tandem with tax-cutting for the benefit of the business sector. Hospitals run like businesses failed to maintain stocks of personal protective equipment and medical devices like ventilators, because keeping large quantities of such stuff around when it was not immediately needed was anathema to the business mindset of keeping operations lean and relying on "just in time" supply chains. Well guess what, pandemics don't care about corporate business fads. People who really knew something about the threat of pandemics knew that it was important to have lots of supplies on hand, but the corporate types chose to cut things back. When the economy went into free-fall due to the need for shutdown of travel, guess who had to be rescued by the government? The very same businesses often so hostile to government. Not a few people have begun to see that the business sector is extremely selfish, expecting support for itself that it would be happy to deny to poor and struggling masses around the world
False Idol #2: If people suffer or are poor, it is their own fault, and no one should have to help them. This pandemic has taken its most horrific toll on the poor and disadvantaged of the world. They did not ask to be poor any more than they asked to be exposed to the pandemic. With the fear of death that the pandemic makes universal, and the fear of extended poverty and unemployment that is now possible for large swathes of the population, including the formerly affluent, employed and comfortable, suddenly many who previously rejected the idea of government public assistance to the poor and needy are very interested in this very thing! Fear of death and fear of poverty certainly do broaden the mind, don't they?
False Idol #3: Educated people, scientists and "elites" are suspicious people who cannot be trusted. Donald Trump's coronavirus-update press conferences were a huge embarrassment, not only due to his verbal diarrhea of inconsistent, factually incorrect and self-contradictory statements, but also because he obviously did not like ceding the stage to more knowledgeable people like Anthony Fauci, who was studying infectious diseases back when Trump was still learning how to run a business empire based on bankruptcy I think by now, most people realize that we need more people like Fauci in government, and far fewer like Trump.
False Idol #4: All that really matters is money. The Milton Friedman-Reagan-Thatcher-Trump neoliberal logic that the world is just an economic enterprise and that we all should just get with the program and seek to monetize everything and reduce all reality to numbers on the computer screens of financial analysts has certainly been blown to bits by the deep and limitless unfairness and suffering now on display for all to see. We need each other, we need a more caring and just society, not just a fat bank account. We need a world to live in, not a luxury mansion with walls a mile high. You can't hide from our common reality anymore. It could be a commonwealth, our common health, or a common hell.... We have to decide. It is up to all of us.
I hope a brighter future is coming, despite the grim shadows all around us.
May you all have hope and heart and strength for the time we are in now, and for going into the future.
Remember to help each other. We are all each other's keepers. We always were, but maybe we forgot. Let us remember that now, and for the future and for always.