OPINION

Chance to make society fairer and stronger

Beyond fracture: The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated how fast and effectively we can bring about positive change.
Beyond fracture: The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated how fast and effectively we can bring about positive change.

We go through life, all of us, thinking that the world around us is stable, fixed and reliable.

We believe that if we hop on the Princes Highway we'll end up in Narooma or Warrnambool, not Coober Pedy or Longreach or Narnia.

And then something picks the world up and shakes it, and we realise how many of the things we've treated as if they were iron laws of destiny are actually no more than guidelines, or convenient mass delusions, or just fog.

Coronavirus has been, among other things, an acid test of what constitutes reality.

The Grand Prix, it turns out, or even the Olympics, is a mere bubble.

The basis of civilisation is not politics, literature, science, agriculture or monumental architecture, but toilet paper.

What we can take from this is that the constraints we've always been told hold us back, the boundaries we've been told are impassable, are in fact just conventions.

When we have to (or when we want to) we can shed enormous chunks of our culture.

We can do this without coercion, without central planning, without discussion, simply because some blockage we looked on as a universal eternal assumption has slunk away whistling with embarrassment and left the road clear.

We've worked for years to try to fix the problem of people living on the street without making any significant progress.

All of a sudden it turns out you can put them into hotels.

We've just done it, without any economist or politician jumping in to point out why it was completely unfeasible and absolutely impossible.

Our prison populations have been climbing for decades because politicians thought they had to be tough on crime.

It turns out that you can let a surprising number of those new inmates leave the building without any precautions other than a cake of soap, and nobody grumbles.

Everybody has been pointing out that Newstart was too bloody low for decades, and neither party would listen.

We've just doubled it without the word "surplus" being mentioned.

We've even shut down the AFL.

It turns out that building just enough infrastructure to meet the demand for broadband or Centrelink appointments or intensive care beds or ventilators 96% of the time leaves us facing an existential crisis during the other 4%.

How can anybody say, now, that we can't make this or that adaptation to climate change?

We're going to have to give up a lot more sacred cows before this is over.

How long can we justify keeping asylum seekers locked up in camps when we need the camps to quarantine ourselves?

We now know that nothing is impossible, and that's just the start. The entire question of what our economy - what our society - is for, is up for grabs.

It turns out that building just enough infrastructure to meet the demand for broadband or Centrelink appointments or intensive care beds or ventilators 96% of the time leaves us facing an existential crisis during the other 4%. (We've been taught in the most unfortunate possible way that the NBN is not fit for purpose and that Centrelink is not fit for anything.)

Right now, when lives in the balance outnumber marginal seats, it's clearer than ever that it's a good idea to build a bit of redundancy into the system.

Efficiency in one situation can, when the wind changes, be downright dangerous. What we're experiencing now is more than a wind change - it's a raging spitstorm.

The only reason we're doing any of these sensible things is that something is trying to kill us.

But when we can leave our houses and walk freely again, will we have forgotten everything we've just learned?

Will we snap back into the old political attitudes and carry on where we left off? Not if you and I can help it.

This virus is showing us social change can happen, now. These adaptations make our society - kinder, fairer and stronger.

Who wouldn't want to live in an altered reality like that?

Denis Moriarty is group managing director of OurCommunity.com.au, a social enterprise helping the country's 600,000 not-for-profits through the COVID-19 crisis with free resources at: www.ourcommunity.com.au/saveoursector

This story Chance to make society fairer and stronger first appeared on The Canberra Times.