The world is in crisis and for the first time, all countries admit to a common enemy. The most vulnerable members of our globalised village are at risk. While we’ve paused our busy dreidels, the planet’s gasping with relief. At home, British supermarkets are stormed by toilet paper pillagers. The resilience of our social systems, their capability of handling a pandemic of such proportions, is called into question. Unfortunately, crises like the present one illuminate the complex network of vulnerabilities our social systems are running on. Health services, for one, are not capable of accommodating the exponentially rising number of patients; companies rarely have hardship funds and a large proportion of the population is working on fees – meaning weeks out of work are a toll on survival in a capitalist democracy.
The current situation could be a turning point for humanity in at least two directions – individual and collective action. Governments announce unprecedented support for people out of work, due to Covid-19 disruptions: rent exemptions, utility bill suspensions and special benefits are amongst the support tools announced across Europe. While politicians decide on different containment and compensation measures, individuals cope in their own ways. Armies of volunteers are growing in many localities, ready to emotionally and practically support people in isolation. Some of us are mobilising, others are in denial. Social distancing sounds challenging as humans are social animals. If you are not yet convinced that social distance is our best containment strategy, have a look at the infographic above by Dr Gita Pathak, Yale School of Medicine.
It could be hard to imagine breaking your social routines and adapting to a new way of life, albeit for a few weeks. Especially if you live in a city yet unaffected by the disease, or if you are not in the most vulnerable to Covid-19 group. The younger, able-bodied are said to be resilient to the virus. The resilience of some should not cost the vulnerability of others. Many not-at-risk have joined local volunteering groups because the resilience of the species is highly contingent on teamwork.
On a darker note, the most vulnerable are under attack and they are not just people with underlying conditions. Alongside strict containment measures, we face speculations. Upon school closure, children who qualify for free school dinners will receive food vouchers. West Yorkshire Police warned all parents of fraudulent emails requesting bank details to ensure people qualify for free school meals. For some children, the school dinner is the only hot decent meal a day. Trying to take advantage of parents and carers in this situation amounts to a Dickensian villainy: while some perish, others thrive.
Our actions will define us in these challenging times. The Covid-19 crisis opens a realm of possibilities, including the possibility to reflect. Perhaps we could take the time in seclusion to muse on our actions, on the value of human life and on our way of doing things. We could have utilised our sophisticated technology earlier to limit work-related travel. We could have thought about the security of workers and the capacity of our health systems. We could have fought for the ‘public good’. Thankfully, during these harrowing times, we will have the opportunity to reflect and adapt, albeit for a short while, to a different lifestyle – one that is, indeed, fostering the resilience of the planet and its socio-biological systems.
Dr Gita Pathak Twitter account: https://twitter.com/GitaPathakPhD/status/1239609742613458953
Maya Vachkova is a Lecturer in Business at Leeds Trinity University. Her ongoing PhD research explores the hermeneutical relationship between marginalisation and conflict which breeds identity radicalisation in complex social systems.
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