I recently received an email from my Editor at The Prisma, expressing surprise that I have been able to write so many times about Covid-19 during 2020, without being “boring”!
I’m not sure if it was a compliment, or just a comment. But, like many people, I’ve found myself thinking of little else this year.
After all, Covid is the crisis of our time, the first worldwide pandemic – although probably not the last. So what else should we be thinking about these days?
But besides thinking about Covid, there is also thinking about ‘thinking-about-Covid’ itself.
Besides the ‘what?’, of what we’re thinking, there are the ‘Why?’, and the ‘How?’
That requires the deeper work of philosophy; and not only the task of Anglo-Saxon analytical philosophy: examining the meaning of words – however important that may be.
We also owe a debt to Continental philosophy, refection on ‘meaning’ itself – that is, hermeneutics. What does Covid ‘mean’, what does it signify, for society, our civilisation?
To chart the significance of Covid for our culture, we have only to look at this year’s “Word of the Year”, chosen by the Oxford English Dictionary.
For in 2020, there are sixteen words – including furlough, staycation, and coronavirus itself – with Covid as a brand new word.
This pace of change, demanding rapid adaptation from all of us, reminds me of David Bowie’s song Changes.
In terms of city analysis, the so-called New Urbanism, Covid turned standing assumptions on their heads. London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, for example, is now worried the city will be hollowed out.
As people stay away from the centre, stores and service sector businesses are suffering. These workers, operating remotely from home, could inadvertently create new suburban hubs.
Offices and the cafés which serve them could relocate to a UK equivalent of the US ‘Edgecities’, and ruin London’ unique economy.
Such population shifts, remind me of school geography lessons about ‘human settlement patterns’.
How will we predict which outer-towns will become these nodes of fresh hipster migration?
The crisis has also simultaneously exposed and exacerbated inequalities, nationally and internationally.
For instance, the Oxford Astrazeneca vaccine, hailed as a great ‘British’ breakthrough, took only ten months to develop.
This shows that if we dedicated the time, energy and resources (aka money!), we could cure many serious diseases. But we, our governments, choose not to do so. Largely, one suspects, because these illnesses exist in poor(er) countries, so there is less profit to be made.
More usually, researchers have to apply and re-apply for grants to fund their work, whereas governments have thrown money at this one.
Compare the fact that the Chicken Pox vaccine took fifteen years to develop. It is a choice, which proves that Capitalism, as a system, is not efficient at meeting basic human needs.
During a crisis (as in the World Wars), only a command economy (if not full-throated Socialism) is able to muster the resources to solve these problems. We need a change.
Turn and face the strange