This is the eighth instalment of LOVE AND WAGE LABOUR IN THE AGE OF CAPITALIST PANDEMIC. These instalments are journal entries entitled with only their date. I wanted to try to document this time, the time of COVID-19. It struck me that I was having conversations with people who were all having unique experiences of this pandemic, and that most of these conversations, like all memories, would fall away. I wanted to document it. These are my experiences only. I hope you find something in them. – Madeleine
As I sit watching BBC News’ dedicated programme to the soldiers who lost their lives in World War II, I am overcome with some kind of emotion. War always rings funnily in my ears, because luckily, it is unimaginable to me. I have read novels, watched films, and yet the reality of war still escapes my capabilities. Like most people, my family served in the war; my auntie Sydney, who I never met, was a nurse in London during the blitz. My grandfathers were in the Navy; one of them was torpedoed out of his boat into the sea three times before he was nineteen. Brave people, doing what they believed was right. Put in the firing line by governments on high.
In the time of coronavirus, with our freedom plugged by necessary social distancing rules, and the government threatening to lift lockdown despite hundreds of deaths per day, it feels poignant to me that we are, once again, facing crisis. We are once again facing a time in which those on the front line are losing their lives. But instead of going out and fighting, all we have to do is stay at home and watch Netflix – and some can’t even seem to manage that. Instead of bomber planes, as Boris Johnson keeps reminding us, the enemy is invisible, and blameless in itself – an arbitrary, abstract concept that we can’t even be angry with. So where must our anger go? Where can it land itself?
Many of us are angry with the government. The failure to adequately protect doctors and nurses, cleaners, teachers, care home workers and other key workers with PPE is stark and tragic. It’s also not a mistake. After ten years of austerity, this virus hit our fragile system like a tidal wave, taking our most vulnerable with it. They don’t mind this, you see. It’s convenient for this party to cull our elderly and disabled, to cut the costs of what they consider unnecessary human life. Now, on VE Day, remembering those flung into war without a choice and dying for it, we can look with regret, with sadness, at all those young lives lost. Yes, their deaths won us the war, supposedly, in some roundabout way. Their enemy was fascism, something prevalent and ever-growing in 21st Century Europe, not quite dead yet, despite it all. The Nazis committed unthinkable genocide and it was right to fight it. Yet the loss of civilian life, the conscription of many underage boys to go and die on the front lines to defeat Nazism, was a catastrophic loss. They are heroised for their sacrifice. In actual fact, they did simply what they were forced to do. Just like the soldiers from France, Germany, America and Japan, they did their government’s bidding and many of them died for it. War is never something to be proud of. We are the society they died for, and now we are in crisis. What must our move be?
We must firstly learn, wholeheartedly and without exception, that human life is not disposable. I don’t know who raised these men in government who seem to believe otherwise. I wonder what happened to them along the way, that they can happily allow underpaid, exhausted frontline workers to die for their incompetence. Of course, capitalism has progressed in an extraordinary way in the past 75 years; our lives are measurable by price, now, and that is the tragedy in itself. Before coronavirus hit us, it is estimated that there were 130,000 preventable deaths due to austerity cuts. It is likely there are many more than that. Human life has never been a consideration of the Conservative party.
Secondly, we must value the fact that our sacrifices are, relatively speaking, small. It was written about by the likes of Allison Pearson that millennials will fail at lockdown, that we might get ‘stressy’ and break the rules because we’re all too privileged and ungrateful to stand it. Eight weeks in, she’s calling for us to suck it up and get on with it, break lockdown and carry on as normal. Funny. I don’t know anyone of my generation who has broken lockdown rules. I have seen my older neighbours having friends round, and heard from friends that theirs are doing the same. The generation raised by middle class boomers had it so easy, the easiest anyone has EVER had it since human life began. A job out of university, the ability to buy homes, security. Sure, mundanity was a large factor. But the price our generation pay, as we live through financial crashes, late capitalist austerity, and the billionaire class, is massive. Show me somebody my age who can buy their own home, or feels secure financially, who didn’t have financial backing from their parents. You can’t. They don’t exist. We have already sacrificed that luxury at the expensive of our parents’ generation, who have, in plain terms, created a hellish landscape for us.
So the sacrifice we must make for this crisis is small, really. Staying at home is hard, and is difficult for those for whom home is unsafe. Domestic violence has gone up by 25% in lockdown alone. Yet for those of us who can call home, home, we must stick to it. Because our lives are not disposable. We are not in a war. We are not conscripted to fly planes at the age of eighteen, we are not in factories for six years without a break, we are not losing an entire generation of young men in bloody violence. But this government can, and will, dispose of you. They do it all the time. Think of the callousness with which Grenfell victims were treated; think of those starving to death after their benefits are cut; think of the homeless. If you think you’re different, you’re wrong. If you end up in a bad situation, they won’t help you. If you elect to side with the government who are limping along, trying to save this broken economy, throwing vulnerable people under the bus as you go, I ask you: are your family disposable?
Madeleine Goode is a writer based in London. She is always looking for writing opportunities.
Instagram and Twitter: @goodegracious