Every “natural disaster” is a combination of the natural world and human actions. Basically natural disasters expose and exacerbate political problems and inequality. And we are already seeing this with the response to coronavirus. So let me pose a series of questions to you:
- If schools shut down, how will children who are getting their only decent meal at school eat?
- If schools shut down, what will employers do to help parents with their children, since obviously they aren’t going to allow them to bring the little germ agents to work?
- Will we end up with children home alone and getting hurt or even dying because their parents need to work?
- How will all of this affect women disproportionately, as they will have to shoulder more of the burden on child care in a society that is both misogynist and has no good federal childcare programs?
- If universities go to all online classes, what are they going to do about all the poor students who don’t have internet at home?
- If universities go to all online classes, how long is it before this becomes an experiment in how they can fire hundreds of professors and turn everything into online education, which they have wanted to do for years anyway?
- If universities force students to leave the dorms, does it assume they all have homes to go to? What if they do not?
- If Austin cancels SXSW, which has happened, what happens to the finances of all the musicians who are already going into debt just to attend?
- What happens to all the service workers in Austin and around the country and world who will no longer make money? Is the government going to pay their rent and feed them? How will they survive?
- How are we going to contain this disease when a restaurant worker has to show up on the job to pay her rent and then exposes everyone? We already know that restaurant workers show up sick all the time for this reason.
These are just a few of the questions I have here. I am not really saying that we don’t need to act on this. But I do not think we have the capability as a nation to contain this effectively. Certainly no small part of that is the idiot in the White House. But that’s far from all of it. The nation is already a deeply unequal one. We aren’t even considering most of these questions in a meaningful way. We could have the infrastructure to deal with these problems, but many many Americans would rather die of whiteness instead. Everything we do to contain this virus is going to have cascading effects on people’s lives that are very real and equally important as containment. Unlike Megan McArdle’s worries about rich people and their frequent flyer miles, most of these people with very real issues will be forgotten about and will slip through the cracks. Katrina was the last time we saw this on a widespread scale, but scholars have traced this over and over again, in incidents both big and smaller. It’s going to happen again. It’s avoidable but it won’t matter. So when you are using your privilege to stock up on supplies, remember that there are lots of people who are going to suffer from this even if they aren’t infected at all. And maybe we should create a society where this doesn’t happen.