Geraldine Brooks' excellent novel, "Year of Wonders," takes place in the English plague year 1666.
Although written 20 years ago, her novel is very timely.
The main character comments that "We were sorely depleted already in trades of all kinds. Horses who threw a shoe went without since the death of the farrier. We were without mallet and mason, carpenter and cloth-weaver, thatcher and tailor. Many fields lay covered in unbroken clods, neither harrowed nor sown."
Former Obama chief of staff and then-Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel famously said, "you never let a serious crisis go to waste."
At least we ought to learn something.
What should we learn from COVID-19?
Like the 17th century plague, the pandemic — this time world-wide — reminds us that we are all terribly dependent on each other.
It also reminds us that there is no unimportant work.
If mass media dominates our perspective, we will never understand how important everyone is. Mass media usually can only single out a few people for attention. These individuals — politicians, actors, star athletes, the super rich — are an aristocracy of fame.
It is too easy to feel that the rest of us are unimportant.
But the economic disruptions caused by the pandemic totally contradict such thinking.
And it could easily have been much worse.
We all depend on electricity.
It pumps water to our homes and businesses, gasoline into our cars, and runs industrial machines, computers, smart phones, and refrigerators.
When many Californians had their electricity turned off for a few days to avoid additional fires caused by their utility's wires, it wasn't just inconvenient. Imagine the disaster if we all lost electricity for a protracted period!
COVID-19 could have turned off the entire country. The supply of electricity must always exactly equal the fluctuating demand for it, and if it doesn't the whole system collapses.
A small number of highly trained technicians must keep generation and use in balance.
These technicians are, like most of us, not famous.
But if COVID-19 had simultaneously knocked them all out, it would have shut down the entire country.
To avoid this danger, the electric companies isolated key technicians from their families and other human contacts and put them up in special facilities.
Natural gas distribution companies did the same thing.
But these were only the most dramatic examples of how dependent we are on "obscure" people.
Just to be able to eat we need farmers, people who harvest crops, truck drivers, food processing plant workers, and grocery store clerks, among others.
Parents depend on school teachers to care for and educate their children while they are at work.
People lacking time to cook rely on the cooks, waiters and cashiers who staff restaurants and delis.
We depend on workers at the Post Office, FedEx, and UPS to deliver things ordered from places like Amazon.com, which itself runs only with the participation of thousands of workers.
A few years ago the church choir in which I sing came to our house for a potluck lunch.
A water main down our street had broken just an hour earlier, so we had no running water.
Can you can imagine having three dozen guests and no water?
Four bathrooms aren't much use when you can't use the toilets!
The workers who staff the city waterworks on which we all depend aren't famous, but they certainly are important.
The pandemic reminds us that we should not take anybody for granted. We are all needed. As Yale Divinity professor H.E. Luccock put it, "No one can whistle a symphony. It takes a whole orchestra to play it."
We are interdependent. And, like some of the characters in "Year of Wonders," we need to take care of each other when the going gets tough.
Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966 and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan oregon and a number of other states. Read Prof. Paul F. deLespinasse's Reports — More Here.
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