Stop calling Coronavirus ‘the great equaliser’

Many feel we will inevitably emerge from this pandemic into a fairer, more caring society. By analysing this myth, we can learn a lot about the problems of our age.

“That’s the thing about COVID-19. It doesn’t care about how rich you are, how famous you are, how funny you are, how smart you are, where you live, how old you are, what amazing stories you can tell.”

“It’s the great equaliser and what’s terrible about it is what’s great about it.”

I find Madonna’s take rather interesting. At first I assumed she filmed the video inside her $28 million USD home in Beverly Hills, but it appears she is self-isolating in her $9 million GBP, 18th century Moorish palace in Lisbon. Meanwhile in Bangladesh, there are fears about what a Coronavirus outbreak might look like for the more than 1 million Rohingya refugees huddled together in sprawling refugees camps. In case you’re not aware, those refugees were forced to flee Myanmar after coordinated attacks from the Burmese military that are regarded by many as crimes against humanity.

We are in the disintegration stage now where all the magic happens and the next chapter of our human experience can transition into the era of the butterfly; a being that is light, free, empirically exquisite and in service to others (pollinators).

The argument given is that this pandemic creates a:

Truly, at this stage of the game each individual human being is confronted with the decision of which operating system to run. One is based in fear, the other in love.

To those of you who are socially and politically engaged, you might already be able to spot the problem here: while the author has identified a range of structural issues, they have shifted the responsibility for addressing those problems onto the individual. Understanding what is wrong with this move will help us to get to the crux of the problem the author attempts to articulate.

The disease of neoliberalism

Since the 1980s, modern societies have been strongly shaped by the forces of neoliberalism — an ideology championed by figures like Margret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan, and which is now the guiding principle of the Republican Party in the US (if not a number of mainstream Democrats).

Where is the evidence for the ‘invisible hand’ of the free market?

Oddly, the deeply held neoliberal belief that the free market will fix all problems seems to be profoundly lacking in evidence. The French economist Thomas Piketty has done incredible work using vast amounts of economic data to show how decades of de-regulation has vastly increased wealth inequality in the US:

So many people work just for a paycheck without ever stopping and asking “what value can I contribute to the world that nourishes my soul in exchange? What is actually my Full Fuck Yes?” This is the time to ask those questions, for finally the distractions are removed enough for us to begin receiving an answer.

Firstly, I should acknowledge that, yes, alienation from the fruits of our labor is a problem worth serious consideration. But I am curious to know how a single mother, working three jobs at the soul-crushing minimum wage in the US, who never had a change to go to college, whose workers rights have been completely eroded, who gets no sick leave, and who can never afford a home might make use of this advice. Or consider the example of a woman manufacturing clothing for a global brand in Bangladesh, who works 12+ hour days, 7 days a week for a wage which keeps her locked in a cycle of poverty.

The poison of extreme individualism

Decades of mainstreaming of neoliberal values have left us with an atomised, alienated sense of self. We have been tricked into thinking that our personal experience — our comfort, our freedom, our convenience — is the only thing worth worrying about. This is why we have Americans proudly flouting Coronavirus lockdowns, seemingly oblivious to the fact that, while they may not directly suffer if they contract COVID-19, vulnerable people in their community will.

Lachlan is Sydney-based musician, writer and meditator. Buddhism / philosophy / literature.

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