"The show must go on."
That's the overall impression I get when listening to people talk about the need for certain social institutions to keep operating as they always have despite the current public health challenges represented by COVID-19.
Whether it's churches, restaurants, beaches, or schools, the guiding philosophy behind most, if not all, of the public debate seems to be centered around this notion that one way or another, the show must go on.
Set aside any question you have for the moment about the benefits of a fully-functioning economy, or the merits of having our kids go back to school in six weeks, or the social and religious needs of the people in our pews. Instead, take a look at the unconscious assumption that is underlying this urgent feeling of yours.
"The show must go on."
It's become apparent to me that we've created somewhat of a monster here. Society is like a big, steam-rolling vessel that may need to be patched up and repaired from time to time, but is never expected to change course or, God forbid, drop its anchor and just self-reflect for a while.
We live with this idea that society must remain in constant motion in order to survive. We believe we have to keep buying and selling and producing and earning at an ever-increasing rate, or else the whole world might go to hell.
Why do we believe that. though? Why do we tell ourselves this story?
Of course, I'm not talking about sitting around and doing nothing and expecting to have all the food and stuff we need. I'm talking about the general mechanisms of western society.
Why does it cause such a tremendous social and psychological upheaval just to hit the pause button on a few things for a couple months? Are we really so wedded to the frantic pace of western civilization that we can't even stop for a while and reflect on other possible ways, whether necessary or self-chosen, to go about the business of life?
These are huge questions that very few people are asking. They should be.
Without welcoming or being thankful for any of the suffering that COVID-19 has caused so far, I wish we would stop and realize what a momentous opportunity this pandemic has created for us to re-envision the way we function as a society.
After all, there is nothing sacrosanct about any of our social institutions in and of themselves. Some of them contribute to the general flourishing of human beings; some of them do not. They are what they are because we've made them that way. And they could be something different, something better, if we chose to make them so.
2020 has been an apocalyptic moment in human history. Many things are coming to light that were previously hidden further away from view. The question is whether we have eyes to see.
This season is not just a bump in the road, not an unforeseen inconvenience that we need to surmount as quickly as possible so we can get back to "normal." On the contrary, it is an unexpected invitation to a new and better way of life. We will only recognize this, though, when we get beyond the subtle conditioning which leads us to believe that one way or another, the show must go on.
In the words of Arundhati Roy, "Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing."