We Can See Clearly Now, The Smog Has Gone
By Alan Minsky, Executive Director – Progressive Democrats of America
The idea that we can live more simply, that life could be so much better if we slowed down, that we could return to living in harmony with the planet – these thoughts are in the wind right now, spreading across the globe – usually paired with the question: “can something good come from this tragedy?”
From a minister in the New Zealand government, to Greta Thunberg, to the late night talk shows, a global telethon, and all over social media – the specter of a benign revolution is haunting our imaginations.
There were tell-tale signs before the pandemic. The appeal of Andrew Yang’s Universal Basic Income proposal, the resonance of David Graeber’s book Bull**** Jobs, and the super-majority of young people supporting Bernie – were all grounded by an awareness that we were working way too hard for way too little; and for what ends?
Indeed, it is our memory of the frenzied rat race, our lived inevitability – until suddenly it ended last month – that begs the question: do we have to go back to that?
Who in Los Angeles misses the traffic? Crawling into and out of alienating jobs, with never enough time to read, reflect, or just be who you want to be.
Of course, nobody likes the lock down, or the fear of lethal contagion, let alone the loss of loved ones. This is not a happy time. Yet, we can sense the collective mind spinning. There’s something redeeming here: the slower pace, the clean skies, getting your mind back, your soul back. There’s time to think. It’s fun to cook every meal: it’s cheaper, healthier, and makes us feel connected. Your neighbors are becoming master chefs. New Billies and Finneases are playing music, writing songs. Our gardens look great. Our pets love us. Can’t we hold onto these things when it’s over?
It is a fundamental question. One that goes to the very heart of how our society is organized.
While staying at home may be uplifting for some, isn’t the overall picture dire? As of this week there are at least 26 million newly unemployed Americans, a statistic almost too unreal to comprehend. Surely, everything is about to collapse. Yet, the stores are stocked with food; clothes are on the rack; and the buildings are still providing shelter. It begs the question: since the essential things are being done, when the COVID-19 crisis passes why don’t we just kick it, not go back to work, enjoy life for a change, and heal the planet? Something on the order of Fully Automated Luxury Communism, or Ecotopia.
You know the idea. We’ve all dreamt of it. Take the essential labor, divide it equally among 20-to-60 year-olds; and we’d all only have to work about eight hours a week. Or perhaps we’d split it up as 35 hour work weeks, but only for two months a year per person. We’d demand and receive an annual living wage for that labor; and the rest of the time would be ours to do with as we please. I’d like to think that love affairs and literature would make a comeback. Who knows? It’d be new territory, that’s for sure.
In all likelihood, territory that we’ll never get to explore.
Why is that? I think you know the answer. All the food that feeds us and the land its raised on; all the material that clothes us and the sweatshops they’re made in; and most of the buildings we dwell in are owned by people – and, as George Carlin said, “you ain’t them.” A handful of very rich and powerful people and corporations own all the essential resources in the world. They enjoy this arrangement, they don’t want to see it change, and the law is on their side.
As long as that’s the case, our hopes of changing the world, even in the most benign way, are like the delivery of the emperor’s message in the Kafka parable. Even our own fantasy recedes ever-further away; we have no connection to the source of power that defines our life.
Indeed, there’s every reason to worry that things will be even worse than before with McConnell and Mnuchin calling the shots; and mainstream Democrats holding fast to their bold platform of cross-aisle compromise. The rich and powerful will be ever more; the rest of us, cowed.
Unless. In this moment. With more time to reflect. We take an honest look at what we’re up against – and how we can win the political power necessary to wrestle back control over our lives and our planet. Then do something wholly unprecedented: stick with it until we win.
Imagine how great the BBQs and dinner parties will be when this is over.