Imagining a Post-Coronavirus World: Ending Ravenous Capitalism and Our Consumer-Driven Promiscuity

28.3.20

A tug leading Royal Caribbean’s insanely-misnamed ‘Harmony of the Seas’ into Southampton Harbour. Cruise ships are environmentally ruinous, helped spread the coronavirus, and needs to be high on the list of enterprises that mustn’t be bailed out after the coronavirus crisis ends, if we are to secure a better world (Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA/AP).

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It’s too early to begin creating a post-coronavirus world when we’re still in the throes of the crisis, but we can beginning thinking about it, and planning for it; otherwise, the dark forces that led us to this point — helped by many of our least helpful habits — will only return with a vengeance once the worst of the crisis is over.

When we think about the post-coronavirus world, there are, I presume, two camps: those who want everything to go back to how it was before, and those who don’t. The latter camp, for now, contains many more people than it has within living memory — those who recognize that running the world solely for the unfettered profits of the few has been a disaster.

This group includes many environmentalists — those who, in the last year and a half, helped to amplify the messages of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion to try to alert everyone else to an uncomfortable but vitally necessary truth: that we are facing an unprecedented man-made environmental crisis, which threatens humanity’s very existence.

In response to the actions and messages of Thunberg and XR, the public began to recognize, often by sizeable majorities, that climate change was the most important topic today, but although, in response, a large number of our political representatives — at government level, and at local government level — appeared to get on board, enthusiastically declaring “climate emergencies,” when it came to taking action they were revealed to be doing what Greta Thunberg had correctly identified them as doing since before she was even born: uttering fine words but doing nothing.

With the arrival of the coronavirus, some of the main targets of the environmentalists have found themselves coming unstuck: the cruise ship industry, for example, now looks to be, if you’ll excuse the pun, dead in the water, and the airline industry is also grinding to a halt. I think that most environmentally aware people would agree that the cruise ship industry must not be revived — as well as being massively polluting, it is also a health risk — but few people would support the collapse of the airline industry.

From the point of view of our governments, however, both industries seem to be in line for eye-wateringly huge bailouts, to keep them in business, and if we are to prevent this happening, then we need to make sure that we know what we want and why, because, of course, our government’s proposed bailouts are not aimed just at the cruise ship and airline industry, but also at many other companies at the forefront of the largely unfettered turbo-charged global capitalist economy that has just been massively shut down to try to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The opportunities right now are unprecedented, because, of course, it is not just the cruise ship industry and the airlines that have shut down. In developments that were absolutely unimaginable just months ago, or even weeks ago in the case of the UK, businesses have shut down in huge numbers, the streets are almost empty, and most people are staying at home, as requested, to prevent the spread of the virus, which, it seems, is more easily spread than any virus since the Spanish flu of 100 years ago, which killed 50 million people worldwide.

Outside of those who are still going to work — those in the health services, in food production and distribution and sales, and in a variety of other jobs regarded as essential — people are either working from home, and still being paid if they are fortunate, while others are waiting to see if they will be paid via government bailouts.

In the UK, employees are supposed to be guaranteed 80% of their pre-virus wages via a £330bn bailout announced by the Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, but the details are still sketchy, and it remains to be seen if employers behave with a conscience, or if their capitalist impulses prevail, and they take money for themselves and for their shareholders, while attempting to sacrifice as many workers as possible.

Similarly, on the frontline of our atomised world, the millions of self-employed people — those who genuinely work for themselves, as well as the many employees moved into precarious zero-hours contracts by cynical employers, with the full support of governments — were only finally included in plans put forward by the Chancellor a few days ago, and will not receive any money until June.

How people are supposed to survive this sudden loss of income for any amount of time is yet to be revealed, as are other pressing concerns for those who are not amongst the privileged minority of British people with paid off, or mostly paid off, mortgages, with savings, and with sort sort of ongoing income stream.

Politicians have made encouraging noises about preventing any evictions of people in rented properties until the crisis is over, but those, again, seem to be empty words, as we live in a rentier economy, in which those who leech off others via exorbitant private rents in an unfettered property market that makes up a huge, and hugely disproportionate part of our economy, feel absolutely entitled to do so, and will not necessarily give up their undeserved sense of entitlement without a struggle.

As well as raising these questions and others — primarily, I think, how people with children in small, crowded, homes are supposed to survive — the shutdown must prompt, in all of us, questions about the very basis of our lives economically. With the service sector largely shut down, and with so many people without incomes, how can the rentier model of exploitation be allowed to survive? What needs to come out of this crisis, surely, is, for the first time since the 1970s, a widespread recognition that we need as many properties as possible to be available on a not-for-profit basis; a massive social homebuilding programme, in other words.

Instead of this, however, what we got, as everyone else was being encouraged to stay home, was Boris Johnson insisting that construction workers should be allowed to carry on working.

Why construction? Well, because the construction industry has been the driver of the economy since the criminal activities of investment bankers led to the global economic crash of 2008. In response, with the entire sector not actually held accountable, the financial sector moved into property, buying up land, continuing to build huge office blocks, but, more particularly, building vast amounts of generally unaffordable housing, designed to make huge profits for themselves by enticing investors who may or may not have also been able to make a tidy profit, while completely screwing the ordinary hard-working people required to pay an ever-increasing proportion of their income to service the lazy, parasitical rentier economy.

With our economies in freefall because of the virus, and, presumably, with governments unable to properly resurrect the notion of “business as usual” because of their bailouts, which dwarf the response to the 2008 crash, I can’t see how the entire rentier economy can survive, and it clearly needs to collapse if we are to learn the lessons of the coronavirus, and create a less hectic, less selfish and less greedy society.

This is not only morally important, but at some level it surely involves the only conceivable response to the lessons that we need to fully take on board from this crisis.

To put it bluntly, our behaviour over the last few decades has been insanely promiscuous. The significant minority of the global population who are not poor have, in fact, been living like updated medieval kings, able to fly anywhere, to drive anywhere, to buy whatever we want whenever we want, and not, we thought, ever having to count the cost of any of it.

That model has now surely collapsed. The coronavirus has shown us that we cannot do what we want whenever we want, and treat the world as both a whore and a dustbin.

The cruise industry must surely collapse, not only because cruise ships are horribly polluting, as environmentalists have long been pointing out, but because of the health risks involved. Only old people, in general, can afford to take cruises, but as the ships travel the world, and are oh so readily able to pick up and fatally incubate viruses, they can only come to be seen as death traps.

Similarly, our self-declared “right” to fly where we want whenever we want must also be curtailed, for the environmental reasons that have pricked our consciences of late, but that have generally failed to modify our behaviour. If you somehow don’t know the unfortunate truth, aeroplanes, like cruise ships, emit unwarranted amounts of pollution, but are also, of course, the main vehicles for the transmission of the coronavirus, which, in no time at all, has spread to almost every country on earth.

It will be hugely challenging for many of us — and not least our politicians, and the business leaders who are driven only by profit and power — to take on board that we have overreached, that our appetites have made us suicidally infected, but that we have to make massive changes to our behaviour, whether we want to or not.

“Business as usual” — environmentally, and now in terms of the coronavirus — is, it has now been revealed, quite literally a death sentence.

Choice has spoiled us, so perhaps a lack of choice will make enough of us understand that a better world, in which we travel less, crave less, live more locally, and are more genuinely connected with each other than we have been for many years, is infinitely preferable to what we’ve been aggressively encouraged to pursue instead.

The crisis is, of course, revealing that what we want, overwhelmingly, is for our NHS to be a service rather than a business, an insurance policy for all paid for through general taxation, rather than the hacked-up private monstrosity that the Tories want, and hopefully we can also realise, in sufficient numbers to change the world, that we want the common good to supersede personal greed not just in terms of our health, but also in as many other walks of life as possible.

* * * * *

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer, film-maker and singer-songwriter (the lead singer and main songwriter for the London-based band The Four Fathers, whose music is available via Bandcamp). He is the co-founder of the Close Guantánamo campaign (and see the latest photo campaign here) and the successful We Stand With Shaker campaign of 2014-15, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (click on the following for Amazon in the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here, or here for the US, or you can watch it online here, via the production company Spectacle, for £2.55), and for his photo project ‘The State of London’ he publishes a photo a day from seven years of bike rides around the 120 postcodes of the capital.

In 2017, Andy became very involved in housing issues. He is the narrator of the documentary film, ‘Concrete Soldiers UK’, about the destruction of council estates, and the inspiring resistance of residents, he wrote a song ‘Grenfell’, in the aftermath of the entirely preventable fire in June 2017 that killed over 70 people, and he also set up ‘No Social Cleansing in Lewisham’ as a focal point for resistance to estate destruction and the loss of community space in his home borough in south east London. For two months, from August to October 2018, he was part of the occupation of the Old Tidemill Wildlife Garden in Deptford, to prevent its destruction — and that of 16 structurally sound council flats next door — by Lewisham Council and Peabody. Although the garden was violently evicted by bailiffs on October 29, 2018, and the trees were cut down on February 27, 2019, the resistance continues.

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62 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    When I posted this on Facebook, I wrote:

    Here’s my latest article about the coronavirus crisis, looking specifically at how it must change the way we operate forever – not only via the extinction of the cruise ship industry and the acceptance of a much-reduced airline industry, both of which are environmentally ruinous, and facilitated the spread of the virus, but also through a complete re-evaluation of capitalism and our own appetites.

    Some of this follows on from the environmental demands of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion, which secured significant public support in 2018-19, but the virus has, in an unprecedented manner, thrown almost everything we thought was certain into doubt, presenting unparalleled opportunities for a new future in which we must put the needs of the people and the planet before profit.

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    All thoughts welcome, my friends. This article has been fermenting in my mind throughout this week, and contains many of the thoughts I’ve been discussing with people – at a safe distance, of course!

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Lindis Percy wrote:

    Really good article Andy – what you suggest must happen. We know some people who go on about 4 cruises a year and fly to places far away for holidays. I am amazed that people are apparently still on cruises in the world wide health emergency – news today of a cruise that is marooned because no country will let them dock and there are several people who have tested positive and four people have died …. shocking that people are still going on these dreadful polluting holidays. Good for you Andy for raising this incredibly important issue. Stay safe and well xxxxxx

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Lindis. I suppose those stuck on cruises have, quite literally, found themselves trapped as one era – the globe-trotting and entitled – has given way to another. The cruise ship you mention, the Zaandam, has just been allowed through the Panama Canal, but still has nowhere to dock: https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2020/mar/28/coronavirus-live-news-cases-in-italy-overtake-china-us-infections-pass-100000?page=with:block-5e7fd66e8f0878a2a48ac391#block-5e7fd66e8f0878a2a48ac391

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Anita Tuesday wrote:

    I’m quite fearful that we’re just going to see more disaster capitalism. Especially when I saw that in the US, enough people think Trump is doing a great job on C19 for his popularity to hit an all time high in some polls.

  6. Andy Worthington says...

    Ruth Gilbert wrote:

    I fear likewise, Anita – where we see an imbecilic Bozo, others think he’s Churchillian…

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    It seems like the fault lines in the UK and the US that existed before this virus hit may stay largely intact, Anita and Ruth – with Trump’s base loving him whatever he does, and Johnson also fundamentally retaining support from those who voted for him in December.

    But those who despise them feel more strongly than ever that they are absolutely unfit to lead, and in both countries those who don’t support them are a bigger group than those who do – just incapable, apparently, of coalescing under one leader to do away with them.

    I can’t see Trump coming out of this intact, however, as his chronic lack of leadership is going to lead to a quite shocking death toll.

  8. Andy Worthington says...

    Ruth Gilbert wrote:

    I think the death toll here will be bad too – because of chronic systematic underfunding, serious lack of ICU, lack of PPE and ventilators, lack of staff, atrocious delay in testing…..all the issues we are fully aware of, in addition to criminal delay generally.
    We will also have many more staff being ill.
    All the above suggests that the exponential effect will be catastrophic.
    Already the stats on survival when critical are shocking.
    https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/mar/28/coronavirus-intensive-care-uk-patients-50-per-cent-survival-rate

  9. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, I agree that it looks bad here, Ruth, hence the belated shutdown being an effort to keep deaths to 20,000, rather than ten or 20 times that. But I fear that the US, which, comparatively, should be trying to keep deaths to 100,000, faces millions dying because of its lack of any kind of functioning welfare system.

  10. Andy Worthington says...

    Pamela Leavey wrote:

    Andy, I don’t see Trump coming out of this intact at all. America has had enough of him.

  11. Andy Worthington says...

    I very much hope you’re right, Pamela. It is genuinely impossible to imagine anyone being a worse leader at a time like this – except possibly Bolsonaro, but then they are very much cut from the same cloth.

  12. Andy Worthington says...

    Damien Morrison wrote:

    There is supposedly the clapping for Boris tonight at 8 pm Boris can go f*ck himself unfortunately reading that the foul torie donator and friend of Boris Crispin Odey has made millions of this crisis is truly vile. Trump and Boris are having their Kennedy and Churchill moments and they will come out of this hero’s. One thing I’ve been seeing reports of more and more id chipping when they give you a vaccine?? If there’s even a vaccine

  13. Andy Worthington says...

    I really hope Johnson and Trump don’t get any kind of “bounce” out of this, Damien, but I honestly can’t see that they can as the deaths mount up.
    As for ID chipping and vaccines, I presume we’re a long way off from a vaccine being developed, although I think there are valid concerns about monitoring. However, I’m not sure the authorities really need any more than they have already, which is surveillance by smart phone, which is just as effective, as almost everyone is married to their phones.
    Any effort to introduce implants will, I’m pretty sure, be fiercely resisted by the dissenters who pepper every level of British society, from Radio 4-listening libertarians, to human rights advocates, to the perennially disobedient parts of the working class. It’s a proud British tradition, sticking tow fingers up to authority, and although it can go horribly awry and lead to things like Brexit, it remains a collective insurance policy against totalitarianism, and needs to continue to be encouraged.

  14. Andy Worthington says...

    Pamela Leavey wrote:

    Thank you Andy. A thoughtful, well written piece with so much to contemplate. Shared to wall and Twitter and also found you there and followed you.

  15. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m very glad you appreciate it, Pamela. It’s definitely part of an ongoing analysis of possible futures that has always been with me, but that has become increasingly dominant as an urgent unfolding narrative over the last year or so. You may also find these previous articles of mine interesting:
    https://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2019/04/18/extinction-rebellions-urgent-environmental-protest-breaks-new-ground-while-drawing-on-the-occupy-anti-globalisation-and-road-protest-movements/
    https://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2019/05/09/i-pledge-my-allegiance-to-the-struggle-for-survival-against-catastrophic-climate-change/
    https://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2019/10/14/extinction-rebellion-and-the-undeniable-power-of-non-violent-revolutionary-change/

  16. Andy Worthington says...

  17. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks for sharing that, Lorraine. Good to hear from you. I hope you’re staying well.

  18. Andy Worthington says...

    Malcolm Bush wrote:

    Thank you for your post; from what can gather many people, some with expertise and considered opinion, perceive a future with this problem controlled, not brought to a definitive conclusion. Much more law and less justice, and vast fortunes for the rich. I think this is quietly moving forward in the US already; what do you think? I believe we are too far gone to change.

  19. Andy Worthington says...

    I think it’s all still very much up in the air, Malcolm. We’re not naturally a physically authoritarian nation, in part because we’ve proven to be quite easy to manipulate via media and PR, but primarily because our capitalist model has depended on us being able to freely buy things that we may or may not need to create wealth for the 1%.
    Even now, when the greedy have been overstretaching themselves, moving into housing as the new profit-saturated focus of their activity, it depends on people earning so that they can then be fleeced through extortionate rents. I think it will take a lot to make us genuinely authoritarian, but I could be wrong.
    If it is decided that we need to be controlled more, because, as you suggest, the virus can’t be stamped out, but can only be controlled, then we may move into a collective life on control that is unprecedented in our lifetimes, but I still can’t see that happening without a major shift in the political consciousness of our leaders, who would need to alter their capitalist model of thinking to an extent that I can’t see them managing.

  20. Andy Worthington says...

    David Knopfler wrote:

    The Right will start disseminating articles saying that if we had moved to an insurance based healthcare system all this could have been avoided. In one important respect Marx was right … the ruling ideology is the ideology of the ruling class. What we need to be working on right now is damage limitation and then we need to make sure a firm line is drawn in the sand and that neoconservative ideology is buried along with the dead.

  21. Andy Worthington says...

    I don’t think bashing the NHS is going to play well for these tired old right-wing ideologues, David, and I think it might be more likely that the recognition of how important the NHS is, as a service funded through general taxation, will spread to people’s perception of other parts of society.
    But as you say, we’re going to need lines drawn in the sand – and I very much hope that the knock-on effect, as you suggest, is that we finally bury neoliberalism as the monster it is and has always been. I can’t remember which philosopher it was who said it, but I’ve long been struck by his comment that the neoliberalism’s vile modus operandi is to keep as many people as insecure as possible, as much of the time as possible.

  22. Andy Worthington says...

    Damien Morrison wrote:

    Welcome to the globalised world this virus sped round the world in weeks the BBC series survivors of the 70s was very prophetic.

  23. Andy Worthington says...

    Although mercifully we aren’t dealing with an airborne plague, Damien. It’s interesting, though, that, when we look to the future, it will seem astonishingly reckless if governments don’t take health issues into account when, as I expect, they once more seek to rev up their model of global capitalist profit. If we’re really going to seek to protect ourselves, that capitalist model cannot look like it did until just a few weeks ago.

  24. Andy Worthington says...

    Damien Morrison wrote:

    That’s the old world now. We’re entering a new one and it’ll go either way.

  25. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, the old world has gone, Damien, never to return as it was, so, as you say, it could go either way in our new world, which is why we need to be thinking about it, and working to create it, and, if necessary, to fight for it.

  26. Andy Worthington says...

    Liesel Wilkes wrote:

    Great article 👏 my thoughts are that this would be a perect time to introduce basic income for all. Also, max three day working week (therefore sharing the ever decreasing jobs). Start to build infrastructure of renewable energy (third industrial revolution).
    That’s just for starters. 💞
    Stay safe 😉🌈

  27. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m very glad you liked it, Liesel. Basic income is definitely an interesting concept to address the problems of a capitalist society that constantly has less and less jobs available, but I can’t contemplate it without it being means tested. I think we also need genuinely affordable housing too, ideally included as part of a basic income provision. Alternatively, part-time working might address the unemployment problem without introducing basic income.
    And yes, let’s please have sustainable energy at the heart of everything. How wonderful is it, as a side-effect of this crisis, that the air in our cities is clean, and that our cities are also quiet. The notion that the streets will, as soon as it is conceivable, once more become traffic-choked, is a horrible thought, and it now, surely, seems unthinkable that HS2 and Sadiq Khan’s Silverlink Tunnel will go ahead.

  28. Andy Worthington says...

    Liesel Wilkes wrote: Andy, BI for all will help whilst we wean ourselves off capitalism, for those that can’t imagine living any other way. Third Ind Rev involves new sharing economy. Here’s a documentary i found interesting (Jeremy Rifkin): https://youtu.be/QX3M8Ka9vUA
    I think means testing creates class systems. No means testing, no additional benefits. One amount for every individual. People can work on top of that if they want, but it won’t be necessary. There’s been plenty of research into this and a blueprint is out there. I think the plan to fund it is to increase corp tax. If the big corps go bust then that will have to be rethought.

  29. Andy Worthington says...

    Interesting, Liesel – and thanks for the link. But I can’t accept a non-means tested model, with the state giving money to the wealthiest individuals, many of whom don’t even pay tax.

  30. Andy Worthington says...

    Jane Ecer wrote:

    Excellent article Andy … erudite and uplifting … thank you.

  31. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m very glad you appreciate it, Jane. I needed a light to see through all the very real doom and gloom, and something to give us some talking points to help to imagine the world that so many of us want to see. I hope you are staying well.

  32. Andy Worthington says...

    Jane Ecer wrote:

    We are trying to Andy … I’m missing my walks by the sea … feeling quite despondent today so good to read your article … totally agree with all your points which you express so well.

  33. Andy Worthington says...

    I’m glad to have cheered you up a bit, Jane. Sorry you can’t walk by the sea. Here in London people are still out and about, in small numbers, and mostly paying attention to social distancing. It will be an unprecedented change if the police are ordered to impose strict controls on people’s movements.

  34. Andy Worthington says...

    Jane Ecer wrote:

    It is difficult to think about the future here. Living as I do in Marmaris I am acutely aware of the problems that will be caused by the lack of tourism this year. There really is no other business here and very little state help financially. Equally, I’m aware that flights from the UK that were costing as little as £20 one-way are ridiculous as well as unsustainable. Cheap (or relatively cheap) tourism is not good for the planet. This was really brought home to me when I worked one winter in The Gambia and saw the extreme levels of poverty along with the luxurious hotels built for foreign visitors. Hotels which consumed vast quantities of fresh, clean water while locals had to rely on drinking river water which caused many illnesses. I don’t know what the answer is … a balance is needed somehow. I’ve been fortunate to travel to many places by train as well as plane … I’ve met very many interesting people along the way (including yourself and Dot). Life would be much bleaker without the pleasure of those journeys.

  35. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, the future is so hard to see right now, Jane. I would hope that Turkey, like Italy, can feed itself, and has enough family ties in place to weather the worst of a downturn – unlike the atomised, unproductive UK, for example – but I certainly don’t see how we can go back to the tourism model we had before. Maybe it’ll be like it was in my youth. I went to Europe by car with my family when I was 4 and 7, and then I didn’t go “abroad” again, as we called it, until I was about 20. That’s kind of unthinkable under the system we’ve developed over the last 20 years or so, but environmentally, even before the virus, responsible people were talking about how we shouldn’t really fly more than once or twice a year, whereas millions of people were flying far more often than that. We had neighbours next door, for example, who got married in France, even though they had no connections to France whatsoever, and all their mates flew out for the weekend. I think that kind of activity – an example of what I chose to call our promiscuity – has to be over.

  36. Andy Worthington says...

    Liesel Wilkes wrote, in response to 29, above:

    Andy yes it irks me too but maybe a necessary evil to rid ourselves of the them and us mentality. My main concern is that BI will become the new baseline of poverty and actually never really be enough to acheive quality of life.
    It’s all so complex.

  37. Andy Worthington says...

    It is, Liesel, but if loads of us are talking about it, we might well get to where we need to be!

  38. Andy Worthington says...

    Palina Miike wrote:

    Finally, an article from a journalist about COVID19 that makes sense. I’ve been reading what James Spione has been posting and it sounds like conspiracy theory.

  39. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Palina. I’m trying to navigate between panic and conspiracy.

  40. Andy Worthington says...

    Margaret Heller wrote:

    Thank you. I need another 24 hours to process this. Although I never had a moments desire to cruise I never thought it did not serve a need for others. Well that was stupid and that opens me to the idea that a whole lot of things have been on a crash course. I will reread tomorrow.

  41. Andy Worthington says...

    Thank you, Margaret. It’s very good to hear from you, and I hope some of my thoughts open up some new doors for you.

  42. Andy Worthington says...

    Noel Rooney wrote:

    I’m a little less optimistic. I think the first response to the waning of the crisis will come from disaster capitalism, followed by governments pressing for business as usual. I also think the big question facing us is why all governments chose to respond in a way that risks economic collapse to a virus which has not at any point looked likely to be more deadly or dangerous than the annual flu. Our brief respite from pollution will turn out to be a welcome break rather than a sea change. I also think that most people are currently too concerned with immediate problems (where to source food; how to survive the economic downturn) to focus on larger, more philosophical issues; and that is likely to continue beyond the period of crisis itself. All this, of course, could change if the virus returns in a heavily mutated form that poses a real existential threat; but then, the concerns will be with survival.

  43. Andy Worthington says...

    I think the virus’s death toll would have been considerably more severe than flu if extreme measures hadn’t been taken, Noel. I was astonished that everyone but Trump and Bolsonaro eventually recognised this – yes, even our masters who, throughout history, have often seemed to like nothing more than a regular cull of the serfs.
    My understanding is that, without lockdowns, the death count would overwhelm the ability of our health services to deal with it, with all the horrors that entails – corpses in the streets etc. As I understand it, the aim in the UK is to keep deaths to less than 20,000, whereas without the shutdown they would be ten to 20 times that.
    As for a possibly brighter future, I freely admit that my article deals with aspirations rather than what will necessarily happen. We’ll have to wait and see, although I do genuinely think that a fear of a resurgence – via a Cassandra mentality that will have to take root somewhere in government – may well curtail the ability of business as usual to be re-established.

  44. Andy Worthington says...

    Hanann Abu Brase wrote:

    I hope this crisis stops the wars NATO countries have been pursuing for the last 20 years and that people bother to vote anti-war candidates in, now that they know what lock down and food shortages and no hospitals or schools or work feels like and I also hope that these same countries will take responsibilty for what THEY are doing to the environment. NO “WE” are not ruining the environment, it is western and industrialised nations that are ruining the environment. Developing countries and war-torn countries DO NOT have industries, some barely have regular electricity and some war-torn countries have been bombed by NATO back to the stone age, and most developing countries use 50 liters of water/person/day compared to 350 by every American. So maybe we need to start making that clear instead of grieving what ‘the world’ has done to the environment , grieving what capitalist greedy industrial countries have done, it is there that change is needed.

  45. Andy Worthington says...

    Absolutely, Hanann. Well said – and I very much hope that the changes you call for actually come to pass. Environmentally, as well as morally, the west’s war industry is an absolute disgrace, but people are brainwashed, of course, not to question what is done in their name. That said, I can’t see how western countries can pretend that they haven’t incurred economy-destroying costs in tackling the virus, and that an audit will be required to establish where cuts will have to be made, with our bloated, blood-soaked war industry as an obvious target.

  46. Andy Worthington says...

    Cathy Teesdale wrote:

    This is a very interesting, measured piece which you may not have seen Andy?
    https://www.spectator.co.uk/article/The-evidence-on-Covid-19-is-not-as-clear-as-we-think

  47. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that’s a very interesting article, Cathy. I was feeling much more skeptical two weeks ago, but I moved on to accept the doomsday scenario we were being presented with. However, this is a thorough explanation of how and why it could be concluded that we may have overreacted. Worth a read.

  48. Andy Worthington says...

    Susan Claire wrote:

    Excellent article Andy and just what I needed to read. These similar thoughts have been in my mind but I couldn’t seem to grasp the enormity of it all, that perhaps the changes myself and so many others have wanted for so long are going to happen. Yet I kept having this nagging doubt that a year from now this will be a distant memory and things will have reverted to as before, but your articles set me thinking that it could happen. I’m back to a glass half full.

  49. Andy Worthington says...

    Glass half full is a good place to start, Sue. Great to hear from you, and I’m very glad indeed to be articulating some of what you hoped to hear.
    None of us can see the future right now – and it could go in all manner of directions – so I think we need to be forewarned and forearmed by at least thinking about all the possibilities and trying to work out what we’d like to see emerge from the rubble of our current global capitalist model of existence.

  50. Andy Worthington says...

    Aleksey Penskiy wrote:

    Good article, Andy! I think that there is no bad capitalism and good socialism. And vice versa. There is an imbalance between private and public interest. We all need to solve this problem. Doctors advise strengthening immunity and not panic.

  51. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Aleksey, and I like your analysis – “There is an imbalance between private and public interest.”
    As for the virus itself, the most encouraging sign to me in the UK is, anecdotally, the large number of people who have had it, who have not died, but who are not included in the official figures. Three people in my immediate circle of friends have had it, and one other in my wider local circle. That’s only four people, but I’m sure my experience is replicated widely, meaning that the death rate is lower than official figures suggest.

  52. Anna says...

    Haven’t read any of it yet (am now busy filling out my yearly income tax form) but want to share a few interesting links :

    Intelligent reading : https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/covid-19-neoliberal-state-exception-200325161722610.html
    And two interesting things to watch about the restriction of personal freedoms etc :
    https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/listeningpost/2020/03/coronavirus-tracking-outbreak-spying-people-200328080646752.html

    https://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/studio-b-unscripted/2020/03/big-tech-empire-maria-ressa-christopher-wylie-200325183411775.html

    I’ve been thinking why the spectre of a still bigger clamp-down on our privacy and personal freedom somehow was not on the top of my list of worries, while I am a very private person and avoid all social media, smartphones etc etc.
    I think the answer is, that those surveillance measures do grow exponentially anyway, whether there’s a pandemic or not. They’ll always find a way to squeeze our private space. Already since a few years several shops refuse cash – what about the poor who cannot afford a bank account (and would have nothing to put into it) or a bank card? I personally have been fearing since some time, that someone who stays out of the social media, smartphone, e-banking or even bank card ownership, will by default become someone suspected of ‘illegal’ behaviour, and while so far it would be hard to make these things mandatory, there are so many other ways to make modern ‘western’ life nearly impossible without them. What’s the point in having internet, if you cannot access any of its ueseful info without letting its provider sweep up all your personal data from your computer? Etc etc etc. I suppose I have to some degree given up on worrying about this, while at the same time not giving up protecting my privacy, not matter the daily life costs.

    Will read you and all the comments some time later 🙂 and hang in there, all of you !

  53. Andy Worthington says...

    Good to hear from you, Anna, and I look forward to your thoughts after you’ve finished your tax return.

    Thanks for the links. I’ll try to check out the programmes, and have read the article, which is definitely worth people’s time. I’m trying to find out more about the £330bn bailout for business that was announced here in the UK by the new Chancellor Rishi Sunak, because all has gone quiet since it was announced, except for the odd comments about how ironic it is that the Tory Party has had to engage with “disaster socialism”, whereas what is really needed is massive scrutiny of this supposedly generous gesture, because (a) it is fundamentally unaffordable, and creates massive problems for the economy in future, but most particularly because (b) it was without doubt intended to prop up all manner of companies that don’t deserve support either because they should be called upon to subsidise their current losses from their historic profits, or because there needs first to be a robust discussion about what types of businesses we need in the post-coronavirus world – so, no bailouts for cruise ship companies, for example, and no blank cheques for the entire airline industry, as I discuss in my article, because it is unthinkable that, as a result of this virus, we don’t realise that we cannot travel so promiscuously, and that we have to accept that the virus has marked the point at which we reached “peak tourism.”

    There is also a (c): the £330bn bailout was also supposedly intended to cover 80% of the wages of employees made suddenly unemployed – primarily in tourism, hospitality and entertainment – and as such was seen as an extraordinarily generous gesture by the government, but what no one is talking about, as we enter the week after which monthly wages should have been paid, is whether employers are actually going to pay their employees, or if they’ll worm their way out of it. I see no reporting about this whatsoever, and fear for the millions of people left stranded, trapped in their homes with no incomes, just like the self-employed, who have now belatedly been told that they too can have a bailout, but that it won’t be paid until June. How are they supposed to survive? And who is going to police the greedy landlords who seek to make their tenants pay their rent, not caring that they can’t do so?

    As for surveillance and state control, it irks me that the virus crisis is helping to stamp out cash, which the government, banks and companies have been working towards for several years now, firstly through promoting contactless payments as “sexy”, and then via the delusional retail outlets that willingly went cashless, never thinking that virtual capital is something that can be switched off, or made to disappear. I’m also aware that more and more is being done via apps, which require people to have smart phones, but as people can’t be compelled to have smart phones, I’m not sure if the government can get away with entirely removing other methods of administration and bureaucracy that don’t involves smartphones. I hope not, as that would create an actual abandoned underclass, but, as that would involve a lot of old people, I can’t, as I say, see how they would get away with it.

    Personally, I think more and more people ought to ditch their smart phones, but I don’t think that’s a campaign likely to catch on, unfortunately.

  54. Anna says...

    Ditch smartphones indeed and go back to chocolate-covered wafers :-). Income tax calculated & paid and I do not need to go to the post office to mail the form signed by local authorities for my old age pension provider in the Netherlands, confirming that I am still alive. Time limit postponed until October.

    Now I will quietly wait for the next message, not saying anymore ‘we are sorry this year we cannot raise your pension to keep up with inflation’, but one informing me how by much it will be cut. Luckily the main one is government and they have created a huge pool for such eventualities (unless that already dried up), but the smaller private insurance company one depends on their stock market investments and why do I think that the insurance company will pass the losses on to its elderly clients rather than it’s CEO and shareholders? This being said, I am one of the incredibly lucky ones, not being rich by any measure but having a roof over my head, fresh water, etc and – having worked up-country in really poor and poorly supplied countries for so many years – losing much of our superfluous amenities does not frighten me. Most of all that has taught me in what a dreadful situation all those ‘others’ are, whether from permanent poverty or being in countries at war, refugee camps etc. And I fully share Hanann’s criticism of US/NATO which have caused and perpetuate so much of that misery, while in addition hypocritically claiming it is some twisted form of ‘support’…

    Even in our countries health budgets are a fraction of military ones. Those should be drastically cut to start with as that would cover all those seemingly unsurmountable ’emergency packages’. Imagine now investing trillions in new nuclear bombs …
    I have the additional shame of my country refusing to take refugees, while having witnessed first hand the destruction it helped inflict on some of their countries, as a willing NATO member. Those are the worries that keep me personally awake. I do hope that this drama will be the rock bottom from which we will rebound to positive changes and I see many such possibilities but so far it’s like reading tea leaves or staring at a crystal ball.

    As for the medical part, I cannot make sense of the figures, they do not seem to tally. Supposedly 80 % recovers, yet the figures now presented do not suggest that. Over a million infected, some 220.000 recovered (all these being established cases), that to me makes some 20 % ? Or do I need to take into account a time lapse, with new cases materialising quicker than people recover, thus creating a barrage which eventually will even out and indeed have some 80 % recovered ?

    Of course there are much more infected ones, the ‘fifth column’ of a-symptomatic carriers. How long does it take until such a person ‘recovers’ (from not having been sick), hopefully becomes resistant (apparently not alltogether sure, let alone for how long) and stops being contagious? Bloody Boris is a live example of that. He tested positive but seems to think that 7 (some magical number ?) days of self-isolation are enough to go back to work, i.e. mingle with others. Luckily he still has a fever which precludes going out, but I would think he first must test negative and/or resistant before being allowed to get into contact with others? No info either about how long persons on a respirator generally have to stay on it before recovering, provided they do ?

    I for one prefer to know what I’m in for, rather than wait and see what happens. I realize it’s new so even experts do not know everything yet, but with 220.000 people recovered and I suppose records being shared with WHO, you’d think that by now would be a big enough sample to be able to draw some conclusions? At any rate, as numbers of carriers grow exponentially, eventually going out – not so much outside as into confined spaces as shops or hospitals – will increasingly resemble walking into a mine field and I’d rather do that myself than ask younger friends with families and statistically half their life still ahead to do that for me. Mostly go to an open air market anyway. In the meantime, I plan to get a contraption that will turn my old bike into a home-trainer of sorts, so that my muscles do not wither from too little walking :-). Hope you can keep up your daily bicycling without being fined by some overzealous policeman ? Trump is the one that should get locked up, together with Boris …

  55. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Anna, and thanks for your thoughts. I particularly appreciate your empathy with those suffering in other, poorer countries, and I’ve been fearing how it will tear through the population in so many of those countries if it takes hold. It’s been alarming to watch that criminal Bolsonaro in Brazil encouraging the spread of the virus.

    I also appreciate your call for massive “defence” (war) budget cuts, which are essential, but will clearly only happen if there is concrete opposition to the status quo when the worst of the crisis passes, and governments start to try to put back together what existed before – which, I think we both know, will be as close as possible to what has just collapsed as they can manage, if they can get away with it.

    Unfortunately, we’re not hearing very much yet about how this unprecedented economic collapse needs to change the way we operate, in a very fundamental manner, and of course I’m fearful that too much of the responsibility for facilitating discussion lies with the mainstream media, who are generally quite useless.

    My article has, at least in a small way, started some discussion, and echoed the interest so many people have in this crisis leading to a better world, so I’ll just have to hope now that there’ll be more independent voices talking about the future – and also work on a follow-up article too, of course!

  56. Carol Keiter says...

    Hello Andy,
    Your writing is so absolutely astounding that I WISH it was required reading for the masses. My American artist Ex Berliner Germany, friend posted your article on FB yesterday. I am STUNNED, not only with your exquisite writing style, but the content is extraordinary. Thank you so much for writing such a brilliant piece, and bringing up things (like rentier) to open our perspective even further, to many things that the general public take for granted, in their busy, keeping up with the rent and the neighbors’ lives. We have been economic slaves to this ‘oiligarchy’ and ‘corpocrisy’ (my words 🙂 I will incorporate your article into my next blog post, which was first inspired by this presentation of Eileen Crist ‘Confronting Anthropomorphism’ aka the ideology of ‘human supremacy’ https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=pZkFj9uPKXo
    I am sure you will whole heartedly appreciate my recent post regarding nature’s response to uncontrolled human destruction, the coronavirus https://digesthis.wordpress.com/2020/03/20/natures-response-to-humanitys-destruction-of-nature-eid-coronavirus-planetary-health/

    I am writing an educational ebook for youth, a tale within a science and pedagogy textbook, introducing to students different perspectives other than the Cartesian, a paradigm shift in how we see and interact with the living world.
    https://carolkeiter.wordpress.com/2020/03/11/carol-keiters-author-website-a-seahorse-tale-a-spin-on-the-matter-of-motion/. Within it I introduce ‘The Universe Story’ by Thomas Berry and Brian Swimm http://storyoftheuniverse.org/press/excerpts and the concept of an Ecozoic Era – if indeed humans are able to choose to step away from their consumerism addiction and ‘ecological amnesia’ which Crist mentions, to a harmonious relationship with all life. I also mention in my book Yuval Noah Harari and another work ‘The Systems View of Life – A Unifying Vision’ by Fritjof Capra and Pier Luisi Luigi https://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/life-sciences/genomics-bioinformatics-and-systems-biology/systems-view-life-unifying-vision#8ri85XRKlBRrDgf7.97

    I am absolutely blown away and in concurrence with everything you say. Thank you for having such an epic grasp and for communicating these ideas. It occurs to me, perhaps if people get angry and hungry enough, a revolt will occur, against the economic elite. We just have to distribute the names and addresses (of the dozens of properties of each) of the small group of billionaires and economic elite on the planet, so that the world can go raid their refrigerators and stockpiled goods, and the homeless go to squat in their dozens of empty mansions throughout the globe. Thank you
    Carol Keiter aka nomadbeat

  57. Anna says...

    Looks like Boris will be the guinea pig on whose basis some of my medical questions will be answered, such as whether one can be let loose after seven days and how long it takes to get better. Obviously wish him recovery, but also to first feel what it’s like to get this disease which he so stupidly laughed off. With dire results not only for himself, but also for countless others. May it teach him a lesson and make him finally grow up to real adulthood – at the age of 55 … Strange by the way, that Raab said he’s in an ’emergency care’ unit, not IT. Slip of the tongue ?
    Isn’t this the hospital where they saved your life a few (well almost 10 !) years ago ? And here’s confirmation of some of my misgivings about considering people who got well as automatically being out of the woods themselves and most importantly not contagious anymore : https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/04/immunity-passport-ease-coronavirus-lockdowns-200405163502462.html
    As for Trump’s continuing obsession with (hydroxy)chloroquine, that’ll be the death of countless people. The guy just never can admit a mistake, can he, he’d rather plough on in the wrong direction and claim it’s the only right one. Boris at least has brains, T. does not even have that.

  58. Anna says...

    To be precise, not ’emergency care’ but ‘critical care’ unit were the words Raab used. Sounds even more ominous.

  59. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Carol, and I’m very glad to hear that this article struck such a chord with you. As you’ll see if you look back at my articles over the last couple of years, dealing with environmental issues and activism, it has been becoming ever clearer that the way we have been living is irredeemably unsustainable, and that we need to urgently change our behaviour. I am grateful to Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion for having successfully brought these issues into the mainstream, persuading people of the importance of climate change, and leading to politicians declaring “climate emergencies.” As we were just beginning to see, those promises were mostly completely empty, but now we’ve been hit by this virus, and some of what we were calling for – an end to our pollution and our over-exploitation of the world’s resources – is happening, albeit in a way we never foresaw, and which is difficult to deal with because it is so fundamentally physically isolating.
    However, I can’t see that “business as usual” can be successfully reinstated, although I do fear that those with access to power will do all they can to try to make sure that it does, and it is on this point – the post-virus future – that, in western countries, with our “freedoms” of speech and of movement, we need to be ready and able to mobilise to resist efforts to reinstate the status quo, which, as I see it, can only be achieved though a combination of authoritarianism and greater poverty for many, many more people than are already struggling.

  60. Andy Worthington says...

    Great to hear from you, Anna, and yes, the surprises keep coming, don’t they? Boris Johnson’s illness is certainly an antidote to those who were previously, and casually, dismissing the severity of the virus (with Johnson as one of them, oh so ironically), although Trump and Bolsonaro won’t take the message on board, as both of them will carry on thinking that they’re superior beings as long as they continue to draw breath.
    Johnson (I never call him ‘Boris’, as it diminishes the danger he poses) is indeed in the safe hands of the medical staff at the same hospital where my toes – if not quite my life – were saved nine years ago, and I hope above all that it leads him to a Damascene conversion about the significance of the NHS and the need for its creeping privatisation to stop – although I won’t be holding my breath for that to happen, as our leaders, wherever we look, are neither towering intellects nor sufficiently sceptical about the alleged wonders of a capitalist system that has brought us to the brink of extinction even before we unleashed a virus that, most of all, we were woefully unprepared for. And that, of course, was because, collectively, we have absolutely no long-term attention span, and nothing – absolutely NOTHING – must be allowed to stand in the way of the rich getting ever richer. Unless we can do away with that notion, we simply don’t stand a chance of surviving beyond, I suspect, the rest of my lifetime.

  61. Earth Day 50th | We Love The Earth | Confronting Anthropomorphism | Look for the Good | digesthis says...

    […] Imagining a Post-Coronavirus World: Ending Ravenous Capitalism and Our Consumer-Driven Promiscuity […]

  62. COVID-19 And Economic Meltdown: Was Global Tourism Only Thing Keeping Us Afloat? – OpEd | NOQTA says...

    […] involves, broadly speaking, shopping and tourism, which I looked at in an article in March, Imagining a Post-Coronavirus World: Ending Ravenous Capitalism and Our Consumer-Driven Promiscuity, and which has been preoccupying me as I have been cycling around London’s West End, taking […]

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Andy Worthington

Investigative journalist, author, campaigner, commentator and public speaker. Recognized as an authority on Guantánamo and the “war on terror.” Co-founder, Close Guantánamo and We Stand With Shaker. Also, photo-journalist (The State of London), and singer and songwriter (The Four Fathers).
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