log: essential

WORMDATE: L1.5-2: 473 -105,752: 4-1,748: 629-962,730 

The other day, I took one of my periodic passes at trying to understand what’s happening in Ontario. I find the situation disturbing and confusing and disturbing because it’s confusing. It’s also remarkably hard to follow from distance.

You’d think social media would be some help, and maybe I’ve forgotten how to read it as well as how to write it, or maybe I’m just not using it enough or following enough people or the right people, but it’s incomprehensible. Basically, it’s like hearing screaming in the dark. You can tell something bad is happening but not really what. And the Canadian media isn’t really much use either. Say what you want about America, but a person can’t fart without there being a thousand explainers, think-pieces, histories, and interpretations of the event instantly produced. I mean, all that will often give you a false understanding but it will be a precise false understanding. Canada? You cross the border and the place descends into fog.

But what I saw just made me scratch my head. It’s the restrictions basically. I don’t get it. To me, on paper, they look as strict, maybe stricter, as anything we’ve had here though implemented much much much much muuuuuuuuuch later and at much much much higher numbers but I don’t get how you get to those numbers if you have any restrictions at all. Like, I’m just in the dark. I don’t get what’s happening. It doesn’t make any sense to me. What the fuck is an “emergency brake”? Is it like an “emergency ejecting chair”? More of a self-destruct button? Isn’t it better to not have to pull that or push that? And how the fuck is a pandemic a car?

I honestly have no idea if . . . Like, before this did Ontario have any restrictions at all? And there’s other things too — like the outbreaks in schools. That just hasn’t been much of an issue here. And it’s difficult to piece it all together.

I asked some people on the old FB what was going on, what was going wrong, and, as it stands, about my best understanding of it right now is: The problem is basically bad and confusing communication from the government, blunt force restrictions being the only tool in the toolbox, and these becoming focal point of the conversation. And then these restrictions are mainly being deployed as some sort of a bad faith communication tool. Plus, you know, all of it happening too slow and too late.

Like, the shit has me scratching my head. And not because of the evil or stupidity lurking on the hearts of men because, well, I have walked this earth since the last millennium. That shit doesn’t confuse or surprise me so much as it bores and aggravates. Makes me rub my temples, not scratch my head.

But one thing does jump out at me. Repeatedly. I’m not sure if it’s an important difference in how this crisis has been managed, or how important this difference is, but I’m suspicious. I suspect that it’s really very important and almost totally overlooked. That’s the idea of “essential services.” This idea seems fundamental in the rich countries who have, well, totally fucked the whole thing up.

I don’t think I’ve even heard the concept of “essential services” mentioned here once.

A very different approach has been taken here since the start. It’s emphasizes that everyone is essential and that every life is precious. Your little café and cat-sweater shop is essential to you. It’s as essential as anything else. And, in curbing this crisis, it’s been emphasized again and again that everyone’s contribution is essential. There’s no special class of essential workers. There’s what’s called “the frontline workers”, those in healthcare, whose burden its our job to lessen, and there’s vulnerable populations, whom we are tasked with protecting, and there’s priorities, like getting and keeping the kids in schools, and it’s our job to make that happen, but there’s no essential service. No one is essential but everyone is precious.

The only time I can recall hearing essential was in regards to “essential” trips. Like, is your trip “essential”? And then there was some leeway on what that might mean because, Satan knows, some days, going out and having a coffee might be fucking essential. But it was a question we were asked to ask about our trips, and to measure our answers against the burden shouldered by health workers, the danger to vulnerable communities, and the overall risk that we were comfortable posing to our loved ones and neighbors. It was never, to my knowledge, applied to a specific type of store.

For good or for bad, some people and services being more essential than others has been at the heart of the anglosphere’s response to this thing from the start. As a model, it has its temptations. As a former grocery worker, I can see the appeal in being recognized as performing an important function. It’s always been an important job! Especially during disasters! Like, you work that water aisle after an earthquake then tell me your job isn’t needed in a crisis. And then I can see using that label to get more pay because it’s also an incredibly underpaid job. But I don’t trust that label “essential.” Or “hero.”

To start, it creates a hierarchy. Some lives more important than others. And that to me is a product of a culture that thinks about life that way to start, and it also reproduces that culture. It leads straight to triage. Now, on some level, life is probably always a sort of triage but that’s a thing to be reduced. And to locate a human’s importance in their job? That gets you straight into a very ugly sort of triage. It’s dehumanizing.

But don’t get me wrong — like I said, I did the job– and I get that it’s important and that the workers don’t have the rights, pay, or anything they need. But I doubt the “essential service” model gets you there and, I think, ultimately, it does a lot more harm than good. For one thing, how can the government close “essential services” when they need to be closed? For another, how about the people who are not “essential”? And I don’t mean the store directors and CEOs, because, well, you know, fuck those useless jerks, but the people who are just excluded from that designation? Not to mention the fights about who is and who isn’t “essential.” And, if the workers –the humans themselves and their humanity itself– are viewed as expendable and replaceable but their jobs are classed as essential, then you are in a very bad spot indeed, Like, step back from it for a second, and it’s all a bit of a fucked up conversation, no?

The other thing is –and maybe I’m wrong here– but my understanding of that designation of “essential services”, at least in Canada, was that was what the government called you to make striking illegal. The category wasn’t a way to protect worker rights, it was a way to strip workers of their rights — of their very capacity to fight for those rights. You were “essential.” Your strike would be too inconvenient. It may even result in a victory. Therefore, striking was not allowed.

Now, there’s been some benefits to the “essential” label. Workers at my old company have received a raise behind this –though the absolute greedy bastard owners have decided to shut down stores too– so, you know, mixed bag, and I do think a strike would have accomplished the same thing and more, and done so a lot better and a lot faster, while keeping those stores from being shut. But money is money and my friends and old co-workers are making more of it, so that’s good.

But overall, I just get the feeling that the centrality and importance of this idea of “essential services” is taken for granted in places like Canada and the USA. It’s the sun the planetary system of responses revolves around. And it might be, just could be, that this idea is not only unnecessary but also totally fucked up. Maybe it’s one of the major ideas that has turned medium risk environments into high risk environments, hampered the ability of workers to speak up, dissuaded governments from doing anything about the dangers they’ve created, while doing fuck-all to stop the spread of the virus and quite a bit to facilitate it and to spread panic. I mean, it’s an idea that basically turned grocery stores into raves.

And it’s not needed or natural. That idea just didn’t appear here, and, if it did, it never really got any traction. I don’t recall hearing it once. I’ve heard a lot more about helping everyone and how every effort by everyone is essential.

Because when you call one service essential, you are sort of saying that other things are not. And it all is!

So, yeah, I feel like that might be an important difference. But, like, I don’t know. And I’ve got blind spots everywhere. It just jumps out at me as being possibly important. One of those – maybe someone in Canada should think about this whole “essential service” shit and question that idea sort of things. Because, from where I’m standing, it looks more than a bit fucked up.

ON ANOTHER NOTE

Pretty good rainy weekend of reading here.

Having access to the school library is probably my favorite part of being in school. I currently working on and writing a paper –just for the fun and the fuck of it– and I guess I can justify this weekend hobby as being “research.” I don’t know why I need to put a bowtie and lipstick on this hobby but, well . . . At any rate, by the end of the year, I hope to be just about the best read person on monsters that most people are ever likely to meet in their daily lives. It’s a sort of illegitimate distinction to have, I suppose, but, let me check my pockets to count the amount of fucks I give about being a legitimate anything and, yep, that’s what I thought. Zero fucks. No, wait, there’s one. I would like to be legitimately illegitimate.

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