By the time this post goes up on the Tidechange.ca site, we will be several days into Stage 1 of Covid lock down easing. Difficult as the social distancing has been, it has also been a time of profound reflection on our inextricable connection to others. It has been a time of reflecting on what really matters.
For whatever else COVID 19 has taught us, it has, most powerfully, compelled us to recognize that our well being is not a solitary struggle; we are, our existence, our well being, inextricably connected to the lives and well being of all those with whom we share this beautiful and endangered planet.
I am amazed, even dumfounded, by the vast spectrum of people/societies that have recognized that life is not a zero sum game: we win or lose together. I am amazed at the number of governments—left, right and centre—who have recognized, acted on the principle, that there are values that greatly exceed the rise and fall of stock markets or the relentless imperative to grow the economy as though a growing economy is the raison d’être of human existence.
There seems to be an almost direct correlation between countries that focus primarily on serving the interests of the wealthy few (US, Britain, Brazil etc) and the highest COVID 19 death rates. Nordic countries etc that focus on the well-being of all (social capital) have relatively low rates of infection and death. Even Sweden, which has not followed the lock down policies of most other countries, has avoided the devastating tolls occurring in the US, Italy, Spain, Britain, Brazil—clearly because, even in the absence of compelling regulations, citizens in Sweden recognize and act on their sense of connection to the well being of all.
Despite suffering the first COVID 19 death in Canada, BC has managed to tame the pandemic and maintain one of the lowest death rates per capita in all of Canada. Some ascribe this to quick and comprehensive action by the BC government and its provincial health officer. However I think BC’s relatively low infection/death rate has more to do with that illusive but profound term Social Capital—citizenry who really do believe we share a common destiny; citizens who believe that social distancing is not just about their own personal safety but is (this is really important) about our responsibility to our community.
The US, with the highest infection and death rates, has, for instance, very little social capital epitomized by gangs of assault rifle brandishing belligerents banging on the doors of state legislatures demanding that rules designed to contain the pandemic in their state be rescinded. Perhaps they think an AK-47 is all the virus protection they need! Their social capital is near zero!—though, perhaps, such belligerence should be scored as a negative number!—as it is more than nonexistent, it is destructive of any kind of common good.
Recognizing the constructive role of social capital in warding off the pandemic, what does that mean for life after the pandemic?
Clearly we will not just flip a switch and go back to the way it was. Already it is easy to see how the new ways have become ingrained into our way of being. Walking down a path or mall corridor you can see how ingrained the new normal has become. Someone starts to step forward into the 2 metre space of another and without thinking there is a reflexive dodge—no time to think about it; it just happens–by reflex. I’ve seen it over and over; it has quickly become just the way we are. But what about the bigger picture—of how we eat, play, transport, work, shop, interact with others, govern ourselves.
What mark will the virus leave as its imprint on how we live and think? Will we value community or shun it? Will we see, recognize and value others and community in the new normal? Or will we become ever more isolated monads defending our space against the perceived threat of others?
Perhaps COVID 19 will force us to face consciously decisions about who we are, what we do and why we do it both as individuals and as a community—decisions that we have left in the background during less troubled times.
The pandemic has focused an intense beam of perception on the implications of turning over the care of senior citizens to for profit business interests. I have a close friend who is an enthusiastic advocate of the value of businesses in getting things done efficiently. But when I asked him what he thought of the care seniors have been getting in BC’s for profit long-term care homes, he put his hands on his waist, looked at me incredulously and exclaimed, “What were they thinking? Business is about creating profits out of cutting costs! It works really well at keeping the cost of bike parts down, but it doesn’t work well when the costs are essential services to seniors.” Costs—I might add—that are primarily wages and benefits like sick leave and time off to regenerate. An employee may still show up for work exhausted but the services they are able to provide will not be the same as those of an employee who has had sufficient rest and regeneration.
But it isn’t just long term care homes that need to be examined in the light of lessons the virus has brought with it.
In a world where social capital has been one of the primary factors in keeping down the death rate we will have to examine the social value of corporate structures that allow a man like Tesla CEO Elon Musk to reopen production of electric cars in California, in defiance of health authorities just to protect his profit margins. What is the social utility of an electric car manufactured at the cost of the lives of workers whose union has lost the ability/gumption to stand up to such corporate bullies?
Clearly the virus is not doing badly by multibillionaires like Amazon.ca’s CEO Jeff Bezos. Over the past month Bezos, the world’s wealthiest man, saw his wealth increase by $30 billion—a tidy sum though not large enough to keep him from cutting Amazon employees’$2 an hour hazard pay. Seemingly Bezos needs to revitalize his political war chest that he uses to invest in political advertizing to try to keep progressive politicians out of civic governments—like Seattle where he spent millions to try to tip the municipal vote away from progressive candidates.
It seems this deadly virus is shining a light on the darkness of corporate dominance of all aspects of community life. In the US the pandemic, rather than triggering investment in social capital, has empowered the corporate owned and operated federal government to use this national emergency as an excuse to entirely gut environmental regulation, to eviscerate public education, and cripple even the core of social security leaving even the idea of social capital as a rotting carcass beside and untraveled road.
Clearly the world this pandemic slew is not coming back. We may reopen the pubs, we may not have to stand in line for basic groceries, we may have piles of TP in the garage for years to come, but the world we knew in 2019 is not coming back. We can wait in the sidelines while, as Naomi Klein so accurately described in “Shock Doctrine,” the virus is used to further remake society in the interests of big money, or we can speak up now for a world made more just, more humane, more sustaining and sustainable by a new vision of human community informed by this encounter with personal and collective mortality.
While it is obvious to all that for profit operations of long term care is a deadly alternative to care provided by those dedicated to the well being of their clients and staff, this brush with death is an opportunity to ask ourselves how well this corporate domination of society is serving our common good—is it building or dismantling our social capital that has proven so significant in fighting the virus?
If ever, there has been a time, in my life, when it is timely and appropriate to ask fundamental questions about how we care for each other and for our beautiful but endangered Earth, this is the time for sober, careful thought. Does making personal and corporate greed the centre of our community life really get us the world we seek to create? Does it make sense to designate corporations as “people” when as “people” their selfish, greed inspired behavior would be deemed sociopathic?
What would our lives and societies look like if instead of greed, cooperation and the community good were the focus of how and why we carried out our social enterprises? What would our world look like if our social production units were made up of boards governed by a charter that lists the good they are created to serve rather than the greed that they aim to inflict on the world around them? What if instead of clawing “profits” out of the body politic our production units operated on a constitution that laid out the ethical standards they are required to meet as well as the social values of self-help, self-/social responsibility, caring for people and environment they seek to create.
I guess these sentiments rest heavy on my soul these days after I received an email from a friend suggesting: “The only way to achieve real change is to wait for the inevitable collapse.” But if we wait for collapse we will, as demonstrated in Shock Doctrine, reap the social and environmental devastation the Donald Trump’s, the Jair Bolsonaro’s of the world have planned for us.
The time to act is now. I don’t think it matters where we begin but it matters that we begin now. Actually we have a credit union that is supposed to be about community values but is, in fact, run by a click of insiders that appear to have no interest in the visionary/cooperative principles of credit unions. They, in fact, have cancelled the whole idea of even having a corporate social responsibility committee because they don’t feel they need to even pretend anymore. They elect people of similar values because we don’t care enough to cast an informed ballot at election time. We have municipal councils that are close enough to the community to need to hear our visions for rejuvenating our community but how many of us actually make our priorities known? We have the collapse of for profit long-term care frighteningly in our faces and here is the petition to wake our provincial government up to the urgent need to exclude for profit enterprises from ever putting our seniors in such jeopardy again http://www.seniorsincarecrisis.ca/. World Community works, as a board and volunteers to sponsor films on building a better world while being actively engaged in promoting fair trade in coffee and other products that seek to empower people in communities.
We cannot go back the way we came. It is clearly time for deep, meaningful change/action. I am looking for your comments on the path forward as you see it and would love to publish your ideas a part of a list of community actions for rebuilding our community on a new basis that will promote healthy people on a healthy planet. You can write to me at nreynolds (at) shaw.ca or (better) comment in the comment section below so all can see and respond to your thoughts on this most important and pressing issue.