The world is enmeshed in a significant health crisis that stretches to all levels of society. Containing, controlling and remedying COVID-19 will require concerted efforts, and, importantly, significant social solidarity.
The daily briefings, quantitative graphs, projections, regulations, guidelines, datasets and profiles of those on the front lines, fighting the metaphorical “enemy,” implore us to consider what we might do after the coronavirus.
Although we’re still trying to make it through this pandemic, we should also be concerned about how much we really want to get back to what we regard as normal.
COVID-19 has shown us that there is an abundance of good will, harmony, humanity and solidarity in our society. And, conversely, there are also examples in this critically vulnerable time of violence against women, racist attacks against those of Asian origin, the hoarding of limited resources, the corrosive usage of stock-market gambling, unloading and profiteering and some other recalcitrant forces at work, including musings about testing the vaccine in Africa.
Doctors, nurses and many other health professionals and workers are providing exceptional public health services. At the same time, it’s heart-wrenching to be confronted with the sad reality that many of the people providing essential services are compensated poorly — notably people working in seniors’ residences, daycares and grocery stores.
Within this context, I think it may be helpful to underscore three problems that have laid the groundwork for the present crisis and what I what refer to as societal fault lines: social inequalities, environmental intransigence and economic avarice.
My starting point is what preceded COVID-19 should not be considered normal. A vastly re-imagined society post-pandemic is not only desirable but necessary.
Fault line No. 1: Social inequalities
To examine the life conditions, opportunities, health and education indicators and discrimination related to First Nations Peoples in Canada means acknowledging that, in 2020, the actions, behaviours and beliefs of the Canadian state and Canadian citizens have been highly destructive.
Although not often interwoven into mainstream narratives of societal development, subjects like femicide, suicide (including, notably, among military personnel and veterans) and homelessness must also be addressed.
There must be consideration of a range of potential explanations for why society doesn’t fully examine and address these conditions and problems, including negligence, bad faith, ignorance, poor policy decisions, planned marginalization or even cultural genocide in the case of the First Nations.
Fault line No. 2: Environmental intransigence
The clock is ticking toward environmental destruction and catastrophe. We can see and feel the planet change as the climate heats up, oceans reach unforeseen levels, forests are destroyed, shorelines dissipate, islands disappear and ice caps melt into once-frozen waters.
Favouring economic development, warfare and unsustainable power structures over serious inclusive engagement and participation with all those who inhabit and share our planet has left us extremely vulnerable. It has also pit people, countries and regions against one another.
Fault line No. 3: Economic avarice
The mythology of “pulling yourself up by the bootstraps” works best when society is designed to break down class differentiations and inequities and is indifferent to dominant power structures.
If we’re really all in this together, wealth accumulation through nefarious means, slavery, colonialism, imperialism and elitist collusion must be wiped out. Diversity in writing the rules and producing the media to bring about widespread social inclusion is essential.
Who benefits from off-shore banks? Who pays taxes and who accrues benefits from tax deferrals and credits? Why do bailouts systematically support banks, investors and speculators instead of those struggling to provide for their basic needs? Who goes to prison, who is over-policed and why is corruption so infrequently monitored and punished?
Where do we go from here?
In the midst of the pandemic, many people in Canada and around the world seem to have an appetite for a transformed social organization and society and a new world order.
That could mean a re-imagined human civilization that no longer prioritizes militarization, conflict, concentrated wealth in the hands of the few, massive social inequalities, environmental catastrophe, delusions of empire and colonization and fictitious notions of democratic freedom, engagement and participation.
The coronavirus is far from being the “great leveller,” as some have suggested.
It’s more like the “great imbalancer” that feeds off social and environmental injustice, exacerbating the wounds, scars and illnesses that existed prior to this pandemic.
That’s why the lessons learned during the pandemic must be used to reconsider and re-imagine social solidarity, one that’s hinged on education, democracy and social equality. Returning to “normal” is no longer a viable option.
Paul R. Carr, Full Professor, Département des sciences de l'éducation & Chair-holder, UNESCO Chair in Democracy, Global Citizenship and Transformative Education (DCMÉT), Université du Québec en Outaouais (UQO)