The Coronavirus Pandemic and the Need for Urgent Critical Reflection

The WHO has declared the outbreak of Coronavirus as a global health emergency. Image: Pixabay [ representative Image ]

As the number of lives and livelihoods lost due to the pandemic increases, there seems apparent a deeper sense of inadequacy within the human thought process that attempts to construe the situation around. The deficiency is best explained, as an outcome of a dominant streak of intellectual lethargy informing our imagination as a people. However, the challenge is not the lethargy itself. The real challenge is the heightened sense of unawareness about such inaction.

In this snappy world of ours where the quickness of things assumes criticality, the proposition of inactivity may seem radically out of place. Albeit, a little absurd and nonsensical. Perhaps, the one who argues this, lives in another world:— A world full of ignorance and perpetual amnesia. A reclusive place where the race to develop a vaccine or the contest of drug-making are not conducted. Where technology and its potential of ‘problem-solving’ is not appreciated. Where the power of industrial cycles is not realised. Where the energy sources are not harnessed to exponentially enhance ‘productivity and economic growth’.

Coming to the immediate context of our times, the medical science community is steadfast in its approach. With great effort the disease has been identified. It is referred to as Coronavirus Disease-19 (COVID-19); caused by a strain of virus—home to the coronavirus family—called SARS-CoV-2. A zoonotic RNA virus which replicates in the host body ultimately leading to its destruction. Though, not always. Furthermore, the list of symptoms based on analytical and empirical enquiry have been traced and listed. The techniques to test have been formulated. The social management of the disease has been described. The vulnerability of the population according to health and immunity based demographic studies has been defined. And lastly, laboratory based research to generate a defence against the virus onslaught is dedicated towards it’s object. However, the glass remains half-full.

Why the glass is perhaps, half full and the focus being incomplete is, because of our lack in understanding and assessing ‘the state of our society’. COVID-19 is a disease. But more importantly COVID-19, is a symptom. A symptom of a ‘diseased society’ which remains
unawakened to its predicament. And much like the physician who is trying to understand the cause and effect of the virus with its symptoms, it is time to diagnose our collective underlying problem. Moreover, just like the COVID-19 patient who is administered supportive care so that the symptoms do not go beyond control, the management of the symptoms of our collective problem needs to be given due attention.

Geologists have described, that we are living in an ‘Anthropocene’ era wherein human beings and their activities have the most significant impact on the planet. Data based evidence suggests that the ecological balance is under extreme pressure. The ecological footprint, which is defined by World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF) as, “the amount of environment necessary to produce the goods and services necessary to support a particular lifestyle”, suggests a grim picture of the so- called developed economies. Such increase in the ecological footprint, has led to an ecological overshoot since the 1970s. Our economic framework largely regulated by the ‘invisible hand’ growth model remains deeply inadequate and fraught with systemic flaws. The fragmentation among social groups has created islands of prosperity in the ocean of desperate poverty, posing incredible danger. The politics of the time leans heavily in favour of power pursuit, than people’s welfare. The lessons from history have been merely chronicled, without necessarily being acted upon. Progress and modernity, defined in linear terms have failed to provide simultaneous social security to all. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to agree with German sociologist Ulrich Beck who maintains, that we are living in a risk society wherein structures and institutions’ of modernity and progress followed so far, have become a part of the problem and not the solution. And therefore, as huge gaps remain in our epistemological framework, this ‘hegemonic system’ is set to collapse on its own set of contradictions. The remedy therefore, does not lie in the ‘binary of sorts’, but in a ‘reflexive systemic approach’ to realistically assess and respond to the crisis at hand.

At the outset, our policies of — Growth and Development needs to be informed by Ecological sensibilities. Thereby, being cognizant of the fact that, ‘Earth’s resources are abundantly available to each as per their need and not as per their wants which are propelled by the ‘consumerist culture’. As Indian ecofeminist, Vandana Shiva assertively argues in her work, ‘Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability and Peace’, that, ‘All beings—human and nonhuman—have the ‘natural right’ to sustenance, and a just society can be achieved by acknowledging the ‘living commons’ and ‘economic democracy’’. Furthermore, it is also to be noted that the essentials of a dignified living can hardly be achieved by authoritative concentration of resources by the State or a select group of individuals. Thus, a sense of ‘ecological sustainability with democratic socialism and civic freedom’ is indeed, at the heart of our prognosis.

The significance of our socio-economic choices being informed by the ecological sensibilities is not only essential for a sustainable environment but also provides a hopeful alternative, to bridge the rampant inequalities based on different social markers— like: Gender, Caste, Class, Race and Region. We have already witnessed the repercussions of a myopic top down universal approach in the migrant distress at home and refugee crisis in the world. Again, whenever there is an emergence or re-emergence of any epidemic, ‘the fear of the unknown’ pushes people to indulge in a geography of blame with xenophobic reactions and conspiracy theories. Failing to understand that the virulence of the virus, surpasses our ghettoised mindset. Hence, we need a ‘visible collaborative partnership’ in developmental planning and maintaining synch at every level—local, regional, national and global—which then helps to improve the ‘longevity of life’ on earth.

The rescue of mankind from COVID-19 as a disease is on. Our medico-scientific community is working around the clock and eventually we will be back to the ‘perceived-normal’. However, the bitter truth is that the processes required us to understand COVID-19 as a symptom of a larger disease, and this has not gained momentum. And that it is the defining tragedy of our time and our people, is beyond doubt. While there is urgency to develop curative medical solutions, our conception of long term universal public health policies must be au courant with environmental changes and socio-economic behaviours. For the future pandemics the question is not if, but when. And that future moment will test the sincerity of our preparation and the earnestness of our response.

Finally, as we work our technical teams and processes to disallow the ‘moment of no return’ caused due to the virus, the challenge for humanity is to confront and appreciate our ‘mutating’ reality. A scenario where we need to sincerely engage in re-orientation and re-imagination of our fundamentals. If we can do this for the virus, we can surely do this for humanity. Our greatest ally is our potential to know. Our greatest weapon is our mind. This challenge is ours, the battle is ours and the choice is also ours. It is up to us, whether we make an informed one or one that is ignorant of the realty around us.

Sneha Panna is pursing her Masters from J.N.U. & Yashvardhan Singh is a student at The Faculty of Law ,DU.