Our welfare simply is wrapped up in the welfare of the other, and we do not have a choice about it. — Marcus Mumford
Marcus Mumford’s acceptance speech of the Steinbeck Award this past September links Steinbeck with Lewis, ostensibly, and, more subtly, draws on the thought of Rebecca Solnit on the communitarian responses to disaster that develop, William Cavanaugh on the ethical dimensions of traveling to other communities, Bernie Sanders, Wendell Berry—anyone concerned with the plight of the poor, which is, of course, our own plight.
His speech is an honest and heartfelt distillation of what his music has always offered me: a map to listening to others, a space for making peace in one’s own heart and mind, and a connection with one’s neighbor.
Mumford’s music puts to action what Mumford’s words call for: using art to meet one’s neighbor and to love him or her more.
As stories of coronavirus spread as quickly (perhaps) as the virus, stories surface of ludicrous and thoughtless actions: parents whose child has the virus going out about their business, presidents playing golf and CDC Global Response teams having been defunded. Followed by the requiste lifesite news essays forwarded by parents, insisting the corporate media is fear-mongering.
The corporate media, unlike Mumford and Sons, has not recently won Steinbeck awards for radical empathy towards the vulnerable neighbor nor for fostering hope rather than anxiety-fueled clicks. It has seemed to me more and more lately that the news, reported by those whose lives are not at stake in the stories they report, tends to be confused with the circus. It’s easy to forget that global affairs are not a spectator sport, but history that eventually will catch up with all of us. That our welfare is, quite simply, wrapped up in the welfare of our neighbor.
But more and more I have found my friends responding to the coronavirus with the same concern: I’m not worried about myself, but what about my grandparents? I know I may be fine, but am I unconsciously spreading the virus to an elderly person on the subway? I may be able to work from home, but what about those who can’t afford to take a sick day?
Rebecca Solnit, no Pollyanna about human nature, celebrates how communities respond to disaster:
On the warm night of August 15, 2003, the Milky Way could be seen in New York City, a heavenly realm long lost to view until the blackout that hit the northeast late the afternoon. You can think of the current social order as something akin to this artificial light: another kind of power that fails in disaster. In its place appears a reversion to improvised, collaborative, cooperative, and local society.
However beautiful the stars of a suddenly visible night sky, few nowadays could find their way by them. But the constellations of solidarity, altruism, and improvisation are within most of us and reappear at these times. People know what to do in a disaster. The loss of power, the disaster in the modern sense, is an affliction, but the reappearance of these old heavens is its opposite. This is the paradise entered through hell.
Disasters are—just that—disasters, catastrophes, unwelcome and harmful events. Often they can bring out fear and loathing of those who have something to lose in the chaos. They are crucibles where the mettle of human character is tested, but also human community. Solnit’s book charts the many times in which communities have found themselves revealed by the disaster to be kinder, nobler, and more concerned for the welfare of the other than they, in peace time, with the power on, imagine.