Sense post virus
Some of the things we have to do as a result of the virus are sensible. Some are idiotic. Time to sort them, so that when lockdown is lifted we can retain what seems good and abandon the rest. If we don’t do this we run the risk, when we can ease up a bit on the restrictions, of chucking the baby out with the bathwater. Here’s a try at making sense of pain towards a better way of living.
As the world’s medics valiantly scramble to service something none of them were equipped for, we have discovered that health is more important than we thought. Mostly we believed in a right to life. Now we believe in a right to a quality of life that we have not yet quite defined. Of course, views differ across the globe, as they always have done. Sacrificing life in totalitarian societies is seen as for the good of the people. Even there, views are changing. They have social media, too.
We’ve learnt something else in this department. While there is a real need to preserve personal health in order to establish societal health, there are still many parts of the world where the price of life is starvation. The disciplines of lockdown are not absolute. In a developed and relatively rich society they can take precedence, at least for a considerable time. Poorer societies cannot afford that luxury. If this isn’t a lesson about globalisation and sharing, I’ll eat my hat.
One of the most shocking pictures to emerge from the disruption is the change in pollution hanging over our cities as traffic is restricted. We knew we were breathing poison but were told this was for growth. Constructing skyscrapers creates a lot of dust. Exhaust fumes turn it fatal. Urbanisation is a major cause of pollution. It is also a cause of crowding and the creation of environments that favour the development of deadly virus bugs. We will try one day to cost the pandemic of 2020. It will be painful to do so.
The implications of these discoveries are far reaching. We have friends who bought their little bit of land some while back, built a charming eco-friendly house on it and cultivated the ground into a small holding of vegetables and farm. They look as though they are ahead of the game. They work from home, they enjoy a lifestyle most people would envy and their carbon footprint is negative. Not everyone can do that, of course, but weighing up what they are doing for the planet and what they are equally doing for themselves, you do have to ask if sophistication isn’t rather a myth.
The Climate – remember that? – hasn’t gone away. Indeed some of the responsibility for Covid-19 lies at its doorstep. Attention to, and funds for, climate relief will be in short supply now the Keynesian Growth Economics have taken a battering. If anything, the need for attention to the climate has increased. Has propensity to ‘leave it to the next generation’ increased with it? Being an optimist, I don’t think so. Indeed, I think cleanliness, a prerequisite to looking after the planet, has clearly become more important. Climate is back, already.
Growth may be fine and large for the Universe, although we don’t even know that yet. It is nonsense when the capacity to sustain it – the planet – is finite. Yes, we may colonise Mars or the Moon, but if we do we will, over time, become quite different creatures. Nothing wrong with that, provided our resources are not too much diverted to space, to the impoverishment of the world. The whole concept of Growth Economics has to be rethought. If the virus has taught us one thing above all others it is that a lot of what we were doing was unnecessary, unkind to our fellow humans and artificial to the point of absurdity. Enjoy, by all means, but not at others expense.
There is much to be learnt from the devastation of Covid-19. It’s not over yet so how we come out of it – if we come out of it – is yet to be discovered. If I had to sum up in one word what humanity should learn it would be ‘moderation’. That would apply to our economics, our population policies, our sharing behaviour and, perhaps above all, to our hedonistic tendencies to get more out of twenty-four hours than there is in it. Frantic lives are an apology for thoughtlessness. We do not need to be hysterical to prove ourselves.
I once asked an exceedingly busy public figure if he could spare me half an hour to discuss something personal. “Of course,” he replied, “There is nothing I shall enjoy more than seeing you and learning from you.” We spent three hours together and he taught me some truly critical points about my career plan and its execution.
He also taught me to relax and listen. Everything you need to know is up there in your mind.
You just need to pay attention to it.