Re-Learning from disaster



OLBIOS: How would you describe the collective experience of the crisis in the US and what has struck you the most about it? 

Dan Brook: As with much about the US, the collective experience of the Covid crisis is heterogeneous, diverse, contradictory, conflicting, and confused. Crises tend to bring out the best and worst, as they intensify existential awareness and pre-existing conditions. From the sociopathic president down, there are right-wing groups and individuals, foreign and domestic, trying to sow seeds of chaos.
This has led to unnecessary fear, death, instability, racism, and the undermining of democracy. That said, we also see people coming together with cooperation, solidarity, kindness, and generosity. Further, we see the elevation of and respect for doctors, nurses, and scientists, as well as other front-line workers. There are reasons to be wary, as well as reasons for hope.

O: On a social level, has this crisis been an eye-opener and an opportunity for important insights and significant changes and lessons to be learned in many domains? 

DB: I hope this crisis is an eye-opener for those who had their eyes closed, but for those of us who already see the issues, we are sad that it took such a painful event to awaken so many others. These issues are not new: epidemics and pandemics, habitat destruction and wildlife trafficking, anti-intellectualism and ignorance, inequality and deprivation, nationalism and racism, greed and selfishness, and so on. And the solutions are also not new.
The key lesson is to address issues before they become crises and, to the extent they do, to effectively deal with crises before they escalate and get out of control.
In our current Covid-19 era, we either need to learn or re-learn this vital lesson, among others:the killing of animals and the production, distribution, and consumption of mea tare related tobdeadly diseases, including SARS, bird flu, swine flu, MERS, MRSA, Mad Cow Disease, Ebola, e. coli, listeria, the so-called Spanish flu, HIV/AIDS, and now the latest novel coronavirus (Covid-19).
This is in addition to the facts that animal consumption is linked to heart disease, stroke, and various cancers, which are the leading causes of death, that the number one cause of Amazon Rainforest deforestation is the livestock industry, and that livestock are also the leading cause of anthropogenic greenhouse gases contributing to our global climate crisis. We need to minimize or eliminate our meat and dairy consumption to improve the odds of our individual and collective survival.

O: Tell us about your work and if you think it has or is likely to become more complex or even more relevant after the crisis. 

DB: There is no doubt that the work is more relevant than ever, or at least seems so. Although the physical work might be more difficult in a physically-distanced world, the social, cultural, and intellectual work of changing the world will hopefully become easier.
The teaching, writing, and activism I do— especially on the issues of plant-based diets, environmental sustainability, and social and economic justice — is absolutely vital, not only for a more fair and civilized society, but also to avert climate catastrophe, future pandemics, and other unnatural disasters.

O: On a personal level, has this crisis changed your focus on what really matters and on future plans and courses of action?  

DB: The personal is political, just as it is social, economic, and ecological.We really are all in it together. This crisis has only intensified my beliefs and makes the path forward absolutely clear to me. We need to:

  • increase global cooperation and decrease nationalisms; 
  • reverse racism, sexism, homophobia, religious bigotry, xenophobia, and other forms of divisive discrimination based on status or identity (what Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel described as “maximum hate for minimum reason”);
  • stop deforestation and increase reforestation, maintain biodiversity, and remediate our polluted air, water, and soil;
  • rapidly transition to safe, renewable energies (i.e., solar, wind, wave, tidal, hydrogen, algae, geothermal, etc.) and away from dirty, dangerous fossil fuels (i.e., oil, coal, natural gas);
  • shift to plant-based diets (i.e., vegetables, fruits, beans, grains, nuts, and seeds) and away from cruel, cholesterol-laden, animal-based diets;
  • institute a global minimum and maximum wage with steeply progressive taxation on income, wealth, destructive activities, and luxuries;
  • expand democracy —giving those affected by policies meaningful input into them — to as many spheres of society as possible;
  • radically reduce military spending, while increasing national and international security by eliminating poverty, deprivation, and desperation; 
  • facilitate education, making it universal and freely available from preschool through graduate school, and promote scientific literacy, problem solving, conflict resolution, kindness and compassion, cooperation and public service, critical analysis, and other vital skills; and
  • ensure that all human beings have their human rights, including those enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, especially Article 25: “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of [themselves] and of [their] family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond [their] control.”

O:Thank you for everything and have a nice day.

DB: Thank you for this opportunity and best of luck —and skill —to us all!

Dan Brook teaches sociology at San Jose State University, a multicultural, working-class, public school in the heart of Silicon Valley.