It is, as it was. Will we learn?

After the Pandemic: Our New World
Image (c) Sky News

When you knew lockdown was coming, did you fill your car up with petrol? I’ve asked that question of many people who live in comfortable ways and areas. None even thought to. Of course, they thought, the petrol stations would stay open. However, ask anybody a Hurricane zone the same question and of course they did, they would always prepare.

Will we learn from this, or go back to our old ways?

Today I’m curating below a short and powerful article written in April and published in a Journal in May 2020 from people who know about human behaviour and response to pandemic threats. A key section:

“We suggest the current pandemic and our collective response to it reveal the contemporary conditions of life, which have been and continue to be defined by gross inequities (Bear 2016). While projections change and responses adapt, the pandemic reveals these are the conditions of life now. This is the pandemic present. It is, as it was.

Whitacre, Buchbinder, Holmes – The pandemic present
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1469-8676.12829
(c) 2020 European Association of Social Anthropologists

So will we learn?

  • Today it is not April, we are in mid-June and lockdown is easing. Will we forget the lessons?
  • At this moment (some) white people around the world are, and truly for the first time, grappling with systemic racism and what it means to be anti-racist.
  • Almost forgotten in the pandemic apart from wistful mentions of clean air and birdsong, humanity has created a climate crisis and, to date, is still not recognising what needs to be done.

Can humanity not only learn, but truly change? Will moments become movements?

I wonder. I have lived (and lead people) most of my adult life in a country in a Hurricane belt where we always sought to prepare and act, so two weeks before the UK locked down I was loudly and firmly talking about preparing (and amplifying voices that would be heard, to ask, no beg, the government to lock down then). The Government still waited two weeks, at massive cost of lives and to society and the economy.

This is, though, understandable. So many in positions of power and influence live in a world of :

  • Day to day convenience in city life, of overnight delivery and everything available day to day
  • Being a white person in a world of white privilege. Enough said.
  • Having sufficient financial cushioning to air condition your big house, drive your big car(s) and drink your bottled water (oh, but you do recycle those bottles, you do your part for the planet).

To what level is this each of us? To what level will we eventually (or even quickly) drop back into old patterns rather than truly grow and change?

I am always a positive person, yet also someone grounded in reality. Nothing will change unless we choose to change and also encourage others to change. Let us learn lessons from the Pandemic, from the death of George Floyd and upwelling of willingness to be anti-racist, from the awareness and need to address the climate crisis.

As the article below notes, we are in the Pandemic Present. It is, as it was, and yet it seems, more so. Change is literally unthinkable, it is VUCA (Volatile, Unpredictable, Complex and Ambiguous). Those around my age, know we bequeath to our children and future generations a far less stable and certain world. Let us use our privilege, our positions of leadership, let us act from what we have learned.

Now, five hundred or so far more eloquent and expert words than mine:

The pandemic present

Since the WHO declared COVID‐19 a global pandemic, past events and future plans have collapsed into successive moments of uncertainty. Hundreds of thousands may die from this virus. Countless others could become casualties of collapsing economies. Governments implement measures by the day, then push them back week by week. Financial markets nose dive and then recover, so fourth‐quarter gains look like first‐quarter losses – but only if you sell. Disease models forecast the year ahead but must adjust by the day to account for the test results from the week prior that arrive a week later.

As we try to catch up to this emerging reality, and evaluate risk within a culture of danger (Caduff 2015), experts who study pandemics say they saw this coming and knew we would be unprepared (Lakoff 2017). Yet, we find ourselves here again, ask- ing, ‘What will this become?’ To stay with the trouble of living and dying together on a damaged earth (Haraway 2016), we suggest the current pandemic and our collective response to it reveal the contemporary conditions of life, which have been and continue to be defined by gross inequities (Bear 2016). While projections change and responses adapt, the pandemic reveals these are the conditions of life now. This is the pandemic present.


It is, as it was. Pandemic response reveals what was already there. At the same moment we conjure an idealised vision of what could have been, we are forced to reckon with the fact that we failed to prepare for the present. We knew a pandemic event was coming, and we were told we would be unprepared. Only months after the Centers for Disease Control completed a simulation for a pandemic event, which revealed gross unpreparedness, we found ourselves within it. Only a year after President Trump cut the US pandemic preparedness team, we learned the nation needed it. Memories haunt. We remember the last time financial markets crashed, hurricanes swept away coastlines and fires tore across the continent. History is instructive. Past disasters tell us how markets will be managed – big businesses will be bailed out and insurance companies will not pay out.


We are here, now. Our place in time is defined by gross inequities. For those of us privileged to be in good health, have jobs and live in homes, this may be just a moment. However, for many of us, including people of colour and migrants, this pandemic could mark an end of hope, or a continuation ‐ of organizing, of coalition‐building, of resistance (Chang and Holmes 2020). While projections change and responses adapt, the pandemic reveals these are the conditions of life now. This is the pandemic present.

Whitacre, Buchbinder, Holmes – The pandemic present.pdf
https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1469-8676.12829 (text with links)


Also published on Medium.