Easter Monday, 2020, the air is swirling with tiny droplets of coronavirus while the airwaves are overflowing with talk of ‘opening the economy’ in an attempt to ‘return to normal’.
The range of issues facing a global population, now intrinsically and permanently linked to the people living in small towns, cities, farms, hamlets and on the mountains and in the valleys….all of us “governed” by various layers of governance is so wide, so publicly acknowledged, so ubiquitously discussed, researched, debated and perhaps even competed over that one has to wonder if we will not trip over ourselves, literally and metaphorically, on our way out of this dark tunnel.
Testing, both for those who are infected, (as well as those asymptomatic, given that those people can also spread the virus), and for the antibodies of those who have suffered and endured the disease, is high on the agenda of most jurisdictions. The provision of protective medical equipment, as well as the capacity to pinch-hit for the hundreds of thousands of already exhausted, emotionally depleted and trauma-saturated doctors, nurses, respirologists, paramedics, morticians, and even law enforcement and fire fighters continues to linger as a pressing issue for many. Researchers are busily testing for therapeutics, as well as vaccines, while corporations and even entrepreneurs are turning their systems and their hands, respectively, to production of needed products.
Whether the ‘opening’ of the economy of nations will generate an economic upturn or boom, depending on the depth of “rose-coloured” glasses a leader is wearing, remains an open question. Some, like Niall Ferguson in the Globe and Mail, wonder who might be the next John Maynard Keyes, authoring the insightful, prophetic and eminently deployable treatise on how to bring the economy back, if at all, similar to Keyes’ contribution after the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. Ferguson, himself, is not betting on a quick ‘resurrection’ of the global economy.
The question of the transparency of the information flow in organizations, and more importantly at government levels and the authenticity of that information, continues to haunt the radars of individuals and media outlets around the world. And whether one considers it as top of the iceberg, or the underground currents, the question of whether and how the world will come together, or split apart, in reaction/response to the current pandemic remains open, if critical for all of us.
Gordon Brown former Labour Prime Minister of Great Britain has come forward with an articulated plea for “world leaders to create a temporary form of global government to tackle the twin medical and economic crises caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The former Labour Prime Minister, who was at the centre of the international efforts to tackle the impact of the near meltdown of the banks in 2008, said there was a need for a taskforce involving world leaders, health experts and the heads of the international organizations that would have executive powers to coordinate the response….Brown said his proposed global task force would fight the crisis on two fronts. There would need to be a coordinated effort to find a vaccine, and to organizes production purchasing and prevent profiteering.”(By Larry Elliott, The Guardian, March 26, 2020)
And lest we each become buried in the details of suffering and death in our own countries, Simon Tisdall, writing also in the Guardian, April 11, 2020, writes this:
Oxfam says more than half a billion people may be pushed into poverty by the economic fallout. Global poverty reduction could be set back 30 years. Food companies, farmers and civil society groups are pointing to a rising tide of hunger unless food supply chains are maintained and borders kept open to trade. Coordinated action by government is necessary ‘to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic turning into a global food and humanitarian crisis,’ they say. Already creaking health systems in countries across sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia face collapse. “COVID-19 is poised to tear through poor, displaced and conflict-affected communities around the world,” Samantha Power, a former US ambassador who helped build a coalition to combat the Ebola epidemic in 2014, warned last week. ‘Three billion people are unable to wash their hands at home, making it impossible to follow sanitation protocols,’ she wrote. ‘Because clinics in these communities have few or no gloves, masks, coronavirus tests, ventilators or ability to isolate patients, the contagion will be exponentially more lethal than in developed countries.’
David Millband’s International Rescue Committee says it is a double emergency. First there is the direct impact ‘on unprepared health systems and populations with pre-existing vulnerabilities. Then there is the secondary havoc that will be caused to fragile states’ economies and political systems….
As the pandemic rages, the absence or failure of international leadership, waxes both chronic and scandalous. Obstructed by self-serving disagreements between the U.S> and China, the UN Security Council -meeting in virtual session- discussed the pandemic for the first time last week, more than three months after it erupted. ‘The pandemic poses a significant threat to the maintenance of international peace and security, potentially leading to an increase in social unrest and violence,’(UN Secretary General Antonio) Guterres declared. Yet despite his pleas, and notwithstanding 103,500 deaths and 1.7 million infections worldwide as of Saturday, no action was taken.”
And then, if these utterances are not enough to bring indigestion to your most recent meal, let’s hear again from Sarah Kendzior, writing in the Globe and Mail, today about the link between the biological virus and the political virus in the U.S.:
“The coronavirus pandemic is not only a public health crisis, but a political one. Its origin might be natural, but its spread and exploitation are not. The virus emerged in a world of rapidly consolidation autocracies: The Unite States, Britain, Russia, Israel, Hungary, Brazil—and that is not a comprehensive list. The leaders of these countries seem apathetic as to whether their citizens die. In Russia, oligarchs are hoarding ventilators. In Israel and Hungary, corrupt leaders use th virus as an opportunity to consolidate power. In Brazil, the President proclaimed, ‘We’ll all die one day,’ and let the virus spread. In Britain, the Prime Minister encouraged ‘herd immunity’—and then found himself in the ICU with coronavirus. Now the country is shut down. ..
Has there ever been a time in world history where so many people are this vulnerable and are ruled by so many sadistic elites? Perhaps, but the toll of their malice was never so well-documented. Separated by social distancing, our sense of community comes through our cellphones-the deep grief of a mounting death toll, livestreamed minute by minute. It’s hard to look at, but it’s harder to look away.
In this era where few officials express the most basic empathy, you feel a desire to bear witness: to acknowledge every life, every loss, as profound. You do not want anyone to feel abandoned, because abandonment is how we got here. Those ins charge abandoned accountability, and then they abandoned the truth.” (Sarah Kendzior is co-host of the podcast, Gaslit Nation, and is the author of a new book, Hiding in Plain Sight.)
The obvious canyon of hope that clearly exists between Gordon Brown and Sarah Kendzior will have to be bridged by someone or some agency like the United Nations. And while each of us, wherever we live, are witnessing this epic “Greek” tragedy, we will have to wrestle with our own expectations, as well as how hard we are prepared to work, engage, collaborate, and even agitate, for a global, co-ordinated, collaborative approach, not only to the pandemic but also to the ensuring and ensnared existential threat of global warming and climate change. If Gordon Brown and his colleagues are able to persuade enough world leaders to join in his proposed coalition, and demonstrate the efficacy and indeed the necessity of successful co-operation, through a common vaccine, for example, and for assured trade pathways, (regulations, seaways, air-ways, tariffs, and fair pricing) then, and only then, might it be possible for some of us minor sceptics to open our nervous minds, eyes and hearts to a potential for enhanced global co-operation.
Optimists, however, seem not to be in the ascendancy, at least on the macro-perspectives. While in the micro-management or daily/hourly needs, we are witnessing enhanced collaboration among Canadian provinces, and U.S. states, for example Alberta has just offered to fly sizeable contributions of protective gear to Ontario, Quebec and to British Columbia. Their economic plight, given the price of oil and the hold on production, will offer gaping and grievous opportunities for reciprocity, and in the not-so-distant future.
As a Canadian, growing more confident and even somewhat proud of the performance of our federal government, given its apparent capacity to engage with opposition parties, in pursuit of common goals of support of both individuals and businesses, in this stay-at-home/shut-down time, would it be too much to envision a place and a time when, for example, Prime Minister Trudeau and his Deputy Chrystia Freeland, renowned for having negotiated a new trade deal with the trump administration, could convene a convention of world powers including the Security Council of the United Nations, the G-20 and G-7, with Gordon Brown’s agenda, and his leadership, as a potential pathway to bringing some healing to the health, the economic, the environmental and the political threats we all face.
“Oh, but of course, that is far too much to dream for. You are far too intense for me! You expect far too much for anyone to be able or willing to offer or even consider! And there are far too many reasons why your “personality” is and always will be a serious impediment to such a utopian vision.”….I already hear the voices of those, with faces and names in my own life, and clearly exemplified by the narcissistic and opportunistic cynics and the oligarchs who trampled over the figures of dead people hourly in pursuit of their personal aggrandizement. Saying, “No!” and isolating those whose personalities, and whose politically refined behaviours are so off-putting to the establishments, has been and continues to be permanent mind-and political roadblocks whenever and wherever serious and worthy projects are necessary.
And one of the prime pathways of arguing for their modesty and their secretive exclusion and rejection and abandonment, both of specific individuals as well as of too ambitious proposals, is to argue “We can’t do that much, because it is too costly, or too difficult, or too complex or too new and different!”
Stability, long considered the sine qua non of Christianity, as well as of the political establishment, (translated into preservation of private personal agendas to power) is now no longer available to anyone. The very ground of the planet has shaken, and that includes the political establishment, the economic elite’s hold on power, the oligarchs’ tightly-clenched fist on both their portfolios and their acolytes, and the duly elected representatives in so-called developed democracies….every one of our leaders faces a new kind of world. And the degree to which each of them is open to acknowledging both the new threats and the new opportunities, and faces them in a collaborative manner, will determine which of them survives, as well as which of their populations will have a better chance of emerging into the new day we have all helped to generate.
Our future is literally and metaphorically, in our own hands, not only by complying with staying home, and by significant acts of generosity, kindness, compassion and care for those most threatened immediately, but also by agitating for a very different kind of world to replace the one we are watching sink into the ocean of our hopes and dreams.