I’ve been working on this piece for weeks now. I started and canned it twice — something I haven’t done since my rookie blogging days.
This is a difficult piece to write, not only because I know it’s going to be unpopular. But because I know a lot of people aren’t going to understand what I’m saying at all.
But it’s time to say it anyway:
This virus isn’t the crisis. It’s more like the straw that broke the camel’s back.
I feel like in the sudden chaos, everyone’s missing the headline on this one. It’s not COVID-19 that’s deadly. It’s our societal norm of living on the constant brink of catastrophe that’s deadly.
Let me explain.
The human body, the economy, and the planet beneath us all share a key characteristic: their overall health determines their ability to deal with environmental stressors. In other words: how sick they get is determined in large part by how healthy they are. With our bodies, it’s our immune system which gatekeeps our ability to stay healthy. With the economy, it boils down to the ability of everyday consumers and workers to pay their bills, perform their jobs, and keep the economic engine running. With the natural world, it’s ecosystem diversity and abundance that yields resiliency to bounce back from, say, a forest fire, or a chronic wasting disease.
If these systems are healthy, they can take a good number of hard punches and keep right on rolling. If they’re unhealthy, one bump can send them careening into death.
We are not healthy. As a people, as an economy, nor as a planet. And we have been bumped.
It’s been a really…ironic experience for me personally, to watch the fallout of the quarantine. So many of these circumstances which are now shutting down small businesses and driving individuals to file for unemployment in droves are circumstances which I myself have faced, but had zero financial assistance in doing so. Job loss? Yep. A sudden drying up of the client contracts on which my independent contractor business depends due to market shifts out of my control? Check. Sudden loss of significant household income due to the disability of a family member — and corresponding time and resources spent taking care of said compromised family member? Yes indeed. Dehabilitating illness which prevents me from interacting with society for a prolonged period of time? Well — the research in burnout is lagging far behind, so let’s just put a pin in that one and call it a solid maybe.
But there’s no filing for unemployment under a forced resignation. Nor have there been, up until just now, any state or federal unemployment assistance for independent contractors (which make up 30–40% of the workforce, btw). My partner’s employer is denying to pay his disability claim on dubious grounds, requiring a lengthy and financially dry legal battle. Our employer-based health insurance remains on tenuous grounds — but with a $10K deductible and the barest of bones plan, the difference between our “coverage” and no coverage is negligible, at best.
It feels…weird, to see everyone else freaking out over almost exactly the same set of circumstances we’ve been facing for over six months.
We feel a little bit like Bruce Willis in Die Hard.
“WELCOME TO THE PARTY, PAL!”
But it’s not just us. My bestie. My uncle. Each with their own unique set of circumstances which would shock you if I told them in their entirity, each sitting back, watching the world burn with a bemused sense of “yeah…sucks, doesn’t it?”
Then there are the untold millions of others like us, or in far, far worse states of crisis. Those dealing with crippling depression, PTSD, and/or on the brink of suicide; those who live with urban food desert-induced disease, compounded by lack of income and lack of healthcare.
How many millions of Americans live with only enough cash to cover this month’s bills? How many millions of Americans don’t HAVE enough cash to cover this month’s bills? How many millions of Americans are one hospitalization away from bankruptcy? How many millions are struggling through mental unhealth in jobs that are killing them to feed their children?
So many of us were already in crisis. Because that’s what happens to a society which chooses to value short term liquidity over sustaining life: with a standard MO of having no reserves whatsoever and running the machine to the most dangerous edge of its capacity, a large portion of society exists in a constant state of having fallen off the cliff already.
You can then, perhaps, understand why people like me look grimly upon the prospect of “things returning to normal”.
I don’t want unemployment for independent contractors to go away.
I don’t want conversations about creating a single-payer healthcare system to stall.
[Read the rest of this story at the @creativeonion network.]