As I sit here, there is a sudden rush of energy forcing its way forward. A stretch of milder days is being brought to its end as the wind and rain cascade forward and transform everything around me. It's been nine weeks since I've been outside in the old world, which perhaps does not exist any longer. I've been out to the shops four times to get groceries, but other than that, the front to check the mailbox and put out the bins. In comparison to other places, things have been contained here in Australia. About three months ago, we just didn't know, and I can't avoid it: I was afraid. You could see it in what I wrote in earlier posts, and you could find that there was an air of anxiety and fear in almost everyone. This was palpable.
On the one hand, we were dealing with the psychological uncertainty of what lay ahead, on the other we were adjusting to being at home and all the questions that this posed. We saw the unthinkable images of Italy and knew how bad things could get, and yet there was no real sense of how things would unfold here. Cases were increasing and there seemed to be a hesitation from the government on closing things down. Just a week before my work closed, I had heard that universities had been instructed to remain open. This only raised the tension and feelings of despair about what seemed to be a situation where the government were going to watch things unfold globally, and follow the same mistakes that others had made. But they didn't. It all happened very quickly. Work closed its doors and we went home, and that has been it since the middle of March.
There have been phases of this experience – unfolding and imperceptibly overlapping and passing. It has been a very emotional journey. Fear and despair marked the beginning days, which has gradually given way to acceptance and a change of focus. The reduction in cases and the access to testing centres has been comforting. As I had said in earlier posts, the ability to continue to work has also been a privilege, and one that I know can be removed at any moment. It has been hard to contemplate the levels of unemployment and hardship that this has brought to so many. Certainly though, fear has dispelled and there is a new sense of hope that some more activity might cautiously resume in the coming weeks.
Yet, there is a sense of trepidation about what the world will be when we emerge again. The heartening aspect of this crisis has been the mood of collective reflection and the seeming mutual realisation that the way things have been have been drawing us further down a very treacherous path. There has been a feeling that as bad as this has been, we have been given a chance to stop and contemplate alternatives. As I sit here at write this, I would like to think that things can change for the better. But what would better look like?
For me, a better world would be one where important things are centralised: people; our needs; us. The fundamental things we need being health, sustainability (to preserve and nurture our home: this planet) and education, but these are very broad terms. It would mean a shift from acceptance that our lives are underpinned by the growth and accumulation of 'capital' (either for ourselves or others); to transforming the things we have been doing to become more sustainable, and building our values around this. It would be acknowledging that while we are all individuals, we do have collective and universal needs that bind us together. These needs do not change from year to year, or with the term of office of a particular government – they are inviolable and sacrosanct. The fulfilment of these needs would not be based on 'merit', and this merit being gained by access to capital. Yet merit is certain worth reflecting on.
Our culture and societies are not independent of history. Historical conditions, whether we accept it or not, contribute to the values we currently live by. While we may increasingly choose to live secular lives, our cultures have historically been shaped by religious thought and values. Indeed, Weber (1930) and Benjamin (1996) both highlighted to strong connection between capitalism and religion – in Weber's case, this was a connection to Protestantism.
Capitalism is a pure religious cult, perhaps the most extreme there ever was. Within it everything only has meaning in direct relation to the cult
While this quote doesn't equate to a full exploration of this concept, it has been something I've reflected on for some time. I will write more about it in a future post. But for now, as we emerge, will things just carry on as they have been, or will we take this moment to change things for the better, so that perhaps our children and children's children still have a home worth living in?