Imagine: A More Gaia-Full, Post-COVID World
As an amateur futurist, I’ve been imagining several possible outcomes for our post COVID-19 world. Economic crises, after all, historically end up reordering societies. The Black Death helped end feudalism, the Great Depression played a major part in the New Deal, and World War II witnessed women going to work in factories and being provided universal childcare.
The present pandemic is highlighting a great number of things, the limitations of the socioeconomic ways our society is organized chief among them. Compared to other first-world nations, our country has been unique in its lack of paid sick leave, paid family leave, and universal health insurance. Our economic system prioritizes profits and shareholders over employees, customers, communities, and the environment—and the fact of this is now being brought into sharp relief.
In this way, COVID-19, and the time we’ve been given away from the hustle and bustle of “regular” living, is poking our socioeconomic imagination. As sheltering-in-place and isolation have become the norm, so has the opportunity to explore living differently, more simply, more fairly, and more authentically. The slowing down of our lives, and the economic concerns that have affected everyone, has been an invitation to consider our lives and the cultures we exist in from a new vantage point. What do we really need? How can we be more resourceful and mindful? How can we create balance when the whole world feels unsteady?
Envisioning a Simpler, More Peaceful Future
What’s becoming clear is that people—perhaps even you—have gotten used to spending disproportionate amounts of money on wants over needs. Children have become mortgage orphans; we need only to look at houses that were built in the 50s compared to today. Houses then had relatively small closets, limited amounts of storage space, and one-car garages—in sum, all a family genuinely needed. As for the houses now? We’re talking walk-in closets, huge amounts of storage (which are often crammed with stuff, stuff, and more stuff), and three-car garages. Well-delivered psychological marketing compels us to practically salivate over things like this, making us feel like they’re utter necessities for a decent life.
Whether we live in a manse or a studio the size of a postage stamp, what we can do as we move forward with the reopening of the economy is recognize the critical distinction between desires and requirements, and start building the future we—not Madison Ave—want.
Indeed, there are a number of possible futures to imagine, but the prospect I get the most excited about is this: One in which our economic engine pivots away from its present position of putting profit over people and towards a place where all humans, as well as the climate, benefits.
That may sound beyond our control but, in truth, it’s not. In fact, we can start working towards this more positive future by making changes now. If we reduce the amount of stuff we buy, and keep our wants in check, we can decrease income pressures. At the same time, we can take the pressure off of relationships. During this crisis, companies have started to offer paid leave, subsidized childcare, flexible work schedules, and work from home. And guess what? It’s working. It’s signaling a shift in the structure of corporations, and offering renewed hope for equality.
Historically, it’s looked like this: The number of men and women entering large companies is about equal, but women start dropping out of the pipeline to the C-suite at the middle management stage to have children, or choose not to procreate because the corporate environment is not conducive to family. Working from home, as millions are now doing across the globe, is more pro-family for both men and women. As Quartz put it, citing a working paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, “there’s an opportunity for couples in nominally equal relationships to make sure they truly are walking the walk—like actually sharing childcare and domestic work 50/50.”
The benefits of this are and could be huge. I worked from home for most of my career. Sometimes, my work—whether it was writing ad copy or finalizing a real estate deal—had to be accomplished late at night while my children slept. While I was sleep-deprived, I had the opportunity to take my children to gymnastics and music lessons; to hear about their days; to be a constant presence in their lives (and they in mine). As more and more working parents are discovering that, yes, they can be productive under their own roof, even with their littles underfoot—that their relationships are stronger for it—we can shift away from less brick and mortar overhead. Companies can reduce expenses. Commutes will be become “so early-2020.” People will learn more sustainable ways of being, such as using that food in the pantry rather than letting it go to waste. And the environment will be positively impacted.
Meanwhile, the CARES Act, which aims to expand unemployment and family benefits, preserve jobs in private industries and small business, is heralding a shift in perspective from the government: that people are a touch more important than money. This is radical. We have been living in an economic system that has been extraordinarily out of balance. Values now may be morphing into a place where life, health care, education, childcare, and social services are ranked above dollars.
Our Way Forward
Going forward, we have the opportunity to build a more socially just, ecologically sound, and balanced future. The way we do business and interface could fundamentally change, as many of are already experiencing, and jobs once thought to be either a woman’s lot or a man’s sphere could become desirable and available to all. Due to capitalist dysfunction, many of the best paid jobs serve no wider purpose to society than simply to make money. People work pointless jobs to be able to support ever increasing would-like-to-haves and, thus, the mindless gerbil wheel has been squeaking on.
For example, women currently earn 78.3 cents for every dollar a man earns. But do you know that biggest reason for the gender pay gap is due to the jobs that women pick, in sectors such as health care (78%), education (68%), childcare (94%) and social services (84%)? Service jobs—helping our fellow humans—have been dominated by women and they are paid less for it. The economic engine values these positions less because they don’t make huge profits, and our society has long measured human value by a stack of cash. Yet the people in these sectors are emerging to be heroes and on the front lines amidst the coronavirus crisis.
Something holding men back from working in these areas are norms about masculinity. A marker of masculinity includes earning a good income and distancing oneself from “feminine things” such as caretaking. Taking a job traditionally done by women threatens both. Now, we have an opportunity to eradicate the pink stigma, with greater respect and government intervention, to ensure higher wages and enhanced stability, benefits, and hours for these areas of such immense value to the community. More men can feel free to turn away from limiting cultural norms and meaningless careers, and be fulfilled working in these rewarding fields. Men and women post-COVID-19 can feel honored and indispensable whether they’re a janitor, delivery person, childcare provider, or grocery store worker.
A More Gaia-Full World
As I’ve been nurturing this vision of a reimagined future, I keep thinking of Gaia, which in Greek mythology is known as the ancestral mother of all life. She represents the all-loving, nourishing, and intelligent universal life force; the heart and soul of the earth, if you will, responsible for keeping a dynamically-balanced state of life. Our responsibility is tapping into her wisdom, which lets us know that if life is lived right, every sunrise will feel like a ceremony.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been far from easy. Economic and health fears are at an all-time high, a great number of lives have been lost and threatened, and the unpredictability of it all has contributed to our collective grief. But we can also collectively rise and work together to create a more ethical, environmentally-friendly, and equal world—one in which Gaia herself would be proud.