Need, not greed-based society can salvage us

Surely humankind has successfully faced down many more lethal diseases than COVID19, which is at least comparable to flu, another rarely fatal respiratory infection, which we simply take in our stride

China: One dead from new virus
China: One dead from new virus

Aditya Sudarshan

We know by now that the NovelCoronavirus is not especially deadly to individuals. Then why the global shut-down?

Surely humankind has successfully faced down many more lethal diseases thanCOVID-19, which is at least comparable to the flu, another contagious and rarely fatal respiratory infection, which we simply take in our stride.

Such considerations have roused a welter of conspiracy theories; there is talk of lab-grown pathogens, the Deep State, insidious Chinese plotting, ‘global elites’, and the deliberate advent of a New World Order.

Yet these theories (fascinating as they often are)are not called for.In reality, just as it would require only as light alteration in solar distances for theEarth to become completely un inhabitable, so COVID-19’s somewhat greater contagious-ness and somewhat greater severity (than influenza), is enough to make it genuinely intolerable, to ordinary social life.

So even as we obsess over case counts and death counts, quarantines and cures, pausing to consider dark political machinations, let’s realise firstly that the true patient here, more than specific individuals, is our social being itself.

Secondly, that this virus is most dangerous, a) when said patient suffers from pre-existing malaises, and b) when his/her/its immune response is out of control.With this in mind, let us attempt a prognosis for modern human society. What are our prominent (collective) pre-existing malaises? I submit: the warfare between ‘isms’ of every kind, and the greed-based economic model that discards the poor.

These have compounded the impact of COVID-19, by introducing bickering, distrust (disinformation campaigns) and outright cruelty(remember the working-class), in our responses to it. But more directly, these have rendered social life breathless already, before this respiratory ailment ever appeared.

The ideology of constant, meaningless consumption has fashioned economies which simply cannot pause, and human beings who sim-ply cannot rest, without also collapsing men-tally and physically.

Yet COVID-19 demands that we rest.As for our immune response, we may have had high hopes from it. Never in history has human civilisation had such techno-logical capacity, such scientific know-how, and such means of communication to disseminate essential news urgently.

Yet it is precisely by the excess enthusiasm of immune responses (‘cytokine storms’) thatCOVID-19 brings about many of its individual fatalities.Just so, our collective resistance is falling on its own sword. The media, social media and decision-making authorities (all now closely connected) swarm with explanations and confident predictions, each encased in their own choking bureaucracies.

Graphs, mathematical models, therapeutics, and timelines are trotted out from all quarters. We style ourselves crusaders in a‘war’, praise the greatness of our nations and peoples, and pour out our indignation onto- a microbe.

Gradually, it may dawn on us that this crisis itself has become a spectacle; an opportunity for self-indulgence, self-righ-teousness, grand-standing, for the relishing of human cleverness, and for prime-time entertainment.

Meanwhile, the disease goes its own way; a step ahead of those false certainties by which we further entrap our-selves.What, then, is the prognosis for the life of our society, at the hands of the novel corona-virus? It can only be dire. But this is not pessimism; it is history. Objectively speaking, such prognoses always have been dire. Past pandemics and plagues were never ended by human ingenuity; rather, by the catching of some merciful ‘break’.

The behaviour of what we identify as viruses always has been mysterious.What seems unprecedented in 2020, is the degree to which we have collectively forgot-ten this fact, and laid aside our humility.Humility, it is easy to see, is the precise social ‘therapeutic’ that begins to heal underlying malaises and to modulate immune responses. Humility would turnour thoughts away from the great ‘war’ to bewon, and more and more regretfully towards the state of our social and economic lives. It would replace dramatic interventions with compassionate ones. And in this spirit, it would wait for the crisis to end.(The author is a novelist and teaches inFLAME University, Pune)

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