Friday on my mind – The wonderful human condition

By Michael Barker

A regular column about things (mostly) Fremantle

You really do have to love we humans.
We may wallow for a bit, but then we, most of us, get rolling, get on the move, on the bike, pick up our kit and push on. ‘The show must go on’, even if there is a pandemic in the house.
Like everyone else, I’m sure, I’ve been through a number of stages of reaction to covid. (I’ve just decided I will henceforth refer to it as ‘covid’, with a lower case ‘c’, and without any ’-19’, on the basis that although it’s here to stay for the foreseeable future, a real part of me no longer wants to be utterly paralysed in the here and now, as I have been, by something called Covid, let alone COVID-19.)
During my first stage of reaction, I was in a state of disbelief that this virus, like an unstoppable tsunami (is that a tautology?), could possibly overwhelm the World’s health systems and economies, just like that. Every time I see an article reminding us of the timeline of major events, since from even just a month ago, my mind boggles. The old Fairfax now Nine news providers (SMH et al – a bit of Latin there for the scholars) have a wonderful graphic on their web pages that plays out like the video of a horse race at Flemington, where a China and Italy are way out in front, early, on their own, and then, like Steven Bradbury (Sorry, Steven, to have to mention it yet again, but you did win that great race!), the US comes through, late, racing past the collapsing, early leaders and winning the Covid Stakes in a canter.
Then, in my second stage, I engaged with the stats. I had time of course, I was largely at home. It became my major project. I listened intently to the epidemiologists and read most of what the leading scientists had to say. My facetime on the iPad soared. I couldn’t understand how people anywhere, especially leaders in the ‘free world’, wouldn’t urgently be putting in place stringent controls to stem, and then severely limit, the opportunities for spread of the infection. A disregard for science, with which I’d become familiar in the long running climate debate, still seemed to be afoot in the community. The fact that, most recently, Italy and Italians were being crushed and decimated in front of our very TV eyes, after the China disaster, seemed not to convince or bother sufficient of our leaders worldwide to think we all needed to act quickly. Italy? Not us. Italians? What would you expect? Never been much good at anything since the Roman Empire declined and then fell.
Next, my third stage of reaction when I stood in a state of steady applause, and admiration. Our Australian leaders, from the PM, Scott Morrison, to each of our State and Territory leaders, including our own Mark McGowan here in The West (soon to be renamed The Republic of East Asia when we realign with our key trading partner, China), took up the cudgels. The national cabinet was formed, reportedly at the PM’s initiative. Going quickly and hard with quarantine rules and financial stimuluses (or is that ‘stimuli’?) was the agreed strategy. No time for politics. Time for unity. A ‘war’ footing. The ‘messaging’ from our leaders was good. Very good, even if you’re not a(n) historical fan of any of them. And still is. I tip my hat to each of them.
Right through these three stages, personally, I felt quite ill, well, more troubled and overwhelmed, and stressed. When things started to hit Australia hard, I worried incessantly, and still do, about the huge numbers losing their jobs, their businesses, their livelihoods. And about the worry and strife that can flow from such things. And that we couldn’t see our grandchildren – and kids – as we usually did. (Facetime is good, but not the same.) Fortunately, our leaders in the governmental world and in civil society in Australia all got this feeling too. And responded so incredibly well. I’m now feeling less stressed. But still worried. No longer overwhelmed. I hope.
I think I put down part of my recovery to a simple acceptance that this is the way things are just now. A serious situation that requires constant attention. Acceptance comes with the realisation that we will be in these covid times for some time to come. It won’t be over by Easter, or for that matter even in a couple months. And there’s nothing much, in the grand scheme of things, we can do about it, other than what we are doing. The PM keeps reminding us it may be at least six months. But we will see it over.
That said, another part of me can’t believe that we could actually keep up the sort of isolation practices we are now getting used to, for two months let alone six. But my further recovery strategy is to remind myself that things move quickly in these covid times, very quickly, and that one needs to be ready to adapt quickly to changed or changing circumstances. At some point we are going to have to leave the relative security of our homes and reengage with our old lives, or some new manifestation of them. We may not be fully prepared for that. It may not be as easy as we think.
Where I am right now though, is wondering about, theorising about what the New World, post-covid, might and should look like. What we need to prepare for.
Plainly things will not be the same again – politics, the management of economies, health systems, communities, you name it. But what isn’t entirely clear to me, yet, is how things might or should change. For some, long-cherished dreams of an idealised better world are near realisation. Nirvana is just around the corner. But not everyone shares the same dream. Not everyone has the same Nirvana.
One thing for sure – although every time I’ve made a pronouncement like this it rarely, if ever, comes true – the cruise-line industry is in for radical change. There, I’ve said it. The cruise industry can now relax!
For me, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has posed the challenge facing us collectively, in this regard, as clearly as any. In an opinion piece in The Guardian last week he wrote –
‘We simply cannot return to where we were before Covid-19 struck, with societies unnecessarily vulnerable to crisis. The pandemic has reminded us, in the starkest way possible, of the price we pay for weaknesses in health systems, social protections and public services. It has underscored and exacerbated inequalities, above all gender inequity, laying bare the way in which the formal economy has been sustained on the back of invisible and unpaid care labour. It has highlighted ongoing human rights challenges, including stigma and violence against women.
‘Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build more inclusive and sustainable economies and societies that are more resilient in the face of pandemics, climate change and other global challenges. The recovery must lead to a different economy. Our roadmap remains the 2030 agenda and sustainable development goals.’
That leaves plenty of room for debate, of course, about how to follow the roadmap, in terms of the economic and political strategies that may be available to us; but the goal of establishing a ‘different economy’ surely must be right?
Anyway, for me, the latest stage of my reaction to covid involves seriously contemplating this question. I sense I’m not alone.
I think one can also safely say that this is going to be the same question our children, their children, and their’s soon enough to come, will also be grappling with after long after we, of the covid-vulnerable generation, have, in the inimitable words of the Bard, ‘shuffled off this mortal coil’.
This is why I admire our species, and the wonderful human condition : we start to pick up, and get on with questioning things, after a disaster as soon as we reasonably can, despite the carnage all around us.
Well, on that bleak/uplifting note, keep safe!
See you (so to speak) soon …