Thoughts on the coronavirus

Well there are quite a few things that this virus is bringing to mind and, while I listen to my workplace’s ‘townhall’ about how we’re going to deal with this, I’d like to get some of them down.

Nationalism is an embarrasment

Maybe I’m just speaking from an Australian perspective but I find that one of the most interesting things about COVID-19 is that it makes clear that we are a global community. While the recent bushfires indicated that decisions made around carbon production could effect us here in Australia, via global warming, that ‘problem’ was localised and rendered within the Australian nation, and confounded by the inability of our conservative government to honestly assess and act on the situation. COVID effects everyone, it will eventually become ‘part of the furniture’ and its spread indicates how intrinsically connected we are as a planet and a species; just as with global warming.

John Stuart Mill once said that ‘nationalism is a pox on humanity’ and I think that COVID has illustrated how humanity must deal with such poxes collectively. Moreover I am more than a little ashamed of how ‘Australians’ have reacted to the virus. Brawls over toilet paper, hoarding and general self indulgent panic is behaviour that is one million miles away from the national self image. Whereas I was raised thinking that the qualities that made Australia great were courage, community support and primarily ‘mateship and a fair go’, COVID has shown that the national character is now one of profound individualism and selfishness. I believe this has changed. I believe that Australian culture is not as Australian as it once was. When my Nana lived through the depression in Coolgardie they allowed families to share their house and camp on their verandah indefinitely; simply so they could help. Our ANZAC stories are replete with tales of soldiers who would not leave the battlefield without their mates, regardless of their own peril. I know COVID appears to be a slightly different situation but for people to be hoarding toilet paper in a city where there are yet to be any cases of community transmission does NOT speak of courage, mateship and a fair go. It speaks of profound selfish individualism and a cowardly panic inspired by global media. Overall it reflects upon an inability to think of your community or yourself as somehow distinct or different from the individualistic global order.

The neo-liberal world view is dangerous and inefficient

Which brings me to my next realisation. We have all become Americans, at the worst possible time. There is a global culture that has replaced Australian culture and it is that of small state, big individual, responsibilisation that suggests that community is meaningless, the individual matters. It’s here and it rules this place, I suspect it rules everywhere.

I feel very sorry for the US at this time when people’s inability to fund sick leave combined with their incapacity to pay for medical attention is liable to make COVID a particularly thorny problem. This system works to develop herd immunity as quickly as possible (because of, not despite, it’s terrible inefficiency) meaning the sick and the old die quickly and production can return to profitability. A strong social health system would only slow this process, allow more ‘weak’ people to live and be far more expensive. The economic value of refusing to care (in the most literal sense) cannot be refuted. It doesn’t shock me that the US government has taken this route; what shocks me is the extent to which their ideology has become ubiquitous and that the US population can’t see the value in spending some of their trillions on universal health care rather than junk for a military that is, like its health care, already far more expensive than everyone else’s.

Traditional gender stereotypes are still propagated in the most horrible ways

The Australian government is yet to close schools and one of the justifications for this is that they don’t want health care workers to have to stay at home to look after children. Now I can’t for the life of me imagine WHY health care workers would have to take care of children? Surely these health care workers have partners who could perform caring roles?

So the underlying issue is that health care workers are thought of as female and that family caregives are also imagined to be female. Here are the women in our lives being asked to double shift in quite the most impossible way. Of course, not all health care workers are female and not all family caregivers are female; but that’s sort of being forgotten, and ‘by and large’ these traditional gender roles remain unproblematic. Which is such bullshit.

Here’s a revolutionary idea. When the health of the entire community depends upon it, the CEO of BHP can take time off to care for children while their partner, who works in health can continue to do the health work that remains a priority to save lives. Gender is and should be irrelevant.

Are we seriously saying that we’ll endanger the health of our families and communities because we can’t imagine a man taking time off work to look after the kids? The fact that this statement is plausible speaks to the fact we really need to look at how we propagate gender roles, as well as how we underpay and underappreciate care work!

OK, rants over for now. As you can see COVID 19 has bought up a few beefs and I am hopeful that we might learn from this experience. Anyone who reads this, please stay safe and if you need anything to help you through this difficult time, please don’t be afraid to ask. I’ve got enough TP to share.

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