Living Through a Plague Year

Living Through a Plague Year


COVID-19 is not fading away. Until we have a sufficient supply of good, safe vaccine, this plague retains all of its deadly potential. Flouting the advice of epidemiologists is gambling with your life and the lives of those around you. There’s no question that this pandemic will change our lives in the future, and if history is a guide, some of those changes will be for the better.


The Reading that Dave did, from Camus’ The Plague, while grimly realistic, did allow that “despite their personal afflictions, [these people], while unable to be saints [yet refused] to bow down to pestilences, and strived their utmost, to be healers.” And “we state quite simply what we learn in a time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in people than things to despite.”

We too, in our own time, are not bowing down before the cruel novel Coronavirus Disease #19.

There is more good news, and that is, as we know, a great crisis is accompanied by great opportunities. We have had our lives disrupted.

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”

William Butler Yeats

The people who imagine the future – they are called “futurists” or “macro-thinkers” are excited about the possibilities for changing some of the old bad habits, and are thinking and talking and writing about remaking the world.

One is that this country of ours is seeing the danger and unfairness of having health care insurance tied to one’s employer. Millions have been laid off, so they lose their job and they lose their insurance. We will have Medicare for All sooner than we thought. Also, there’s a good chance that government will take over dispensing pharmaceuticals, because the private sector won’t research and produce vaccines without proof of profitability, which is too late as we know, as we still wait.

Telemedicine is growing rapidly, and so there will be fewer trips to the waiting room, and more people receiving treatment. Prescriptions delivered by mail is already taking over.

We realize that personal contact has become dangerous. Hugging and kissing and even handshakes may go out of fashion. We have already started asking ourselves, is there any good reason to have this meeting in person?

Less commuting means less fuel consumption and less pollution. Less commuting also means solving many families’ child care problems. The crisis is creating openings for stronger comprehensive family care, to make it easier to keep the family together, including the old folks, and disabled children, the disabled of all ages, and the chronically ill. The pandemic may unleash widespread for political support for Universal Family Care, a single public federal fund that we all contribute to, that we all benefit from, that helps us take care of our families while we work. Care has always been a shared responsibility, but the government hasn’t supported it enough. Perhaps now it will.

Reforms of all kinds are being imagined, and some are underway. Jonathan Rauch writes this about the new forms of reform:

One group of Americans has lived through a transformational epidemic in recent memory: gay men. Of course, HIV/AIDS was (and is) different in all kinds of ways from the coronavirus, but one lesson is likely to apply: plagues drive change.

Partly because our government failed them, gay Americans mobilzed to build organizations, networkd and know-how that changed our place in society and have enduring legacies today. The epidemic also revealed deadly flaws in the health care system, and it awakened us to the need for protection of marriage – revelations which led to landmark reforms. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some analogous changes in the wake of coronavirus. People are finding new ways to connect and support each other in adversity; they are sure to demand major changes in the health-care system and maybe also the government; and they’ll become newly conscious of interdependency and community.

Congress can go virtual, the senate too. It’s better for good government if our representatives stay in their district or state much more of the time. It also puts them at a much greater distance from the lobbyists and crooks. It will be harder to bribe a Representative if the hobnobbing has to be done in front of their constituency rather than in the faraway Capital.

Vote by mail, and electronic voting will make it easier to vote, and that will strengthen our democracy and have fewer obstacles to progressive problem-solving.

As government takes over more of healthcare, education, and general welfare, it will grow larger. The old joke, “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.” We want that help now, desperately.

Another prediction is that public service will regain its attraction. A new concept of patriotism may emerge, as the heroes who sacrifice to keep us safe are not soldiers, but doctors, nurses, pharmacists, teachers, caregivers, store clerks, delivery people, utility workers, small and medium business owners and their employees.

We will see a restoration of faith in serious experts. Science knowledge and its methods will return in triumph. There will be revived trust in our institutions. There will be a revival of parks and open spaces, at all levels. There will be less communal dining, but perhaps more cooking at home. There will be more restraint on mass consumption, and therefore less obesity. There will be less garbage, and there will be less congestion.

If everybody has enough, and people begin to feel safer, we can expect a decline in polarization of culture and politics. The stimulus grants most of us got, for up to $1200 per person, is the thin edge of a wedge that could be the start of guaranteed annual income. As globalization increases, and automation increases, the old employment and unemployment paradigms will no longer do, and we need to take care of all the workers whose jobs went overseas, and robots are doing more every year. The companies that are getting fabulously wealthy in this brave new world must be taxed to pay to support all those workers they threw out of work.

Religious worship is looking different, of course. The religions of the world have known persecution and disruption, but never before all of them, at the same time. All religions are searching for new ways to practice their faith.

A new civic federalism is possible. Archon Fung, a professor of citizenship and self-government at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government writes:

Just as the trauma of fighting World War II laid the foundations for a stronger American government and national solidarity, the coronavirus crisis might sow the seeds of a new civic federalism, in which states and localities become centers of justice, solidarity and far-sighted democratic problem-solving. Many Americans now bemoan the failure of national leadership in the face of this unprecedented challenge. When we look back, we will see that some communities handled the crisis much better than others. We might well find that success came in states where government, civic and private-sector leaders joined their strengths together in a spirit of self-sacrifice for the common good.

Consider that the virology lab at the University of Washington far surpassed the CDC and others in bringing substantial COVID-19 testing early, when it was most needed. Some governors, mayors, education authorities, and employers have led the way by enforcing social distancing, closing campuses and other places, and channeling resources to support the most vulnerable. And the civic fabric of some communities has fostered the responsibility and altruism of millions of ordinary citizens who have stayed home, lost income, kept their kids inside, self-quarantined, refrained from hoarding, supported each other, and even pooled medical supplies and other resources to bolster health workers. The coronavirus is this century’s most urgent challenge to humanity. Harnessing a new sense of solidarity, citizens of states and cities will rise to face the enormous challenges ahead such as climate change and transforming our era of historic inequality into one of economic inclusion.

That sounds good, doesn’t it?

These futurists are dreamers, in a good way, but not all futurists are hopeful. One writes, “expect a political uprising.” Another writes, “the inequality gap will widen.” But overall, the possibilities of good improvements seem good. Let us help them come true, by remaining cheerful and resolute about what our values are, and what needs changing.


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