We live as though we are immortal, or at least, don’t understand our own mortality. In a matter of weeks, all of this has changed. Our lives are now constantly shaped around the understanding that we are not invincible, and around reducing the threats to our health and existence.
Being confronted with mortality, whether it is ours or that of the ones we love, is no easy task. But in the same way that we now recognize the impermanence of our way of life, the crisis we are now experiencing is impermanent, too. When speaking to family and friends, I have often heard (and said) the following reassurance: for better or worse, nothing is final. This too shall pass.
I know I cannot do much about the pandemic, and this powerlessness frustrates me. All I can do is stay at home, and vote for a Democrat in November who can actually handle crises.
What happens after this passes, after a vaccine is developed? We will rejoice in the lives saved and mourn those lost. But as I think about the future, I’m not so sure we’ll be able to have long-lasting relief.
Future crises and useless deaths will not end. In America alone, 36,000 people will be killed from gun violence and another 45,000 will be killed by a lack of health insurance each year. This is hardly an exhaustive list, and there is still more suffering around the world. Most ominous is the threat of climate change, which our president continues to deny. These deaths are hardly insignificant, especially when aggregated over many years.
In an unprecedented step, we’ve been willing to stop the economy and our entire lives for this crisis. I think we should be taking these types of drastic measures for the future crises that will inevitably come. Our current actions (or lack thereof) are concerningly slow. Congress may have passed a $2 trillion aid-relief package, but that does not solve the recession that will persist after quarantines come to an end. We should seize this opportunity to restructure our economy and be fairer towards workers in the first place.
But we can’t even seem to pass incremental reforms for global problems that pose many of the same existential threats that pandemics do. Why do we not deal with them with the same urgency as COVID-19?
For one, COVID-19 is a new threat, one that is taken seriously — finally — by all. It’s also a threat we don’t know much about and are not prepared for. It makes sense that we need to concentrate our resources. But part of the reason that COVID-19 has garnered more attention than any of the other global problems we now face is that everyone — including the most powerful — is vulnerable to it. Just this week, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles were diagnosed. Policymakers, mainstream media and business leaders — in short, those who set the norms of society — aren’t immune, and thus are forced to care about the issue.
After this is over, we should not be so quick to forget the dangers of inaction. But we should also not forget our power to mobilize and how much can be accomplished when the whole globe is on the same page. We still have the power to change our future.
I’m not arguing that we should shut down the economy for every issue we face. In fact, if we take a preventative approach, we can actually avoid these extreme measures in the first place.
Through meaningful reform, we can — and desperately need to — address persistent needless suffering even among those we cannot see. Sometimes, it is easy to forget a problem when it does not affect the people around you every day. It’s even harder to factor in concerns about the future into the worries we face in the present. But as we’ve learned, we must be able to do all of these things. After all, while COVID-19 was not “our” problem two months ago, it surely is today.
RABHYA MEHROTRA is a sophomore in Morse College. Her column runs on alternate Tuesdays. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .