Social Cohesion and Social Solidarity as the Antidote to Social Distancing

by Michael Novick, Anti-Racist Action-Los Angeles

I think we should try to rename “Social Distancing.” People in the U.S. are already far too socially distanced from each other, driving in our steel cocoons, riding the buses and trains in unreceptive, unresponsive isolation, each glued to our own screen, ears filled with our own soundtrack.

Let’s call it socially responsible distancing, adopting it as a sacrifice, and thereby acknowledging our social connection to, interaction with, and responsibility towards all the others who are likewise consciously sacrificing proximity and interaction for the good of all. Instead of expanding our personal-space bubble, already much greater in the US than in most other countries and cultures, let’s use the two-meter distancing to send out psychic and emotional tendrils, recognizing and connecting with the common humanity and vulnerability of all those who are doing the same.

The US is all too often the homeland of anomie. Anomie is, on a personal level, a state or condition of unrest, unease, alienation and uncertainty, resulting from a lack of connection, from the absence of the sense of purpose or ideals that give meaning to life. On a social level, anomie is the breakdown of the capacity of a society or culture to give moral guidance to its individual members. The term was coined by Emile Durkheim in his study of suicide, when he perceived that some suicides resulted from society being unable to provide common understandings and common values to its members, in whom this produced a sense of futility, emotional emptiness and despair. These psychological states, characterized by a lack of purpose or sense of self-worth within a larger, meaningful whole, led to individual suicides. The US, wedded to a false ideology of white supremacy and supposed American exceptionalism that is completely unmoored from reality, has been committing collective suicide, blindly upholding an American Way Of Life — AWOL — in which morality, altruism and collective commitment to the greater good are indeed AWOL – absent without leave.

We are all now collectively paying the price for the anarchy of capitalism, of production for profit. In this holographic, fractal society, the same inherent contradictions are imprinted at every level from the sub-microscopic to the planetary, found in every part as in the whole. The reason there are not enough masks and other protective equipment for medical and care-giving personnel, let alone all the workers who need them — the grocery clerks, postal carrier, fast food workers, custodians, teachers or nannies — is not because Trump fucked up in pooh-poohing the coronavirus for too many vital weeks, but because as a commodity under capitalism, such emergency products have been outsourced for production to cheap-labor countries so that the maximum value can be extracted from super-exploited labor, and they are produced within the global supply chain in quantities established by the market for maximum profitability and efficiency on the distribution end as well, according to the principles of just in time inventory control — the same reason the stores ran out of toilet paper when everyone tried to buy some extra at the same time.

So we need to embrace social distancing as a discipline, a practice of mindfulness and connectedness to other humans engaging in a similar socially-beneficial practice for the common good, and in so doing, use it as an antidote — not to the coronavirus, but to the far more destructive viral memes that govern our consciousness and behavior under capitalism and colonialism: look out for number one, America first, nice guys finish last, my way or the highway, you’re fired, you snooze, you lose, it’s a dog eat dog world, if you’re white, you’re all right, if you’re Black, get back, you’re beautiful when you’re angry, don’t worry your pretty little head about it, all the sickness and lack of moral guidance that brought us Trump. Our latest wartime president is learning willy-nilly that bullets and bombs are useless against a virus — and in fact, in the long run, are useless against the desire for freedom of a united people.

We need social cohesion and social solidarity, to restore the understanding that we ARE our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers, to regain the commitment to think always of the needs of the seventh generation coming, that was developed by the indigenous people of this land whom this society tried and failed to exterminate. We need to stand with the prisoners, with the migrants in detention, with the unhoused, with the Gazans. But we also need to regain a sense of our own collective purpose and united power. This social hiatus, the stay-at-home orders, the sheltering-in-place, have demonstrated in a few days’ time that this society runs on the work-a-day people who make and move everything, and their enforced absence has taken big business and Wall Street to their knees. Let this be a lesson to us all about the power of the general strike, the capacity to topple the high and mighty by withholding our labor, refusing to consent, ending our identification with our oppressors and exploiters.

All the power the rulers possess is taken from the people they oppress; all their wealth is stolen from the people and the land, the bountiful products and ecosystems of nature that capitalism is ruining. The rulers understand that their wealth and power can vanish in an instant, like the housing bubble and stock market bubble that inevitably popped. We need to seize this crisis as a teachable moment, a learning moment when that truth becomes clear, like an epiphany, to the people being exploited and oppressed.

Maybe you can join me in singing one of the greatest songs about solidarity and class struggle ever written:

Solidarity Forever:

httpss://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCnEAH5wCzo

When the union’s inspiration

Through the workers blood shall run

There can be no power greater

Anywhere beneath the sun

Yet what force on earth is weaker

Than the feeble strength of one

But the union makes us strong

 

Solidarity forever

Solidarity forever

Solidarity forever

For the union makes us strong

 

It is we who plowed the prairies

Built the cities where they trade

Dug the mines and built the workshops

Endless miles of railroad laid

Now we stand outcast and starving

Midst the wonders we have made

But the union makes us strong

 

Solidarity forever

Solidarity forever

Solidarity forever

For the union makes us strong

 

They have taken untold millions

That they never toiled to earn

But without our brain and muscle

Not a single wheel can turn

We can break their haughty power

Gain our freedom when we learn

That the union makes us strong

 

Solidarity forever

Solidarity forever

Solidarity forever

For the union makes us strong

 

In our hands is placed a power

Greater than their hoarded gold

Greater than the might of armies

Magnified a thousand-fold

We can bring to birth a new world

From the ashes of the old

For the union makes us strong

 

Solidarity forever

Solidarity forever

Solidarity forever

For the union makes us strong

 

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