What Happens Next?

Despair creeps in when hope is exhausted. For so many during this long pandemic season, despair has been a constant companion after the shock of the first few weeks passed. But now, along with the seasonal change, hope is returning. For some, the financial boost coming from the COVID relief package will enable them to hang on until the economy fully recovers, and they can go back to a service economy job that pays just enough to squeak by. For many others, the opportunity to abandon the prison of their home with the onslaught of vaccination, will bring back essential socialization and family interactions. Still, it is hope that is omnipresent in this time of rebirth in nature.

As a nation, we begin to crawl out of our foxholes and survey the landscape around us. Some things should come into focus, even if they were visible prior to the pandemic. Though visible, they did not register as urgent problems in the before times. Will we have the collective will to address these problems now? We will see. The COVID relief bill has taken a first step towards solving some of these problems. But it is time-limited relief, and its provisions are for only one or two years. The problems, like child poverty, have existed for far longer. It was only during the nadir of the pandemic that we realized how interconnected we all are, and how we need to solve the problems of our brothers and sisters in need, or we will be swept under the tide of humanity crying out for aid.

We had a foretaste of what can happen when we ignore these problems for too long. Demonstrations aimed at protesting excessive use of force by law enforcement, were coopted at night by those who favored direct action and anarchy. It is important to recognize that the demonstrations were instigated by acts of violence, but the economy was also a significant factor. When people do not see hope in their lives, despair can overwhelm them and it is a small step to violence. Of course, those who saw only the violence in the streets were convinced that the source of that violence was organized, and financed by an evil cabal. Then we saw what could happen when those who decried violence, decided to perpetrate violence themselves on January 6. Certainly we all were living in a state of despair at that time.

Will we learn our lessons? Will we let the siren song of substance abuse wrap its embrace of slithering tentacles around us? Will we continue to insist upon punitive actions only as the sole treatment method available to those who succumb to its fatal attraction? Will we realize that the costs of maintaining our prison complex are vastly greater than the costs of providing real treatment? That’s just one of the problems that existed long before the pandemic, yet shows up now in greater relief.

Will we be willing to invest in improved facilities for schools? In some states, the disparity between school facilities and achievement is immoral. The zip code you live in should not be the primary determinant of your educational outcome. Yet it is in far too many states. But of course it is the greedy teachers’ unions that are seen as the source of poor student performance.

Will we continue to accept that in the service economy we now have, it is not moral to allow those who look after the most vulnerable in our population to work full time for wages that do not provide enough money to live in dignity? We’ve lost many of the jobs we had in small towns, where a manufacturer could take those who did not pursue advanced education and provide them jobs where they could support a family. We may decry the global shift of labor and capital, but it will not reverse and provide those jobs in the future. Any manufacturing that returns, will use smaller amounts of labor, and require advanced education in order to control and maintain the machines that actually perform the manufacturing. We can wail and moan about this change, or we can accept it and try to fashion our real world into one where we’d like to live.

We’ve just gone through a period where we tried to squeeze out testosterone as a grease for our economy. Witness the frantic push to grab the last bit of fossil fuels out of the public lands. Because, you see, drilling for oil is manly. And we need that image of the roughneck out there in his domestic pickup, living his life out in the frontier towns of the Dakota’s, or among the tumbleweeds of Texas, showing the best of what America has to offer. Yes, doesn’t require much education to be a roughneck. Just what we need to Make America Great Again. But the investment required to keep the oil and gas flowing through the fracking fields won’t just keep coming, since it is nigh unto impossible to make money when the output from the wells declines so precipitously. So will we turn from the allure of fossil fuel towards a cleaner future?

The Texas freeze has shown us just how vulnerable our energy infrastructure is. Will we have the will to require investment in upgrading facilities and making it possible to integrate periodic sources of energy generation (i.e., renewables) into our delivery systems? The next failure may not just be in Texas, but can be global in nature, especially if we get smacked by a coronal mass ejection from the sun. Are we willing to spend money now to protect against something that may not happen for 100 years?

All of these problems (and many more) have existed for decades if not longer. The virus has shown us that we are all living on borrowed time if we expect life to continue blissfully ignorant of the risks we run. Somehow we need to change our mindset from a heedless rush for maximum profits by corporations, to a model where some of the excess profits are recycled into system improvements that ensure continuity of service. Can such a change in mindset happen without government mandates? Texas may be our canary in that a completely deregulated environment did not ensure continuity of service to cover a once in a hundred-year weather event.

Since the 1980’s in the US, we have seen government put down as being the worst enemy of true Americans. It is past time to put that phrase into our history books, as we see what that philosophy does to a society after over 40 years of implementation. You end up with massive inequality in the economy, a bulging underclass that does not share in the overall prosperity of the nation, and facilities that all depend upon that have grown increasingly frail. It is time to change our perspective and look at what can be, and work to create that future for all of us.

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