The coronavirus has delivered a major slap in the face to our complacency in the First World of prosperity and security.
We came to accept that the situation would remain constant, that the economy would just keep on growing, that wars would only occur in the Third World far away.
Overseas holidays were considered a right.
That changed in a flash.
Suddenly overseas travel ceased, swimming pools and cafes were closed, a clamour to close the schools broke out.
People went into lockdown and the news carried interminable accounts of rising infection rates and stunning death rates in China, Italy, Spain, the UK then the USA.
Retirement homes became death traps and the UK did not even count the fatalities outside of hospitals.
The picture which quickly emerged, within a just a few weeks in fact, was that our modern societies, particularly those in the prosperous West, have feet of clay.
The prosperity we assumed was in reality so shallow that as soon as businesses and factories began to shut, millions of people were left without means of support.
The unemployed formed infectious queues outside unemployment offices as families found that they were in many cases one week away from destitution.
While in Australia the right-wing government raced to follow the spending pattern of the Labor party in the last economic crisis, the erstwhile “leader” of the free market bloc, the USA, began to crumble under its inept leadership.
Nothing will ever be the same after this.
Within the USA the status quo has been exposed as unacceptable in a society which claims to be ‘democratic.’
Nicolas Davie in “Why Is the U.S. So Exceptionally Vulnerable to Covid-19?” suggests that the huge death rate is due to “The lack of a national, publicly-funded universal health system.”
It is also closely related to “the corruption of our political system by powerful commercial and class interests and the American “exceptionalism” that blinds us to what we can learn from other countries.” [27 March 2020, Common Dreams]
Elise Gould, a senior economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington, says that the coronavirus crisis has hit so badly because of rising inequality in the USA.
“…it’s not just about wages. It’s about health and working conditions and access to health insurance. All of these things highlight that there’s two different societies in this country.“ [10 Apr 2020, Chris McGreal, Guardian]
This inequality in the fake economic prosperity of the USA is hitting Afro-Americans with a vengeance.
“Earlier this week, officials in Chicago, Illinois were among the first to release a racial breakdown of the city’s 6,100 cases.
More than half were African American, despite the group only accounting for 30 percent of the city’s 2.7 million residents. Seven in 10 patients who died from COVID-19 in the city were African American, officials said.
In New York, the epicentre of the pandemic in the US, the coronavirus is killing African Americans and Hispanics at twice the rate of white people, according to preliminary state data.” [10 April 2020, Coronavirus is disproportionately killing African Americans, Al Jazeera]
However the situation in the UK is also bad, despite the hollowed out NHS.
As Owen Jones wrote in “We’re about to learn a terrible lesson from coronavirus: inequality kills.”
“The coronavirus pandemic is about to collide with this engine of inequality………… Britain’s army of precarious workers have nowhere to hide, including from employment that puts their health at risk.
Uber drivers, Deliveroo riders, cleaners: all in low-paid jobs, often with families to feed. Many will feel they have no choice but to keep working.” [14 March 2020, Guardian]
Never has Said Nursi’s characterisation of Western society been so apt.
He summarises the major upheavals of the twentieth century, which could also occur in the twenty-first, in two phrases.
“One is “So long as I’m full, what is it to me if others dies of hunger,” and the other, “You struggle and labour so that I can live in ease and comfort.” [Vahide Islam in Modern Turkey page 160]
The lesson is that inequality kills.