I don’t believe that everything will change.
I’ve heard very serious people say that the COVID-19 pandemic will change everything. We will value the truly essential—and often low-wage—workers who keep our society and economy working. We will reimagine how our healthcare system works and help more people access that system. We will develop radically new ways of working, learning, going to church, and doing other things that we used to think required physical proximity. We will reconsider the most basic things about how we live. Everything will change.
But I don’t believe that everything will change.
Don’t get me wrong. I wish everything would change. We live in a country and a world in desperate need of a revolution. It would be wonderful if this pandemic moved us towards a livable minimum wage and a universal jobs guarantee bolstered by a universal basic income. I would love it if we moved from employer-based insurance to a single-payer system that covered everyone. It would be great if we increased access to many parts of life by providing online versions of what we do and making those version accessible to everyone. I would be marvelous is we reconsidered the most basic things about how we live. I wish that everything would change.
I just don’t believe that it will. And here’s why: I have lived through everything-is-going-to-change before.
September 11th was supposed to change everything. And it changed a few things (it heightened security and security theater; we took on some forever-wars). But most things stayed the same. The Great Recession was supposed to change everything. And it changed a few things (many of which were changed back at the first opportunity). But most things stayed the same.
And I suspect that our lives after COVID-19 will be pretty similar to our lives before COVID-19. A few things will change. And those changes will last for a while. But, eventually, they will fade away… and we’ll be back to lives that pretty similar to the lives we knew before.
The simple—and unfortunate—truth is that we aren’t that good at sudden and lasting change. The kinds of changes that we need in order to avoid the next pandemic, not to mention make a more merciful world, will require sustainable movements that will do the work of changing the world for a generation or more… and then defend those changes against the movements that will seek to undo them.
This pandemic is not going to change everything. The only thing that will change everything is the work that we do to change everything.