Here are a few unfinished and not very sophisticated things that I am currently thinking about. Feel free to add anything that might help via email or Facebook.
I’m pretty certain that covid19 is not the apocalypse despite all the headlines using similar terminology. Not any sort of Biblical endtimes apocalypse, nor the zombie variety, nor any other doomsday scenario. For the adults among us, we have already lived through a lot of bad stuff in our lifetimes. The main difference is that most catastrophic events were a long way away and we were barely aware of them because they were happening to other people. Writers and readers of apocalyptic, or indeed any other, types of headline, are almost entirely from the affluent Global North and therefore by definition, we have been shielded from experiencing the real effects of poverty, conflict, and disease. Basically we need to grow up and decentralise. I am not the centre of the universe; it isn’t all about me. Bad stuff isn´t intrinsically worse when it happens to us (or because we fear it might happen to us). Bad stuff that happens to other people is still bad stuff. The fact that we were asleep when it happened to someone else doesn´t mean that it didn´t happen or that it didn´t hurt.
Malaria is a mosquito borne disease that the world health organisation estimates affects between 300 million and 500 million people every single year and causes approximately 450,000 deaths every single year. In Argentina we don’t have malaria, but we are currently experiencing an outbreak of dengue, which is also a mosquito-carried pasasitic disease. Dengue is less lethal than malaria, killing 25,000 people per year, but it is also estimated to affect globally up to 390 million people per year, of which 96 million cases are deemed to be medically significant, and approximately half a million people go on to develop severe haemorragic dengue every single year. This is but one example of a human catastrophe that the Global north is mostly unaware of, because if the news ever covers it at all, it will be three lines in a column filler halfway down page 17. It also raises the question as to how much closer we might be to solving these and other problems if we were throwing covid-scale resources into finding the answers.
So what to do. What to do? I disagree with the folk who want to say that covid is sent by God. But that doesn’t mean he might not find a use for it. And I’m wondering if one thing that this time might be understood as is an invitation to stop. Just stop. As nature takes over the spaces vacated by human activity, social networks have exploded in a frenzy of motivational messages, pressure to do stuff, learn stuff, achieve stuff, keep to a lock-down timetable broken into half-hourly activities and keep ourselves and our children busy and achieving in order not to lose momentum and keep up to speed ready to explode out of the traps when the race resumes.
But what if momentum was exactly the thing we were supposed to lose? What if this time was given to us as an opportunity to ask ourselves the purpose of our frenetic race to self destruction? What if this was our chance to question our capitalist doctrines of productivity and measurable achievement?
We are so enmeshed in a system that measures the value of a person according to our perception of their production that we can’t stop doing it, even when the world at the moment requires that most of us produce frankly nothing. The world will not change one iota if I spend the lockdown knitting a life-sized replica of the Taj Mahal. And more importantly neither will my value as a human being.
I will not ruin the life-chances of my kids if they don’t learn quadratic equations this year. Personally I’m horrified by an advert I keep being pushed in Facebook on how I too could teach my two year old to read fluently if only I purchased this system. How about if two year olds were allowed to be two year olds and do normal two year old things like eating mud and draw on the wallls without profiteering twats playing on parents’ anxieties?
What if it was time to start by stopping and asking questions about what is important. What are we going to pick back up again? If I am fitting in seventeen meetings before lunchtime, how many of those people am I really seeing or hearing? Or more importantly, how many of them would say they had felt seen and heard? How far am I meeting my own need to believe that a lot of people need me? And possibly, which two of those people could I really make a difference to if I had some proper time for them?
The phrase “think globally and act locally” still needs a lot of unpacking, but I think it may be a key, to use this time of un-planning and un-doing to help us to ask on one hand, “What sort of post-covid world do we want to live in?” and therefore, “What can I do to make a small but real difference to that?”