We always thought a crisis would bring us together. A crisis is supposed to be a turning point. We’re supposed to come out of it knowing something about ourselves we didn’t know before. That’s how it’s supposed to work. That’s what the word crisis means. At the point I’m writing this, the world is hanging on the edge between being normal and being broken.
How you define those two states depends on you, obviously. We can’t stop the coronavirus now. But so much depends now on how you respond: How much do you care for others and how much do you hoard hand sanitizer? Which is the same as asking: How much do you want to keep society together and how much do you want to watch it fall apart? And which way you lean depends a lot on which way you lean when everything is normal: Do you believe in this society, this system of government, or don’t you? One reason why this situation feels so terrifying is because in the last few years, it feels like more and more people would actually just like to let society burn.
The virus itself hasn’t done this to us, but the dread has: People aren’t panic-buying toilet paper because toilet paper factories have shut down. People are panic-buying toilet paper partly because they’ve seen pictures of other people doing it, but mainly because toilet paper is the most physical symptom of our privilege. We live in a society that has never had to deal with its own shit. Wipe and flush, all gone. That’s an elemental privilege we need to hang on to.
But good things are happening too, things that suggest that we can work it out after all. Italians are singing together from balconies. Greeks and Spaniards are breaking out in mass rounds of applause for medical workers. French companies are making hand-sanitizer for free. And the German pharmaceutical company CureVac has, at least as I’m writing this, turned down Donald Trump’s offer to buy exclusive vaccine rights. If we can make a pharmaceutical company have a conscience, we can do anything!
Either we’ll make it or we won’t. But either way, sadly, no political debate will be resolved by the coronavirus. There is no crisis deep enough that will make people change their minds. AfD voters will still blame immigrants and Angela Merkel and “globalists” for letting this happen. And left-wing people will still blame the lack of healthcare infrastructure, capitalism, and inequality.
In the same way, this crisis won’t bring down Donald Trump. Trump supporters aren’t suddenly having a brainwave because the US is hardly testing anyone and there’s no way you’re not going to work to infect people if you have no health insurance. Instead, they’re sweeping the shelves of ammunition in case of a lockdown.
For what it’s worth, I think this crisis is a good argument not only for universal healthcare, but also for a basic income, because needing money forces people to go outside and infect other people. But then I would think that, because I thought those things before anyway.