There is a quote by Sonya Renee Taylor that originated on Instagram that has been doing the rounds on Facebook that reads: “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-corona existence was not normal other than we normalized greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return, my friends. We are being given the opportunity to stitch a new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature. “
I must admit that at the beginning of the period of lockdown I too longed to go back to what I considered ‘normal,’ even though I did recognise a lot wrong with the world and was an advocate for change, especially for the sake of the environment.
Here in Australia we had just come through a summer of drought and devastating bushfires, clearly results of human made climate change. But during this period of enforced inactivity through lockdown we have all been given a glimpse of what could be with the air and water clearing and noise reduction from less road and air traffic. The main problem is that for those personally and financially affected by the economic downturn and job loss as a result of the pandemic, their glimpse of a future without the economic model that afforded them the lifestyle they enjoyed pre-corona has nothing to recommend it. Whatever future we move into has to take into account the human fallout of a global financial crisis.
We are faced with 2 realities: the truth, positive and negative, of the world we considered ‘normal,’ and the truth, positive and negative, about the post-pandemic world we hope for. To explore this theme, this will be the first of a series of blog articles, using as a basis a piece that appeared in ‘Golden Age of Gaia’ by public speaker and author Charles Eisenstein where he masterfully captures the issues involved in choosing where to from here. In that article he writes:
“For years, normality has been stretched nearly to its breaking point, a rope pulled tighter and tighter, waiting for a nip of the black swan’s beak to snap it in two. Now that the rope has snapped, do we tie its ends back together, or shall we undo its dangling braids still further, to see what we might weave from them?
“COVID-19 is showing us that when humanity is united in common cause, phenomenally rapid change is possible. None of the world’s problems are technically difficult to solve; they originate in human disagreement. In coherency, humanity’s creative powers are boundless. A few months ago, a proposal to halt commercial air travel would have seemed preposterous. Likewise for the radical changes we are making in our social behaviour, economy, and the role of government in our lives. COVID demonstrates the power of our collective will when we agree on what is important.
“COVID-19 is like a rehab intervention that breaks the addictive hold of normality. To interrupt a habit is to make it visible; it is to turn it from a compulsion to a choice. When the crisis subsides, we might have occasion to ask whether we want to return to normal, or whether there might be something we’ve seen during this break in the routines that we want to bring into the future. We might ask, after so many have lost their jobs, whether all of them are the jobs the world most needs, and whether our labour and creativity would be better applied elsewhere.
“We might ask, having done without it for a while, whether we really need so much air travel, Disneyworld vacations, or trade shows. What parts of the economy will we want to restore, and what parts might we choose to let go of? And on a darker note, what among the things that are being taken away right now – civil liberties, freedom of assembly, sovereignty over our bodies, in-person gatherings, hugs, handshakes, and public life – might we need to exert intentional, political and personal will to restore?
“We are right to stop, stunned at the newness of our situation. Because of the hundred paths that radiate out in front of us, some lead in the same direction we’ve already been headed. Some lead to hell on earth. And some lead to a world more healed and more beautiful than we ever dared believe to be possible.
“Going without hugs for a few weeks seems a small price to pay if it will stem an epidemic that could take millions of lives. There is a strong argument for social distancing in the near term: to prevent a sudden surge of COVID cases from overwhelming the medical system. I would like to put that argument in a larger context, especially as we look to the long term. Lest we institutionalize distancing and reengineer society around it, let us be aware of what choice we are making and why.
“The same goes for the other changes happening around the coronavirus epidemic. Some commentators have observed how it plays neatly into an agenda of totalitarian control. A frightened public accepts abridgments of civil liberties that are otherwise hard to justify, such as the tracking of everyone’s movements at all times, forcible medical treatment, involuntary quarantine, restrictions on travel and the freedom of assembly, censorship of what the authorities deem to be disinformation, suspension of habeas corpus, and military policing of civilians. The same goes for the automation of commerce; the transition from participation in sports and entertainment to remote viewing; the migration of life from public to private spaces; the transition away from place-based schools toward online education, the decline of brick-and-mortar stores, and the movement of human work and leisure onto screens. Covid-19 is accelerating pre-existing trends, political, economic, and social.
“While all the above are, in the short term, justified on the grounds of flattening the curve, we are also hearing a lot about a ‘new normal’; that is to say, the changes may not be temporary at all. Since the threat of infectious disease, like the threat of terrorism, never goes away, control measures can easily become permanent.”
At the present moment, a third of the way through May, the official statistics are that 282,709 have died from COVID-19. By the time it runs its course, the death toll could be ten times or a hundred times greater. Each one of these people has loved ones, family and friends. Compassion and conscience call us to do what we can to avert unnecessary tragedy.
What will the final numbers be? The question is impossible to answer, but more recently, estimates have plunged as it became apparent that most cases are mild or asymptomatic. A recent paper in the journal ‘Science’ argues that 86% of infections have been undocumented, which points to a much lower mortality rate than current case fatality rate would indicate. Everyday the media reports the total number of COVID-19 cases, but no one has any idea what the true number is, because only a tiny portion of the population has been tested.
The point of this reflection is, however, if we can change so radically for COVID-19, why can’t we imagine doing it for other conditions too? In 2013, according to the FAO (UN Food and Agriculture Organization), 5 million children worldwide die of hunger every year. Suicide kills a million people globally each year, connected of course to despair and depression. Drug overdoses kill 70,000 in the USA alone each year. Why are we also not frenzied about averting nuclear Armageddon or an ecological collapse? Why are we able to unify our collective will to stem the Corona virus, but not to address other grave threats to humanity?
The answer is simply because in the face of world hunger, addiction, suicide, or ecological collapse, we as a society do not know what to do. That is because there is nothing external against which to fight. COVID-19 is an external threat that we know how to meet, unlike so many of our other fears.
Charles Eisenstein’s article continues, “Today, most of our challenges no longer succumb to force. Our antibiotics and surgery fail to meet the surging health crises of autoimmunity, addiction, and obesity. Our guns and bombs, built to conquer armies, are useless to erase hatred abroad or keep domestic violence out of our homes. Our police and prisons cannot heal the breeding conditions of crime. Our pesticides cannot restore ruined soil. Covid-19 recalls the good old days when the challenges of infectious diseases succumbed to modern medicine and hygiene, at the same time as the Nazis succumbed to the war machine, and nature itself succumbed, or so it seemed, to technological conquest and improvement. It recalls the days when our weapons worked and the world seemed indeed to be improving with each technology of control.
“What kind of problem succumbs to domination and control? The kind caused by something from the outside, something Other. When the cause of the problem is something intimate to ourselves, like homelessness or inequality, addiction or obesity, there is nothing to war against. We may try to install an enemy, blaming, for example, the billionaires, Vladimir Putin, or the Devil, but then we miss key information, such as the ground conditions that allow billionaires (or viruses) to replicate in the first place.
“If there is one thing our civilization is good at, it is fighting an enemy. We welcome opportunities to do what we are good at, which prove the validity of our technologies, systems, and worldview. And so, we manufacture enemies, cast problems like crime, terrorism, and disease into us-versus-them terms, and mobilize our collective energies toward those endeavours that can be seen that way. Thus, we single out COVID-19 as a call to arms, reorganizing society as if for a war effort, while treating as normal the possibility of nuclear Armageddon, ecological collapse, and five million children starving.”
(To be continued in next month’s blog article)