The pandemic now sweeping the planet is one of those historic events that will change many basic premises of modern life. Let us act swiftly to deal with the emergencies, but let us also seize the opportunity to think about long-term system change. If there is one thing that the pandemic confirms (in tandem with climate change), it is that our modern economic and political systems must change in some profound ways. And we are the ones who must push that change forward. We've already seen what state officialdom has in mind -- more bailouts for a dysfunctional system. Serious change is not a priority at all.
However, pandemics are hard to ignore. Many ideas once ignored or dismissed by Serious People – commoning, green transition policies, climate action, relocalization, food sovereignty, degrowth, post-capitalist finance, universal basic income, and much else – now don’t seem so crazy. In fact, they are positively common-sensical and compelling.
The pandemic has been horrific, but let's be candid: It has been one of the most effective political agents to disrupt politics-as-usual and validate new, imaginative possibilities.
Many things are now less contestable: Of course our drug-development system should be revamped so that parasitic corporate monopolies cannot prey upon us with high prices, marketable drugs rather than innovation, and disdain for public health needs. Of course our healthcare system should be accessible to everyone because, as the pandemic is showing, individual well-being is deeply entwined with collective health. Of course we must limit our destruction of ecosystems lest we unleash even greater planetary destabilization through viruses, biodiversity loss, ecosystem decline, and more.
In this sense, covid-19 is reacquainting us moderns with some basic human realities that we have denied for too long:
- We human beings actually depend on living, biological systems despite our pretentions to have triumphed over nature and its material limits.
- We human beings are profoundly interdependent on each other despite our presumptions – at the core of modern economics and liberal democracy -- that we are self-sovereign individuals without collective needs. (Margaret Thatcher: "There IS no society, only individuals.")