There is no going back to normal. Let’s be clear about this, for the writing on the wall is in fact very much so. Either we allow ourselves to be herded into a new totalitarian age, where all our rights and freedoms are taken away, and we are subjected to repeated lockdowns and martial control as further collapses hurtle down the pipeline – or we assert massive resistance to that trajectory and take it into our own power to create another one, based on entirely different values, ones that can actually save us – love, cooperation and caring, simplicity, community, interconnectedness, a sacred reverence for the preciousness of our existence and the whole web of life that sustains us.
Things will not go back to normal, nor should we want it so…but which way do we want it to go? Friends have expressed concerns that once the pandemic is over and things return to normal, people will continue with business as usual and the lessons will not have been learned. But this is not an option. We stand at a bifurcation point – a choice point – between two potential scenarios. We can go one way or another. But return is not an option.
Things will not go back to normal. At some point, as the peak of this pandemic passes, they will ease up temporarily, and the temptation of course will be just to enjoy the goodies temporarily regained, and ignore the much bigger losses, now and coming towards us if we don’t radically change course. With new infrastructures for social surveillance and martial control now already established, our freedom of movement and freedom over our own bodies may very well be lost, as precedents set in this crisis (in the short-term, in our own interests) morph into long-term totalitarian control, in the interests of the government-corporate-banking nexus profiting off the destruction and seeking to quash all resistance, protest or alternative movements.
In a crisis, people tend to narrow their horizons to the immediate, but that is what we must not do. We need to see the bigger picture we are part of, and its multiple contexts, near and far, short and long-term– ourselves, our families, our local communities and global systems – and how the directions we move in with each are inextricably interconnected. We are each part of nested contexts, systems from which our own welfare is inseparable, and we ignore any of these contexts at our peril. This means our personal future depends completely on which way our systems move, and, even more so, who moves them. We are one human family and need to pull together, not to allow the strings to be pulled for us unwittingly by forces and agendas that are not in our interests. For this we need to see the forces and agendas currently pulling the strings, and which way they are pulling them — then take the strings in our own hands and weave a new story together, the future we want to see.
Many people see the coronavirus crisis as a one-off event, something that will pass and then we’ll go back to normal. But we have to see the bigger systemic picture – the background of the global capitalist system that has caused the crisis, and will cause many more to come –cascading into further crises and ultimate collapse — if we don’t wake up now, take the reins in our hands, and radically change course.
What is the bigger social and political context of the crisis, how have we arrived at this point and what we can do about it? First, we need to see that the coronavirus crisis, like the climate crisis and other eco-social collapses we are facing, is a direct consequence of the global capitalist system, which has both destroyed the balance of nature that sustains us, and dispensed with social safety nets, rights and justice, for the sake of the profits of the powerful and wealthy. The coronavirus is at once an offshoot of these interlinked crises, and a herald of what might come – a blaring red-alarm signaling the political, ecological and now epidemiological disaster-zones to which our unsustainable global market system is driving us.
The kind of novel pandemics coming down the pipeline now, like the coronavirus, are an inevitable outcome of our present economic system and its huge disruptions of the balance of nature, including habitat loss and land-use patterns that are pushing pathogens across the animal-human interface, as scientists have attested. The effects are then compounded by our ubiquitous dependence on global transportation and infrastructures, that quickly spread the pathogens worldwide on the one hand, and, on the other, prove so fragile in the ensuing crisis that our vital supply chains break down, leaving people at risk of losing access to the most basic necessities – food, water, medical supplies – when they are most needed.
The global capitalist system has not only caused the crisis, but, in the ensuing atmosphere of panic and confusion, is using the crisis to turbo-charge its own agendas – what Naomi Klein calls disaster capitalism — pushing through its own draconian measures of social control, bailing out the big banks, fossil fuel industry and financial sectors, gutting climate change policy and actions, and isolating people at just the time when public protest against ecological collapse was starting to gather momentum. (This is not to say that the short-term measures of isolation and physical distancing aren’t needed right now – they are – but that they should not be used to piggy-back in ongoing draconian measures of martial control for other agendas in the long-term.)
In this way, the neo-liberal order morphs into martial law when its own injustices and depredations are laid bare and its hegemony threatened. This potential for growing totalitarianism is also, of course, now greatly enhanced by the new technical powers of digital surveillance. In the case of a pandemic, disaster and surveillance capitalism can fuse together to form a perfect, inescapable mesh, morphing into a kind of medical and martial digitally-enhanced fascism, an ultra-, sci-fi 1984, such as never before was possible.
The truth is that those at the helm of our unsustainable systems have both caused the crises and will try to profit off them, at the expense not only of our rights and freedoms, but increasingly of our very lives. This is not a conspiracy theory, but becoming more evident every day, as the veneers come down.
Lest there be any doubt left at this point, capitalism and technology cannot solve our crises – pandemic, climate breakdown, eco-social collapses — they are what’s gotten us here in the first place. This is not to point the finger at individuals – us and them – but systems: systems based on wrong values that we all then become enmeshed in — competition rather than caring, domination rather than sharing, selfishness rather than love. We have all participated in these systems to varying degrees, wittingly or unwittingly. We must forgive ourselves and others for whatever ways we’ve complied with them. This is not a time to lay blame, on ourselves or anyone else — but change our ways we must.
I don’t say this to discourage anyone – rather, much the opposite: to motivate and empower us to come together and act; for this may be the default trajectory, but only if we don’t consciously recognize, resist and transform it. I say this not to frighten anyone, but to open our eyes, to alert us to the potentials. The nature of a crisis is that it offers both negative and positive potentials, both heightened to an exponential degree. We have to know the negative in order to choose the positive, to navigate our way, open-eyed, in full view of the possibilities, with clarity, conviction, and wise courage.
So – so much for the bad news — what about the good news, and how can we enhance it? What I’ve described so far may be what is coming down, from agendas on high…but what is happening on the ground, in the hearts of the people? And can what is happening on the ground turn what is coming down around? Can we the people transform the systems that no longer serve us, that in fact are destroying us and our precious Earth? Can we bring what is most precious in our own hearts forward, to save what is most precious in life?
The positive potentials of the crisis lie in the growing expressions of love and caring, the recognition of our interconnectedness, that are sprouting now all around the world; but also the recognition of the fragility of our systems, and the dawning realization that we need vitally to change them. The time to connect the dots between these dawning recognitions is now; that we need to rise above the blinders of our self-interests and express our love and connectedness at all levels – personal, local and global.
It is clear our systems are failing us; we need to create new systems, based on new, caring values — the recognition that we have never been separate, that we have always been one.
This is an edited and abridged version of “There is No Going Back to Normal – Which Way Do We Choose Going Forward?” by Kavita Byrd, published on Medium.com, April 18, 2020. https://link.medium.com/IcYcL5DcR5
Teaser photo credit: By Борис У. – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0