What Condition Our Condition Is In

“I just dropped in to see what condition my condition was in.”

— Mickey Newberry

What with fires, hurricanes, other storms, heat waves, the ongoing pandemic, and outrageous laws targeting reproductive and voting rights, our condition is headed for the ICU. And that’s just in the United States.

I could rant about any and all of these things, but there are plenty of other people doing that. Instead, I want to make a point that might be getting overlooked as people deal with our many crises:

The normal that we thought we had doesn’t exist anymore. We can’t go back to the way things were, because that isn’t going to solve any of our problems.

Or as I put it in a senryu this week:

We keep making plans
for the way we wish things were,
not the way they are.

Take the hurricanes. The new levees held in New Orleans, so some flooding was prevented. But there were communities that didn’t have levees yet that were inundated. Plus the investor-owned utility “solutions” for making sure the city would still have electricity didn’t work — power is still out all over the area.

And none of that work stopped the damage in New York City, where people died in basement apartments due to flooding.

We can’t just respond to hurricanes by building a few levees and pretending we’ve addressed a complex problem that is getting much worse due to climate change. We have to look at preserving what’s left of barrier islands, to set up power systems based on micro grids and batteries, to stop building in areas that will flood repeatedly, and generally to approach the whole problem in a multifaceted way.

Otherwise, we’re going to end up with a lot of climate refugees within our own country.

Or fires. Here in California CalFire threw everything they had at the Caldor fire to try to protect the Lake Tahoe area. It didn’t work. We can’t just fight these huge fires. We have to start seriously addressing the conditions that bring them on.

One of the obvious solutions is intentional fire — prescribed burns. The Indigenous Californians used that for centuries (maybe longer), but nobody listened to them. This land was meant to burn regularly, and regular burns mean you don’t get the devastating ones.

Right now we need a lot of that, because we have so much area that is overgrown. But even prescribed burns bring smoke, which is a problem, and people keep wanting to live in places that should be left alone (kind of like people building on barrier islands in the Gulf of Mexico). Somehow the right of a few people to build always trumps the right of the rest of us to be protected from dangers.

We can’t go back to assuming we can fight all these fires anymore than we can go back to assuming that we can rebuild after every flood and maybe just put up a few more levees.

Then there’s the pandemic, where we’re just now getting around to a few vaccine mandates — something very legal in the United States — and people are still fighting the very basic public health measures we need to manage this thing.

I admit to being gobsmacked by people who insist on their right to risk other people’s lives.

We have good multi-faceted approaches that could put us in the position of returning, if not to normal, at least to a life where it didn’t feel like sending your kids to school was putting everyone’s health at risk. But even the places doing the best job with this are making big mistakes.

We need a comprehensive public health program, not just in the U.S. but worldwide, that makes it possible to keep highly contagious diseases in check, but I don’t see anyone making any steps in that direction.

The combination of voter suppression laws — unleashed by the Supreme Court’s trashing of the Voting Rights Act that, a hundred years after the fact, enforced the rights set out in the post-Civil War Amendments to the U.S. Constitution — and the incredible Texas law blocking abortion in absolute violation of Roe v. Wade being allowed to proceed by that same Supreme Court makes it clear that normal political responses are not going to stop the anti-democratic movement in the United States.

But near as I can tell, the Democrats running Congress remain reluctant to take the necessary steps to protect our core democracy. They want to think that winning elections in 2020 meant things were back to normal.

They’re not. We cannot count on elections to protect ourselves against this significant anti-democratic movement (which, by the way, is also one that opposes real efforts to solve climate change or protect us from pandemics) if many people are going to be blocked from voting.

The world has changed. Bipartisan political efforts aren’t going to happen when one party has been captured by right wing extremists. We can’t fix our political disaster by pretending things are “normal.”

Very basic things have changed. If even the sane people in positions of power can’t accept it, we may not be able to save much of our democracy as a whole. And a lot of people will suffer as a result.

In fact, a lot of people are already suffering.

Please, please, let’s stop pretending there’s some golden age we can go back to and instead start building a truly democratic future that is not afraid to tackle the real and complex problems we face.

And let’s do this worldwide.

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