Billions of people are in lockdown, over 1.9 million confirmed cases and more than 120,000 people have died from COVID-19 (these numbers will be outdated when you read this).
The world is going viral, and what are we doing?
If you are not on the frontline fighting the virus, next to the nuclear reactor, doing lab research or keeping the supply chain running - you are at home, and like myself, pretending to be productive.
Working from home is one of Idlers, Slalomists, Epicureans, Escapologists, and many other creative types, a noble aspiration for the good life. The problem is that I’m currently sitting in my home office thinking about a million different things: does my dog have enough food for the next weeks? Do I have enough food? Is my family living abroad taking this seriously enough? Is my 91-years-old grandpa properly secluded? Should I panic? Do I have enough money saved?
Notice that work isn’t mentioned above. Why? Because thinking about work during a pandemic makes me sick, and you can see a sick culture by browsing the internet for 5 minutes. The number of articles, videos, tweets and content about working from home is shocking. I’ve seen headlines like “tips to increase productivity during a pandemic” or “how to set up the perfect home office” to mention a few.
Cities all over the world look like giant abandoned movie sets - a vast emptiness and a strange quietness of what was once a lively communal area of gathering. And while this is happening outdoors, we are stuck indoors being seduced by digital consumption, frightened by sensationalist broadcast news and attacked by the idiocy of politicians denying the crisis.
We are seeing lonely, scared people being asked by their bosses to hold on to their devices and tech gadgetry, so they can stay connected at all times and be more productive during isolation. Marketers and brands are advertising lockdown goals and productivity hacks for your newly converted home office when despairing family members worry about economic collapse and looming death.
We don’t need tips on home office optimisation or how to use Slack, what we need is free money to pay for our bills at the end of the month. This is a time to think about new possibilities for human existence. Why not start with universal basic income? In an age that seems intent on destroying itself, is it too much to ask for free money? We’d be empowered to say “no” to a boss who demands a video call during a pandemic and “yes” to our own worries and preoccupations. A fully universal unconditional pandemic security payment would be the first step to confront the unknown of today and to uphold ourselves for the next uncharted future of climate catastrophe tomorrow.
“A globalised world is a delicate construction,” wrote English philosopher John Gray. How can the same globalised world overcome the decline that appears almost destined to occur? Let’s hit the reset button, limit our news consumption, get plenty of sleep, hydrate our bodies, cook our own food and invest time and energy on helping the person next door, not the one on Skype, Zoom, Google Hangout, Facebook and Instagram Live, WhatsApp, or ICQ.
I know how hard it’s for humans to become wiser, we prefer being clever and richer. But Homo sapiens is once again naked, and the obvious truth is again exposed for everyone to see it - we’re still part of the natural world, and history doesn’t care about progress. We’ve been through pandemics, infectious outbreaks, ecological disasters, wars and many other upheavals before. They are the norm. Peace, prosperity and progress are not. But human beings adapt, adjust, and even find meaning in extreme situations. A crisis is a moment of revelation, a turning point where it creates pressure for the new challenge ahead, directing our attention and forcing us to see and aim accurately.
Unfortunately, for most of modern life, we’ve been aiming at the wrong things. We serve the economy when the economy should serve us. Our life is geared toward achieving status, material and economic success. Yet, in a pandemic, this clearly doesn’t matter. The hollowness of our neoliberal logic, the endemic inequality of a rapacious capitalist society and the illusion that technocratic faith will set us free are painfully apparent and cannot continue to shape and dictate our lives.
We underestimate the power of vision and direction. If we are not serving on the frontlines, we should be resetting our world views, our real values, our real reason for doing things. Life on planet earth is becoming increasingly unstable. It’s time for care and maintenance, not productivity hacks and home office.
Stay safe, my friends.