A germ has closed the world. Economies are grinding to a halt; culture has been put on hold. No restaurants; no bars, clubs, concerts, sports, or theater. No religious services or political events. Schools, libraries, museums all closed. Nowhere to go, and not allowed to go there anyway. People left without sources of income, connection with others, or things to do.
If this lasted just one or two months, society might recover. But health officials are saying house arrest could go on much longer if necessary. Half the economy and most of our cultural outlets will be gone by the time they let us out. But the quarantine has its positive sides, side effects of the negative ones. The damage capitalism does can best be seen in the good things that happen when it grinds to a halt.
1. Animals are coming back. Road kill numbers seem way down. Salamanders are observed crossing the road in Marin County, California. All because vehicle traffic no longer takes up all the space.
3. Global warming is slowed without all the fossil fuels being burned. For decades, our rulers have been negotiating; scientists have been researching, activists have been organizing, writing, and fighting, and fossil fuel emissions have continued to rise. Now, a virus comes along and stops them. Environmental writer Derrick Jensen says that industrial economy is inherently destructive and unsustainable. Maybe almost anything that stops it is a good thing.
The quarantine has spurred governments to consider measures that have long been needed, but never taken seriously until now.
4. Homelessness — In some communities, such as Santa Clara, California, authorities are planning on moving homeless people into empty motels and providing services. These people will now have actual homes with addresses. Because of travel bans, nobody was using the motels anyway. This seems a much higher-value use of the space, and it’s happening because of the virus.
5. Incarceration — Similarly, people are being let out of prison, because incarcerated people cannot be quarantined; they’re too close. Millions of nonviolent offenders may soon be out of jail, where they never should have been in the first place.
6. Immigration — ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) has slowed down or stopped their deportation raids against immigrant communities. Maybe they’ll start releasing some deportees from concentration camps, in the name of protecting against the virus. An extreme blessing for these families.
Quality of life improvements
7. People are working less, which means less stress, fewer work injuries, and more energy for other things. Of course, we’re not allowed to do many other things, and we have new sources of stress, but still…
8. We can get our homes cleaned up, catch up on reading, do those projects that we’ve put aside for years.
9. Time to reflect and grow — We’re less busy; we can stop and think. We can meditate, pray, or use mind-expanding drugs. We can make plans for our lives going forward, though it’s hard to plan when we have no idea what the world will be like. But at least we’re not so busy doing made-up stuff.
10. Since so many people can’t work and can’t pay for things, governments are starting to consider socialist approaches like providing basic incomes, health care and housing. Maybe income will be decoupled from work. Some people will see this as Heaven and some as Hell, but when so many jobs cease to exist, people, if supported, can do other, more creative or generous things.
For positives to outweigh the negatives or come anywhere close to them, people’s lives will have to change. A good life will be evaluated as one which helps others, not one that accumulates wealth. But we will have to fight for this. This is a crisis like we’ve not seen in our lifetimes — a time of danger and also of opportunity. Hope to see you out there, helping and fighting.