The Pandemic that Stopped the Planet
by Mike Meyer ~ Honolulu ~ March 18, 2020
We hit a pandemic bump on our planetary road and suddenly found ourselves in a different world. As if by magic, everything that we thought was fixed and unchangeable, despite growing disasters, suddenly became nebulous, and the wind is blowing it away. Only home, empty shelves, hand sanitizer, and closed restaurants are real, and millions no longer working.
These fundamental changes are settling on us all with the chilling realization that they may be permanent. Not all will last, but it is going to be a long summer of discovery and realizing that the old world will never fully recover. It may not recover at all, but large parts of it will simply disappear into history.
We’re not ready to talk about that yet other than to mention it mockingly and in passing. The shock is still not real but we are trying it on for size. That is always the first step in checking out a new reality. We’ll just take a look around and hope for the old ways to come back. Just hunker down and wait for it.
Already we have learned to wash our hands, always carry hand sanitizer, avoid touching other people, greet and meet with our hands together in namaste, and do our work online from home: sports, operas, and concerts stream to us with no audience. But we are the audience and we were becoming virtual anyway.
We are now each other’s audience with a safe social distance while learning Zoom, Google Meet, and other video apps. Somehow that seems more comforting and acceptable than we would ever have thought. That is a hint that this is change, elements of which, has been approaching unnoticed. The trigger for a vast paradigmatic shift was an unexpected pandemic that is not a surprise. These things happen and are required training for anyone managing a modern nation-state.
But those kinds of failures are back story to the more significant shortcomings of crumbling culture, economy, and political system. Complexity does not respond to lies and ignorance. Who knew? Almost everyone now but wouldn’t admit it or even think about three weeks ago. The curtains hiding the patching and braces keeping the capitalist culture upright have been yanked away.
The irony is tragic that the generation most open to lies and most willing to ignore the danger of willful ignorance is particularly prone to dying from this pandemic. No, that is not justice or the working of magical spirits but just the breaks of the universe’s game. But those folks will still ignore the warnings and cling to their conspiracies and extortionist prophets while the rest of us carry the cost and deal with the suffering.
Our future that we thought would be just a variation on the present has become a wall that we hit at full speed. We were going way too fast for the road that we are on. We knew that, and at least half the population was shouting warnings. Still, the old leaders have sacrificed everything for size and speed, and their unjustified wealth makes them immune to ordinary people’s tragedies. They are receiving a deadly lesson.
This collision is brutal beyond the thousands of deaths hanging before us. Pieces are still flying, and we won’t know what is salvageable for months. We have just dropped from the heights into a dark tunnel and we will come out much lower than we were before. It’s not going to be fun, but it is going to be interesting.
We are suddenly on a rising river and need to learn to throw the line to mark the depth and watch for snags. There is no explicit channel. We cannot just do whatever we did before. That is deadly, and we must change. Things are very different and will get more diverse than we have ever known.
It’s too early to predict, but things that change and remain changed tend to be those habits or actions that have multiple reasons to be kept. I would say handshakes and public touching will never really come back. Using your hands in a namaste is better and less prone to embarrassment or intimidation. There are many benefits to things we would never have considered until forced to change.
Public touching and kissing are also public health issues but are problems in a diverse gender or non-gender world. It is just easier to avoid entirely. Now we have time to change and practice the change. All of our old roles are on pause while we define the new.
Based on a lot of threads and themes in our science fiction sandbox for the future, I think we will never recover the same extent of restaurants. Takeout and delivery will be dominant, but communal living and kitchens are much more efficient and seem natural to Gen Z and Alpha. Older generations will stick with delivery or private clubs.
This shock appears to be the end of the predatory capitalist oligarchy because we will need to be into full healthcare and Universal Basic Income. There are lots of parts to this change, but many jobs will never come back. Automation was taking them anyway, and the climate disaster requires that we make a significant reduction in excessive production. Why would we go back to make vastly rich people richer for no purpose?
There are already stories about how clear the skies have become in cities. The stunning drop in atmospheric carbon over China at the peak of the pandemic is what we need full time. What we thought could never happen has happened, things have stopped, and the change is visible to all. Why would we go back? Well, we will of necessity but with a much clearer understanding of what can be if we change.
Things are going to be slower and more thoughtful. You don’t face this planetary shock and the deadliness of this pandemic without major reassessment of all that you have and all that you do. We look daily at a failed economy, political system, and culture quickly disintegrating while bumbling incompetents do just what we expect them to do.
The change is already here.