Following days of waiting, incessant nail-biting, worrying, and hoping, the world heaved a collective sigh of relief: Joe Biden had won the US presidency. And then there was more good news: at least two reportedly safe and effective vaccines against Covid-19 had appeared on the horizon.
‘Life could be back to normal by Easter,’ some scientists suggested, ‘or at least by summer’.
2020 is a year best forgotten; hail 2021 as the year American democracy was saved, and a nasty virus was defeated. Onwards and upwards, everyone.
But wait a minute. Even if a safe and effective vaccine spells the end of this pandemic, and Donald Trump relocates to Mar-a-Lago to spend his retirement playing golf, let’s pause and reflect on the events that shaped 2020, before we resume life ‘as normal.’
For starters, we might do well to consider the ways our consumerist lifestyle and individualist culture contributed to the disastrous spread of Covid-19. What needs to change before the next pandemic? How do we square the circle of protecting lives and protecting our economy? Isn’t there something fundamentally wrong with an economic system that requires us to make that choice in the first place?
At the heart of it all, we need to ask ourselves what matters most to us as human beings. Success, money, power and prestige, or love, compassion, health and community?
Whilst not denying the terrible toll that Covid-19 has wrecked on the lives of millions of people around the world, it also offers an opportunity to reflect on how we organise society at large, our communities, our families, and our individual lives.
In the early days of the pandemic, it became painfully clear that social class, ethnicity and (dis-)ability all play a significant part in determining the impact of Covid-19 on individual lives. Although privilege won’t entirely safeguard you from the virus, you do stand a better chance if you’re a well-healed, able-bodied white person whose livelihood isn’t threatened by lockdown measures.
Accelerating climate change and the destruction of our biosphere are the inevitable consequences of an economic system that demands endless growth; a vicious cycle, which in turn facilitates the emergence and spread of zoonotic viruses such as Covid-19.
Every crisis contains within it both danger and opportunity – an opportunity for constructive change. But which path will we choose? In the words of Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman:
“Do we go back to the system we had before, where individualism and ‘pulling up the ladder’ were applauded and lauded, or do we try to adopt a more caring, communal attitude, understanding that the fate of our neighbours is inexorably linked to our own?”