Monday, April 13, 2020

Our Green and Pleasant Land

I wanted to post this before, but I spent a long time trying to find the tweets that inspired it.  No luck.  This wasn't the only one I saw, but it's the only one I could find.

I've seen a number of people saying that although the pandemic is terrible and it's hard having to shelter in place, it's still wonderful to be able to spend time with their families, to go for walks and talk to their neighbors (from a safe distance of course), to walk the dog, to pasture their souls for a moment.

This is true, and it's good, but it overlooks some things.  In Jake's case, I know he's a trust-fund baby (his own term) with a secure income, working from home.  The other tweet I recall was from a probably similar person, maybe not as well-to-do but still comfortable.  So my first reaction is that their comfortable retirement is supported by essential workers - truck drivers, supermarket workers, nurses and doctors, the restaurant staff supplying their takeout orders - many of whom are working extra hours, often at risk from heavy-breathing customers who think that "social distance" means getting in their face to let them know they're praying for them.  And then there are other people who have no income and are scrambling to find gig work to feed themselves and their families, knowing that if they get sick they have no insurance.  Jake knows this, but I don't assume that those who are celebrating empty streets being "reclaimed" by wildlife know it, or care.

So there's that.  It's true, Americans have lost the leisure time that is vital to healthy human functioning, as even white-collar workers and management are expected to be on call even when they're not spending too much time at the office.  Vast numbers of other workers have lost reasonably secure eight-hour-a-day jobs with benefits and had to cobble together a living from multiple part-time gigs.  Like the fabled boiled frog, incrementally rising capitalist abuse has crept up on them, and now perhaps they are seeing what they'd lost.  But the middle-class, no less than the rich, are always nervous that the proles will have too much free time, or freedom of any kind.

Will they remember it if and when "normalcy" returns?  I don't know.  It's often said that rebellion happens not when conditions reach rock bottom but when they improve a bit and people remember that things had been better and could be again.  Our oligarchs are consolidating their power as they loot the Treasury, so I'm not optimistic.  Trump and the elites of both parties certainly have no interest in any improvement for most Americans; often their fear leaks out in their talk about re-opening the economy.  Most people do want to work, but they don't want to be worked to death, as their masters would prefer.