The year of our awakening

September 27, 2020

The 2020 pandemic has forced us to re-examine the parameters of modern life

Dear All,

 It’s been a strange sort of year, this one. In many people’s consciousness 2020 is a nightmare year, the year they want to forget, a year of pain and bereavement and hardship. With the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing lockdowns all over the world modern life as we knew it was suddenly suspended. Life became largely housebound, human interaction was severely curtailed and a fear of infection became widespread.

Life is still in suspension. The fight against the virus continues to dominate the patterns of our lives; controlling it, defeating it, avoiding it - those are our priorities now. The virus has disrupted our careless and self-centred capitalism. Lockdown has finished off our social lives and all the activities linked to that social or working life: buying clothes and food, getting our hair done or our appearance improved, eating out, meeting for a coffee, all the one-upmanship and competition associated with hosting and entertaining is a thing of the past — as is the ease and frequency of air travel that had so increased over the past few decades.

The lockdown has proved fatal and destructive not just for the families who were bereaved but also for an ever growing number of people to whom it has brought depression and loneliness, and for those for whom lockdown has meant being trapped indoors with abusers. It has also caused the collapse of many a business and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. The airline and hospitality businesses are fighting for survival and the probability of more national lockdowns over the winter months has meant that the survival of many more businesses looks unlikely. Businesses are collapsing, people are losing jobs, the economy is threatened and the future is uncertain… but should we regard this whole experience as negative or should we instead view it as an opportunity/

The pandemic and all that lockdown has brought in its wake has sounded a wake-up call for us. Let us think of this as an opportunity to reassess all that we thought of as normal, our compulsive consumerism, our disregard for the damage we were causing to the environment, our excessively materialist approach to our lives and the ever-increasing exhibitionism and ostentatious spending that we had begun to regard as the norm.

Lockdown surprised us by returning us to the sights and sounds of nature that we had largely forgotten. The skies became clearer, the air purer and the sound of birdsong more intense. Disrupted supply chains and panic buying brought food shortages causing many people to investigate growing their own produce and even raising their own chickens. Households rediscovered baking their own bread (causing a national flour shortage in Britain), individuals turned to vegetable gardening (causing a run on gardening supplies, compost, pots and seeds) and suddenly we were producing our own ‘organic’ food, ourselves. With fewer opportunities to shop and less venues to flaunt our appearance we also became more aware of clothes waste and of our previous compulsive spending habits. We were released from the social and family pressures of large scale entertaining and socialising and many people became more empathetic to the plight of those losing their jobs and not having food to eat,

But most of all, 2020 has given us a chance to re-evaluate the capitalist system on which we have become so reliant. The way so many sectors are collapsing like a house of cards or a line of dominoes shows us the fragility of a system built on relentless marketing, acquisitiveness and consumer activity, a system that favoured those at the top and exploited its main workforce. It was during lockdown that so many people who had pooh-poohed unions and never bothered to join a professional union suddenly realised why unions and the idea of protecting labour rights is actually very important. It was during lockdown that we became aware of the digital divide and the fact that large swathes of the population were disadvantaged by not having access to either broadband or technology. It was during lockdown that we became aware that in our modern life free broadband should be a basic right. And hopefully it is during lockdown that we will realise that technology is both a strength and a vulnerability - relying totally on an intangible system of remote communication means that if that system collapses, so will our access to our money, our information, our documents, our contacts, our security (myself, I’m from the twentieth century, I still use cheques and I like having hard copies of documents despite the barbs about “helping to destroy trees” by using a printer).

Lockdown has also opened our eyes to what the responsibilities of a government should be during a crisis and what we expect from it in terms of protecting the citizens of the land and keeping them safe. What is astounding is that while governments are trying to save sectors of the economy through emergency funding or furlough schemes, little imagination has been applied to creating new jobs for the thousands being laid off. In the UK, for example, one would have expected the government to set up new industries on an emergency, war-time footing - for example factories to produce personal protective equipment (PPE), hand sanitisers, face masks, disinfectants, cleaning products, and other items needed at a public health level. Such a scheme would not just create jobs (and hence quell poverty and social unrest) but also ensure that the government is not reliant on outside suppliers and inflated prices for the equipment needed to fight the virus. Moreover, in this way the state would control the quality of the production and be able to make things such as masks and sanitisers freely available in public places rather than allowing profiteers to hike up prices of basic items to a level that many simply cannot afford

The term 20-20 vision refers to excellent vision - to clarity. Instead of regarding 2020 as the year that people regard as their ‘lost year’, the one they want to forget and edit out of memory, we should perhaps recognise what a learning experience 2020 can prove to us all; a wake-up call and a time to use our imagination in order to build new systems and a new way of living.

Best wishes

Umber Khairi

The year of our awakening