• What the Crisis Can teach Us

    The coronavirus pandemic has of course had a major impact on individual lives and on societies as a whole. But, long after the crisis has passed (assuming it does), we will begin to realise that its real and lasting significance lies in the lessons it has taught us, if only we can be bothered to learn them. It behoves us all to understand what those lessons are and are likely to be.

    We have been taught, first, that we are just another part of the natural world and are subject, like any other creature, to the way it works. We may think that we are the “lords of creation” and that we live at a more exalted level than other creatures do, and that, accordingly, natural laws do not apply to us. The virus has shown us, though, that we have no protection even against a life form as lowly as a virus, and, bearing in mind that the virus seems to have originated with wild animals offered for sale as food in a Chinese market, we might conclude that it would be a good idea to treat other creatures with more respect.

    And, similarly for the environment – we might note that the air in New York is suddenly much cleaner because the economic slowdown has reduced the number of cars in New York streets. Again, the finger can be pointed at human activity – activity that we can and must change.

    The virus has been no respecter of ethnic or cultural differences. It has infected us all, with a fine disregard for the differences that seem to matter so much to us. For the virus, we are all just humans; it is that “human-ness” that unifies and defines us – and our shared “human-ness” is evidence in turn that we are all born equal. If we are all equally vulnerable to the virus, what makes us think that some of us are “more equal” than others in supposedly more important respects?

    We are not only born equal – but, as the virus has demonstrated, we necessarily share with others the tribulations that life brings to us all. The virus has crossed national boundaries without a missed step. We need no better demonstration of the fact that, on this Earth, “we are all in this together”. Those in distant lands who have succumbed to the virus are our brothers and sisters and are deserving recipients of our love and concern. And, in purely practical terms, the virus has shown that what befalls them will befall us as well.

    We should also register that the virus seems to have taught our leaders a practical lesson or two about the task they undertake. After decades of being told that the central purpose and duty of government is to balance its own finances and to produce a “surplus”, we now see that government has a much wider and more important responsibility – to manage the economy as a whole and to ensure that it continues to function and serve us all.

    As government after government across the Western world has resorted, not only to borrowing but to “printing money” as well, in order to keep their economies functioning, we are entitled to ask why it has taken them so long to understand that a sovereign country need never be short of money. We may, in particular instances, be short of the materials, skills, and labour needed for production, but governments can create money whenever we want and wherever it is needed.

    At least the penny has dropped and governments have come to their senses when it was most needed. But let us remember this lesson when, at some future date after the crisis is over, we are again told that we “cannot afford” adequate investment in public services and infrastructure.

    But, on a more positive note, how uplifting and refreshing it has been to hear our leaders – and notably our Prime Minister – urging us to “look after each other” in this time of need and danger – and to “be kind” to each other. The capacity for “kindness” is perhaps the most human and important of all human attributes – and kindness in all its many forms is never more needed than now, when our fellow humans have their backs to the wall and are struggling to survive. That is one lesson, taught by the crisis, that we must learn.