Every disaster shakes loose the old order: what replaces it is up to us.
This is the crux of Rebecca Solnit’s article in NYT of 3 April 2020. The following excerpts are quite pertinent in the present testing times.
The scramble has already begun. The possibilities for change, for the better or the worse, for a more egalitarian or more authoritarian society, burst out of the gate like racehorses at times like these.
Every disaster shakes loose the old order: The sudden catastrophe changes the rules and demands new and different responses, but what those will be are the subject of a battle. These disruptions shift people’s sense of who they and their society are, what matters and what’s possible, and lead, often, to deeper and more lasting change…Many disasters unfold like revolutions.
Disasters test regimes. Some fail the test. Incompetence, indifference and self-interest are easy to see in the stark light of an emergency. People whose lives have been thrown into turmoil are no longer cautious or derential, and no longer accept the inevitability of a status quo that is already in disarray. Things that seemed impossible have already happened – in our case, much of the economy has shut down, much of the population has suspended its ordinary activities…
There are no simple rules for when disaster becomes insurrection. Strong public outrage at the ruling party and its response is one factor; recognition of the possibility of deep and lasting change is another; and of course, how the story of what happened takes shape – who deserves credit or blame – yet another.
No one knows yet what will come out of this crisis. But like so many other disasters, this one has revealed how interconnected we are; how much we depend on the labour and good will of others; how deeply enmeshed we are in social, ecological and economic systems; and how prevention or survival of something as deeply, bodily personal as a disease depends on our collective decisions and those of our leadership.
Along with the struggle to overcome a disaster comes a struggle to define what it means. The two struggles are inseparable, and out of them a new order emerges.
(There are lessons and warnings in this piece for Pakistani leadership).