Intentions for a better world

Idealised versions of a better world have been around for as long as humans have been able to write. Since receiving my ‘enrol to vote’ card at 18 where the AEC had assumed I wanted to save dolphins, until now, my understanding of the world has changed and grown in immeasurable ways.

This blog and my life have become almost solely focused on how our intentions, or lack of, affect our ability to change things in our worlds. Reading about the idea of the stranger in my course this week, the topic of civil inattention (Goffman) seemed so apt at this stage of Victoria’s continued stage four lock down due to coronavirus. Goffman argued society has coped with not knowing the never ending surge of faceless strangers by learning to not pay attention, to pretend we are not concerned with our own image and how we are constantly scrutinised or evaluated. And the result of this, argued by Bauman (1990) is a sense of moral indifference. Perhaps it is the inattention society experiences that leads many Victorians to protest and argue against our Premier’s lock down extension on the basis of freedom. The moral indifference leads to heartlessness and disregard for the needs of others (Bauman 1990, p. 70) and could explain the individualistic nature of members of society. Yet, the plan for Victoria promises to protect those most vulnerable; a less-political and more accommodating view of society than one could generally hope for from a politician.

As individuals, we can make a difference. We can show up for our neighbours, work hard to pay attention to others. Be engaged and watch out for our own moral indifference. For those who have enough, we can look out for those who don’t. We can share, we can help, we can care.

This is the end of the three – part series on the post-pandemic world. Part 1 and Part 2 are available.

Life after coronavirus

This pandemic feels as if it will never end but there is no shortage of blogs, articles and discussion about the ways the world will change post-pandemic. As is the nature of an emerging career in sociology, and my own critical mind, I am unfortunately reluctant to believe things will change, much.

One of the main positives will no doubt be the increased flexibility for those who want to work or study from home. Universities, employers and other institutions have been forced to adapt, and it was overdue. The Government’s support of telehealth for medical appointments has also been a welcome change. Although it’s not clear how this will play out post-pandemic, we can certainly assume there will be a shift change in this direction.

The impact of coronavirus on the world’s economy will see significant changes to business; many will not survive the extensive lock downs and changes to consumer accessibility. Many people have lost their jobs (over a million estimated in Australia in 2020 alone) as a result of the sweeping changes to stop the spread, and ultimately to reduce deaths. Technology changes including automation were already beginning to show how the job market may change, and there are reports of this taking effect already. The current generation who have just entered the job market will face economic losses over a lifetime compared with previous generations who have not been subject to a recession.

Many hope the pandemic will increase the sense of community, and bring people closer together. While we know people do come together in natural disasters, this pandemic affects every person on our planet, and although in the beginning there was a focus on ‘all being in this together’, the continued requirements to stay home seem to be gradually causing greater mental health concerns. As the population feels more isolated and depressed about the future, are they likely to reach out and find ways to connect with their community? Or are they more likely to avoid the entire situation and focus on short-term entertainment highs?

The increased levels of welfare from the state in the form of payments like JobSeeker and JobKeeper, and payments to businesses have shown us how a larger welfare structure may benefit the whole of the country. It’s also illustrated that it is possible. Certainly not sustainable at all levels, but it does raise a critical question about the structure of our government and whether the Universal Basic Income may be a good way to future proof economic stability when further pandemics are highly likely.

We have seen those most vulnerable be more affected by this crisis, than those with more advantages, both socially and economically. The majority of those who could ‘work from home’ were those with higher paid jobs, and fewer were stood down or made redundant. Those who were impacted greatly were those in hospitality and retail – casual and insecure work without a safety net. Of course, the transport industry have been affected in terms of air travel – with thousands stood down – but many of those were perhaps able to secure other work with extensive skills.

Many of those who were essential were in roles that were considered lower status, including delivery drivers, meat works, grocery workers, cleaners (and lots more!). These jobs have proven their essential status in a time when without them, the world would stop. Of course, those working in any type of healthcare role are possibly the most important, yet also the most likely to contract the virus. Perhaps we will learn to value all people and all jobs more equally?

The impact of travel restrictions will limit movement but it certainly has not slowed down online shopping. Despite the role globalisation has played in this pandemic, and the reduction in emissions highlighting the possibility of actually changing climate changes’ dire path for our Earth, most of us don’t seem able or willing to make behaviour changes for the greater good. In this sense, it’s fair to wonder if it would ever be possible?

So what will it look like? It’s impossible to guess, it is a question many of us will ponder, and likely a lot of academic research will take place to try to answer the question. The intersection of globalisation, neoliberal politics and economics, and the interconnected nature of humans will certainly all play a role in our future. While some reports are extremely optimistic, my own feelings are that there will be some big changes in work environments but that overall, much will remain the same.

What will the future hold?

Part one in a three part series exploring the post-pandemic world

The news cycle is rampant with stories of hope and optimism about the way Victorians have ‘come together’ during this period of harder lock downs. Questions are asked about the way the world will look post-pandemic; and the opportunities we as a wider community must embrace. But what is likely?

Is it more likely that the current neoliberal political and societal structures that render us individuals first, community second, will prevail? Neoliberalism doesn’t work because existing social inequalities in terms of wealth, and access to healthcare and education are being reproduced through government policies.

The rise of populism in politics has given way to a mindset of nationalism, whereby our country is more important than another. Whereby, our state or territory must be put first. The NT Chief Minister Michael Gunnar has confirmed the Northern Territory will have strict border closures for at least 18 months. He says his job is to put the NT first. What does this mean for Australia? This social polarisation between states is made possible by neoliberal politics which accompany a decline in trust of experts and a fear of the ‘other’. Furthermore, distrust builds from conspiracy theories which give rise to alarming ideas about how to manage the pandemic, and what it means for all of us.

The welfare system set up following the Great Depression in America which made possible welfare systems across the globe has been eroded over the past four decades. This progressive move away from providing basic needs for all represents the way society has shifted to see success as a result of hard work, with privilege and existing resources not considered as the primary drivers.

Many celebrities and members of the community claim coronavirus doesn’t discrimnate; but nothing could be further from the truth. While coronavirus will affect many people with wealth and priviledge, it is those with less access to healthcare and secure work who will be most impacted both economically and socially. Even if they avoid the virus itself, the increasing casualisation of the workforce may leave those on low incomes unable to provide for their families.

While Australia has put in place unprecedented social policies including JobKeeper and JobSeeker as well as other various supplements, they are not intended to extend beyond an initial period. The government has recently made changes to the criteria and timeline of the payments, but is it enough? Sentiment on social media from cursory research shows many people believe those breaching self-isolating orders are selfish. But without the data to know for sure, is it possible those people face not being able to pay rent, the mortgage or buy food for their families unless they go to work? Is it possible those who are most disadvantaged are seeing greater economic impacts due to the higher number of cases in their area; The Age thinks so. We know that the key hotspots in Melbourne are the most disadvantaged council areas. It isn’t difficult to understand why this is happening.

While those lucky enough to be able to work from home share their feelings about having to supervise their children who are either unable to attend childcare or doing remote, online learning, it is clear vast sects of our community have greater challenges to manage.

Panic buying of groceries peaked in the first lockdown in April 2020, but a surge of panic buying hit Melbourne and regional Victoria last week when stage four measures began. Although supermarkets report this has subsided and supplies of key items will be managed and available to all.

The widespread economic, social and political impacts raise a key question. How can we as communities be more resilient? Are communities coming together to help each other during this difficult time? Will the pandemic create a permanent shift in the social order and end neoliberalism?

The mental health impacts from this pandemic will be unimaginable, but it remains to be seen whether this will generate change, or whether the status quo will remain uncontested.

Part two will examine the way the pandemic is changing, or not, community resilience.