Society, it could be said exists on a very delicate and precarious balance. These days, it all seems to be unravelling. All those times of feeling so frustrated at the injustice and absurdity of the ways that things are organised. But there was always bread on the table. There has always been bread on the table in my life, somehow. There were moments (some long moments) in my memory when I knew that mum and dad were really struggling. Before I could remember, they told me that things had been tough. They had survived on the kindness of friends: a friend who was a milkman, who left some eggs and milk with them from time to time; the friend, Tucker, who had been the son of a butcher and the sausages he would leave them, and I'm sure countless other kindnesses that I've either forgotten or they did not mention. They were part of a community, and although things were tight, they got by.
Later, from my own recollection, I can remember things being a struggle. Mum would make bread for the family to save on the grocery bill. I recall kneading it to help her out. I remember friends surviving on stew which was watery and the servings being tight. My friends and I roamed the roads and fields all day with no money in our pockets, and sometimes foraged for wild flowers and plants that we knew were edible and tided us over until dinner. When the apples and pears were on the trees, we would steal into a garden and eat our fill. Coming home in the evening with a burning emptiness in our bellies was normal. I think sometimes that it reminded us what it was like to be alive.
I've seen people being stupid and greedy, and rushing to buy presents for Christmas, and missing the point; people queuing all night or maybe more for concert tickets for some star, or some new phone. But in my life, I've never seen empty shelves in a supermarket first hand. Growing up, I remember the images of Russia with empty shelves and people queuing for bread, and the gleeful way the media would report on the shortages there. Who knows if it was propaganda (probably), but it seemed so scary and unknown. We would sigh a collective sigh of relief that it wasn't that bad for us. But now it seems that we've come to this.
The threat of the unknown and the terrible potential that all society will break down completely has driven people all over the world into fear. It's become normal to see empty shelves in the supermarket, and huge lines of people buying up whatever they can. Exhausted supermarket staff, strung out and stressed, desperately packing shelves in seeming vain as shoppers just pick the items they have put on the shelves straight up. Security guards standing near the toilet paper aisles. Vacant, panicked expressions on the faces of shoppers; big queues standing outside the supermarkets in the middle of the week – waiting for opening time.
And everyone keeps telling people to calm down and stop panic buying. But this is a raw expression now of the system that we all live under. The media might demonise regular people for panicking, but this has been the modus operandi of the financial markets for a long time. It might seem like complete irrationality, but to me, people feel alone and isolated, and that nobody has their best interests in mind. The government has really done little. They could assuage this feeling of desperation if they had a plan and let people know this, but they clearly don't. Their allegiance is to the economy – not ordinary people – and this is becoming clearer and amplifying the crooked and contemptible values of our market-based society. They are walking us into a catastrophe and seem only to consider keeping the market going and limiting its damage – without it would seem learning from what we have seen unfolding in other countries. This country is full of people who have nobody, and therefore likely feel that they need to fend for themselves: immigrants; people who are estranged from their families; people who might not be comfortable asking for help when the society is built on individualism.
This first stage is the panic and intense trepidation in the air, but it seems that we have only started down a road that is going to get only worse. It is perhaps the worst-case scenario.