I’ve started and stopped writing this piece a few times over this past week. While this has been stuck in pause, the events out in the rest of the world have seemingly been swirling around. It is all a bit heavy.
As I write this, we have seen, over the span of a week, an extreme change in position over across of America with regards to COVID-19. A presidential administration that was calling this entire thing a conspiratorial hoax is suddenly trying to play catch up - while covering up their previous ineptitude and callousness with, well, more callousness. In California, we have just entered an indefinite stretch where all residents of the state - save those employed in essential industries - are asked to stay home in an attempt to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
It is a time that is incredibly difficult for many. I’ve personally been swinging between anxiety given that I am an asthmatic and am apparently part of the high risk grouping of people for whom this virus can affect, and depression because the predictably bad presidential administration has responded to all of this in predictably bad ways. The insisting of labeling this virus in a way to stoke xenophobic and racist sentiments, for example, or framing their response to this crisis within the context of nationalism, are things that we could have seen coming in the abstract even if we couldn’t have possibly known the particulars of this crisis.
It is all a bit grim, then. And what is clear is that the only way we’ll make our way out of this is together.
The thing about times like these is that it requires of us to make a minor individual sacrifice - putting away our plans we’d been looking forward to, for example - for the good of the greater group. It requires us recognizing a truth that is often ignored in societies that focus on rugged individualism: sometimes our individual desires are in direct opposition to the common good.
We know this to be true in the abstract, but when we talk about the way we’ve organized our society - especially in the United States of America - I believe we’ve failed to truly address this. We’ve privileged for centuries the power of people looking to earn money by whatever means. To the point that we would have rather allowed people to continue to make money on the sale and bondage of human bodies than to break the gravely immoral institution of slavery. And we continue to put profit over human bodies today in various ways: the prison industry, the military industry, and even in the way that we allow industries to oppress wages for labors by buying into the myth of skilled versus unskilled work.
Prisons today are a moral quagmire in the best of times. Overcrowded, dirty, and filled with cruelty, the fact that states and businesses draw both literal dollars and political powers over the warehousing of bodies - bodies that tend to be disproportionately black and brown - is a deep ethical concern. In terms of a pandemic, the construction of these institutions does not allow for the type of space needed to allow for people to avoid contracting an illness. For anyone that’s ever had to visit a loved one in an institution like this or do so for work as I have had to, we are aware of how quickly disease spreads in these facilities. Often, visits are interrupted or canceled due to the need to shut entire facilities down in the midst of outbreaks.
The use of the military in furthering the imperialist tendencies that underwrite US foreign policy is easy to document. One can look back in nearly spaces where armed conflict occurred and see the US government backing the interests of profit over the human lives they encounter. The expansion west saw the US government take the side of white homesteaders over the original inhabitants of the land. American intervention in the Philippines saw the island nation be acquired as a colony over the will of the people who’d already successfully overthrown their Spanish colonial oppressors. And then, of course, the way people profiteer off of the civilian death that these various incursions inflict on the people of various lands.
And as we’ve seen pretty explicitly in the past few weeks, the big lie around what work is valuable and isn’t has been revealed. How many people would have said that a grocery store worker or a delivery person or a fast food employee were all jobs that were of deep value to the broad community? That these people needed to be paid, at minimum, enough to keep a roof over their heads, never mind things like hazard pay, paid sick leave, or strict overtime laws for properly compensate them when they work past the hours requested. Now, these jobs are among the most important as people are required to stay away from the institutions - and the people - they’ve long taken for granted.
I remember seeing a post from someone a few years ago mocking the famed Fight for Fifteen, a campaign meant to try to bring the wages of fast food workers up to $15/hr. That number isn’t even what is considered a livable wage, and yet that apparently was too much for what some have considered “unskilled” labor. Now, though, those same laborers are among the most important. They are risking themselves to ensure we are fed. That it’s taken a crisis to get some people to maybe finally release their clutching at the talking points of the owners of capital is a sad indictment of USian political thinking.
You’ve just read nearly 1,000 words and I think I know what you’re asking: what does this all mean in the context of football?
I’ve written a lot about Shankly’s philosophy of football being deeply rooted in a collective vision. One where no single player is unimportant to the singular goal of winning a football match.
I’ve also written a lot about how you can see shades of that same vision exist in Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool. How this particular collection of players all contribute what they’re asked and seem to generally be united in a goal that goes above and beyond their own individual desires.
Neither of those things is any different from now, except maybe being a little bit more insistent. In this moment, we can no longer pretend that a divide like “skilled” vs “unskilled” labor exists. We can no longer afford to continue to suckle at the lie that something that lines my pocket at the detriment of your human worth is worth pursuing.
We have, I think, come to a real fork at the road. And what we decide coming out of this moment will tell us whether we are the authors of something greater than ourselves, or merely selfish grifters willing to sell the rest of the world out for a meager crumb of comfort. We get to decide what our version of community really looks like.