Is this the end of civilisation as we know it? Or even of life on the planet? (OK; I’ve read too many Sci-Fi disaster novels. Take no notice.) Of course I have little idea of the probable outcome of the Coronavirus pandemic, having absolutely no expertise in this area. As a historian I could refer to earlier global pandemics, like the Black Death and Spanish Flu; but I’m not sure how relevant these are. And – as I heard another historian quoted the other day – ‘the future’s not my period’. So I can do no more than trust the experts, like everyone else has to: even our politicians, it now appears. It’s reassuring to see Boris at his press conferences flanked by proper medical scientists. And ditto Trump, at his second press conference yesterday, surrounded by some real experts; after his previous one had relied on CEOs of big businesses, like Walmart, to assure us how well capitalism was coping with the bug. And how much better the USA is dealing with it than all those pesky Europeans.
Personally I’m presently self-isolating, as an oldie with pulmonary problems. But that’s easy for me: able to work from home, and with Tesco delivering my food. Others aren’t so lucky; including Tesco’s delivery drivers: risking infection as they do at every house they call at. And of course medics – doctors and nurses – who are the real heroes of the hour. I imagine that, under Brexit, some of the foreign ones may have to return to Europe soon.
To cheer myself up I’ve been trying to think of some possible plusses from the present crisis (in the UK). I’ve not been able to come up with many. But here they are.
For the (political) Right:
Culling the elderly, the obese and smokers, who are the most vulnerable to the virus, so lightening the burden on our cash-strapped hospitals. (That has actually been suggested in Conservative circles.)
Enabling the blame for the inevitable post-Brexit economic recession to be put on the virus rather than on Brexit. (That too.)
Acting as a distraction for further right-wing government policies, like an assault on the BBC (the ‘dead cat’ strategy). Who will notice?
For the Left:
Culling of elderly Conservative and Brexit voters. Of course the advantage of that would only come with a new referendum and General Election among the still living.
Revealing the limitations of the policy of ‘austerity’, in leaving us unprepared for this kind of thing. E.g. NHS cuts. Casting doubt on the benefits of (late) capitalism in general. Revolution? No, but a return to Keynesianism at least. That seemed to be pre-figured in the (UK) budget on Wednesday.
Boosting egalitarianism. ‘We’re all in this together’: i.e. the rich are as vulnerable as the poor. – This was the effect of cholera in the 1840s. The governing classes didn’t bother about protecting the poor until the latter’s diseases spread to them too. Maybe the Coronovirus will get people thinking again about inequality.
As a result: the restoration of respect and support for social – that is government – intervention; and for previously much-maligned ‘experts’. Sowing doubts about the beneficence of capitalism in its modern form.
By killing so many it could diminish the labour market, so giving it greater bargaining power, and by that means raising wages. That’s what happened after the Black Death. The feudal lords’ resistance to this provoked the Peasants’ Revolt. On the other hand, most of the dead might not be economically active in any case; and mass deaths would also diminish consumption.
Finally, but perhaps unlikely, after his risible recent press conferences Trump could be finally shown up for the incompetent ass he is. The same for Boris, perhaps? Crises like this function as real tests of ‘leadership’. Trump obviously fails.
For us all:
Restrictions on travel, especially by air, will reduce the ‘carbon footprint’, so benefitting the planet.
People will have more time for useful and constructive activities, to replace going to football matches, concerts, and/or church. Time for the family, the allotment, reading, and individual soul searching.
Pushing boring Brexit off the news.
And it can’t do any harm for people to be reminded how fragile their life on this planet is.
That’s all I can think of for the moment. And none of it will do much to compensate for the human suffering and huge economic disaster that Coronavirus is already wreaking in the world. Any more positive suggestions?