Historically, some major conflicts in the world have been wrapped up in scapegoating –pointing the finger at this or that group of people. We all know the story about Hitler’s Nazism and its identification of Jewish people as the problem afflicting the world. Get rid of the Jews and everything would be so much better. Fortunately, that didn’t work out.
The Holocaust is one of the most shocking modern examples of what the human race is capable of (the second world war was responsible for around 85 million deaths – of that number 27 million were in the former Soviet Union). Time should not (and will not) erase the reality of any genocide that the human race has unleashed over the last 1000 years. There have been victims of every race, colour, faith and time.
News is beginning to describe the current Coronavirus crisis as the gravest challenge the world has faced, since the second world war. It’s not difficult to understand why the situation is being described in those terms. Is there a place in the world unaffected? Is there a race, colour or faith safe from the Coronavirus? Is it possible to point the finger anywhere and make those people the scapegoat for what is taking place today? (do I hear anyone’s thought muttering ‘China’? – hopefully not).
COVID-19 is not racist, sexist, homophobic, right-wing or left-wing. It doesn’t believe in God or not believe in God. It doesn’t believe in borders, international money markets, stock markets or supermarkets. It isn’t murderous but it does kill. It has no strategy for disruption, but it does disrupt. It’s not interested in scapegoats or being one either. As a child I think I read about the Black Death and knew it killed a lot of people. Reading briefly about it now I see it killed 50 million people (which included 60 percent of the population of Europe). The USA didn’t exist at that time (it was 1346 to 53). Historian cannot definitively say how the Black Death was brought to an end, but opinion has it that quarantine was a major contribution.
Economies around the world are being challenged to deal with the financial fall-out of the virus. The taxi driver who has no passengers, the factory worker whose factory is closed (production halted), shops that don’t sell anything (yet continue to incur costs), fruit and vegetables waiting to be harvested (by who?), empty theatres and stages, restaurants, bars, swimming pools, shopping arcades – everywhere empty. Online shopping may be booming but that also has physical limits – the mega warehouses are not 100% robotized and the driverless truck hasn’t yet hit the highways and inner-city road systems. Hair isn’t being cut, false fingernails remains in their drawers and my meniscus operation remains on hold until at least the end of May – ouch.
No bombs have been dropped. No terrorist attack has taken place. There was no financial meltdown because of bogus financial practices (although they are no doubt still going on).
There is an estimated 150 homeless people around the world (2 % of the world’s population) – are they practicing social isolation? And more importantly – do they all have toilet paper and pasta?
No, this isn’t funny or a joke. It’s a terrible fact that so far many people have died from the virus – how many? A lot. How many are affected? A lot. Are the numbers still rising? Yes. Every death has a family connected to it (be that one person or many). It’s not cleaver to be alarmist or sensationalist about the current crisis – but neither is it prudent to downplay the situation. When the news is starting to compare this to the second world war, I guess it is not talking about the 85 million deaths of that human catastrophe – but rather more about the profound upheaval caused by the 6 years of war. We rarely talk about pre-war, but rather post-war. Personally, I find it impossible to imagine life being quite the same as it was before the Coronavirus began. We are in the middle of it (hopefully not at the beginning). No one will forget what they are experiencing these days, weeks and months and it’s not clear how the situation will develop.
What is becoming of greatest significance is how people and governments are dealing with the virus. What measures are being taken? What leadership is being shown. What levels of solidarity within society are manifesting themselves? Every exchange counts for something these days. Every contact (or lack of contact) means something. Whilst there is genuine cause for anxiety and concern, at the same time there is every reason to be optimistic and positive about what’s taking place. Events are calling upon people to show a resourcefulness beyond their usual routines and norms. I am trying to find a way of concluding these thoughts but confess I can’t. We are in the middle of something incredible and there really are no scapegoats.
Let’s look at the possibilities being offered – and turn them all towards a newness, a landscape we may find familiar yet becomes different because we want it to. We had all been aware of ‘digitalisation’, of ‘virtual’ this and that, of changing work-place models, of mobility and the technological juggernaut impacting our workplaces and daily lives. The Coronavirus has been bringing these things into sharper focus and has been educating us in terms of consumption, contact and yes – values. It does need slowing down and stopping and that means embracing the stay-at-home as much as possible approach. Be well, be healthy and be safe.