There's an often repeated saying that civilization is only separated from anarchy by about three meals. And while it may be an exaggeration, the fallout of the novel coronavirus pandemic shows that the sentiment behind it is valid.
We live, as federal governments and various social media memes and even news articles tout, in Canada, one of the best places to live on planet Earth, when a range of factors are taken into consideration (April blizzards likely not among them). And yet there are a host of problems revealed by only a few weeks of economic hardship with more likely to be coming.
For one thing, this country has a problem with homelessness, and that problem is evident in Manitoba and particularly in Thompson. For people with nowhere to stay, the ideas of self-isolation and social distancing basically border on being ridiculous, as does not having underlying health conditions. This should be unacceptable all the time, but the dangers it poses to those individuals when a pandemic occurs, as well as to anyone who comes into contact with them, should be taken as a condemnation of an economic system that even allows the problem to be so widespread.
Also brought into focus by the COVID-19 pandemic and the precautions being taken to try to reduce its impact is the woeful state of health care not only in Northern Manitoba’s remote and isolated First Nations, but also in places like Thompson, where the medical system relies on outside workers at the best of times. While it’s nice that the Canadian military is willing and able to step in and provide field hospitals and isolation centres and medical care in isolated communities should the current pandemic require it, it would be even better if that wasn’t necessary, if everyone had access to adequate medical care in their own communities and if some of those communities weren’t plagued by large proportions of their population being diagnosed with diabetes, or kidney problems, or tuberculosis, or various other medical conditions.
Also being revealed by the coronavirus pandemic is the fact that many people are not engaged with their communities, their provinces or their countries. While you, a person who reads the editorial of their local newspaper, may not believe it, given that this newspaper's pages and our website are basically all coronavirus, all the time these days, like every other news outlet, there are actually people out there who are unaware of all the actions being taken to combat this threat to our health and genuinely surprised to hear about social distancing and business closures and similar pandemic precautions. This is a failure of individuals to take an interest in their communities and their politics, and of society itself for failing to impress upon them how important taking such an interest can be.
Canada may be one of the best places in the world to live, but it is still a place where most of us live so close to the edge that a paycheque or two is the difference between being able to make mortgage payments or cover rent or not, between having to decide between paying bills or buying groceries. If this pandemic has revealed anything beyond just how interconnected we all are and how the importance of our jobs during times of crisis may or may not be reflected in how well those jobs pay, it is that, as much as we believe in individual freedom, we should also acknowledge the collective responsibilities we have to each other and, once this is behind us, strive to ensure that the benefits provided to us by our governments and our society, are more evenly spread out. If we are only as strong as the weakest members of our city, province or country, then we are collectively much more vulnerable than we imagine.