Saturday, March 28, 2020

Coronavirus and our reactions to it reveal our past, present, and future

I thought I’d share with you three things that came across my desk this morning. They examine the past, the present, and our future.

The past

National Geographic reports on How some cities ‘flattened the curve’ during the 1918 flu pandemic. Posted in this blog as Flattening the curve by social distancing - Evidence from 1918.

The present

Let’s ‘Kick Coronavirus’s Ass’. In this nightmarish moment, we’re feeling warm and fuzzy about the cold and calculating Andrew Cuomo.

True - the man is addictive. Perhaps that’s because the alternative … well … offers less?

The future

In the New Yorker Masha Gessen makes the case for why, In the Midst of the Coronavirus Crisis, We Must Start Envisioning the Future Now.

… The measures we are taking to save ourselves from a global pandemic of the novel coronavirus are changing us in fundamental, possibly irreparable ways. By instituting lockdowns and deploying a variety of emergency powers across the country, we are destroying our economy, our social fabric, and our political system. We will never be the same. Whether we change for both the better and the worse, as opposed to the solely catastrophic, will depend on how mindful we remain of the damage we are doing as we attempt to save ourselves from the pandemic.

… what do we do now that so much economic, social, and political damage has already been done? We have to start talking about the damage, and thinking about tomorrow. We have to recognize that what we are doing to avoid being killed by a virus is also killing us as a society. We have to make it a priority to restore the social fabric.

… Direct cash payments to tax-paying Americans, which are included in the government’s relief package, will provide an unexpected nationwide test run of universal basic income; distance learning may pave the way to more accessible and more equitable higher education; the drastic rise in telecommuting could reduce pollution and free up real estate that could be converted from offices to housing. All of this may be true. But how and whether these changes play out months and years from now depends entirely on how we think about both them and ourselves.

For example, will we think of universal basic income as a new approach to distributing resources—one in which society values people for their humanity, and not for what they produce—or simply as a less bureaucratic alternative to welfare checks? Will we think of distance learning as a way to make education more accessible or as a way for colleges to save money on professors and classrooms? For younger kids, might the shift prompt us to stop thinking of school as a place to warehouse children while their parents go to work, and start thinking of ways to engage children in learning? Will we emerge more atomized than ever before, with all casual links severed, accidental connections precluded, and public spaces destroyed—insuring that the new authoritarianism continues—or will we take care to create our public space anew? Will we have the courage to resist trying to restore the world we have lost, with its frenetic pace, its air travel and traffic jams, and its obsession with growth and production?

Our track record is abysmal. We have responded to crises by exacerbating the fundamental problems of society, including the root causes of the crises themselves. Our response to 9/11 sacrificed civil liberties and human rights. Our response to the financial crisis of 2008 created even more wealth inequality. If our response to the coronavirus pandemic follows the same patterns, it will make previous crises look like child’s play in comparison. If we continue to create more authoritarian powers; if we continue to go on nationwide lockdowns, or even effectively stay in one for a year or a year and a half; if we continue to feel virtuous because we’ve stayed home and done nothing (and those of us who managed not to murder their children will feel even more virtuous)—if we do all these things, we will have prevented the worst outcome of the coronavirus, but we may still destroy ourselves in the process.

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