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  • Frederic Lowen

There are Silver Linings...

It is safe to say the 2020 Pandemic is a most remarkable event. Fear has put the world economy into an induced coma, introducing unprecedented widespread insecurity for individuals and society. From my perspective as an American I wish to share my hopes and dream for people everywhere to gain some benefit from this tragic event.

I believe this coronavirus pandemic will dwarf the effects of the 2008 Financial Collapse, the 2001 9/11 attacks in the US, and may potentially be more transformative than even the Great Depression. We are witness to, and actors in potentially the most significant global event since the Second World War. In times of profound uncertainty, only change is certain. We need to be conscious of what may be life-positive change, and what may be change for the worse. Either is possible, and we are likely to experience one or the other, albeit as a mix. 

The film clip, Letter From the Virus, movingly suggests the coronavirus is our ally in transformation away from an unsustainable and toxic way of life. I learned from my father Alexander Lowen M.D. that a cold is nature's way to help one ‘slow down’ and come back to oneself after 'running faster than one's guardian angel can fly.' In some mysterious way, beyond our understanding, this coronavirus may be serving that same function. Forcing change, it has the potential to be transformative. If nothing else, it spotlights the inadequacy and lack of resilience of our modern sociopolitical economic structure. The pandemic exposes many politicians who promote such structures as self-interested and self-enriching, dishonest, incompetent, and negligent fake leaders.

Interestingly the women leaders seem to achieve disproportionately favorable outcomes in their programs fighting the pandemic. While some male leaders have also done well, few female leaders have done badly. We wish to recognize Erna Solberg of Norway; Angela Merkel of Germany; Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand; Mette Frederiksen of Denmark; Tsai Ing-wen of Taiwan; and Silveria Jacobs of Sint Maarten. I envy those folks who feel good about their government. I have not had that feeling for over 50 years!

There are silver linings. We know too well the horrific effects of the pandemic: death and disease, economic disruption and hardship, and misery. It is a terrible price for which we should gain something meaningful and beneficial. We need to learn from it and act.

The air is more clear and sweeter, visibly in many places. The most obvious and immediate benefit from the pandemic is environmental. It is a horrible fact that the global economy is dependent on ever-increasing toxic fossil fuel use, despite the ready availability of vastly superior, cleaner, economical, and sustainable alternatives; the use of which is suppressed and slowed by the fake leaders around the world.

A symbiotic relationship exists between self-interested politicians and money-grabbing industry leaders. Power-mad and money-hungry politicians offer favors to toxic and/or monopolistic industries that need and seek controllable politicians as 'friends' in high places. For the fossil fuel industry politicians provide favorable legislation, regulation, and taxpayer subsidy while obstructing free market competitive forces that favor non-toxic energy use and generation.

Fear of the pandemic has resulted in a one third reduction of fossil fuel use as economic activity is curtailed. Demand destruction has caused a historic bust in fossil fuel pricing, and oil companies are going bankrupt, Wall Street loses, and oil and gas wells are closed hopefully forever, despite the US government's massive wrong-headed financial support.

Massive governmental financial support of large corporations and financial institutions continues with Covid-19 as the perfect excuse to shower the Wall Street crowd with money, ensuring return favors from them into the future. It is ironic that the multi-Trillion $ CARES 'Relief' fund has so quickly been disbursed to those who least need economic relief; while much of the bottom 40% of the US population will receive nothing. Already food-insecure, their inability to pay for food, rent or mortgage, car, taxes, utilities, technology, healthcare and insurance, childcare, eldercare, education, etc. has unknowable consequences for their lives and for the US economy as a whole.

The free market myth that private companies always offer the most efficient cost-effective product or service (as if by magic), is as fake as their 'Trickle-Down' economics which led to the Great Recession of 2008. Decades of experience prove healthcare, education, incarceration, and child- and elder-care services simply should not be privatized. If designed to maximize profit ,these services produce poor outcomes, economically and socially.

The opportunity for positive change, and hopefully transformative change emerges. The fact that change is forcing itself upon us is an opportunity to influence change in a socioeconomic structure that is neither sustainable nor life-enhancing. Normally the structure is rigidly defended against change, but it is brittle, breaking, and insufficiently resilient. Such structure can only be challenged by uncontrollable reality, such as this Covid-19 pandemic. It will not willfully change. It is structured and robustly maintained for the benefit of an increasingly smaller group of powerful individuals who live for gaining ever more power. The normal structure was exactly as they wished it: it works very well to exploit people and natural resources. It is a structure that exacerbates unprecedented inequality, especially so in the US, the most unequal nation in the world. 

Inequality is fundamental to dysfunction. As the globe's wealthiest and most powerful country, the US still hugely influences the world; unfortunately, towards increasing inequality, dysfunction, and dystopia. US social policy has hugely increased socioeconomic inequality for many decades. This dangerous trend requires reversal, and now could be the time to do it.

To work for a more sane world, an inner exploration is necessary, and it may be the gift of Covid-19. Our prior 'normal' was wasteful of time, energy, money, resource, and precluding good feelings. The hyper-commercialism of 'normal' requires and cultivates anxieties, fears, insecurities, desires, and frenetic and impotent pursuits of illusions of pleasure, escape, and meaning. But it is destructive, wasteful, and unnecessary. While fighting the pandemic requires economic lock-down and shelter-in-place physical distancing, it gives the opportunity and necessity to innovate a slower, less mobile, less costly, gentler and more fulfilling way to be with ourselves and our loved ones.

While it is difficult for many, and challenging for all, the virus forces us to experience alternative lifestyles, different ways to be with ourselves. My hope is that a significant number of people will find greater meaning and possibilities in a life that is more sustainable, gentle, and slower. And further, in coming back to ourselves, perhaps we can gain grounded-ness for the clarity, anger and outrage we need to express and voice our protest of what needs changing: inequality and climate degradation most certainly! If we could apply half the energy and commitment to reverse inequality and climate degradation as we have fighting Covid-19, we could all enjoy a beautiful and more just world in only a few short years. To believe otherwise is to believe the fake news of the fake leaders who desperately want to return the prior 'normal.'

"People get the best government they deserve, and the worst they will tolerate." Do we not deserve a better government? It is well past time for the political pendulum to swing from life-negating to life-enhancing. This pandemic offers our best opportunity yet to realize substantive change for a better quality of life. Only time will tell  if this 2020 Pandemic becomes truly transformative, or a forgotten footnote in history, like the 1918 pandemic was until just recently.

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