Before I begin, a little disclaimer. This is not a political rant. This is neither a criticism nor an endorsement of how any elected official has handled the pandemic thus far.
I'm also keenly aware that my perspective is bound to be influenced by my very privileged upbringing.
And, I don’t generally write about politics. Much as I’ve learned to avoid those same discussions with my family, because it just never goes well. If you know me, I generally write about owning less, minimalism, and seeking a simpler, happier existence. Hard to argue with that, even if you aren’t on board.
But when the two subjects collided in my brain the other day, I figured well, strap on your bucket. So, while not a typical Rick Mercer rant, this is however, an unabashed criticism of you (and me).
It’s no surprise that our local officials, provincial premiers, and prime minister have individually and collectively become the lightning rods for everything that hasn’t gone well in the pandemic. But, that’s the life of a politician, the life they signed up for when they took up the profession.
Trying to make everyone happy will ultimately make no one happy. Trying to make no one happy, ultimately makes no one happy. It was, is, and always will be an un-winnable game.
But I’m not here to defend anyone. I’m here to suggest that maybe the problem isn’t the politicians at all. And that maybe the problem isn’t confusing provincial guidelines, or open/close policies, or lockdowns, or even big business versus small business.
Maybe the problem is you (and me).
Maybe, just maybe, the real problem has been our collective definition of “essential”.
Enter minimalism. And while I won’t dive too much into exactly how those concepts have really helped me understand essential versus non-essential; I will say that’s it’s loaned me a vastly better perspective than I ever had before. Having said that, even minimalists wouldn’t choose to take it this far; we still believe that those items which create true joy, are to be valued.
Still, in the Covid-19 pandemic, we’ve really seen our own true colours here in the western world, from a material perspective. We’ve truly seen what we "cannot live without”.
And perhaps more enlightening, we’ve seen the lengths of bullshit we will spew to try and prove ourselves moral and righteous whenever we’re challenged on the topic of “essential”.
In case you’re unsure, here’s a summary of essential needs for a human being, at least from month to month.
Access to emergency medical service
I could add “feeling safe” to that list, though in truth, it isn’t “essential”, because many people in the world already live without that feeling every day of their life. We’ve only deemed it such in North America as a result of our social conditioning.
So then, how do we define non-essential? Simple. You don’t even need to. It’s everything else.
For short periods of time, be it weeks or months, everything else can be considered non-essential.
Take a deep breath before you jump up to your moral pedestal, or go ranting about how you can explain why so many non-essentials are in fact essential.
I fully understand social interdependencies, human exception, and the house of cards concept when removing key structural components of society. I get all that, but for the majority of us, honestly, we actually only use those as excuses; crutches and scapegoats to cover for the very real and occasionally shameful truth.
And that truth is, we simply don’t want to change. We don’t want essential defined for us. We don’t want to give up many of the things we have evolved to become so emotionally dependent on over the course of our lives.
I’m also fully aware that I’m by no means exonerated in this process. My family is pretty safe; but the truth is we’ve ordered online food, we’ve had outdoor visits in safe and/or questionable environments, we’ve rushed to the liquor store at the sheer thought of opening our second last bottle of wine.
But never, ever, ever, have we come close to running out of true essentials (and bombshell news: toilet paper is a non-essential). Most certainly, we’ve had an abundance of air, drinking water, basic food, shelter and medical services.
So then back to the politicians we deem accountable for everything that's gone awry. After all, they’ve been assigned with the task of defining what is, or isn’t, essential during the various periods of Covid-19.
Sure, our government may be a marionette for the big organizations. But let’s be really honest; we’re puppets ourselves. All of us are puppets of consumption to all of those big businesses too. If we didn’t buy, didn’t deem essential, didn’t live in luxury and convenience, those businesses wouldn’t wield the power that they do. So in fact, collectively, we are the puppets, we are the problem. Media and politicians are just the messengers.
They only acquiesce to big business because we’ve unequivocally told big business this is what we want them to do. We’ve told them this based on our consumption patterns for years and years and years.
We’ve told them this in how we consistently demonstrate what we “need” based on what we “buy”.
And here’s the kicker you (and I) need to come to terms with. You may not want elected officials to tell you what to do, how to act, or how you should consume. But you’ve already told them to do just that. Every politician who turns and bends over to big business, is doing so because you’ve asked them to. You’ve asked them to because you’ve demonstrated you can’t live without these conveniences, these luxuries, this “stuff”.
We can argue all day long, post Instagram pictures of seemingly ridiculous store policies, quarrel over what store aisles are essential, who can drive and who can’t for curbside, who has internet and who doesn’t, who deems clothes, school supplies, or shoes essential; but at the end of the day all we are doing is trying to add comfort, convenience, and privilege to the list of “essential”.
Hate all you want, but go back up to the list of essential and tell me, if that’s all you had for one month, would you still be alive today? Yes, probably.
And while you seek someone to blame, try and recognize that politicians, policy-makers, and public servants are easy targets. Recognize that while you are posting your rage on Instagram and Twitter, all you are really doing is confirming your complicity in the overall problem. Your posts feed the adaptive algorithms of social media so that they can feed you, automatically, more posts to support your rage, and more posts to encourage consumption of non-essentials. Which, who’s kidding who, we all succumb to.
So, gradually, by purposeful plan by tech giants, we all become targets for creating a culture of distrust, blame, ignorance, and consumption.
We have, and sadly remain, a culture that has a gross misunderstanding of “essential”. And that naturally feeds any pandemic management plan with unwanted fuel.
So, take this for what it’s worth, but I can already hear your brain creating an argument. I don’t blame you. I do the same. And it’s not even your fault, entirely.
In addition to being conditioned to consumption, you’ve also been conditioned to justify it.
None of this was an accident.
So maybe, for a moment, dig deep within yourself. Dig deep and stop blaming. Unless that blame is directed at yourself.
Then, maybe then, we have a chance to make real progress.