I’m in Tasmania, and here, it’s starting to look like we’re beating the virus. Every day, the numbers fall. Yesterday, there were zero new infections.
We closed our borders hard and early. We sent people home; we made rules. We’re in total lockdown – that’s why we’re winning.
The streets are so quiet and empty I feel as though I’ve been transported back to my childhood in the 1980s, to a world only half as crowded as the one we inhabit now. There’s no more struggling out of bed on too little sleep to sit in the car among too much traffic on a commute that runs too long. No constant hum of engines outside. No takeout meals. No rushing from work to university to side gigs to home. My schedule filled every second of my life, before. Now I can suddenly breathe again, and it’s shocking. We lived in a world that guaranteed – that required – constant growth: more work, more money, more efficiency, more fitness, more possessions, more, more, more. When constant growth occurs in the body, we call it cancer but when it happens in society, in industry, we call that normal.
It’s all stopped – paused, anyway. And I feel guilty, because though what’s happening to the world is a disaster like nothing in living memory, on a personal level I am free. My creative practice has the space it always needed and never had. My day job has us working from home, giving back all the time I previously lost on commutes. My country has brought in financial safety nets to keep the newly unemployed afloat. Many laid-off casual workers are making more money now than they did before. A surprising number of landlords are easing up on rent and reaching out to their tenants as human beings. The AirBnB owners who sucked all the properties out of the market and left local people fighting for rentals are suddenly, desperately looking for tenants, and we have our choice of homes at reasonable prices for the first time in years. The crushingly overpriced property market is about to crack, giving millenials the long-lost opportunity to own their own homes. We are finally helping the people who need help. The rich have always been able to help themselves.
If we are determined that nobody should have to pay for a cure for COVID-19, why do we accept people paying for cancer treatment? For heart surgery? For insulin? What makes those deaths acceptable over these deaths? Wouldn’t it be better to build a protective society geared towards resilience, so that when things go wrong the ground doesn’t collapse underneath us?
I’m not celebrating what’s happening. I’m saying we need to examine the sweeping changes we’re making, and ask ourselves: was the way we lived before necessary? Was it kind? Was it working? If so, why did we have to change it so drastically when the virus came?
The system had already failed so many of us. It just took the horror of COVID-19 to show us how. Defaulting back to ‘business as usual’ would be a mistake. COVID-19 is the first pandemic of this severity we’ve seen in living memory, but it may not be the last. We have an opportunity to remake ourselves – to grow stronger, and kinder, and better at taking care of each other.
—April 1, 2020