It’s Monday morning. And despite the sun being out my mood is less than sunny. I’ve already has a brief rant to anyone who will listen on Dorset Council’s Teams about my feelings of impotency regarding (what I consider to be) the Council’s slow response to our climate emergency. Perhaps I should have drunk less wine over the weekend, but I need something to look forward at the end of the week. And two experiences last Friday evening, an hour or so after wine o’clock, were of lasting value.
The first resulted from a desire the listen to The Boss, and in particular from listening to the last track on Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska album – ‘Reason to Believe’. I’ve always been struck by the line “At the end of every hard earned day people find some reason to believe”, but on the this occasion it seemed to have a bigger impact that usual – an impact that haunted me all weekend. Regular readers of this blog will now that I have often talked about the essential role stories play in our life; about how we construct / adopt stories that allow us to make sense of our experiences and give meaning and purpose to our lives. To my understanding this an existential human need. We cannot survive without meaning and purpose. No matter how hard or chaotic our lives are, no matter how much our focus is on material survival rather than intellectual contemplation, we are forced by a deep need to believe in some purpose bigger than our own life – even if that purpose is the belief (for example) that it’s a dog eat dog world and that I am, therefore, entitled to take any action necessary to stay alive. My point is that this story does not need to be true, we just need to believe it to be true. We need a reason to believe.
This experience has had two further effects on me. It fanned the flames of the socialism that has been burning within me since my teenage years – though, to be fair, this was more as a result of listening to Bruce in general than this particular song. People at the lower end of the social hierarchy are being disproportionally hit by the current pandemic. Those on low wages are least able to take any financial hit, let alone the hit that is going to be struck by the biggest economic recession since the depression of the 1930s; their jobs are most at risk, especially those on zero hour contacts; social distancing is so much more difficult when you live in high density housing with no garden or outdoor space of your own; and going into self-isolation is close to impossible for large families with a limited number of bedrooms. It also made me feel so much more understanding of those people who, at this time of crisis, have resorted to weird conspiracy theories to explain what is happening. Whilst a part of me will always remain critical of such theories and intolerant of those who resort to them, I can at least comprehend the role such theories play.
The second experience came shortly afterwards when I took my partner’s dog for a short walk before we ate. The streets of Bridport, and our nearby park, were silent. A silence that you would not normally believe possible for an early Friday evening. Well, actually not quite silence – the sound of birds was overwhelming, and not a little eerie. When I returned home and told of my experience I was informed of a recent explanation made by the folk singer Martha Tilston, who has suggested that the lack of traffic noise is allowing the mating calls of birds to be heard more clearly and over greater distances, and this is generating a lot of bird activity. Another example, then, of how this enforced lack of human activity is having a positive effect on both non-human animals and the planet.
I really hope that we can take some of our experiences and learning with us to the other side of this crisis. I really hope that the value we have been placing on health and care workers, on delivery drivers, and on foreign workers lasts. I hope that the general degree of civility and social cooperation that I’ve experienced continues. I hope that we are better able to appreciate the effects human life has on our only planet and the other life we share it with. And I hope that we do not forget the shortcomings of a market led economy and the value of cooperation over competition.