Not that my opinion counts for much, I’ve made no secret of my criticism of the nature of this lock-down. Mostly by screaming into the figurative ocean (Twitter) because the actual ocean is too far away to be considered my daily exercise. Living in a flat can be an isolating experience without a global incident but it seems that it has protected me from (until happening to be outside at the time) the deeply cynical so-called tributes to the NHS. This is not to say that I lack affection for what they do. I make a point of showing that in the way I treat their staff, by showing respect for their systems even when they’re faulty from prolonged austerity measures, and by NOT VOTING TORY.
There is a larger picture too; from the abusive behaviour already exhibited towards people who find this evening activity uncomfortable, to neighbours lapping up the encouragement from authorities to turn on each other. The political and mainstream press rhetoric has been confrontational and typically sensational, stirring up public rage and turning it inwards.
This is nothing new of course. We’ve been judging each other for recycling habits while our governments still send huge quantities of our sorted waste to landfill. We’ve had endless debates about straws while corporate lobby groups push for relaxations on laws that protect our environment from industrial waste, or cover their products in plastic so they can get their brand everywhere. All of this stuff riles us when somebody points it out, it makes you angry at the right people until it’s out of view or it seems too big for you to have a part in. You realise it’s impossible to live up to the standards you’ve been set, or have set yourself, with the resources at your disposal and your righteous indignation yields in exhaustion to a more generalised cynicism. Your anger festers unfocussed, waiting for direction, setting up another cycle.
What is happening to us now is enormously taxing on both our physical and emotional resources. It is tempting to look back and say ‘that was easier’ but this is why it is so important that when they tell us we can go back to normal WE SAY NO.
Maybe people you know are dying, maybe people around you have lost their incomes. Maybe you’re scared of infection right now, or maybe you’re worried that you’ll be facing bankruptcy when the wheels start turning again. We make an assumption that things will go ‘back to normal’ because it is the fastest obvious route towards a proactive response. I’m all for a proactive response but ‘back to normal’ would mean propping up the system that brought this on us, with a much greater potential for harm than even a very serious infection.
Normal is a world in which you can still die from thirst just by being born in the wrong place.
Normal is a world that exacerbates poverty in something as simple as a cup of coffee.
Normal is a system that ranks you against factors you can’t control and teaches you to value others the same way.
Normal is the accumulation of currency from people who control what it is worth, the very rich who will make you pay to regain their ‘normal’.
Normal is a construct more abstractly bizarre than money or even time. Apart from the logical fallacy, it is at the heart of the idea that things cannot or should not change.
Newsflash: LIFE IS CHANGE.
So what has changed lately for you?
Maybe as we come out of isolation into a shattered economy, the whole premise will be exposed as a lie. It’s a hard one to look in the face, woven deeply into our ideology but money really does victimise those it claims to liberate.
On the other hand, maybe a sense of perspective is impossible to maintain. There is conflict between the idea of a threat that is close to home and the concept of it being global. It’s hard to process the idea that something doesn’t respect those borders that keep us safe because it is the same borders that restrict international cooperation in global matters. In fact, our borders have always been detrimental, but whether or not we’re ready to admit it the separation helps us to think of people as ‘other’. It’s okay for other people to suffer. You’ve been complicit in that for years, but nothing is far away any more. Communication around the world can happen more quickly even than a virus that can sweep the globe in a matter of weeks, and now you have to look into the face of the people who suffer and realise they are just like you. So what is the acceptable level of suffering now?
We live on a world rich in all kinds of resources, with no doubt to anyone that it is possible to eliminate poverty, but that’s another idea that’s too big. So we stifle innovation and we perpetuate the suffering of anyone ‘other’ to protect that hideous idea that we call ‘normal’.
It seemed like such an innocuous word, didn’t it? That is the power of narrative.
Here is the hopeful part!
Take the simple idea that perhaps encapsulates our most recent zeitgeist:
This is not an unhealthy or untrue thought, but it is one born out of some problematic assumptions. First, it assumes the position that this is not a given, or it would be banal truism rather than a source of internal conflict. That assumption that society has to be unequal is still pervasive, so how do we shift the narrative without losing our sense of value (while the value of everything is in flux)?
Find a sincere way way to tell someone: YOU MATTER.
Rinse & repeat.
We’ve learned to stand up for ourselves, let’s learn to stand up for each other.