Modern Society, as Byung Chul Han, incisively points out, is a ‘Burnout society’, for it is driven and governed by the unequal structures of capitalism and, a deep desire to immune itself from the Others – races, cultures, nations – thus making a palpable distinction between the Self and the Other, the known and the unknown, the native and the alien, so forth and so on.
We live in an age of achievement and progress, and the lack of it, therefore, entails panic and depression. The present pandemic crisis of Covid 19, could be a direct result of man’s desire to walk away with a deepen pocket. The thing about virus is that they could be found everywhere and nowhere. Some common viruses are worth mentioning such as human viruses, animal viruses and computer viruses. Of these, human virus of greed is the most dangerous one because it has no antidote until it spreads widely.
I am not an epidemiologist; however it takes little to understand that COVID 19 belongs to Coronavirus family, which was transferred from animals to humans in the Chinese city of Wuhan. The very ability of the virus to transmit and hit humans has led to unprecedented crisis across the world, with the death rate constantly increasing – 3.4% as per the WHO Director General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. The high figure has once again reinforced the stereotype of the ‘sick man of Asia’ or ‘Chinese virus’. However, to see this pandemic through a racial lens alone, would be naïve, as it obfuscates the larger issues that have unfolded the present crisis. Humans have convincingly demonstrated that the source to all their problems lies in the existence of the Others, including animals. But what about the human, that is more animalistic in nature, and has little or no sense of co-existing with nature. Or for that matter, what triggers the transmission of animal viruses into human beings? One fails to understand that human beings cannot exist in isolation; our lives are interconnected and interwoven on the larger canvas that we call, the world. But our worlding of the world has been too self-centric, and, therefore a problematic. The present crisis is dangerous to the extent that it won’t be wrong to say that it takes us back to the Leviathan state “where every man is enemy to every man.” Herein, lies the problem as one needs to understand that the violence against the Others, sooner or later, results into violence against the self. The spread of the COVID19 accentuates this phenomenon.
COVID19, for obvious reasons, has exposed the weak public health policies and the attendant social ineuqities; the governments seem to have no option but to close, and in few cases even seize the borders, shutdown flights, lockdown cities. Testing kits are in severe shortage, forget the vaccines. One must become a carrier of COVID19 to get tested, of course, if s/he is alive to get that done, or, if one is rich and wealthy – recall the recent incidence at the White House when Trump was asked at a news conference if “the well-connected go to the front of the line.” It is increasingly disappointing to see that governments have learnt very few lessons from the long history of several pandemics. They apparently seem to have less money for human intelligence, but more for artificial one (let’s now ask the artificial intelligence to bail us out from this crisis), cutting down on health and education, but adding more to bail out and fund the fat bellies of the sturdy corporate.
It won’t be wrong to say that this pandemic has exposed the bitter realities of the utilitarian nature, not only of capitalists, but also several leaders across the world. It is very shocking to notice the absence of adequate testing system despite the fact that the crisis broke few months ago. This is a moment of global crisis, and hence demands deeper attention and careful intervention. We need to rethink seriously about the exposed cracks in our healthcare and economy. To write off coronavirus simply as medical crisis would be a Faustian error. In fact, it is based on a bigger humanitarian crisis, which ostensibly is an outcome of the neoliberal policies. A careful look at the working conditions of the workers in China (for China is supposedly culpable of spreading this virus) would make us realise the horrendous reality. Most of them are made to work like animals, devoid of any health care policies, least to say about favourable salary or hygenic working conditions. We all know that China is the world’s largest exporter, but very few are aware of the inhuman labour that goes behind that production. While we enjoy Chinese products, we fail to register the sufferings, pains and loss of lives that resulted in that product. They are subject to coals, mines, large amount of carbon emissions at their workplaces. Several research findings suggest that respiratory diseases remained the top five leading causes of mortality in China. COVID 19 could be the latest addition to that list. This would continue as long as neoliberal policies are in force, for these policies are least bothered about health or social welfare; infact, what they need are places where labour is cheap, raw materials are easily available and freedom to do away with any kind of environmental regulations.
It is commonplace to suggest that crises like these are also a moment for capitalising gains and profits. Stockpiling things for daily needs such as food, water and toilet paper has become the new normal. Fear of death is to so deep and pervasive that everyone is trying to beat the Other human in the pandemic moment. Online education has been prioritised, and rightly so, to combat the pressing crisis. One only hopes that this doesn’t become a permanent practice of higher education, for it would result not only in the dilution of education, but also in the cutdown of the faculty members. Thousands have already lost their jobs, and many workers have been forced to go on leave without pay. Then, there is Trump for us, trying to lure German scientists, said to be working on the coronavirus vaccines with huge amount of money and US citizenship. There is a mad rush to develop the first vaccine, not for any noble cause, but for maximising profit out of it. For this is the time that desperately demands vaccination. But, then, this is also a time that demands vaccination from self-centric nature of capitalism and neoliberal policies. It calls for a new imagination; one must remember that we can only build what we can imagine. There is no need to change the planet, change of thinking would do good for all of us, failing which, H.G Wells’ premonition “What on earth was he – man or animal?” might turn true.
The pandemic has certainly raised serious questions of where are we heading to? Hannah Arendt sees this human progression as dangerous one. She argues that “man may be… on the point of developing into the animal species, from which, since Darwin, he imagines he has come.” Seen from the capitalist position, man has become a cog in the machine. As further reinforced by Byung Chul Han that “the new Human type, helplessly exposed to the excess of Positivity, is deprived of any sense of agency. The depressive person is this animal laborans (working animals) that exploits itself, voluntarily, without coercion. They are both culprit and victim.” It takes little intelligence to understand that postcoronovirus period could spell ominously precarious times ahead for human beings as workers, labourers and producers.
Since nothing in nature is permanent, this too, shall pass. But the pressing concern is if we ready to learn a lesson out of this pandemic and strive for more awareness about the environment. Virus and environment may be perceived as two different things, but even a cursory look at the human history is enough to suggest that more the rapid progress, the bigger is the environmental crisis. It forces animals’ movements into cities and opens up ways for the transmission of animals’ microbes to human pathogens. In this regard, embittered Larry Brilliant writes that “Outbreaks are inevitable, but pandemics are optional” – all of us have the option to continue with the disruption of nature or to rethink about the carving out a collective future. Humans cannot live alone, and the present pandemic suggests that even death could be collective, and hence we need to rethink not only about or relationship with nature and animals, but also with the animal within us. It is time that we turn our attention to Sri Aurobindo’s ‘integral philosophy’ – that includes everything and excludes nothing, and in so doing, caters to the well-being of the entire world.
Remember the choice we make, is the choice that would shape our collective future. We are all equally responsible for the kind of life that we would give to our future generations on EARTH.
Dr. Om Prakash Dwivedi did his D.Phil from the University of Allahabad in 2008. Prior to joining Auro University as Associate Professor of English, he had taught at Universities in India and the Middle East. His areas of interest include, Postcolonial theory and literature, Indian Writing in English, and Cultural studies. He has published 12 books, which have received positive reviews in international refereed journals. He has also published 22 research articles in reputed Indian and international journals.
Dr. Dwivedi was awarded research grant from Deakin University, Australia, for the collection of short stories, The World To Come. He has delivered invited talks at Deakin University, Australia and Oxford University UK.
He has organized two major international Seminar/Conferences at the National University of Galway, Ireland, and Shri Ramswaroop Memorial University, Lucknow, India. He is also the Founding Secretary of the international Research group titled, Precarity, Populism and Post-Truth’. The Network is supported by 15 leading international Universities across the world.
Dr. Dwivedi sits on the Advisory board of the famous international refereed journal, Journal of Postcolonial Writing¸ published from London. He is a regular reviewer for international journals like, The Journal of Commonwealth Literature (London), Transnational Literature (Flinders University, Australia). He has also reviewed for the UNESCO sponsored journal, International Social Science. He also reviews book manuscripts for international publishers like Routledge (London, and New Delhi) and World Scientific Publishing (Hong Kong/Singapore).
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