Littered throughout history are certain events of such significance that they end up influencing the entire course of human society for decades, even centuries afterwards.
It can be hard at the time to tell which particular event will enter the annals as one of the mythical “Days That Changed The World”, but as the ripple effect kicks in and its effects begin to be felt, it becomes increasingly easy to look back and say to ourselves “That’s when everything changed”.
Not counting SA’s first democratic election since I was only a week old at the time, there are two of these moments I can distinctly remember living through.
The first was the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, that helped kick off the disasterous War on Terror and has resulted in the ongoing destablisation of the Middle East, the subsequent rise in extremist groups around the globe and a new world order built on conflict and paranoia.
The second was the Great Recession of 2007/08, when the global economic system collapsed in on itself like an imploding star, taking trillions of dollars and untold livelihoods with it. It’s arguable whether we even really recovered ten years on.
I bring this up because I honestly believe we are living through another one of those moments that, years later, will be looked back on as one that led to immense change around the world, possibly more so than the other two.
As I’m sure you’ve all seen by now, the world is in one heck of a hot mess right now.
Covid-19 continues to rampage across the world with no signs of it slowing down anytime soon. As businesses and even entire countries begin shutting down in the face of the pandemic, we are now also forced to endure the worst economic collapse since 2008, with the very real possibility that it could collapse even further.
And all the while the climate crisis continues to rage on in the background, with the planet hurtling towards complete ecological collapse that becomes more inevitable with each passing day.
Now it would be pretty easy at this point to just throw up my metaphorical hands and spend the rest of the column wallowing in defeat, but truth be told, I don’t think we should give up just yet.
Yes, things are terrifying right now and yes, a lot of people are going to get hurt or worse.
Things honestly will get a lot worse before they have even a remote possibility of getting better. But if we work together, we can not only minimise the damage but come out on the other side stronger.
But in order to do that, we need now more than ever to critically examine our world and how it is currently organised. The system is broken and we can no longer bury our heads in the sand and pretend otherwise.
We live in a socio-economic system that is built on built on mass exploitation and impoverishment, regular cuts in funding for essential services like healthcare in favour of throwing money at big business and a blinding obsession with short-term profit over long-term prosperity.
It was, after all, a toxic combination of poverty and incessent commodification of nature that created the infamous wet market in Wuhan where the future virus was able to mutate.
It was the belief in harsh austerity measuress that led to governments around the world slashing healthcare budgets and eroding social safety nets, ensuring that they would be woefully unprepared in the face of a a serious disaster.
And it is the constant drive for limitless expansion and profit that has companies fighting amongst each other, rather than cooperating in this time of crisis, while certain government officials boast about how the future vaccine won’t be affordable to everyone.
It is now clearer than ever that “business as usual” will no longer suffice. A serious change is needed, probably bigger than any other of its kind in history.