It’s too early to make a call about whether we’ll look back on 2020 as the year from hell or as the year in which things started to become even worse and what we thought was hell was merely hell’s reception area.
And was what befell us this year completely unforeseen? Well, yes, in some ways. But a pandemic was becoming increasingly likely as ecological damage continued, and its effects could be — and were — fairly accurately modelled both at the economic and health levels by large numbers of both national and international health organisations. In other words, the scale of the detrimental effects of this particular pandemic are a result of political decisions. And if we look especially at the UK and the USA — where the death toll and the economic impact for anyone already living on benefits or one pay check away from eviction and food banks — we can see that it is more than political. The profits-led, private-industry-focused, and corruption-riddled responses to the pandemic have been driven by ideology.
When the Tories and other parties of the neoliberal death cult talk of the economy they don’t mean the health of the nation as a whole. Their idea of economy is the profit-gobbling transnational corporations that destroy the planet, shatter communities when they shift production in search of smaller overheads, seek to continually depress wages, and campaign feverishly against the rights — and safety — of workers.
Living in the UK now means living in a country that is likely to see one of the world’s highest death rates from Covid-19 — and that was before the onset of new, apparently more aggressive strains of the virus began popping up like unwelcome molehills in the immaculate lawn of our self-regard. And, of course, to add that little extra irony, a major health crisis hit these shores after the Tories had spent the previous decade seeking the best ways to undermine, underfund, and ultimately sell off the NHS. Hospitals were hugely understaffed before the pandemic hit. NHS staff were already working over one million hours of unpaid overtime every week before the pandemic arrived in the UK. One million hours. Every week. Nurses and midwives account for over 400,000 of those hours. You know, those nurses that have lost their bursaries and been refused a pay rise by the Tories?
Add to all this a Tory government led by ministers both corrupt and incompetent — and with a majority in parliament that makes them almost untouchable — and it is hard to see what anyone could be grateful for. It hasn’t helped, of course, that the so-called leader of the opposition is not much of a leader and seems to believe that the best way to oppose austerity, corruption, and incompetence is to abstain in crucial votes or, when he is particularly exercised by the blatant lies engaged in by the Tory front bench, to tut.
So much for anger. Or, at least, the fertile ground on which my anger is laying its ever stronger foundations.
But gratitude I do have. It may be a short list but it’s full of important things. Here it is:
My health and that of my family. My wife, my three adult children, and I have all escaped illness so far this year.
I have a built-in support network in my — for now — Zoom-based twelve-step meetings. The humour in the rooms and the ability to right-size problems and put things in perspective has been, if not exactly a life saver, a balm for my sanity.
The love of my wife. She shows me how to love and be loved. After twenty-nine years of marriage, our marriage grows stronger every year. We have faced this year together.
I love reading and I love books and this year I have found in the books I’ve read worlds of hope and joy and knowledge. Not escapism, perhaps, so much as a source of strength for all the best that we can be. Turning from a news report containing the flippant evil of a Boris Johnston or a Donald Trump (or any of their toadying, self-serving acolytes) to the essays in My Seditious Heart by Arundhati Roy or a novel like Anne Patchett’s The Dutch House, for instance, is to inhale hope like fresh air in a world that seemed enmeshed in the smoke of a billion fires.
The danger is that I let my gratitude crowd out my anger. That way lies silence and silence is fatal to us all at this time. I hope, therefore, I will have the strength throughout this year to add my voice to those who are agitating for change, for an end to free-market capitalism — of any sort of capitalism, to be honest — and for saving the planet for our children.
Happy New Year.