COVID class system: essential, non-essential and consumable


A customer and employee wear face masks at a Walmart store in North Brunswick, NJ, July 20, 2020. (Eduardo Munoz / Reuters)

Three levels: essential, non-essential and consumable

Oworm A year ago, seeing the immediate effect that quarantines, closures, and lockdown policies were having on Western democracies, I made my futile prayer: “Let’s never get used to this. I was appalled by the culture of the snitch taking hold of the UK, the open contemplation by major Western governments of “antibody certificates” and the attitude of the US going into lockdown without ever explain what measures would end it. There were none.

Some injustices of this period have been addressed in a way that makes them harder to repeat. The churches in California have at least succeeded in establishing that they can only be tyrannized as much as corporations are, no more. Spotting an opportunity, Ron DeSantis of Florida has pledged an amnesty for COVID rule violators. Similar lawsuits are underway in other countries.

The problem we face is almost too big to face honestly. You can try to look to culture wars as they were before the pandemic, when some of us aimed to defend the Constitution against those who would seek to replace it (I will raise my hand). Or you can prepare to simulate the ongoing threat to democracy from Donald Trump and his supporters, as those on the left have. Perhaps life is returning to normal.

But I’m afraid that in the future historians will laugh at us. Over a period of 16 months, we have just discovered that governance inspired by Chinese despotism could be practiced in the West in the name of public health. In the old free world, constitutional rights were enthusiastically violated in the name of saving lives, and the vast majority of people happily complied with them or even became zealous implementers themselves.

This is something that governments cannot “ignore”. When governments and other powerful entities take a critical look at the large-scale shutdown of businesses and social and religious institutions, the obligation to work from home if possible, the zoomification of social life, the suppression of dissenting opinions and the promotion of government party lines by all the major social networks in the world, what will they see? Tools available for many other problems.

And the problem of seeing reality in lockdowns affects the rest of society as well. “Experts” and lawmakers have classified all the work under two official labels, and a third that no one has ever said aloud. Let’s talk about the two official categories: essential and non-essential. Essential workers are those who are in jobs that cannot be hampered or slowed down without causing obvious dysfunction and deprivation in society. Non-essential workers are those whose work can be done more or less by means of computers and telecommunications.

The categories of essential and inessential have an intuitive and traditional meaning, corresponding to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, which describes how humans seek food, shelter, and safety before social opportunity. And in some societies – such as the UK – truckers, grocery store workers and nurses have received special esteem as “knowledge workers” have come to recognize their dependence on these essential workers. .

In the United States, however, one profession fell between the two categories, revealing a more sinister Orwellian meaning of the terms “essential” and “non-essential.” This profession was that of public school teachers, who effectively argued – if backed by sufficiently powerful teacher unions – that they were “non-essential workers” who should be locked away at home and away from home. their usual classroom work. It’s a strange turn of events if you’ve ever gotten used to the personal importance of public school teachers.

But their argument was that schools were far too dangerous, that schools were death traps unlike grocery stores. But of course, if that were true, it would mean that workers deemed essential (for example, in grocery stores and gas stations) were in fact just cannon fodder in the war against COVID.

The “essential workers” – the truck drivers, the food workers – acted as a class of servants, making life possible for the so-called non-essentials. Teachers didn’t want to be viewed that way, but many parents who found it difficult to simultaneously work and watch the Zoom Home School concluded that teachers are actually more essential than the pizza delivery guy.

There was another category, never officially named, but it was large, and the people in that group surely recognized the judgment made by governments and most of society: they were consumable. These were mainly workers in restaurants, bars and the hospitality industry. The COVID recession has hit the working class women who dominate in these fields the hardest.

But not all consumable workers were low-paid workers. Consumable workers also included many small business owners and entrepreneurs who operate locally and in person, rather than on the Internet. It included highly skilled workers such as airline pilots, many of whom, during closures, lost their certification to fly, and who are now being rushed back to work thanks to the recertification of their credentials. These workers and businesses have been supported by what we have tried closest to a universal basic income. And industries that try to rehire them are struggling to grow due to a labor shortage and customers being slow to return to their old ways.

Since the end of slavery and contracts, the burdens of class membership in the United States have traditionally been eased by the possibility of class mobility and the informality of our classes, which are not legal classes. . But, for almost a year and a half, these classes were partly formalized, and the economic dislocation of the pandemic is likely to create an additional separation between them.

There was a time when a title of nobility could have a purpose. Your ancient ancestor was a particularly great berserker in a skirmish against bandits on the trade route, or an exceptional arms craftsman. But now you get the title of “non-essential worker” – and you’re noble in that you can stay home and Zoom while others are supposed to risk virus death – just for being on a computer.

If today’s Marxists had the creativity or the tolerance to be among the working class and the poor, they could use this “inessential” title for a small workers’ revolution. But for better or for worse, all Marxists are also inessential workers.


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