I’ve got all the symptoms of a selfish narcissistic society based on accumulation and waste. You may find yourself coughing up poverty or suffering a fever-dream of insecurity and anxiety. Check yourself for shocking levels of inequality and persistent alienation.
Covid-19 is the disease but the ‘underlying heath condition’ is capitalism.
There’s nothing else to think about and nothing else to write about. There’s nothing more important that has happened or will happen in your lifetime.
The virus brings forth equal measures of hysteria, kindness, and brutal selfishness. Humanity is laid bare in all its glory, as social control mingles with doubt and fear, dread and anxiety fused with hefty doses of boredom and ingenuity.
I have colour-coded my bookcases and cleaned out my cupboards, I have delved deep into the recesses of Netflix and my reading habits have become more and more niche and esoteric. It’s early days.
Each day I am, like everyone, trudging to the shops to try and find the essentials, every day, like everybody, I am worrying about how life can be viable without income and in social isolation. The reality is this was the lived experience for many people in our society for a very log time and nobody really cared. All of a sudden we really are “all in this together”. All of a sudden we are all characters in an Albert Camus novel (“I have no idea what’s awaiting me, or what will happen when this all ends. For the moment I know this: there are sick people and they need curing” –
The brutalism of our economics is exposed like never before. Examples are everywhere: the Skye-spiv who thought that he could make a killing from renting out cottages “Perfect for self-isolation”, who was oblivious to his own immorality; the decision by Britannia Hotels to immediately dismiss and evict staff at the former Hilton Coylumbridge Hotel, Aviemore; Tim Martin pontificating about his shit-chain of pubs; the rampant profiteering in shops and online or Peter Hitchens outdoing Brendan O’Neill for the title of Covidiot of the Week.
But alongside this seeming torrent of selfishness are a counterbalance of kindness. Stairwell WhatsApp groups and community Facebook groups are proliferating, city neighbourhoods forming mutual aid networks and artists donating their work for free. The capacity for this pandemic to unleash all sorts of goodwill and massive change is obvious, and the task of us all must be not just to survive and be healthy and to protect others, but to realise the opportunity for finally changing the system we live under.
Capitalism used to inoculate itself against changing, but finally it’s been found out.
Everything has changed and we’re all catching up every day.
Priti Patel’s “low skilled workers” are now “key workers” and “front line staff”. Funny that. Last week we were holding down two or three jobs each to run a household. Now those jobs and careers have gone and in their place are hungry and bored children. We’re all home-schoolers now. And that network of hidden care, that army of granny’s and grandads, gone too.
Welcome to the Precariat. Here’s the rules: there are no rules.
Feeling lost and as if society has abandoned you?
No shit. That’s the world that many people have been occupying for a long time.
We’re going to need all of the social solidarity and humanity we can muster. Whatever vestiges of goodness that haven’t been eradicated by the malignancy of Tory rule must be sustained and brought into service. Whatever ingenuity we can muster will be needed like never before, if, as we’re told “social distancing may be required for a year”.
We are going to learn a lot about being bored and being human and being together. Arguably the mental health challenges are as great as the physical health challenges.
And what seems like an incompetently slow government may be forced to act in so many areas they seem to be lagging. If they won’t create a Rent Freeze there’ll be a Rent Strike. If I have no income I can’t support the Rentier class to profit from pandemic.
Boris Johnson looks quietly terrified. His tousled and unkempt appearance is no longer an affectation. We are led in the most desperate of times by someone who has no experience other than extreme privilege, who has glided through life on a river of lies and deceit and now finds himself, somehow, incredibly in charge of Britain.
But everything is in a different context now. The run-of-the-mill attacks on Tories, any party politics now just seems stupid and empty. After all, everyone is out of their depth and keeping despair at bay with whatever comes to hand, gallows humour, strong liquour, frantic busyness or a combination of them all.
What’s becoming clear as the situation slowly lands in our consciousness is the scale and depth of change that’s being released.
All of the things we took for granted are in jeopardy: from access to healthcare and access to food; from access to money and access to each other.
When we re-build we must re-build from scratch and with fresh eyes. This doesn’t just apply to the basics of our social systems, but our very understanding of the world.
The virus is telling us so much about what we have failed to appreciate: the buzz of the gym, the chat on the bus, the joy of the pub. the comfort of social order, the gentle bromide of wall-to-wall sports media, the complete uselessness of most jobs and most work activities. The joy of cinema, of attending and gathering together; the need for the social; the importance of community, the comfort of a hug; the need for a kiss. Its taught us of the need for inter-generational support and how separation is dysfunctional. And while we are now saved and evermore reliant on our devices, our Zoom and Skype and Facetime, it also reveals the emptiness and uselessness of them. Love, touch and warmth is being withdrawn.