Tag Archives: cooperation

Covid Comfort

Last Update: April 1

There’s almost 70 stories here now of people acting from their best selves, and my sense is most people have found the thing they’re going to do, whether it’s organizing virtual dinner parties or finding ways to express care during isolation and quarantine or thanking front-line workers or supporting their community tangibly by sharing goods, it’s becoming a habit.

If you’re looking for opportunities to help (or to receive help), check social media for caremongering or kindness groups in your community. They’ve spread like wildfire.

I don’t feel this needs daily updating at this point, but rather than just let it tail off, I wanted to share a few articles that tie this all into a point about what comes next.

Ben Okri, in The Guardian:

The panic, driven by fear, ought to be replaced with a passion for a better life for the planet and its people. We will not acquire the calm we need to deal with this pandemic through a fear of death. What we need is a respect for death and a new hunger for life. We could begin now to create the best chapter in the human story. It could be said of us, in the future, that faced with a viral catastrophe we did something amazing. Imagine if the leaders of the world chose at this moment to put in place policies that could reverse climate change, bring health and education to all its people, and kill off the virus of poverty that has spread untold misery.

Michael Valpy and Frank Graves, in Maclean’s:

They may see a dark side, like the ordered authoritarian populist outlook vividly seen in Viktor Orban’s power grab in Hungary, or the fuelling of xenophobia reflected in depictions of the pandemic as a “Chinese” virus. But mainly what we are witnessing in the country has all the appearances of a seismic shift in collective behaviour and attitudes, and maybe a new sense of direction and innovation—the acceptance, even the welcome acceptance, that Canada and the rest of the world could be enveloped in a great disruption, leading to a fundamental transformation of the role of the state and a re-balancing of the forces of societal power.

This is not the apocalypse you were looking for, by Laurie Penny in Wired:

Shit-hits-the-fan escapism—a big part of the alt-right imaginary—never predicted this. I have lurked in countless stagnant ideological internet back alleys where young men excitedly talk about the coming end of civilization, where men can be real men again, and women will need protectors. How inconvenient, then, that when this world-inverting crisis finally showed up, we weren’t given an enemy we could fight with our hands (wash your hands).

The end of the world has never been quite so simple a mythos for women, likely because most of us know that when social structures crack and shatter, what happens isn’t an instant reversion to muscular state-of-naturism. What happens is that women and carers of all genders quietly exhaust themselves filling in the gaps, trying to save as many people as possible from physical and mental collapse. The people on the front line are not fighters. They are healers and carers. The very people whose work is rarely paid in proportion to its importance are the ones we really need when the dung hits the Dyson. Nurses, doctors, cleaners, drivers. Emotional and domestic labor have never been part of the grand story men have told themselves about the destiny of the species—not even when they imagine its grave.

George Monbiot, in The Guardian:

You can watch neoliberalism collapsing in real time. Governments whose mission was to shrink the state, to cut taxes and borrowing and dismantle public services, are discovering that the market forces they fetishised cannot defend us from this crisis. The theory has been tested, and almost everywhere abandoned. It may not be true that there were no atheists in the trenches, but there are no neoliberals in a pandemic.

The shift is even more interesting than it first appears. Power has migrated not just from private money to the state, but from both market and state to another place altogether: the commons. All over the world, communities have mobilised where governments have failed.

And if you’re looking for some books to read to pass the time on similar themes:

Rebecca Solnit, A Paradise Built in Hell

Frans de Waal, The Age of Empathy

Sarah Blaffer Hrdy, Mothers & Others

Fact is, The Walking Dead is a story that could only be told in a highly individualistic, neoliberal, gun-loving society like America’s South. Just about anywhere else, people would have banded together to slow the virus and preserve community.  Hell, even in the deep south, in a pandemic, people are cooperating and sharing and not, by and large, shooting each other over toilet paper.

We’re better than we’ve been told.

New for March 30

I can’t believe I’m still finding new stories every day!

Storytime from Space: Astronauts in space reading children’s books online.

A four-year-old’s birthday party was cancelled; the local fire department and RCMP drove a small parade by her house to celebrate.

A Toronto man is “climbing Mt Denali” by climbing the stairs in his apartment building  55 times in one day to raise money for health care in developing countries.

Please consider supporting the United Way’s Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund!

New for March 29

Missing theatre? Check out some new online plays.

Victoria Police drove a parade at a local hospital for health care workers.

Dyson, manufacturer of hair dryers and vacuum cleaners, has developed a new ventilator for covid-19 patients and is producing them for the UK government, and plans to donate 5,000 internationally.

Our local municipal government has put together a website to help people buy from local businesses and restaurants while social-distancing.

Emma  Teitel at the Toronto Star wrote an article including a bunch of stories like this, including a dog shelter that has adopted out every single one of its homeless dogs, a hockey manufacturer that is now making face shields for health care workers, and a Covid-19 Toronto app that connects people who need assistance with resources.

Clothing manufacturers retooling production for gowns and masks.

This lovely article about tiny acts of solidarity, also including stories like kids starting up a neighbourhood newspaper, and people volunteering to shelter and feed truck drivers whose restaurants and rest stops have closed.

Far from withdrawing from one another during this period of physical distancing, Canadians have come to recognize their dependence on each another and that recognition is reflected in “millions of tiny acts of solidarity,” says Mervyn Horgan, a University of Guelph sociology professor who studies the interaction of strangers in public spaces.

“It’s been quite beautiful to watch it happen and to be part of it amidst the crisis.”

A Hamilton company that normally sells 3D printers is now using their 3D printers to make PPE for health workers.

Westdale Theatre here in Hamilton is starting an online film club through Facebook Live.


New for March 27

A hotel manager was forced to lay off half of her employees due to Covid-19–but then she found them new jobs.

Only one new story today! I think we’re hitting saturation on these stories, so they may slow down. I hope you’re all well and experiencing some kindness in your daily lives in these trying times.


New for March 26!

Toronto restaurants have joined together to form Feed the Frontlines, which collects donations for the restaurants to prepare free meals for front-line workers.

The Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) is going ahead–online, and for free.

From Escape from Florida, a Maclean’s magazine article:

I suspect that when we have eventually run this virus into the ground, and we try to understand what worked and what didn’t, we will find that societies with high levels of social solidarity did better than societies where citizens mistrust one another.

Social solidarity—the sense that we are all in this together—is what makes retired nurses volunteer to go back to work in the frightening hospitals, and what makes healthy young people stay home to flatten the curve.

I think social solidarity is why the curve is so flat in traditionally collectivist East Asian societies, and rising so sharply in the United States.

Home is where the hearts are: People are decorating their front windows with hearts and putting hearts up around their neighbourhoods.


New for March 25

We’ve got fifty stories as of today!

Teachers at Robertson Elementary School driving in a “parade” through the neighbourhood so they could see their students.

Canadian celebrities helping spread the word to #stayinsidesavelives through instagram and lots of namedropping/tagging.

A restaurant in Toronto providing free meals to those who have lost their jobs in the shutdown.

A birthday party parade!

 


New for March 24

The best part of doing this so far is waking up every morning to messages from people sharing stories like these. It’s a nice little buffer before seeing how all the numbers went up. Here’s a short list of new stories for today; it’s my birthday and I’m going to try to spend most of it off the internet.

Canadian children’s writers and illustrators are reading their books online, or doing online drawing lessons.  (If you’re getting tired of reading books to your kids, this might be a welcome break.)

The Honest Lawyer in Hamilton has started handing out free Sunday lunches to people in need.

Vets, taking measures to continue to be able to provide care to our fur-babies.

Little free libraries in Peteroborough turning into little free pantries to provide food to neighbours who need it.


(I’m going to start putting the most recent stories at the top instead of the bottom. So:)

New for March 23

So far, the best part of doing this has been waking up to messages from friends telling me about fantastic stories they’ve seen. What a gift right now! Thank you. ❤ ❤

Our local newspaper has put out a call for people to write or draw hopeful or happy messages on their sidewalks with chalk, and is asking people to send in photos.  It’s already taken off enough that a friend of mine, Leah, sent me photos of messages she’d seen yesterday taking the dog for a walk:

Local sewers are organizing sewing drives for masks, scrubs, gowns, etc., for health care workers. Here’s a nurse organizing home sewing of scrubs, gowns, etc., and a friend organizing home sewing of masks.  Feel free to participate in the one that makes the most sense to you and uses your own resources best.

Food4Kids is fundraising to provide grocery gift cards to kids who normally count on school meal programs.

Cuba is sending 50+ doctors to Italy to aid in the Covid-19 response.

Indigenous girls and women all over North America are jingle-dancing to offer prayers against the pandemic.  Here’s one:

 

And our most famous local band, The Arkells, has been holding free online music lessons for people stuck at home, and recently posted this video:

Last but not least for today: An article written from the perspective of 2050, about how we all used the Covid-19 pandemic to come to our senses and fix a lot of broken parts of our societies.


New for March 22:

A local businesswoman, Kate DeJonge, has started Hamilton Helpers, to connect people and businesses during the shutdowns and find innovative ways for businesses to support residents, and vice versa.

A small family scholarship held a fundraiser to purchase laptops and buy internet access for nursing students who could not afford their own during a school shutdown.  (Thanks, Rachel!)

Stores have hours dedicated to vulnerable shoppers, and neighbours are working together to care for their neighbours.

A restaurant in Squamish is providing free meals to families who need one during the shut down.

Politico published an article on some positive outcomes we might see from this time.

Loblaws, a grocery store here in Canada, has increased the pay of their “front-line” employees, both full-time and part-time, by $2/hr in recognition of the importance of what they’re doing and the risks they’re taking. (It’s not enough, but it’s a start!) Metro followed suit after the announcement was made.

#Cheer4HealthWorkers is a hashtag for people literally cheering for front-line health workers and posting videos of it online.

A friend sent me a video of her apartment neighbours in Italy getting playing bingo on their balconies: One person calling out the square to everyone, others repeating it so all can hear.  Someone else I know is setting up Zoom calls for their friend group to play Risk together online.

Online dinner parties! (I’ve been having online tea dates with friends.)

 


New for March 21:

Dan Mangan’s second Toronto show was cancelled on March 13, but they already had the gear set up and ready to go, so … he went ahead and had the show for an empty concert hall, recorded it, and released it free for people to see on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjQ80Njm96g

It’s an idea that’s taking off: There’s a whole series of shows (called URGNT) in empty venues planned in Toronto in the coming weeks, live-streamed for audiences stuck at home.  Donations will pay the skeleton crew & performers a small amount while they are otherwise out of work. Additionally BandCamp is also making things free or lower cost (note: I have no idea wth BandCamp is; just passing on what I’ve heard in the hopes that it is more intelligible to other people). Here’s a recent Wayfarer’s concert that has been released in full: https://wayfarer.bandcamp.com/album/live-at-mills-hardware

Local bookstores are offering free delivery to local customers.

Sublime Stitching is sending out embroidery patterns and supplies at reduced cost to those who really need something calming to do and can’t afford the regular prices.

During municipal budget deliberations a few weeks ago, Hamilton Council voted down a motion to ensure that all City employees were earning a “living wage” (rather than the provincially-mandated minimum wage; a difference of just over $1.5/hour). On the 20th, while passing the 2020 budget, they held the vote again and passed the motion, at the same time endorsing short-term property tax deferrals for those facing covid-related financial difficulties.

Local restaurants are donating perishable foods to food banks.

Here’s a whole episode of Front Burner on similar stories: https://www.cbc.ca/radio/frontburner/a-few-moments-of-joy-during-the-pandemic-1.5504011

An article on how to support local businesses right now, including my favourites, spending your grocery money at the small stores and tipping delivery people well.

Netflix has announced a $100m fund to support their arts workers affected by pandemic shutdowns.


 

Original:

I don’t want to say I’m not scared. I am. I’m not afraid of social distancing–I’ve had 45 years of practice at social distancing–I’m used to working from home; I have a stack of unread books as high as the armchair, a closet full of fabric, a few embroidery projects half-completed, and a smart phone. Social distancing I can do. What scares me right now is the prospect of being redeployed to support the pandemic response in a way that can’t be done from home, because the schools are (rightly) closed so Frances is at home full time and while she is doing better, she can’t be left here by herself for weeks on end. Or months. Or whatever this turns out to be. So there is some uncertainty around here.

And I’m not not-scared of getting sick, either. I’m not in a high-risk age group, but I’m in a high-risk medical group, and I need to be able to be well enough to care for Frances. So I am being very careful.

It is scary, and for reasons beyond the medical, and we’re all scared. At least, if we’re sensible, we’re scared. There’s plenty of people yammering on about how they’re not scared of a virus fergodsake and they’re going to continue living their regular lives, and those people, if you’re sensible, probably make you angry.

But they’re a minority.

When this is over, I want you to remember this: in a time of crisis, most people looked around themselves and asked what they could do to help. Most people acted quickly and decisively to protect the health and safety of elderly, disabled and chronically ill people they’ve never met. Most people directed their care and concern towards economically vulnerable groups.

Think about it: If the neoliberals were right and humans were all innately selfish and made decisions in their own self-interest, then our business leaders and politicians and most regular people would have looked at the virus and its fatality rate, shrugged, left the elderly and disabled to their fate, sequestered themselves until it was all over, made a lot of nice speeches about the sacrifices doctors made, and just cleaned up when it was done.  (In other words, I guess, we’d all be Trump.)

But instead, when a crisis hit that would affect (to be blunt) people of limited economic or productive utility–people who largely require support and don’t pay much in taxes–the entire economy willingly ground to a halt to protect them.

Take a minute to think about how remarkable that is.

Yes, some people and some companies refuse to do so. And everyone else is shunning them.

Some monkey experiments, famous in certain circles, are relevant here: capuchin monkeys were “paid” to complete tasks by either a piece of cucumber (ho-hum) or grapes (yum!). Everyone willingly completed the tasks when everyone was paid cucumbers, but the moment some monkeys got grapes, those who were stuck with cucumbers threw tantrums and refused to complete their tasks.

Related experiments with humans show much the same, and the data for foraging societies and pre-history largely agree: humans are wired to be cooperative, collaborative, and egalitarian. Foraging societies survived the lean times because when one person was hungry, they were all hungry; and there were social repercussions (like ostracism) for anyone who attempted to accumulate more goods than their peers.

This is a hard and scary situation. But I am still reassured at how quickly our competitive, capitalist, individualist society made a decision to pay the price together and protect each other.

This is not the only crisis we’ll be facing this century, and if even some of the climate change projections hold up, it will be far from the worst. When Covid-19 is over, remember this: This is who we are. This is how we can always be.

Here’s proof. I’ll update this with new stories as I find them. Feel free to share your own in the comments (doesn’t have to be a news story; something you saw or did counts!). Let’s keep this focused on stories of compassion and cooperation.


Care-mongering: Hamilton non-profit Disability Justice Network of Ontario creates a FaceBook group for Hamilton neighbours to take care of each other, and the concept is quickly copied by other communities. We are big fans of the DJNO in regular times, and this just makes us love them even more.

The federal, provincial and municipal governments are cooperating and collaborating seamlessly across party lines to provide support to vulnerable Canadians, including those ineligible for EI, small business owners, parents affected by school shutdowns, homeless Canadians, etc. (It frankly amazed me how quickly we mobilized to find the money to protect people that progressives have been saying we need to do a better job of protecting all along.)

Local businesses–including my favourite local fabric store–closed their doors before government action mandated it and before government supports facilitated it.

Banks are offering mortgage deferrals for up to six months.

Evictions have been suspended.

Community and recreation centres have been repurposed into shelters for homeless people who are showing symptoms and have no earthly way to self-isolate.

Local restaurants are offering free delivery.

Local gin distilleries are now producing free hand sanitizer for health care and frontline workers.

Local internet companies are waiving overage fees for this period.

Our local bus network is offering free rides.

Everyone and their Aunt Myrtle is offering free online classes on a wide variety of subjects. Here in Hamilton, one of our local organizers has created a FB group collecting on-line dance lessons so people can get their fix at home.

Teachers are offering free education for kids stuck at home during school closures.

This TV baseball host is using his mandatory down-time to call fans quarantined at home.

McMaster University health sciences students volunteering to help front-line health workers who need assistance with running errands, groceries and babysitting.

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer is becoming a fashion icon, and people are selling t-shirts with her face on them.

Andre Picard: “For every toilet paper hoarder and I’m-gonna-cough-my-lungs-out-on-the-subway guy, there are probably 10 others doing good deeds – shopping for an elderly neighbour, taking in the neighbour’s kids so she can go to work, walking someone’s dog if they are sick, making a donation to the homeless shelter.”

If Not Greed, Then What? or: what Darwinism never taught you

People don't just see pretty things and enjoy them; they record them for posterity. And then they don't keep those images for themselves but share it with friends, family and strangers via networks like Flickr. Face it: people like to share

Of course, people will often tell you that selling people on environmental change by appealing to their values is romantic, i.e. unrealistic, i.e. sentimental and doomed to failure. That human beings are innately and inherently greedy, i.e. selfish, i.e. competitive, and that any proposal that does not rest itself solidly on the human incapacity to care about anything beyond the pleasures and possibilities of the self is a futile enterprise.

Let’s pretend momentarily that there isn’t a substantial body of environmental psychology establishing that appealing to values works, and appealing to selfishness and greed does not.

Let’s instead spend a mini-post digressing into evolutionary biology and evolutionary psychology,* in which cooperation is much, much more important than competition. I know, it goes against everything you were taught about evolution. Darwin was a really smart guy, but he did get a few things wrong (for instance, his bizarre belief that only the male of the species evolved through sex selection, predicated on his Victorian social values). Greed and competition are real, but there is plenty of scientific evidence for a much more hopeful view of human nature.

Think for a moment about reading this blog post.

In order to be able to do this seemingly simple act, thousands of years ago, groups of human beings had to cooperatively agree to all treat black squiggles of ink on parchment identically. They agreed that those squiggles would make certain sounds that had certain meanings, and that those meanings had to be arranged and interpreted in a certain way.

They used this newly invented system of written language to agree on a number of other things: codes of conduct, the price of bread or flour, how to define the angles in an isosceles triangle, dialogue lines in a play, how to grow beets, etc. Most of the things so defined and codified were carried out in groups: temples, tribes, families, neighbourhoods, schools, professions, guilds, theatres, cities, nations, schools.

After the discovery of electricity, western societies embarked on a massive enterprise to wire up their countries with standardized wires and outlets. The invention of computers was followed closely by societal agreement on programming languages and rules. There is a lot of cooperative behaviour underlying my production and your consumption of these paragraphs.

The internet is nothing but one gigantic cooperative venture involving millions of people. Competition takes place on the internet but it wouldn’t be possible without vast underlying stores and structures of cooperation.

We don’t always use our cooperative natures for good. We don’t always use hammers or crayons or purses for good either. We’re not innately, entirely good. But we are innately, basically cooperative. Even the most competitive of our modern ventures depend on mass cooperation, without which the competitive venture would be impossible. How would football get played if we didn’t agree what the size of the field should be and where the marking should be painted, if we didn’t work together to build the stadiums, install the seats, sell the hotdogs and tickets, and jump up to yell like idiots when a certain kind of ball passes a certain spot on the field? Even war depends on cooperation, as without it no tyrant would be able to coordinate millions of people and socialize them in the slaughter of other groups of millions of people.

Cooperation is so basic to everything we do, everything we are, everything we think, that it is utterly invisible, and so we focus our attention on the troublesomely rare competition. Which wouldn’t garner so much attention if we weren’t a cooperative species–lions spare no grief for the elimination of a rival tribe, groundhogs do not ruminate on the consequences of their consumption, bonobos–a social and cooperative primate species if ever there was one–don’t torture themselves with guilt if their behaviours eliminate the habitat for another species. (It’s unlikely it ever would, but if it did, bonobos would not establish organizations and hold demonstrations to save another species. They probably wouldn’t even notice they were gone, unless it was a species they ate.)

For a much longer, more thorough and more scientific treatment on the basic cooperativeness of the human species, I recommend Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s Mothers and Others, in which she argues that the human ability to empathize and intuit the emotional and mental states of others drove our ability to hunt, build, educate, worship, move, and even fight in groups, and was essential to the evolution of the human species and society. Pick it up and read the first chapter, “Chimps on a Plane.” And see if that doesn’t permanently alter your view of human nature. 

When a wild animal adopts the young of another species, it makes headlines around the world. When a human adopts the young of another species, we charge them a fee and force them to get a license, it’s so common. When a wild animal feeds a member of another species, it inspires books and films. Whereas it’s so common for humans to feed wild animals that we need to erect signs in public places to discourage them from doing so. We put out birdfeeders, for gods’ sake. Can you see wolves putting out rabbitfeeders?

Yes, we cooperate because we expect to benefit from those efforts; but we also cooperate when we either won’t benefit at all or could even lose out. And we enjoy doing it–so much so that some people will argue that the only reason we extend ourselves and sacrifice to help others is because of that good feeling. Dear Readers, ants don’t feed aphids because of the good feelings that sharing gives them, and even our closest primate relatives lose Theory of Mind (the ability to intuit what someone else is feeling or thinking from their facial expressions and behaviour) after early childhood. We’re special. Get used to it.

So go ahead, advocate for human goodness. It’s just as much a part of our basic natures as selfishness, greed and competition–and evidence shows that it works. We don’t need to invent a human capacity for cooperation, we just need to dust it off and polish it up after a few centuries of being blitzkrieged by competitiveness and greed and channel it towards productive ends.

~~~~~

*I’d like to state in advance that I know that not everyone in those fields would agree with this statement.