One of the most difficult things to endure in this pandemic, apart from the biophysical threat of Covid-19 itself, is the evaporation of meaning. Familiar institutions and norms are being revealed as dysfunctional or anti-social, leaving us in a fog of disorientation. Can the old, familiar narratives about “free markets” and a (seemingly) benign state truly be trusted to help us deal with the dangers we face? Reasonable people have reasonable doubts.
While sense-making has become a hothouse activity over the past five months, I have encountered three essays that have been of particular help to me in coming a clearer understanding of our current plight. These pieces are by ecophilosopher Andreas Weber, my long-time commons colleague Silke Helfrich, and systems-change activists Nora Bateson and Mamphela Ramphele.
In “Nourishing Community in Pandemic Times” Andreas Weber notes how the lockdown of the past several months underscores a point that neoliberalism has generally avoided – that “the individual can only live if the collective, which she constitutes with all others, is able to thrive.”
Market economics and corporations have little direct interest in the thriveability of a society, of course. They are structured to extract and privatize wealth, and monetize it for market exchange. That is their avowed mission, bolstered by a culture of individualistic materialism. Now that investors have largely commandeered state power to make this the top priority in societies, many governments around the world only pretend to serve the citizenry with any vigor. Everything is really about market growth.