Warning: long (somewhat rambling, relatively angry and definitely political) post ahead.
I have to begin with a preface, which I hate to do, but must needs:
I am in an unbelievably privileged position to weather this global pandemic. My husband and I are both receiving paychecks while working from home, regardless how many hours we are literally working (a lot, actually!), and no one is checking in to demand our time sheets, which we’ve never had to keep or report. Our jobs are more than relatively safe for the foreseeable future. We’re both healthy. Our families are all healthy. We can pay our bills, in part because of our income but also because we live way below our means. We’re eating and sleeping well. We have been able to support a number of our favorite local, independent restaurants and shops as well as many of the nonprofits that matter to us. We’ve appreciated this time and taken good advantage of being sequestered at home together. In short, this has been a period of personal renewal for me, and I am trying to be grateful for that while also staying very present to the absolute quagmire the pandemic is creating for so much of the world, today and going forward.
But I also think there’s something else going on here, and this recent Medium article by Julio Vincent Gambuto about the inevitable gaslighting that will come after this period of social isolation is over helped articulate it for me. What do we want to “go back to” when this is all over, assuming it is ever all over?
It’s this notion of Capitalism’s, and by extension our own conscious and unconscious movement through our world, driving, almost tsunami–force pressure to buy and acquire and possess and accumulate and compile and spend and upgrade and throw away and…
“Billions of dollars will be spent on advertising, messaging, and television and media content to make you feel comfortable again. It will come in the traditional forms — a billboard here, a hundred commercials there — and in new-media forms: a 2020–2021 generation of memes to remind you that what you want again is normalcy.”
For much of the world, normalcy, pre-Covid-19, was about wearing their meager amount of clothes until they wear out and sometimes well past that point. Inheriting their older siblings’ outgrown shoes and coats, regardless their state. There is no back to school shopping, and that’s for the lucky kids who even get to go to school. A recent UNESCO study shows that a whopping 264 million children across the planet don’t have access to any school. We can pretty well bet they aren’t getting new clothes then.
And there’s the problem of access to food. Jason Hickel notes in this 2019 article in Foreign Policy, if nothing is done, “According to warnings from NASA, intensive droughts could turn the American plains and the Southwest into a giant dust bowl. Today all of these regions are reliable sources of food. Without urgent climate action, that will change.”
Then what about access to healthcare? Fair wages? Crippling college debt for those fortunate to go to college? Dignified employment? Catastrophic climate change? Corrupt and criminal governments and leaders? Border control? The gender pay gap and #MeToo? Racial, sexual, religious and ability discrimination?
What if we believed climate scientists have a better understanding of the climate than television pundits who are invested in theatrics (this one hurts!) and ratings? What if we paid teachers excellent salaries to do the work that many of us have been pulling our hair out over these past few weeks for our single most precious resource..our children? What if war wasn’t so profitable? What about our ridiculous adherence to the second amendment? Seriously?!?!? What if we stopped privatizing prisons so that people don’t get rich off the backs of petty criminals, the staggering percentage of whom are men of color? What if we actually separated church and state?
Do we really want to return to all of that? Are we, as highly privileged Americans, really so blind and numb to all that was wrong with before that we will, like lemmings on a cliff, jump right back into what is surely the continuing death of our individual and collective humanity not to mention an enormous amount of the natural world?
What if we said simply, “no”?
What if, instead of opening every sale from every store’s emails, we just unsubscribed? What if we didn’t shop to ease our boredom, our unhappiness, our dissatisfaction with the current state of our lives? What if we made do with what’s in our closets for six months, a year or two or more?
What if we stopped getting weekly Amazon deliveries to our door or stopped going to giant big box stores because it’s so convenient? What if we shopped locally, even when it costs a little bit more, because we are supporting jobs for our neighbors and building up the local economy and (hopefully) lessening our carbon footprint?
What if we didn’t upgrade our cell phones every two years, even when our current phone still works just fine? If we stopped demanding so much immediate technology, maybe the major companies would start treating the, mostly Asian, workers better and we wouldn’t be raping the Earth of so many precious metals and other materials that all end up in landfills after we toss our working cell phones, laptops, iPads and more away.
What if we committed to stopping plastic bag usage once and for all? What if grocery stores simply stopped having them at the end of the checkout line? What if we demanded our local grocery stores start selling in bulk, and we committed to bringing our own glass jars and containers to fill up versus insisting everything be packaged in three layers of plastic?
What if we didn’t drive to all the places we can easily walk (even when it’s cold)? What if we committed to smaller cars? Electric cars? Rentable cars? What if bike lanes were really everywhere? What if ride sharing and excellent public transportation became truly viable across the country?
What if average American workers actually used up all their vacation time every year and truly stepped away from work for a period of rest and relaxation? What if all people were afforded paid family leave time for new babies, ailing parents, personal sickness? What if mental health care was as mainstream as physical health care? What if we stopped vilifying women for getting pregnant and allowed them to have control over their own bodies to make whatever choices they want or need to make for themselves?
Oh, and while we are at it, what if we stopped making abortions only available in clinics that are easily identifiable? OR, let’s start having Viagra clinics, and let’s set them completely away from any other medical facility, so that we know exactly which men can’t perform their “manly” duties on their own anymore. Oh, that’s embarrassing for you? You want to be able to talk to your doctor in private and get a bag full of free samples and never have to reveal to anyone, except your sexual partners, that this is a “problem” for you? Too bad. Walk past a group of people shaming you and making you feel bad for decisions that have absolutely no bearing on their personal happiness or success. Do it. I dare you.
Let’s stop having “elected positions for life” either by mandate or by fortune. And I mean for the Supreme Court (and I say that knowing that that means the Notorious RBG would likely have had to already retire) and the Senators and Congress people who have turned their position into a lifetime career. Let’s take the John Adams approach and seek out a great body of people, who actually represent the full spectrum of Americans, who can fill these positions for a period of time and then go back to their private lives. And while we’re at it, let’s dismantle Citizens United and enact some damn campaign finance reforms that actually do something, and don’t get me started on the lobbying industry…
Let’s never again allow the President of the United States to use social media as a platform for anything. You must delete your social media accounts upon putting your hand on whatever book you chose to take your oath on. Period. You know, like you have to relinquish all your prior business dealings that could benefit you in your new position…or, wait…I mean, that would never happen, right? No President would do that…
Our “normal” was kind of garbage for pretty much everybody but the very few elite, nearly all of whom are either members of the Saudi Arabian royal family or the top 10% of Americans and other Westerners, which my husband and I fall in to. I am guilty of many of these things I am railing against, and my intention is to be better, do more with less, think before I act and stay present going forward.
Don’t let this time of bizarre community-building, of nearly overnight global environmental healing and of personal reflection go to waste. To say this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience is too narrow. The vastness of this disease is a once-in-a-century experience, and because we’ve never been so technologically connected before, it’s actually a once-in-the-history-of-our-species experience. Let’s stay present and alert to what our old cultural and societal norms are going to do when this wraps up. Let’s decry the “more is more” mentality we had. Let’s be more environmentally-centered, more human-centered, more community-centered, more self-reflective-centered. In short, let’s make a new normal.