What kind of society do we want after the pandemic?

Updated: May 24

Right now, understandably, we're all focussed on the immediate challenges that coronavirus has brought. Social-distancing, lockdown, being cooped up with others, or being along, not able to meet family or friends. There are financial worries, job and career fears. There's so much on our minds in this completely new, untrodden path.

However there will be a time when all this will be in the past. What then? What kind of normality do we want to live in then?

I have previously written about my hope that governments around the world can use the enforced period of economic shutdown to rethink the economy, in a way that enables us to deal immediately with the climate emergency.

Doing so would save millions of human lives, other species' lives, and billions of dollars which would otherwise have to be spent on dealing with the consequences of climate change.

Today I want to turn our attention to the kind of society we want after this crisis is over. In Britain we already had a strange political situation. The Conservatives are usually known for being harsh on the poorest and weakest, helpful to the well-off and very rich, in favour of lower taxation, anti-public sector, whilst very much pro-big business.

But because of the unique nature of the "Brexit" election, Boris Johnson won a Conservative majority largely thanks to votes from Labour communities in the North of England. He promised vast sums of public spending in order to repay these voters for their trust in him and his party.

So this was already likely to be an unusually pro-public sector and pro-poorer communities type of Conservative government, at least according to their manifesto pledges and subsequent utterances.

Then along came Covid-19.

We have the same Conservative government but the atmosphere is utterly different. The Prime Minister, up until his confinment in hospital, along with his cabinet colleagues, stood outside their homes clapping the NHS and all other essential workers. Ministers, in the government's daily update talks, have repeatedly praised not only doctors and nurses, but all NHS staff, teachers, the teams who collect our rubbish, social workers, and people working in care homes.

Government and businesses have arranged for food parcels to go to those who are in financial trouble or unable to leave home. People who once had to rely on food banks are now told that the government will ensure they are well fed.

Similarly with those who are homeless. Hotels are giving them rooms. Local authorities are waiving restrictions and ensuring everyone is housed.

All of this is so well-deserved. It is also unprecedented. Even political parties associated with support for the public sector have tended to take workers for granted, and accepted the existence of food banks and homelessness. Now it's different, or appears to be.

In mindfulness we develop heightened awareness of what's going on moment by moment. Doing so increasingly makes you realise the degree to which we owe the quality of our lives to others. The workers at Scottish Water. The people at Scottish Power and other energy providers. The NHS staff, the dentists, the shop-workers, and so on. With mindfulness you gain insights into how vital these people are, not just for society, but for me, for you as an individual, for our families, our friends. And with mindfulness you have these realisations daily, years before the coronavirus took hold.

Now everyone has become mindful of this, because our lives are literally at risk, and everything has become so much clearer than usual.

So what will happen after all of this? Well, there's an economy to restart. Government will have to fulfil its pledges to fire up the economic recovery. But who is going to get this money, and who is going to reap the rewards of business success once the economic recovery takes hold?

Governments around the world have billions of people to thank, including all of us who had to go into lockdown, with all the financial, emotional, physical, and psychological effects that entails. It won't be good enough to get back to normal, where normal meant that a small elite of investors earned billions of dollars on the back of the vast majority of people's labour, whilst the poorest relied on others' charity to feed their families.

Nor will it be good enough to go back to inequality levels between the CEO and the lowest-paid individuals in the same organisation. These lowest-paid include many of those the government are applauding every Thursday evening at 8pm.

Society has been here before. After the First World War our leaders pledged to build a society "fit for heroes". They didn't. After the Second World War there was a much longer period of a more equal, more appreciative society but that too fell away into enmity and acrimony.

We have another opportunity here, to reform society into something fairer and more just. Let's not allow our politicians to thwart that. We have seen what millions of poeple doing the right thing can accomplish, and we are seeing what government can do when the stakes are high enough. The stakes are always high. Let's not let this slip away.


© 2019 by Martin Stepek.