Thursday, March 19, 2020

What are the Chances We'll Learn Anything from This?

It's fascinating to watch behaviours now that we're stuck together in limbo. In my little house, we are all perfectly healthy; we're just more together. This should be a piece of cake!

My kids shopped last Friday night, very late, and, since the stores were packed with everyone else who had the same idea, went again on Saturday. Since then I'm noticing how much we all want to just pop into the store for one more thing. We have everything here. On Monday I had to put my foot down with an offer to just get... We have ALL THE FOOD we could possibly need. And toilet paper. My kids came home with two packs, and we haven't even opened one yet. We already had toilet paper! It's just a habit that's provoking us towards the main destination of all of our walks. We have to remember we can walk to the park and to through neighbourhoods with beautiful homes. It's such a strong habit to break, though. And going to the store feels like a little piece of normal, to see familiar faces and nod to our neighbours there. I think we can make it at least until Monday.

When I was a kid, mum and dad did the shopping every Saturday morning and at no other time. I managed that for a while. When the kids were little, we sat at Harmony Lunch once a week and planned out meals, then hit the store on the way home, each of us with a knapsack full of food. It was a nice routine. But once they got older, and realized all the food options available to them, it fell apart. We want what we feel like having RIGHT NOW! We have to break that immediacy habit too. We don't need that much variety in our meals. And I'm also noticing I've apparently become addicted to junk food. Why didn't we buy more treats?!? Apparently because the cart was full of toilet paper. That is some weird psychological phenomenon! Perceived scarcity makes us want what we don't actually need. We have to rise above that. Piece of cake indeed. Mmmm... cake.

I'm hoping we all break many habits. We're seeing that we can manage without as much travel around the city, without getting every little thing we think we need all the time, and the results are breathtaking. Pollution is dramatically down and animals are coming out of hiding, and there are flippin' dolphins (literally - ETA but not really) in the crystal clean water of the canals in Venice!! It reminds me of one line in George Monbiot's Heat: "I have one last hope: that I might make people so depressed about the state of the planet that they stay in bed all day, thereby reducing their consumption of fossil fuel.” But it doesn't mean, as some suggest, that we're a virus in need of containment.

WE are not the virus. That's not the right spin. Our current methods of rampant exploitation and growth at any cost, of the march of PROGRESS despite the harm caused - that is the parasite that we need to eradicate. And it's becoming crystal clear to many how the system fosters competition against one another and against ourselves to have the most stuff for survival even when we clearly have enough. We need to slow down and measure ourselves against a marker of sustainability and equity instead of always making this quarter's profits higher than last quarter's profits. That's an unhealthy mentality that wasn't always with us, and we don't need to hang on to it. It's not helping most of us in any way. We so clearly need to change the system.

But, and I know this is necessary and all and definitely for the best, absolutely, but is anyone else a little creeped out by how easily the governments around the world have gotten us under such a strict curfew??  I'm, maybe, 80% impressed and hopeful and 20% terrified by it. How do we convince the powers that be to change everything or can we eradicate them?

We definitely need to stay away from one another, but how well will we be able to do this?? There was a study done on carriers of the Spanish flu in army battalions, some with strict orders to maintain a distance between each other, as described in this New York Times article:
"An Army study found no difference in morbidity and mortality between camps that did and did not follow orders, because over time most became sloppy. Further investigation found that only a tiny number of camps rigidly enforced measures. For interventions to work, people have to comply and they have to sustain that compliance; most of that depends on voluntary efforts and individual behavior. . . . .In 1918 many cities imposed restrictions, lifted them too soon, then reimposed them. Covid-19’s average incubation period is more than double influenza’s, so compliance may have to be sustained for months, and openings and closings may also have to be repeated. Again, if the public is going to comply over time, they will have to be led, inspired or compelled."
Truth be told, I'm kinda glad for it all because I recently gave myself one of the worst haircuts! I won't be going out for a while anyway. But even under orders, soldiers couldn't maintain their distance. We are social beings. It's hard to be stuck together, but it's also hard to be apart. We have a magic line, each in a different place, that is uncomfortable if crossed. Painful even, to some. I have one daughter in her room, with another five days to go of self-isolation from a trip to Mexico. I'm like the concierge in a 5-star hotel here, making and delivering food upon demand, and picking up the dishes and garbage from outside her room (with gloves on). She's gotten into a night owl sleeping pattern and was outraged to find out the kitchen closes at 9 pm. That might cost us a star.

And it's hard to keep cleaning. I'm wiping everything down every morning after the other kids have finished taking over the main floor for the night. It's handy that I have opposing sleeping practices as everyone else in our little house! But I wonder how long I will be so tidy. I lean toward the slovenly. It's just a matter of time before I get lazy about it, complacent. And then maybe we get sick.

The Guardian has a piece up about how this is all because we've taken over too many wild areas and we need to just leave them alone. And Gernot Wagner wrote in Project Syndicate about the similarities between our reaction to this virus and our needed reaction to climate change:
In both crises, an individual’s personal calculus may undermine the welfare of society as a whole. Healthy young people who face a significantly lower risk of dying from the coronavirus will see little reason not to continue commuting to work and putting in “face time” to advance their careers. That is why we need governments to step in proactively to change the individual calculus. . . . Fortunately, mitigating climate change doesn’t require anything close to an economic shutdown. But it does demand a fundamental rechanneling of market forces away from the current low-efficiency, high-carbon path toward a high-efficiency, low-carbon one. That will require proactive government policies, increased investment, and innovation. The results will be measured in years and decades, but they are highly dependent on what we do now.
Will we all finally recognize how easy it will be - compared to this - to slow the climate crisis??  Can we just agree that it's all possible if we can have the foresight to actually put it in place?? Do the people at the top care about the masses or are we closer to Hannah Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism explanation in which "The members of the elite did not object at all to paying a price, the destruction of civilization, for the fun of seeing how those who had been excluded unjustly in the past forced their way into it. . . . There is only one thing that seems to be discernible: we may say that radical evil has emerged in connection with a system in which all men have become equally superfluous." Is this just a game to them, to all of them?

I'm also realizing the importance of so many lessons lost (to me, anyway) over the generations, like how to grow and can food for the winter, and how to bake bread. We have lots of ingredients, flour and baking powder, but we're running out of store bought bread. We'll likely head to the store in another week for some along along with more fresh fruits and vegetables, then somehow wipe down the bags and wash them all before eating anything?? I was just going to leave the grocery bags in the mud room overnight, but apparently the virus lasts ages on surfaces. This is getting complicated.

But, LOOK! There are eviction bans and money for people in need. And people are singing and playing music on their balconies, and virtual painting nights and dance lessons and gym classes and concerts and some free online university courses. [The following is not a paid advertisement.] I tried a Yale philosophy course through Coursera. I was willing to tolerate watching a prof stand in front of a curtain, awkwardly trying to avoid looking at the camera, until I saw Sam Harris and Steven Pinker on the reading list alongside nothing pre-21st century except for Adam Smith, so I switched to a Princeton course through edX, which I'm loving! They went to town with graphics and a platform that I wish I could copy for my classes, but I don't have that kind of know-how! Every time I comment, the program congratulates me for such an insightful post. It's a built in manipulation to keep people going, clearly, but it works! So, anyway, people are rising to the challenges this offers and showing their best selves in many ways to be celebrated!

It will be so painful if we all just go back to being crappy again.

"We are stardust, we are golden, We are billion year old carbon, And we got to get ourselves back to the garden." - Joni Mitchell

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