If not now, then when?
The days pass by now in a strangely routine way – I rise early, turn on the radio and whilst having breakfast listen to the news; now, as each and every day, entirely filled with Covid-19. I then set about my work. I am a sculptor, so what little work I did have has now evaporated, along with any income (the arts are not really that important in a society where beauty has little value). Life has become a little like the one experienced by the character played by Bill Murray in the 1993 film Groundhog Day.
In the early days of the pandemic, I, like many people in that peculiar British way, drew humour from the awful truth of the virus, and jokes about the lack of toilet paper did the rounds on social media. The actual reality had not, perhaps, hit home. Also, (and this was widely discussed, particularly in those early days) there was the universal awareness by people of which jobs really were important and necessary to allow society to function in a meaningful and efficient way – refuse collectors, shop workers, delivery drivers, bus drivers, farm labourers and, of course, care workers and nurses. Ironically, all were notably workers with the lowest pay scales (and also jobs that were looked down on by many people). People even came out of their houses to ‘clap for our carers’ – a gesture heartily supported by the government, who seemed to experience an odd case of amnesia when it came to remembering how, a few years previously, they had treated the nurses who could not afford to live near the hospitals where they worked and were forced to resort to food banks, or Jeremy Hunt’s jack-booted handling of the junior doctors’ requests. As the conversations between people developed during April, it was not unusual for them to reflect on the possibility and likelihood of a ‘new form of society’ that would rise, phoenix-like, from the smouldering pile of post-pandemic ashes. Lots of people were finding life less stressful (although, it should be said, not those who were confined in flats with an abusive partner or whose lives meant that the lockdown just exacerbated an already dire existence), with no need for urgency or frantic meeting of deadlines, and were beginning to question whether the media’s often-used ‘return to normal’ phrase was appropriate. Was where we were and how we were living before ‘normal’ at all?
Slowly and inexorably, society was, due to the pressure and dictates of the virus, moving towards a new way of living; people were organising themselves, very rapidly, into caring communities, displaying selfless generosity and acting locally. Hours were spent by individuals making PPE items for health workers, or providing meals for delivery drivers. Freed from the constraints of daily toil and exploitation, the real human traits began to emerge. Far from lazing around, work and contribution towards a happy and functioning society was becoming the ‘new normal’. So surely, one would think, if not now, then when would humanity reflect on the manner in which capitalism functions, and realise that nothing we do requires the physical existence of money, let alone a system predicated on profit and ever-growing destruction of resources, the environment and people. I must admit that I felt the time was perfect; all the indicators were there – it only needed people to reflect and think for a moment. It did not need a revolution, just a simple change of perception – an epiphany moment when people realise that ‘this cannot and need not go on’ and, more importantly, understand what to put in its place.
So, why then are we where we are now – nearly four months on? The initial talk has, it seems, settled into a state of ennui. The media has relentlessly bombarded us with promises of ‘relaxing lockdown rules’ and ‘returning to normal’. Of course we all know (and it doesn’t take an economist to figure this out) serious economic malaise will follow very soon if workers are not working and businesses are not trading and ‘growing’. Therefore, and despite the fact that there is no cure or vaccine, the governments worldwide are desperate, largely regardless of the risk to workers’ lives, to get people back to work. The economy has, once again, triumphed over the needs of the people.
So, with no fundamental change in the dangers imposed by the virus, queues stretch for miles outside Primark, KFC, Homebase, Starbucks, Sports Direct and dozens of other faceless commodity outlets as lockdown is relaxed and the public are being encouraged to spend their cash on ‘non-essential’ items, is there any chance of change? Sadly, things aren’t looking hopeful; the power of a capitalist society to engineer the way the majority of people think is so powerful – the belief that buying the latest item of shoddily made tat will somehow make you a better, happier or more fulfilled person seems now to be ‘hard-wired’ into the masses.
‘Socialism? That’s just utopia!’, to which we reply – have you actually checked out the meaning of utopia?