Some thoughts about afterwards, for when we get there.
Not that I think this is over, not for a minute, but I keep thinking about ‘afterwards’ and what could make it better than before. It’s kind of my job, as someone who spends so much of his time these days studying sociology, to talk about how society is working. Well I think so anyway, so here goes.
Now obviously our society’s having all kinds of hard times at the moment for reasons I needn’t go on about. But assuming the virus can be sorted, coped with, cured or at least hugely reduced I thought we might all usefully want to think about how we’d like things to be after all these months of quiet, distancing, fear and grief? Certainly I’d want the things I suspect most of us would like. To get out more, see loved ones, sit together with friends and even hug each other when we meet wouldn’t seem that much to ask.
And thinking a bit bigger I’m looking forward to getting back to a society where the children are reliably fed, educated again and have a future to reliably look forward to beyond the virus. I was a child once and I remember the importance of looking forward. I’d also like us all to work out a way those children’s futures won’t be nullified or compromised because of their colour or race or because of not fitting in with what people in power or influence in our society might decide is normal and therefore dominant. Kindness is what I’m talking about. A gentle kind of word but one the leads me, of course, into the neighbourhood of some very big questions indeed about how we live and how we want to run our country in this afterwards I’m thinking of. Questions which I’m not going to even try and answer here, because the questions are for all of us, and besides this is just a short blogpost. But I do have a suggestion about methods.
Which is a very sociologist sort of thing to say, so let me explain. It’s important when you’re taking a careful look at how something is working to decide how you’ll do the looking. Like in these lockdown months, as I wrote about last week, where I’ve had to change my main working methods of long thoughtful walks and being in the university, to a mixture of writing, gardening and Zoom meetings from here on the allotment, where I’m working now. I could say a lot more complicated stuff about methods, and did last week, but it’s basically all about deciding how you’ll organise your work and getting on with it.
Which brings me to ‘busyness’ as trailered up there in the blog title.
Something I suspect many of us have quite enjoyed about the past few months is that our treadmills have stopped. As long as you’re not an essential worker or in particular kinds of need or distress you’ve probably had more time left to your own devices that you usually would. I know I have. Yes I’ve worked and worked well, once I’d changed my methods of working. But I was well aware that the noise of treadmills all around me had stopped. The school run, the morning traffic, the deadlines delayed or cancelled altogether, the skies emptied of circling planes, the slowing of everything. Even at my university the flurry of irritating ‘carry on as normal’ emails petered out eventually into peace. Sure a peace with worries, about incomes and boredom and there is actually a virus going on out there. But there has been a peace hasn’t there? A rest from the busyness. A stopping of the treadmills I suspect many of us don’t want to get back on.
So what if we just didn’t? Get back on. Go back to normal. At least not without talking through what we’ve learned from all this more time to think. What if we peeled back the myth of all that busyness we used to do and pretended to believe in, and played with the idea we might not need it in this afterwards. What if we gave ourselves some time? To think, to not be so quick to division and anger, to the taking of positions, to not listening, to not noticing and valuing each other. What might happen if we stopped the busyness and adopted a method of slower thought? To think about our responsibilities to the generations after us? To the left out and abused of our own generations? And about how we could run our democracy and all it contains for the genuinely greater good of us all and not the self-interest of the powerful or loudest.
Because before the busyness gets fully going again, and before the treadmills are cranked up I think we need to take some time to think. To learn from what we’ve been through. Because the future needs to be better that what we’ve all been living through these past months, where the virus has shown us a cracked society barely capable of civil conversations for much of the time, never mind coping with a crisis. And it’s not good enough.
There are likely to be all kinds of conversations going on about afterwards, nationally and locally if you want to find them. One I’ll be joining in with here in Liverpool and also in Leeds is this one about “The Delightful City.” So let’s talk. It’s got to be better than shouting at each other on Twitter.
Thanks to my fellow sociologist Abi O’Connor for the conversation that led to this one.