It hardly seems to matter whether you’re the world’s richest man Jeff Bezos - wedge $140bn - or Fr Peter McVerry, the Belfast Jesuit fighting social injustice, particularly homelessness, for more years than he, or we, might care to remember. A truth for Bezos is a truth for McVerry even if either man uses his opinions, their beliefs to advance one understanding or another of truth.
Bezos seems a typical modest-background-to-billionaire businessman committed to tooth-and-claw capitalism. One of the ways he expresses that today is by ruthless suppression of those trying to unionise his employees. McVerry stands at the far end of the spectrum caring for the vulnerable as passionately as Bezos cares for Amazon share values.
A belief both men probably share, though they might express it differently, is that virtually every epoch-defining conflict in today’’s world is a consequence of how resources are used or misused, of how they are shared or concentrated. One exploits that conflict, the other challenges it.
The climate crisis is still the greatest example of that. Just as tobacco conglomerates defied medicine for decades, oil companies, airlines, the farm and food sectors feel threatened today because more and more societies, more and more international organisations, and governments too, recognise that their powerful, extractive industries must accept great change if they/we are not to destroy our planet.
They, naturally, defend their position but those facing climate collapse because of grand industries’ impact are increasingly less sanguine about the environmental costs of today’’s normal. The option is simple - we either curb extreme, transnational capitalism or prepare for an increasingly destructive climate.
That equation may be even more transparent in McVerry’s world. Unless we re-imagine the relationship between the absolute need for a home and how that need is used as opportunity by financiers and developers, landowners too, then it very difficult to see how today’’s, and tomorrow’’s, housing crisis might be easily resolved.
That conflict between resources and public good is, as it always does, coming to the fore in the fight against the pandemic. Businesses struggling after weeks in loss-making lock down are understandably anxious to resume work. It may seen unfair, it is certainly disproportionate, to imagine a hairdresser or a publican who wants to reopen after almost two months in mothballs as an extreme, Bezos-grade capitalist.
That, however, does not mean the obvious question about reopening a business built on bringing numbers of people together into a confined space can be avoided. It also stretches the most indulgent imagination to suggest hat any pub could guarantee that social distance disciplines would be observed meticulously - especially as that suggestion defies the very logic of pubs’ raison d’être. It seems disproportionate too to argue that a visit to a hair salon to get a fringe tidied up is, at this stage, proportionate to the risk involved.