Is a new collective consciousness emerging out of the COVID-19 crisis?

In our previous post drawing attention to the NYA/UKYouth COVID-19 web resource we suggested adding ‘ASK WHY?’ to the message, KEEP CALM, STAY CONNECTED, BE SAFE. In the following piece Doug Nicholls, General Secretary of the GFTU and former General Secretary of the CYWU, strikes a positive note in exploring this very question. He ends with the optimistic assertion that:

What is evident to everyone is that the public sphere is obviously better than the private and community care is better than individualism.

Doug begins:

Eating bats and pangolins is not for everyone, but everyone in the world can catch the zoonic viruses, like the coronaviruses which can jump from beasts to humans.

Dining on such wild animals is illegal in China and a few individuals who broke this social law could well be responsible for current pandemic of COVID-19.

Putting personal taste before social responsibility can have truly devastating consequences.

As the world responds to the virus we see that only collective social action, science based government decisions and publicly funded research and development in conjunction with public health services can marshal a defence and cure. Private drug companies and finance markets cannot do a thing to help.

Indeed the parasitical virus of capital markets has made containment and management of the disease much more difficult. Privatisation has fragmented once coherent health services and cuts have hollowed our social care provision. But the reality is that this virus can outstrip the best resourced health systems in the world. Urgent emphasis is therefore being given to finding better, quicker testing kits and a vaccine. But even with the world’s best laboratories working around the clock, it will take a while to develop an effective vaccine.

Neoliberalism said there was no real need for active government, democratic accountability, or nation states. Removing the restraints on capital flows, it engineered an elaborate global system of deregulation, manic, very environmentally unfriendly trade and spawned banks that dwarved many nations in their money – wealth and power. This whole global pomp and excess is utterly useless in the face of a human problem like this.

Interconnected markets crumble at our expense while internationally co-ordinated scientists share the real value of human knowledge seeking to cure a human scourge. The solidarity, science, public funding and social discipline needed to deal with a virus like this represents the very opposite of the dominant values of the neoliberal period.

Neoliberalism socially distanced individuals and believed there was no such thing as society. Ironically, perhaps, by isolating ourselves when needed to control the virus spread and taking collective measures to cancel social interactions, we are rediscovering the basic ethics of socialism.

The high value of social care, health and scientific workers is being appreciated anew. The mind numbing imbecility of the stock market traders pocketing fortunes as they strip billions from our investments and savings is laid bare for all to see.

Private wealth holdings are literally billions of times bigger than the amounts being dedicated to fight the virus and fund our health services. The insatiable greed of the profit motive contrasts as perhaps never before on a global level with the human-focused public initiatives to protect each other at a time of danger.

Superstitions which have underpinned the voodoo economics of austerity and the deliberate construction of inequality or the blood thirsty jihads and wars of terror on learning and peaceful nations, all look as nasty as viruses when compared with the sophisticated science of immunologists, pandemic modellers and public health specialists, and the real bravery of front line health workers from cleaner to consultant.

Capitalists will exploit the crisis, watch prices on toilet rolls, hand sanitisers and essential supplies. When the vaccine is discovered, watch who will want to monopolise it.

But they won’t get away with it will they this time? Humanity is crying out for a human cure for all. The dedication of human resources to benefit our health and well being is tangibly primary, just as the responsibility of our physical interactions has made us not selfishly self aware, but socially conscious again.

For many decades war, man-made starvation, the loads-of-money bravado of Wall Street and the City of London have dominated culture. Now there’s something more human on the airwaves.

No one remotely requires a devastating new virus to change things for the better, but the reality is that it is generating a new consciousness which is rejecting the madness of the last forty years. International co-operation is replacing globalisation; science is valued above wishful thinking; government action is overriding the market; national self reliance is being asserted above subservience to the EU, IMF, WTO and the like.

What is evident to everyone is that the public sphere is obviously better than the private and community care is better than individualism.

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