When we finally exit this lockdown, with our round bellies, long hair, frayed nerves and pale wee faces, what will we want?
For some it will be a hug and a pint? A very long walk in the rain? A meal with friends? For others it will be, paradoxically, the rare chance for some solitude.
This week the lockdown got serious, in terms of the strain on peoples mental health and the (unsurprising) news that its unlikely to stop any time soon. “A return to normal as we knew it is not on the cards in the near future” Nicola Sturgeon announced.
The First Minister added that social distancing will be a “fact of life for a long time to come”, an idea that is landing slowly with all of us as we take in the consequences.
It’s highly unlikely that there will be large-scale meetings or events for a very long time. Yet many people in sports and entertainment are still operating as if we will be ‘back to normal’ within a few weeks or months. Denial of this form, whilst understandable, is now getting to be unhelpful to the task we face, which is, lets face it: reinventing society.
Nicola Sturgeon’s measured tone, explaining the terms in which we could relax lockdown was well received, it seemed honest, open and transparent, which is what we need from our leaders in these times. She did something else that was really significant. She admitted feeling overwhelmed by the magnitude of leading the country through the coronavirus crisis, and having an occasional “meltdown” at home. This was really useful, to admit weakness and emotional fragility was to give permission for people to witness their own sadness, grief and anger. Have a greet, it’s okay, it’s understandable.Chris Creegan, the chair of SAMH responded saying: “One of the legacies of this crisis must be a greater appreciation of the importance of empathy and emotional intelligence to leadership at the highest level.”
To which you can only add the need for emotional intelligence and empathy to be part of the new normal and straying from the orthodoxy of instrumental reason and ‘IQ’ as measurements of success and value.
There is bound to be a consequence of all of this in our mental health, a legacy we only have a glimpse of from this time and we would do well to start now to learn not just ‘coping techniques’ but new ways of being.
With whole industries ravaged, and likely gone forever there is unlikely to be a return to the sort of jobs and careers many had completely immersed themselves in. Many people found meaning in their work, and with this gone, people will need to find new ways of understanding their worth. This is likely to hit many men harder, men who, for understandable reasons, found not just meaning but status in their work. All of that may be gone as we rebuild a world with with less hierarchy, less bullshit jobs, less meaningless travel and less mindless consumption.
Learning to ‘be’ not ‘do’, resisting the urge to instant ‘action’ will be difficult for many of us drawn and taught to this as a default response.
A new set of criteria will need to be established for whether industries or businesses are salvaged or repaired: is this socially useful; future-focused; culturally important; and able to be ‘produced’ with zero carbon impact?
These should be the starting points for discussion.
Last week the UK govt bailed out easyJet for £600 million. The company is now offering flights for 99p for next Easter.
This is the definition of an insane economics that has learnt nothing at all.
This ‘rush to return’ is compulsive but deeply damaging and must be resisted.
We need to resist the urge to be ‘half accomplices’, we need to resist the return to the 99p flights and we need to relinquish some of the lifestyle we had adopted and become dumb with.
A world in which a 99p flight was not normal. That’s a lie and a myth and if we haven’t figured that out whilst cocooned in our lockdown we’re in big trouble.
Sonya Renee Taylor (from The Body Is Not An Apology) writes: “We will not go back to normal. Normal never was. Our pre-Corona existence was not normal other than we normalised greed, inequity, exhaustion, depletion, extraction, disconnection, confusion, rage, hoarding, hate and lack. We should not long to return. We are being given the opportunity to stitch and new garment. One that fits all of humanity and nature.”
Our challenge, in lockdown and beyond, is to resist not just the return to the pre-covid system, but to inhabit a new way of being, one that is less frantic, less obsessive and cut away from the cycle of production and consumption. This is a rupture from the binaries of left and right where the communist sphere deified production — and the capitalist sphere deified consumption.
If previous generations faced the harrowing experience of war, we are experiencing the trauma of pandemic and the new cultures it is throwing up. The task for later will be to challenge inevitability; cultivate outrage and imagine different futures. But it will also be to re-orient towards doing less. Our task in the very short-term is to do nothing ( Each day I walk along this lonely street, Trying to find, find a future).
The attributes of the old economy, predicated on endless growth and ceaseless consumption will look very different from the ones needed for our new economy. If stoicism avarice and narcissism were valuable traits in the pre-covid world they may be useless in the post-covid one. If sharb-elbows and machismo were essential in the old world, broad shoulders and warm-hearts may be needed in the new one. In short it’s not just the world we need to change, it’s our very selves.
Image: What do you make of this? from Thematic Apperception Text