It won’t go back to normal after this pandemic fades away

By Jim Brown

On March 14 I drove to Summerside to stock up for the inevitable day when I will have isolate myself from others, and I saw many shoppers flashing bright smiles at the grocery stories I visited. But others couldn’t hide their disappointment and frustration when they couldn’t find toilet paper or hand sanitizer, or other items on their list.

Later I read PEI had recorded its first case.

COVID-19. The coronavirus. The gravest threat we have faced as a country and as a civilization since the great flu pandemic of 1918.

Only in 1918 the world was much bigger. There were no transatlantic flights. No commercial flights at all across vast oceans. Travel between continents took weeks, not hours. Supply chains for everyday products didn’t extend thousands of kilometres.

We have an economy based on our mobility. What if we can’t fly, drive or move around freely? What if we were told we have to isolate ourselves from others so that our elderly and most vulnerable can live?

What happens when our entire world is disrupted, when everything that connects us to each other is suddenly taken away?

Parliament has been shut down for five weeks, schools are closing, professional sports venues have gone dark – and so have universities, colleges, art galleries, libraries, concert halls, churches, public offices – and the list gets longer by the day.

It’s humanity’s vanishing act. We are disappearing from public spaces, leaving a haunting emptiness behind.

Even the poorest Canadians have Internet access and cable television, but there are no sports or live entertainment shows to watch. Only a 24/7 stream of frightening news about a virus that is devouring our way of life.

It looks and feels like the death of hope.

We, humans, are a fiercely optimistic species. We are resilient, we fight back, we expect things will get better, because there have been dark times before, an entire dark age when the black death culled much of humanity.

Yes, humanity has been through worse.

I believe we will come through this, but we won’t go back to the way things were before.

Whether it’s two years or two months, when the virus fades away we will emerge into a transformed landscape.

Many bedrock assumptions will fall away like dry leaves from an autumn tree.

It’s hard to imagine a scenario where demand for consumer goods, for services, for other trappings of civilized society in the 21st century will be fully restored. Jobs we took for granted and thought would be around forever will be gone.

Our world will have shrunk dramatically – to the dimensions of a city or a county or even a village. We will have learned to look after our neighbours, families and friends – watch over and care for them without actually being physically close to them.

When the great tribulation eases the world we rejoin will be a poorer one in many ways, and perhaps a better one in a few others.

I can’t imagine living in America and not watching the scaffolding of a universal health care system take shape. So many Americans will have died in a patchwork system that buckled and broke despite the heroic efforts of besieged health care workers, many of them sacrificing their lives so that others may live.

The long con has run its course, bringing civilization to its knees.

Even the most tribal of partisans in America will have been forced to confront an ugly truth – they were lied to and made complicit in one of the largest heists in history – the looting of their country.

They will have seen grandparents, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, daughters and sons, struggle to breathe and then die.

I think the world’s industrialized nations will turn their backs on a predatory ideology that maims and kills so many for the sake of a very few. They will demand a much more compassionate system of government that blends the best of capitalism and socialism – a form of communalism that ensures everyone’s basic needs are met.

Consumerism will become a dirty word since we will know, after the pandemic, there are more important things in life than material goods.

No, we won’t go back.

We won’t let one tenth of one per cent of the population control nearly all of the world’s dwindling resources, and our lives.

Corporations won’t be allowed to continue poisoning the commons we all own – oceans, lakes, rivers, meadows, rainforests, the blue skies above.

Industrial activity will have declined sharply during the coronavirus pandemic. Pollution and greenhouse gases will have been slashed.

I believe corporate culture will have changed forever.

We will no longer live and die by the value of our gross domestic product.

It’s a mug’s game predicting the future, but I feel this in my bones.

Will it happen? I honestly don’t see how it doesn’t.

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