A Good Time: Civilization Hits the Pause Button

Think of all the times you were on hold, waiting for a response, something to take place, like a decision about a school or financial aid application, a job interview, a submission to a publication, or even a marriage proposal. Did you simply sit on your thumbs, immobilized, until some far-off entity decided your fate? You probably didn’t, simply because life presented other demands you felt obliged to meet. The same should be true now, even in these times of round-the-clock curfew in which little is demanded of us prisoners.

Concerts and plays have intermissions to let audiences stretch and converse and performers to catch their breath. Ever since the commercial was invented, radio and TV provided similar briefer but more frequent interludes to let spectators converse among themselves, grab a snack, or repair to the loo. And with CDs, DVDs and DVRs, those breaks can go on as long as one wants. Internet-based media like podcasts, Netflix and YouTube also provide that privilege. This is good, because we all know that too much media exposure can induce stress hormones and anxiety-inducing afterimages, otherwise known as Post-Traumatic Media Disorder.

With most of us under house arrest and afraid to venture much farther than the end of our block, if not driveway, cooped up with family members who hardly got along, we become obsessed with “the curve,” abatement measures, and body counts, Will we be able to return to work before our savings dwindle, if, that is, if there’s any job left? As we sit moldering in our dwellings, isn’t this a good time to take stock of the games we’ve been obliged to play and pass judgment on them? As we fret, few of these concerns demand that we actually do something.

So while we’re on pause, let’s do something. For example, with the stupid economy.

Politicians and pundits and economists chatter about when the economy will “re-open,” loathe to estimate how many businesses might wash ashore as so much flotsam to be picked over for salvage at low, low prices. Meanwhile, their idled workers and employers scream for life preservers, seemingly in shorter supply than respirators because most are being distributed to firms that should be buoyant enough to float on their own.

As whole societies hit the Pause button, isn’t this a good time—perhaps the best we’ll ever have—to consider punching Fast Forward to a rather different future instead of rewinding to the same old recent past? The reviews are in; the movie most of us have been living in wasn’t all that good and wasn’t promising to end happily, so why not throw away its script and plot one more to our satisfaction? If ever has been a more opportune moment for radical social and economic change, unless we experienced the Great Depression it certainly wasn’t in our lifetimes. While it might have come in the “Great Recession,” we blew that, so let’s atone for that sin.

What is the sum of medical emergency plus economic emergency plus climate emergency? In certain elite circles, it’s big money; a good time to cash in chips and repair to their estates to wait it out. For the more entrepreneurial greed-heads, it’s the chance of a lifetime to vacuum up deflated assets to corner the market in something. In their prurient romance with creative destruction, like characters from an Ayn Rand novel, they sit on their balconies sipping martinis and wallowing in Schadenfreude, scornful of losers (“surplus population”) being swept away in multiple maelstroms that their greed enlightened self-interest failed to prevent. Isn’t this a good time to tell them to shove it?

Not that their self-satisfaction will be reported. Instead, mass media exacerbate mass insecurity: economic chaos, insufficient preparedness, and political wrangling over bailouts, respirators, masks, and blame. Meanwhile, where are the exposés about profiteering, pollution, surveillance, and election rigging? It’s even more important to know who’s taking advantage of the emergency than whom sufferers from it, but what channel will carry such news? Maybe Al Jazeera or RT, but they’re the enemy, right? Can’t believe a word they say except goodnight.

At least there’s been strong pushback to news that big business has grabbed up a lion’s share of the money that the Small Business Administrations was supposed to hand out to small businesses, depleting its allotment in less than two weeks. More funds are on the way but the legislation doesn’t authorize SBA to make such distinctions. There’s an anti-business-as-usual Zeitgeist in the air as hosts of unheralded forces gather to confront the specters of exploitation and austerity that will emerge from the Coronavirus emergency stronger than ever should nothing be done to stop them. Primarily pushing back are the same forces that have fought throughout living memory for workers and civil rights, economic justice, environmental protection, and gender equality. Leading the charge are unions, folks who brought you the forty-hour week and thus the weekend. As The Forge puts it:

“Union members are recognizing their dual roles as both workers and key leaders in their communities. In a changing and stratified economy, we are expanding collective bargaining to address the challenges we face as workers, neighbors, and families. Labor and community organizations are collaborating to advance unified demands that are relevant to both workers and the broader community. This way of coming together is called Bargaining for the Common Good (BCG). “

BCG, a coalition of unions, community groups, racial justice organizations and student organizations, provides resources to help impacted communities come together “to demand that corporations and the wealthy pay their fair share so that our communities have what they need to prosper.” As recounted in The Forge by Maurice Weeks and Liz Perlman, their strategy and tactics forced the University of California to knuckle under; backed by local communities, AFSCME union local 3299 bargained hard and went out on strike seven times.

“After a 3-year campaign steeped deeply in Bargaining for the Common Good, UC executives finally relented to the Union’s core demands, including a general prohibition against outsourcing; additional immigrant rights protections; a commitment to advance hiring and training opportunities for underrepresented communities, including formerly incarcerated workers; no cuts to members’ retirement security; and a minimum wage of $20 per hour by 2024. This landmark contract will have ripple effects throughout California for years to come.”

There’s evidence that collective efforts to achieve intersectional solidarity are working. Bargaining for the Common Good is spreading along with Coronavirus:

“We need to do everything possible to deal with COVID-19’s immediate impact on our communities, workplaces, and jobs. Initial common good demands from the United Teachers of Los Angeles, the Chicago Teachers Union and their allies and the Massachusetts Teachers Association and Boston Teachers’ Union to stop evictions and foreclosures, provide sick pay and cease all detentions and deportations by ICE, combined with militant action like the home occupations in California, are demonstrating we can win victories at a state and local level that can push changes at a federal level. Local unions and community organizations continue to release common good platforms responding to the crisis.”

As the Trump regime falters, botching testing and immunization research as it panders to pharma and misdirects FEMA’s relief efforts, state and local governments are taking up much of the slack, though too late to avoid major outbreaks. They are mobilizing what resources they have and some they didn’t know they had to make communities safer, address food and shelter insecurity, help small businesses, and support educators and health care workers, enlisting courageous volunteers, many of whom will remain agents of change once the emergency simmers down.

As all this demonstrates, right now, as we hunker and idle, our lives on pause, is the perfect time to collectively fast forward to a post-apocalyptic future that’s a garden instead of a wasteland and a civilization worthy of the name.

Geoff Dutton is a reformed geek turned columnist, novelist, and publisher hailing from Boston who writes about whatever distortions of reality strike his fancy. Turkey Shoot, his novel interrogating the lives and times of members of a cell of terrorists in Europe, recently received an award for Courage in Fiction. You can find more of his writing here and at Progressive Pilgrim Review. He welcomes correspondence at geoff-at-perfidy-dot-press.