I saw an interesting video the other day that posited that America’s inability to respond appropriately to the Coronavirus is a result of decades of institutional decay and neglect. The presenter blames Republicans although I would posit that it was both Democrats AND Republicans. He goes on to say that we have spent decades slashing government programs and involvement, and right at the time we need a large-scale government intervention, we see the impotence of our system. This makes me think of the idea of the seasons. The season of spring isn’t just to enjoy the flowers, but to also plant for the coming fall so you can make it through the winter.
Success has a way of tricking us that it will always be so. For example, in the 1940’s and 50’s government intervention was large and pervasive in all facets of American life. It had to be. We had just come out of the Great Depression and were tasked with winning World War 2. A weak government would have spelled certain disaster. The plethora of government programs that we take for granted (GI Bill, Unemployment, Social Security, Medicaid, etc.) were made because we already made the mistake of pulling back too much in the decades before the Great Depression. The 1920’s looked a lot like 2020 in terms of income inequality and government dysfunction.
It takes wisdom and discernment to know that tomorrow’s difficulties should have been planned for yesterday. Our current unrest should have been wholly predictable. Indeed, many great thinkers like Peter Turchin and Neil Howe predicted a crisis around the year 2020 years before. If we could have seen the patterns of rising individualism and weakening government and community taking place beginning in the 1970’s and taking off in the Reagan era, we could have predicted our sad state with astonishing accuracy.
Human life has many parallels to the natural world. Anyone who knows about gardening knows that you have to have a long term time perspective. In order for me to harvest in the fall and survive the winter, I have to plant in the spring and tend in the summer. Winter is somewhat predictable. We never know the exact day, but we know the general time. Once the frost comes, it’s too late to sow and reap. You have to bear a bad winter and wait until the next year to start over. Coronavirus is a winter for America. It’s a winter for the whole world, but especially for places that have been seduced by individualism and community destruction (United States, Brazil, and to a lesser extent the United Kingdom). Not to say that individualism is wholly negative, it certainly isn’t. But every period of social unrest has been preceded by growing individualism and community decay (read Bowling Alone).
I say all that to point out the obvious fact that the reason we can’t respond to our current crisis is because we spent decades tearing apart the exact institutions needed to respond to a crisis like this. But all hope is not lost. Although it has been, and probably will continue to be, a harsh winter for America, Spring will show up eventually. If we are wise, we will begin sowing the seeds of a new and better country, and preparing for the next inevitable Winter that comes along.