By Phil Hall
Covid-19 arrives, We sit at home for a long while. The cities empty, the air clears and bird song seems louder. Translucent jellyfish float up the canal and goats clop through a Welsh hill town. We all see these things presented artistically on slim screens. We, the whole world. There is a big intake of breath and all human beings are asked to think about what kind of future they want for life on Earth, especially those human beings with power and influence. This is a lull before the next phase of human civilisation begins. May it be an improvement on the last. The scientists, doctors, nurses, carers, cleaners, farmers, shopkeepers and delivery workers are our heroes now, not the soldiers, not the vultures.
In the past every single crisis has been nothing more than a call to arms for humanity. Civilisation built on slavery and regimentation gave us protection, education, entertainment, a shared belief system and surplus time to create art and study the sciences – to enhance civilisation. Civilisation is a virtuous circle that overcomes obstacles not through the dreams of a prophet like Daniel, but through the recorded and archived memory of the seasons, of the past flood cycles of the Nile. A Roman villa in Pompei was to die for! Even the wealthiest alive today envy the prosperous Romans.
Colonialism, which oppressed whole nations for years and entrenched racialist belief systems of superiority and entitlement, homogenised the world. The colonialists took the cultivars of the Americas, the products of millennia of selection and cultivation, released them and spread them round the globe. Colonialism turned the Apache, the Mexica and the Inca into Europeans. Colonialism created great spheres of mutual understanding and awareness and strange pairings; so that now Holland really is twinned with Indonesia, so that Morocco has two European brothers called Spain and France, so that a little archipelago to the north of Europe is India’s jewel in the crown. I am talking about identities and shared spaces. How awfully eclectic they are as the result of colonialism.
Colonialism created great spheres of mutual understanding and awareness and strange pairings;
But how shocking to think that just as it was for feudalism, slavery was at the bedrock of capitalism. The foundation stones of modernity are the blood, sweat and tears of men, women and children transplanted to the Caribbean and the southern United States. Under that stratum, even worse, is the genocide of the Caribs and native Americans. Slavery was overthrown, but not before the work of transplanted African people in the Caribbean had provided enough wealth to kick start the industrial revolution and money to build a fair number of the grand country houses of England.
Capitalism is the organised extraction and exploitation of other people’s creativity and labour with the help of the state. After extremely painful beginnings, capitalism, built up through the well-chronicled suffering of the European and US working classes, took off, revolutionising every aspect of our lives. It turned us into wage earners. The capitalist class collects our labour surplus assiduously to the last drop. Capitalism does amazing things with our surplus labour, it builds nuclear submarines and battleships, skyscrapers, rockets, malls and TV stations. The list of what the few do with the labour surplus of the many dumbfounds.
The capitalist class collects our labour surplus assiduously to the last drop.
And now, the system which revolutionised production processes has brought us to such a point in history where technology really has become magic; we have virtual reality, 3D printing, robot combine harvesters, solar power stations and our spacecraft have explored the solar system. Think of the cornucopia of services, experiences and products on offer to almost anyone paid a living wage in modern capitalist society.
Despite the hegemony of this system and the fact that it thrives on a certain level of chaos and misery which is tolerable to the few and intolerable to the many, with every catastrophe humanity, collectively rises to the challenge and overcomes it.
To the disgust of the misanthropes, antibiotics prevents the death of hundreds of millions and nitrate fertiliser easily allows the planet to sustain over 7 billion people – or it would if the food were distributed better. The vast majority of those who live now have better lives than the ordinary people of previous centuries.
Call the New Age humane socialism, if you like.
The instincts of lower order capitalists are deeply piratical, unlike those (ehem) of the more mature billionaire, visionaries and philanthropists – sweethearts like Rockefeller and Gates. There is of course an even darker side of capitalism that thrives on war: the armaments companies, the oil giants, the great spiders who would have you squashed like a bug as soon as look at you.
But now, with the help of Covid-19, we move into the beginnings of a new age. Either it will be yet another phase of capitalism, or it will be the start of a bloodless transformation into something else. Call the New Age humane socialism, if you like.
I am happy to know that I live at the onset of this mythical New Age. Just as people in the present sometimes long to walk in the past, to see Babylon, Rome or London in their full glory, well, in the future they will long to have experienced our very own rosy-fingered, lock-down dawn. They will long to have witnessed what is happening right now, the full awakening of humanity, as we begin to understand we need to work as a planet to meet the challenges that face us, global challenges like Covid-10.
Here are some of those challenges. I have listed them for you, but you are welcome to add to them:
- The challenge of insufficient intellectual capacity
- The challenge of a possible catastrophic asteroid or comet strike
- The challenge of travelling in space long distances
- The challenge of dealing equably with other species on Earth
- The challenge of sharing out resources fairly
- The challenge of engineering evolution
- The challenge of protecting the vulnerable
- The challenge of incorporating capitalism into socialist democracy
- The challenge of reforming toxic recidivist states
- The challenge of ensuring gender equality
- The challenge of coexistence, generating mutual respect and solidarity
- The challenge of life extension
- The challenge of climate change and global warming
- The challenge of communication with extraterrestrial species
- The challenge of dealing with volcanic and seismic activity
- The challenge of defeating ablism
- The challenge of taking control away of body image from the fashion industry and commerce
- The challenge of sharing prosperity and development
- The challenge of providing ongoing educational opportunities for everyone
- The challenge of looking after everyone’s health
- The challenge of providing people with plenty of leisure
- The challenge of stopping discrimination of all kinds
- The challenge of ensuring freedom of expression and creativity
- The challenge of freeing the Earth from pollution of the air, water and earth
- The challenge of recognising the sentience of species like dolphins, elephants and Bonobos.
- The challenge of stopping over-fishing of the seas
- The challenge of ensuring justice for everyone
- The challenge of creating high quality bionics
- The challenge of unemployment and underemployment
- The challenge of discovering as yet unknown dangers and challenges
- The challenge of providing psychological support
- The challenge of the husbanding existing raw materials
- The challenge of the discovery of new sources of raw materials
- The challenge of development of alternative energies
- The challenge of dealing with the darkness in human nature
These are a few of the challenges that we will face in this new millennia and, when we do face them we will overcome them. The Earth and our solar system will be a garden. The Earth will be full of conservation parks, it will be full of an impossible beauty.
We are the ones living at this hinge moment, though ultimately it is our children who will have to rise to the challenges ahead; not with the physics of megadeath and aggression, but with their creativity and talent, with passion and self control, with clear thinking.
Phil Hall is a university lecturer working in the Middle East. He is a committed socialist and humanitarian. Phil was born in South Africa where his parents were in the ANC. There, his mother was imprisoned and his father was the first journalist from a national paper to be banned. Phil grew up in East Africa and settled in Kingston-upon-Thames. He has also lived and worked in the Ukraine, Spain and Mexico. Phil has blogged for the Guardian, the Morning Star and several other publications and he has written stories for The London Magazine.