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In a world where the majority of human suffering is perpetrated by a small minority against the vast majority, a small positive side of the current coronavirus pandemic is that it seems to have us all on the same side. A scourge with the ability to terrorize those responsible means that, ironically, we are more scared and more secure. We are increasingly aware and we give ourselves some of the best tools available to face the emergency of “life under COVID-19”, in a way that we are not for the daily terror that is “life under capitalism”.
Climate change, war, genocide, economic exploitation, famine, and curable diseases take more victims daily than COVID-19 in his entire reign. Because these phenomena are central to the status quo, victimizing subjects to it rather than those who subject others to it, they are not shocking but routine. As such, they will never inspire the coordinated global response that coronavirus already has.
But of course there is even an equal opportunity virus in a social context that is anything but egalitarian, ensuring that a non-discriminatory disease has discriminatory impacts.
The entry of Coronavirus into the public consciousness has reinvigorated long-standing anti-Chinese narratives, rapidly piercing the thin layer of multicultural civility in many Western countries. Our friends, co-workers, neighbors, and members of the community of East Asian descent, including children, have been experiencing ostracism, harassment, ridicule, and economic persecution. That British immigrants were not similarly attacked amid the "Mad Cow" scare, exposes the ugly truth behind this phenomenon. As Edward Hon-Sing Wong of the Toronto chapter of the Chinese Canadian National Council has written, this "latest health epidemic is a reminder of the pervasive racism that views Chinese populations inherently foreign, unsanitary and carriers of disease."
The racist scapegoat is not on the World Health Organization's list of public health best practices. But the bona fide security routines of the pandemic era are not accessible to everyone. The poorest among us who cannot afford days off from work; and those who populate homeless, overcrowded, and overloaded shelters, food banks, public transportation systems, migrant worker camps, and public long-term care facilities cannot truly practice "social distancing." Neither can detainees in prisons and detention centers. The millions of food insecure Americans who do not have the guarantee of an upcoming meal certainly cannot access the psychological comfort of the mass purchase of canned goods, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. Indigenous nations living in conditions of perpetual government neglect, resulting in poverty, substandard and overcrowded housing, and limited access to transportation and healthcare services, do not have the resources or infrastructure to protect their communities from harm. . Criminalized and stigmatized drug users will not be equipped with the same resources as everyone else to adjust their lifestyles to this new reality.
Additionally, public health measures are creating new burdens for workers who are left without pay as their jobs are put on hold (even worse for undocumented immigrants who cannot depend on income and job protection); parents struggling to find childcare (a shortage in non-pandemic times) for children who will now be out of school; those who face restricted access to social services that meet their basic physical, social, and emotional needs; those requiring medical care from underfunded and understaffed hospitals have now been stretched; migrant workers are too afraid to even access health care because the disease makes them eligible for deportation; and people with disabilities who are discovering that the easy-to-use products they depend on (like disinfectant wipes) are out of stock. These burd
These burdens are now also being placed on non-permanent residents / non-citizens separated from their families and livelihoods, as they have been banned from re-entering certain countries (showing that racist scapegoats are also an option for state agencies in times of public panic).
But just as surely as there are losers, there are also winners. As Gerald Posner, author of Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America explains, this global crisis “will potentially be a box office success for the industry in terms of sales and profits…”. The worse the pandemic, the greater your eventual profits. "
COVID-19, like almost any other situation, will reward the winners and punish the losers. But let's remember that, as always, our society guarantees that there are losers.
Reports from Canada and the US document poorer health and lower lives among those marginalized by race, indigeneity, immigrant status, gender, class, ability, and sexual orientation. Ultimately, our socioeconomic status is literally written on our bodies; Health is not a right, but an expression of our privilege.
In pandemic mode, when our individual health status is as safe as that of our neighbors, the burden of a health-denying status quo falls (at least slightly) on those responsible for creating it. Therefore, unsurprisingly, the status quo is changing in response. Amazon, whose cruel labor practices literally make workers sick, currently offers unlimited unpaid time off and sick pay for those in COVID-19-related quarantine. Some telcos are waiving additional usage fees for residential Internet customers, corporate media are removing salary barriers, hotels are allowing last minute cancellations without penalty. It is not COVID-19 in the air that is imbuing these institutions with sudden benevolence. It is that in this rare case, when our destinies are wrapped in others, the interests of the elite are, albeit briefly and incompletely, aligning themselves with those of the rest of us.
Of course, this does not guarantee a new confidence in the political and corporate class. The "shock doctrine" theory of author and journalist Naomi Klein, the "political strategy of using large-scale crises to advance policies that systematically deepen inequality, enrich elites and weaken everyone else," provides a useful framework to understand and anticipate the progression of this pandemic. The pharmaceutical industry has already taken advantage of the urgency of the situation. Having successfully lobbied the US government for legislation that uncovers the prices of the publicly funded drugs they develop, they have secured their right to make massive profits from COVID-19 using taxpayer money.
So, without suspending our cynicism, we can still appreciate what this pandemic offers us: a case study to counter the false narratives that defend the legitimacy of capitalism. These include:
1 - The narrative that social and economic privilege protects us from the inherent fragility of being human.
When the United Nations released a report in 2018 explaining that we have just over a decade to address the climate crisis before significant irreversible damage occurs, those of us assumed this would inspire meaningful action, we were disappointed to find that the world progress as usual. President Trump still refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of climate change science, while Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau expressed the gravity of the situation but continued to push his project agenda.
Of course, when those with the power to stop environmental destruction reside in the Global North, are rich and old, then there is nothing to do. Once climate change inflicts the kind of damage on Western societies that it already has in the Global South, they will either be dead or move to Mars. Now, as COVID-19 circulates the world wreaking immediate havoc, before alternate planets with flat-screen televisions are established, elites must confront their own precariousness; made to experience, to a certain extent, the vulnerability that they generate in others; forced to accept their interdependence with those whom they have treated as mere resources for their material accumulation.
2 - The narrative that a capitalist system of resource distribution accurately reflects our contributions to society.
Without much interruption to our collective workings, the world's top earners have quickly closed their stores: in Hollywood, movie release dates are postponed, film festivals are canceled, and production is halted; music concerts and festivals are being scrapped; and all the major sports leagues are on hold.
Who is still at work? Frontline workers in fast food, retail, child care, home cleaning, mail and parcel shipping, transit, agriculture, and of course healthcare. These people are working overtime and under increasingly stressful conditions, which reflect the extent to which our economy depends on the work of those who earn a minimum wage, are precariously employed, underestimated and overloaded; those who are disproportionately poor, feminized, racialized, immigrant, and statusless. Unfairly, their indispensibility is what also makes them more physically vulnerable, at best and in times of pandemic.
3 - The narrative that endless economic growth is necessary and inevitable.
So "necessary" that when our planet, the only source of material for this economy, sets its limits, even that is insufficient to justify a slowdown. The belief that economic growth is a prerequisite for the well-being of the human race is easily challenged by the fact that our world is filled with more things than ever, and there are more people living in mortal deprivation than ever before.
The problem is not that we have not reached our productive potential, it is that the 26 richest people on Earth have the same net worth as the poorest half of the world's population. Growth unleashed on the moral imperatives of equitable resource distribution and environmental sustainability is, in fact, immoral. What COVID-19 has shown us is that it is not inevitable. As Amanda Larsson of Greenpeace has put it, “Climate change deniers love to perpetuate the myth that it is too difficult or too inconvenient to change the status quo, but what we are seeing is that both people and governments can adapt quickly in a moment of crisis ”.
As economic participation is shrinking in response to COVID-19, global carbon emissions are, perhaps temporarily, low and dramatically. In China, the country hardest hit by the virus, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration has described "significant reductions" in air pollution that causes asthma and other respiratory conditions. The COVID-19 side effect of forced planetary rest has ironically shown that carbon emissions can be reduced rapidly while society is still functioning.
Those of us who experience quarantine time as forced vacations must remind all those whose work is more indispensable than ever but whose working conditions reflect the capitalist ethic that they are, in fact, totally expendable. In all likelihood, they won't be invited to the red carpet opening of Hollywood's inevitable “COVID 2020” commemoration, even though they will have made sure we get out on the other side of this. Let us remember all those who live precariously every day but whose struggles will never provoke the widespread political, economic and social solidarity that this pandemic has. Let us remember those for whom life under COVID-19 is another blow to the house of cards that is their fragile existence.
But let us also remember the human creativity, the will, the resilience and the love that we only fully appreciate at times like this, not so much from the institutions or government agencies officially responsible for our protection but from ordinary people. Those who congregate (increasingly online) to coordinate the exchange of information, social and emotional care and material support among themselves, and especially those who are made even more vulnerable by the crisis.
These are the people who have always resisted and made up for the failures of our system, and who will continue to do so after this viral threat is a distant memory and the violence of the status quo fully resumes.
By Khadijah Kanji, Truthout article