It’s no secret that in times of destitute and adversity, a rising of goodwill and community washes over the population. The coronavirus pandemic is one such time. With communities rallying together to support those who are vulnerable or finding it hard to cope, there is hope for a society which will become better at caring for others by giving each other what they need.
The pandemic started with a wave of Facebook posts ranging from complaints about toilet paper hoarding to people not upholding social distancing. A common word entered the social media realms: selfishness. So many people ignored the recommendations of government, such as social distancing and avoiding pubs as well as cafes, which enraged social media fans. While videos of Italians on balconies singing together emerged, instead of similar displays of community the British people produced memes of toilet paper hoarding. Still, even with the measures taken by the government like locking down the country and shutting stores, there are individuals who are continuing business as usual.
However, there is another side to this story. The news has been littered with stories describing a rallying of community. This includes business. The general goodwill of people has exploded. Universities have donated ventilators to hospitals, over 750,000 people have signed up to be an NHS volunteer and neighbours are buying shopping for those isolating. Some areas, like my own, have set up WhatsApp groups so that people can help or offer advice. This is not something limited to the general population either. Society includes the group of people who govern the country. The current government has stepped up with plans to alleviate financial struggles of those losing jobs, being evicted or self-employed. Arguably, there is more to be done, but it’s a start.
The question now is, where did this good will come from?
A society which has been entrenched in a cycle of consumerism in which we cannot extend compassion as far as we can throw. The news outlet and current politicians would have you believe that the time for community-based on people’s needs and suffering has passed. Over the last decade, a new dawn has arisen in which capitalism is now the norm. Even within left parties, such as the Labour party in the UK, or the Democratic party in the US we have seen a rejection within of the solid left. This is not hard to see. With Tony Blair paving the way for a third way in the early 2000s, and Jeremy Corbyn suffering a devastating defeat in the 2019 election, the painful death of the left is a harrowing scream to those who hold onto it as a last hope. You would be forgiven in assuming that all these events mean that socialism is dead.
Coronavirus has shown differently. In fact, it has shown that socialism has been lying dormant within us for a while. The idea of a community that shows a compassion, in which the gain of the community as a whole is bigger than the individual, is no longer just an idea. This way of life will always surface when times get rough. This is the start of a future in which we stop worrying about what “I” want but instead focus on what “we” need. It’s a quiet revolution, the one of compassion, but it will be worth the wait.
It’s not just a political argument, it’s also a scientific one. The idea of a community in which the group comes before the individual has arguably been around for over 130,000 years. Humans did not survive this long on an individualist approach but rather one of community and we didn’t just survive - we thrived. Altruism is an idea coined by scientists to describe behaviours that manifest at a greater cost to one individual than another, but the individual chooses to act on regardless. This could be something as simple as giving a meal away to a hungry person. Without delving too deep into the realms of scientific explanation, no other animal exhibits altruism as much as humans. If this theory sets your cogs turning, I would really recommend looking at some online papers to find out more.
Whether we are born altruistic or learn altruism, it has led us to create beautiful communities globally, enabling us to hang around on earth so long as a species. What does this mean in the context of now? It means we are going back to our roots.
Groups are rallying around each other, despite the erosion of the “community” by neoliberal dogmatism.
These communities are built on the values that every individual should have access to resources. Neoliberalism stripped away state welfare, and in its absence came privatisation which has saturated our daily lives unhealthy competition. The result is a society in which equality has been forfeited for the profit of the few. It is an idea that has created a world where all actions are expected to be transactional and as a result those who have not
hing to exchange such as those living in poverty, lose. Coronavirus has brought out non-transactional work which is not based on how much one has but instead on what they need.
In a system driven by how much profit an individual can make, power is centralised into the hands of the few at the expense of the many. This inequality between economically poor individuals has been hugely highlighted by the shortcomings of capitalism.
It is with socialist policies that we now begin to close the gaps. Arguably, the most neglected but widely accepted one of all is the NHS, a flagship Labour programme in which state healthcare is offered free at the point of use – and its stock has never been higher.
Socialism has been neglected for a long time. This sudden emergence of a compassionate community shows that the “statement socialism is dead” is far from the truth. Socialism is not dead; it’s breathing life into our communities again.
What does this mean for the future?
What we need is to take the plight of key workers seriously. It is no secret that the NHS staff have suffered for years, and on many occasions spoken out about it. Underpaid, overworked, and a dire emotional support system to top it all off. These are the hands of people in which our lives now lie more than ever.
We love the NHS, but do we love the people that are the NHS? Yes, I hear you cry! Where has this enthusiasm and compassion been for the last decade? We got so caught up that we forgot, so entrenched in the stress which capitalism brings to a society, that we have neglected them.
I encourage you, do not forget what they have done for you when this is over. Nor what kindness you have been met with in this time. The connections we make now with each other will linger after this distressing time has resolved. So, get involved if you can. Community goes both ways; you can contribute by reaching out to give or receive help, like asking a neighbour to buy something you need or to ask a relative to call regularly. Caring for yourself as you would others. Become an NHS volunteer, check out your universities current volunteering opportunities or join a WhatsApp group in your area.