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Life Arts    H3'ed 3/31/20

COVID-19: The Great Social Equalizer and Liberator from Unnecessary Work

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The Coronavirus plague should be putting everything in perspective for us all. It should make us ask what life's really about, no matter if we're rich or middle class. (The poor are another story.) That's because COVID-19 has forced everyone who's solvent into something like the same boat. It's made us realize that the vessel has just sprung a huge leak that threatens to take us all down collectively and personally - unless we make some fundamental changes on both fronts. The possibilities for change are endless, hopeful and encouraging.

Our Shared Reality

First of all, think about our shared boat. All of us have been born into a consumerist culture that tells us life's about money, beautiful clothes, luxury automobiles, travel to exotic places, entertainment, and eating in fine restaurants.

Suddenly though, none of that has much meaning.

In my own case, since the springing of the Coronavirus leak, I don't even have anywhere to spend the money I already have. My two old Volvos have been parked in our driveway for 2 weeks; I haven't used a drop of gasoline; there's no place for us to go. I can spend all day in my pajamas, and nobody will know the difference. I live a 70-minute train ride from Broadway, but it's all been shut down. I can't even watch March Madness or Lebron on TV. There's no spring training or the prospect of a baseball season. And as for fine restaurants, I can't even buy a donut and java at "Coffee An'," our local hangout, or even at Starbucks.

And I imagine it's like that for billionaires too. I mean, what do they do all day? Like me, they're confined as they shelter in place. Like me, they get up in the morning, read the newspaper or some online source, eat breakfast, maybe go for a run, take a shower, eat lunch, nap for a while, talk with some friends or associates on the phone, read a chapter or two in a book or an article in a magazine, have a drink for happy hour, eat supper with family, watch a Netflix movie, have a nightcap, and go to bed. That's it.

And tomorrow will be the same. What else can they do? What more can their money buy them? I mean, it's pretty much the same for all of us who are lucky enough not to be homeless or in prison. Under the Coronavirus regime, Jeff Bezos' life can't be that much different from my own.

So, as I watch financiers thrilled at the prospect of a surging stock market stimulated by a number I can't even imagine, I wonder what for? Where are they going to spend the profits they anticipate? Who's going to buy the stuff they imagine will be produced? Their situation is the same as mine.

And where did all that money come from anyway? (They didn't have it for Bernie's Medicare for All.) What does it mean? Why is green paper - or fiat numbers someone decided to put on investors' computer screens - so powerful? And what did any of those Wall Streeters do to earn it? In present circumstances, how does it make their lives better than mine?

It all seems somehow made up. And in a very real sense, so does the rest of the stuff I've mentioned so far.


And then there's Mr. Trump's solution to this health crisis. In a word, it's DENIAL. Of course, that's one way of dealing with our sinking ship. Just ignore the problem and get back to normal. Or as Trump puts it: "Open the country for business again. Right now! Start driving those cars and buying that junk. Eat up those Big Macs and put some fat on those bones of yours. Fire up those plants and darken the skies with smoke again. Bury those pipelines and frack like fu*k. (I'm sure he puts it that way.) Cut down some more rainforests. Fill up those plastic shopping bags and throw them in the ocean. Get on with the business of poisoning the planet. Above all, produce those bombs, planes, tanks, and missiles. And be sure to use them. There are so many sh*t-hole countries to destroy and so little time.

"And, by the way, be sure to ignore the scientists (again!). Hell, if we left it up to the doctors and their hypochondriacal tendencies, the stores, stadiums, shows and showrooms would be shuttered for two years. And then what?

"So, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead, and for the sake of our grandchildren, let the old people and other weaklings die - even if millions expire prematurely. Who cares? With the market in the tank, there's nothing for them to live for anyway. Better dead than bored and broke."

That's the Trump many of us know and loathe. Thankfully however, his denial's not the only way of dealing with the problem - although (disappointingly) the congressional bail-out package shows that ALL of our politicians (including Sandberg and Warren) pretty much agree with the president!

For the rest of us however, it's high time to move in another direction - to reassess what we take as "normal," cut our losses, and get back to the basics that lockdown has forced upon our awareness. In fact, COVID-19 might be the Process of Life, it might be Mother Nature, it might even be God (!) telling us to review and revise our entire way of life - the way environmentalists have been suggesting since Francis of Assisi, Henry David Thoreau, and Jacques Cousteau.

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Mike Rivage-Seul is a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest. Retired in 2014, he taught at Berea College in Kentucky for 40 years where he directed Berea's Peace and Social Justice Studies Program. His latest book is (more...)

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