THE OBSERVER

You are a funambulist

You are a funambulist / MARI FOUZ

You are the funambulist. You, the person next to you and the political leader at the other end of the world. We are the funambulists who have begun to walk the tight rope of a new time where everything has changed and we are expected to learn how to live outside the norm while human needs remain the same. Today we have emerged from the pitch black night of the weeks when death had the upper hand, although we haven’t got our life back yet. We are beginning to venture outside, alive but socially mutilated, poisoned by our fear of the others. Getting back the fraternal embrace might be the greatest challenge we are facing.

People are beginning to fill the streets progressively, but on their way out children ask if they should take their coat, having missed the arrival of springtime during their extended screen time break of cake baking and grandparents who have passed away without a farewell. Children and adults who have experienced the loss of someone they loved and couldn’t see them out are tasked with a psychological job that they cannot deny to themselves. We, the funambulists, will need to attend to the uptick in mental health issues caused by the trauma of the last few months, when fear of the present and anxiety over the future must have taken a massive toll in terms of our hope reserves, the stuff that drives our lives and fuels our dreams.

We, the funambulists, have seen the world come tumbling down, but we have also witnessed the stuff humans are made of and we would be advised to remember what we have learnt about embracing the future, to quote Gramsci, by combining “the pessimism of the intellect and the optimism of the will”.

All of us will overcome our traumas by fighting and this applies to everyone. The way we see others has changed and looking inwardly does not mean shutting others out or showing them no solidarity. As Dr Anna Llupià said to Lídia Heredia [in an interview] on Thursday, rather than social distancing we will have to start speaking of solidarity distancing, once the safety nets have been deployed like in any major disaster. More than ever, what matters today is the attitude of the shopkeeper who has made a copy of your backup key at the usual price and hasn’t lost any local customers; and the attitude of the Kashmir-born fruit monger who is offering a freebie solidarity bag to those who have lost their job but need the sustenance, nonetheless. Every small decision matters for rebuilding our confidence in the future and softening the blow of the impending social and economic catastrophe. If the economy’s recovery is not V-shaped, let’s make sure it is as close to that as possible.

This is a time for the brave and for those who are able to cooperate, which tend to be one and the same.

Politically, the funambulists that lead us should make decisions considering the next ten years instead of the next ten minutes, for a change. They should learn to negotiate and build a consensus, to set up solidarity safety nets such as basic income, which is not about patronising people but about their dignity, like Daniel Raventós and Julie Wark have argued in Contra la caritat. En defensa de la renda bàsica [Against Charity. A Defence of Basic Income]. If we continue to do politics without taking responsibility and only passing the buck, this country will slip further down the slope instead of making the most of the current situation to pave the way for a collective leap forward. Ensuring that our welfare system remains financially viable, developing a knowledge-based economy, boosting our education system (and, therefore, our social elevator), must cease to be mere election slogans that politicians go on to disregard.

The funambulist in the EU has also taken some unsteady steps on the tight rope that could result in a fall. The relief packages following the pandemic are a slow, half-hearted attempt that southern European member states do not trust for fear of the attached stigma and the public debt burden they would incur. Europe’s leaders keep quoting Keynes, but they lack the courage to deliberately stretch their budget like Sweden used to do in the 1930s, and to abandon the orthodoxy like the young economist did when he wrote his general theory demolishing the classic conclusions on demand, production and employment. Likewise, they dare not take example from the 1790 compromise between Thomas Jefferson and James Madison that allowed the federal government to take over and pay the debt of the thirteen states, an event which happened nearly 230 years ago, as The Economist has reminded us. Just like then, taking a step forward towards public debt sharing would be a step towards political construction in Europe.

The scope of this crisis is very broad and we still don’t know whether we will have the sort of leaders who can tighten rather than slacken the rope. All of us, funambulists, are walking that rope. As are our political leaders, although they don’t know.

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