The pro-plague protests have made it to my area, and I’m more than a little frustrated. People keep pitting the devastation of a novel virus against the devastation of economic policies and social conditions that humans have chosen, as if those choices and their effects were completely out of our control.
Yes, it is really horrible that people have been laid off or sent home without pay and that there’s little to no social safety net for them. That was horrible before COVID-19 existed, and will continue to be horrible after it’s wiped out, if that ever happens. But a capitalist society that’s set up to funnel money toward its richest members isn’t some unstoppable force of nature. There is no reason, except for a lack of political will, that we can’t do what other countries are doing and send people a check every single month they’re home.
For that matter, if people making money without working just horrifies you, there are dozens of things that a functional government could pay people to do that would help us get through this pandemic. No-contact grocery, toiletry, and prescription delivery to high-risk people. Sewing face masks. Manufacturing PPE, ventilators, and test kits. Phone calls to isolated people to check in on them and give them at least some social contact. Building projects to allow schools to employ some level of social distancing when they reopen. Massive food reclamation efforts to distribute all that food that farmers are throwing away because they don’t have a market for it. Throw massive grants at crisis services of every sort. Create some kind of partnerships with hotels and domestic violence and homeless shelters where the hotels, which have severely reduced business right now, get paid to safely house people who would otherwise have no place to go. Lots of different jobs at lots of different skill levels could be created, if that was something we chose to focus on.
Also, let’s talk about suicide. Social isolation is a huge risk factor for suicide, absolutely. Bad financial circumstances, also a massive risk factor. At the same time, mental health is complex. People who are going through difficult shit, whatever form that difficult shit takes, deserve better than to be trotted out when you can use the idea of protecting them to promote a cause, and then ignored when they need actual substantive help.
I have heard of people who died by suicide after losing their business due to the lockdown, and I don’t want to minimize in any way how tragic that is. Without knowing the individual’s situation, I can’t say what they would have needed to keep going. But if the loss of the business was the trigger, certainly having some of those forgivable loans made available to actual small businesses could have helped. Not knowing what their business was, I don’t know if they could have temporarily converted to doing something toward fighting the pandemic, if the money and support had been there, but some of the businesses that people have lost most likely could have. And if their customer base had access to enough of a stimulus, they might have been able to buy whatever products or services the businesses could still offer, or buy gift certificates.
And, again, if losing a job or a business didn’t also result in not having food or a place to sleep, it would still be a major blow, but not to every area of a person’s life at once. It’s a lot easier to envision where to go next when you’re not staring eviction or starvation in the face. Would it have still been a cause for suicide for an individual I don’t know, who I heard about from someone I used to work with? No possible way to say. Would it be a cause for suicide for *fewer* people than it is in our bullshit capitalist system? I’d bet money on it.
When we treat political choices as inevitable, we get locked into a binary way of thinking that pits hurting groups of people against each other. What if we could all be on the same team, the team that’s trying to prevent as much human suffering as possible?