Reflections on COVID-19 and the urgency of an anti-capitalist future
As a young American currently living and working in London, there is a strange mix of anxiety, normalcy, tension, and uncertainty in the air — in every interaction. Every conversation has or will reference coronavirus, the disruption of daily routines, or the inadequacy of government responses.
It is certainly a strange time — one that illustrates how so many of us take for granted the systems that underpin what we define as ‘normal’. It is a privilege to ignore with the everyday violence (physical, mental, structural, emotional) that sustains society’s routines. This privilege allow us to concern ourselves with career trajectories, relationship tensions, sports rivalries, long-term self-fulfilment. COVID-19 has changed that. Though this time calls for immediate preventative actions, mutual aid, and individual responsibility for the health and safety of others, this time must also serve to assess how we can learn from the crisis that has laid bare the cracks and deadly faults within the global nationalist capitalist system that we call “normal”. This is task for all of society, but the reflection is particularly critical for those of us who are young, fully-abled, socioeconomically privileged, and globally-minded.
For me personally, the current COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent crises have forced a deeper reflection on the fragility of our everyday realities, and our lack of preparedness for the existential societal threats that face us. In this time, both government responses and individual actions are telling. Though it may be crass, this almost seems to be a test run for how critical global health, climate, social, and financial crises will play out in the future. If it hadn’t registered before, it is clear that we have entered into a new era where such occurrences are not contained to specific areas of the globe — where unaffected nations or communities can donate time, energy, effort, and funds to responding and rebuilding afflicted areas and people.
We are in an era where no nation, no peoples can expected to be unimpacted, albeit, unequally, by ongoing and impending crises. Whether these are physical conflicts, the scourge of communicable diseases, the degradation of community mental health, or the lack of affordable and available shelter, we cannot attempt to address crisis with the all-too-typical cognitive dissonance that convinces us that the struggle belongs to someone else. In the face of such troubles, our response can be to come together and collaborate — to forget the so-called liberal tenets of national pride and sovereignty, competitive advantage, spheres of influence, and global power balances. The response can be centered on human lives and dignity, on preserving both individual needs and communities’ right to exist. The response can balance the immediate needs of the populace with the necessity to create and pursue a promising future for us and those who will come after.
Or the response can favor the preservation of the political and economic status quo, the prioritization of the desires of the powerful, and the need to retain order and control for good public relations. The response can be fueled by individualism and a disregard for the public impacts of our personal actions. The future can be full of exploitative profiteering, escapism by the super-rich, disinterest from the privileged and less-affected, interpersonal distrust — this future holds desolation, isolation, and misery.
But this future, this response, is also a choice. The social, economic, and environmental status quo is a choice. If we do not act to transform society, it is not only the road to a hypothetical dystopia that we pave for our children and grandchildren, but a present where crisis is met with fear and suffering instead of response and resilience.
I recognize that these are not new ideas, but I also believe the more we articulate and speculate on an anti-capitalist future, the more likely we are to achieve it. Therefore, it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyways: capitalism has been tested, and the record shows that it is woefully inadequate. If this was not clear before to anyone, it should be clear now.
In its place, we cannot build a utopia, but we can craft a world based in love for ourselves, others, and all life on Earth.
Yes, transforming our societies and ourselves to focus on shared humanity, on individuals, relationships, and communities may require more effort and imagination. Yes, this requires firm and focused intention not only by governments, but also by their citizenry. Yes, we need to embark on this multi-generational transformation during a time when we will be staring down some of the greatest challenges in human history. No, it will not be simple, pain-free, or delivered in under two business days.
Nonetheless, the question is not can we do this, but rather do we have the will to dream, to work, to collaborate, and to fight.