I remember quite clearly the day I learned suddenly of the destruction taking place on 9/11. I was teaching my preschool class, completely unaware of events, when a mother came in to sign out her child. “We are under attack,” she said. “They’re bombing the Pentagon.” At first, I found it hard to believe what she was saying. The day seemed perfectly normal to me. Then, more parents came in to take their children home, and the director of the school confirmed the reports from what she had heard on the radio. To say that the information was a shock is an understatement. Who could be attacking America, and further, doing it successfully? Neither I nor anyone else knew what would come next.
Something was lost that day – even more than the vast loss of life that caused immense suffering to so many people. America lost her feeling of innocence, of being invulnerable to being hurt. We were now as able as anyone else to undergo trauma. We were no longer “on top”, unassailable, deferred to. The loss angered most people. It also changed our society forever. The effects of those changes are now a part of our lives.
A score of years later, we are currently amidst another crisis, one of a different nature, but equal intensity. From this crisis, too, many lives are being lost, and the nature of our nation is again changing. The media are full of fear messages and instructions about how to cope. People are asked to distance themselves physically from each other (especially no gatherings), and are, for the most part, cooperating with that. Those of us who are not technologically savvy are either being left out or undergoing a steep learning curve. Elders are being left to die alone, without loved ones in attendance. People are losing jobs and income, and real solutions to that still have to emerge. Other serious issues, such as climate change and elections, are on the back burner. The increase in national debt to finance the very basic promised government help will create added stress on an already globally weakened dollar. Everything seems to be falling apart, and no one seems to be able to put Humpty Dumpty together again.
All of which leave me wondering. To what advantage to whom if anyone is an absence of people gathering together and of most interactions being done online? Perhaps someone knows that answer. What will happen to the poor and the disadvantaged? How will our economy and business activity evolve, assuming they recover? What will be the changes to our governing structure?
The silver lining is that if we are aware and active, we have the chance to shape from chaos the organization that will emerge. We have choices. Certainly, we can sit back and wait, counting on others to take care of us and make our lives something we are happy to be experiencing. We can also sit back and wait on the flip side of that, assuming that nothing needs be done because what is happening is needed; the loss of population and the collapse of institutions are good signs and whatever happens need not concern us now. We can also start to envision what we would like to emerge, and to comprehend the steps we would need to take to get from here to there. The one thing we cannot do, unless we wish to engage in a fairy tale, is to presume that after a few months everything will resume as it had been, and nothing much will change.
Perhaps we will continue to live as a people mostly living and working online. That would be a change appreciated by some, while others will grieve the loss of being able to shop in a store instead of shopping online. Perhaps the weak response of the Federal government, which has led to piecemeal approaches by each state as states attempt to take control of coronavirus action within their boundaries, will result in a confederation of states, rather than a central government – much as the structure of the UN. Perhaps the rebound from social isolation will be that people meet and talk in person more than we did before. Perhaps a heyday of machine mediated living will emerge, and we will be welcomed by self-driving cars, robot companions and helpers, and enhanced AI – we would need to do little or nothing. Perhaps new ways of doing business and meeting our needs will emerge as the dollar continues to weaken to the point of collapse (there have already been predictions of that, before the coronavirus). We do not exactly know what will emerge, but whatever emerges will be what we wish and design, or what someone else wishes and designs, according to the extent of our involvement or inactivity.
I have received over my email several theories and predictions about the economy and about what we should do as a result. One group is convinced that the currency of the future will be digital, and that the wise thing to do is to learn about and invest in currencies such as Bitcoin. Other people are more traditional; their take is that he or she who has the most gold will control the future, and that gold will again be the medium of exchange, at least until a seriously gold-backed new currency can evolve. Not many are of my leaning, that what is most valuable is arable land and as many cooperating people as needed to tend it sustainably. Food and shelter are basic needs. One cannot eat gold, or Bitcoin either, for that matter. (I am ignoring the theory of chaos populated by armed bandits that pits us against each other, individually and in groups.) If I can, I will acquire such land, individually or in a group, however I can. That is a large goal. A smaller aim, one which most of us can do, is to learn how to garden, to grow our own food, and to learn the use of herbal medicines. Some are also able to learn to lead in organizing our neighborhoods into cooperating groups. It used to be that way – my mother told tales of growing up in such a neighborhood. What we have forgotten, we can remember, and bring forth anew in a shape to fit our times.
It is admirable that people are responding positively to the current enforced distancing by singing from balconies, smiling and greeting each other from a distance, posting pictures in windows, and checking digitally more often on friends and family. It is good to continually hear from the media (among more dire predictions) that we will all come through this. These are blessings to be absorbed now, comforts that enable us to handle the sudden changes and the contra-intuitive way of being, apart from each other. They are superb in the short term, but not enough to carry us through the long term. We also need to begin now to ponder the changes, the questions the changes engender, the direction in which current patterns are leading us (for example, I hear little about ameliorating climate change, which is also upon us), the directions in which we would like to go to achieve goals which we want, and the steps we need to take to get there. We need to start talking about those things. We need to be aware, and to take responsibility for creating that which emerges from this chaos. We can no longer afford to be a nation of children, looking to others to solve the problems and take care of us. In that way, we lose our power and our humanity.
Amid all that swirls around us, let us take the time and devote the energy to thinking about the questions which have arisen and to discuss them with others – both those who agree and who disagree. Let us envision a future we want and ponder how to make the transition from here, now and in the near future, to that desired outcome. Let us take the responsibility to create our systems, our futures, our lives. It is certainly possible to do that.