As everything seems to be coming to a head, so-to speak, we find ourselves invited to a transformation party that we expected for some time, but now that it is actually here, we seem to be fighting a case of cold feet. We’re realizing that it is really hard to give up a lot of the characteristics of the old normal even when there is a popular resolve that it is time to change. It’s kind of like realizing that the garage is filled to bursting and there is no possibility of putting more in there without a thorough clean out. We may already have installed a few rickety lean-to’s in a pitiful attempt to put off the inevitable. But the time of reckoning has arrived, and we can’t get around it anymore.
We know that the climate emergency is breathing down our necks and requires immediate attention, but are we really ready to face our addiction to fossil fuels and the extravagant lifestyle we have gotten used to? We now realize that our country was founded with racism as an underlying factor and that both slavery and indigenous genocide are building blocks of the country we know today. Can we honorably just sweep that under the rug now that we have owned up to it?
And finally, we have this pandemic that has acted as a sort of intervention to hold our attention long enough to really begin to see the error of our ways. Wealth offers a little protection, but, ultimately, we realize that every one of us is threatened with death. We have denied it, belittled it, and pretended that it was over, but it has quietly and implacably refused to go away.
To appreciate the extent of our wishful thinking, understand that at the end of this month, the eviction moratorium will end, and the unemployment compensation $600 bonus will end. At that time, all the delinquent rent and mortgage payments will be due. It doesn’t take much to realize that somebody who can’t pay monthly is hardly likely to be able to pay all the past due in full. So, at least one article I read said that the expected legal action from this alone will clog the courts for years, that is, after the pandemic has eased enough for the courts to even be in session, not to mention the unholy suffering and chaos that millions of people unhoused will cause, especially given the pandemic. I think that it is obvious that we will have to extend those protections, as well as for food, health, and all the rest for as long as the pandemic threatens, but there is clearly pushback from those that are concerned about the economy. This pushback is another indication that we are not thinking this through. One can worry about deficits and encouraging free-loading, but to unhouse and put millions of people in jeopardy will be far more costly and chaotic than taking avoidance measures now. Most countries that can afford it take this for granted: one must do what must be done because the alternative is disaster. It is also a given that nobody that can’t afford it should be unduly burdened.
We need also to consider the psychic costs of this sudden estrangement from our world. All the major professional sports leagues are trying to hold some sort of season. The NBA is planning on finishing their season playing all their games in a “bubble” venue in Orlando. There will be no live spectators and the athletes will be expected to remain in the bubble until the season is over. Some teams are already backing out because of the dangerous spike in infections in Florida. Does this sound like a workable plan? Or just grasping for straws? Similarly, college and pro football are trying to imagine a fall season happening, but no plan is forthcoming because nobody knows what the virus is going to do. Same with schools: some universities are planning on opening to in-person instruction “but it will require that all students and teachers wear masks and practice social distancing at all times.” Judging from our experience so far, does this really sound like a feasible plan? We can also mention restaurants, bars, concerts, parties, etc. This is stressful for all of us.
In our most honest moment, I doubt that very many of us see this pandemic as going away soon. I think that many also see that our economic, climate, and racial justice issues are being exposed for all to see, and that we can’t rebuild the old normal. That means we have to be able to visualize a new normal and bravely venture out into it. Not an easy task seeing the forces opposing change, and how stressed we are already. Like leaving an abusive relationship, once we embark on the new, we will wonder how we ever put up with the old. We need to think clearly and have the courage to see it like it is. One step at a time, folks, but let’s do some stepping.