Reflections on a reckoning
NOTE: This was written on April 11, 2020, but published a year later, after I realized it was sitting in drafts.
By now, it’s cliche to say how much the novel coronavirus has upended the world. And yet, I’ve read so little about the obvious irony — that it’s named -19, rather than -20, the year we live in.
2020. That magical year. So numerically patterned. The year of so many goals. Or for those more superstitiously inclined, an 11:11 moment. Make a wish.
Ironically, the last time such a year happened was 1919. A year before the 1918 Spanish Flu.
And like fate, here we are in 2020, paying attention to a virus named after the year prior.
Coincidence aside, this isn’t about the past or lessons learned from the Spanish Flu. Rather, we should look at COVID-19 as a breaking point. One set forth at the end of 2019 to bring forward a reckoning.
A reckoning that culminated in 2020, but that began in 2019. A reckoning we’ve been building up to for years.
Economics: Forgotten as an experiment
The year was 1988, and I was in fourth grade. Kodak had sponsored a photo exchange between my public school and another school in Russia. Our teacher told us we would be among the first in the United States to connect with Russian school kids.
Kids just like us. An experience not lost on me as I shoveled through college years of political science, history and literature.
As we school children got to work documenting our lives through Polaroids, the plug was suddenly pulled. “The government,” my teacher said, “was changing.”
Fast forward a year or so, and my grandparents, who survived the Great Depression and fought in World War II, happened to be in Berlin as the wall came down. They brought home spray painted concrete for my brother and me, and tried to explain, but it took many MTV music videos before I connected it with the Russian school kids.
This is the history I grew up in. And I think about this timeline every time I hear someone say the Cold War proved capitalism is stronger than communism or socialism or any other worldly ways of thinking.
That, and George Bush the First’s eerie voice over in Ministry’s N.W.O.
Fast forward more than a decade, and I’m sitting in a restaurant with my grandmother, who parented through my mother’s 60s miniskirts and my aunt’s 70s psychedelic midnight phone calls. I’m discussing my college campus’s reactions to September 11, her piercing blue eyes breaking as my privileged, over-educated self is rhetorically asking why other countries wouldn’t hate us.
The arrogance of youth.
She died suddenly weeks later, and it’s a guilt-ridden conversation I’ll never forget. But as I carry it, I can’t help but think about whether she would see the distance between now and the society that sculpted her patriotic worldview.
Consider what’s happened since Bush I proclaimed a “New World Order:”
- Income inequality expands: Between 2000–2018, average household income rate grew at an increase of 0.3%, marred by two recessions — one, arguably the result of technology, the other … let’s just attribute to borrowing and “financial leverage.” Meanwhile, the share of middle-class households has shifted from 61% in 1971 to 51% in 2019, while the top 5% of households continues to grow.(Pew Research, Jan 2020)
- The cost for education continues to grow. Every election year, the media is abound with stories of how college, that signal of upward mobility, is becoming more expensive. The College Board estimates average tuition and fees between 1989 and 2019 tripled at public four-year colleges and universities. Yet the future is even more dire for early childhood education. As household incomes stagnate, parents spend an estimated $42 billion annually on early childhood education and care, after public funding is applied. School at all ages gives our children the knowledge, skills and experiences needed to a contribute to society, but as expenses mount and coalesce with the passage of time, one has little time to wonder whether that time was money well spent.
- Racial disparities become more obvious.
- public health
These may seem like talking points to an ulterior agenda, but we cannot dismiss the fact: A virus is a creation of the natural world. It passes no judgement.
As debates over inequality, societal morale and the longevity of mankind wage, the U.S., leaders of the free world, are now faced with a test of nature unlike any before. And as we lead the world in the number of cases and deaths, I have to wonder: Are we really any better off when faced with a virus that knows no race, no state nor economic bounds?
It started with automation/A paradigm shift
To answer that question, I believe we must imagine a future we may have been avoiding.
A future painted so skeptically in science fiction because society has not been equipped to address the moral and ethical implications.
Until an event like COVID-19.
- 70s robotics
- Today’s robotics
Technology has always been there. Political, generational and educational complexities have delayed its adoption, but COVID-19 has forced open a Pandora’s Box of capabilities that will be hard to pull back on in its aftermath.
We must use this time in isolation and uncertainty to consider how the world’s industries come together with the world’s social infrastructures to create an even playing field that makes the best use of human potential for of the benefit of mankind. History has shown that capitalism wins, but will it continue winning politically, if the world’s masses are left out of opportunity?
Emblazoned by communication
Social media feeds, our escape, are alive with dolphins swimming waters not seen in 100 years, clean air in regions combating economic growth with healthy air quality,
How do we want to prepare our children
It takes a global pause
… a resurrection , if you will, so appropriate on this Easter eve.