Looking at the global pandemic as a moral crisis
Just as nature takes every obstacle, every impediment, and works around it — turns it to its purposes, incorporates it into itself — so, too, a rational being can turn each setback into raw material and use it to achieve its goal.
- Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
It’s a bit overwhelming to realise that we are in the midst of times where the world, literally, the world is witness to one of the biggest crisis known to mankind in the many decades. The most interesting this about this pandemic is it has laid bare the problems in the society in all its nakedness — the authoritarianism, lack of access to public health, the growing inequality between the rich and poor, domestic violence etc.
It has laid bare these problems not only at a societal level, but at a community level, and even at a household level. As much as this is a health crisis for the world, it is also a humanitarian crisis, and therefore, it also becomes a crisis of moral choices — the choice between the blue pill and the red pill.
In some countries, the response to the crisis has been worse than the crisis itself. India’s Prime Minister imposed a complete lockdown of 1.3 billion people — making 1/6 of the world’s population go in a lockdown with just 4 hours of notice. What that means for a country like India, where a large part of the employment is in informal sector, is that hundreds of millions of people who depend on daily wage have no livelihood for as long as the lockdown persists. With the lockdown on transport services and small businesses, it also means that, migrant workers who travel to different cities or town for work, are stranded without the basics — food and shelter. To come to think of it, it takes genius of a kind to turn a health crisis into a humanitarian crisis — as its most often said “if the virus won’t kill them, the hunger will.”
On the other hand, we look at America —the inability of the president of the world’s most “powerful” country to respond to a crisis is for the world to see — starting from denying the existence of the virus to and calling it a hoax, to consistently blaming the Chinese, to going against the experts, to deciding to choose America over Americans and to claiming that the lesser we test, the lesser number of cases there will be. America, this year, went straight from a young’s man dream to his nightmare. To say the least, if there is anything that we learn from the president, it is what NOT to do.
China, on the other hand, has been extremely controversial to begin with — it has been more concerned about its reputation or control than the affect of the virus on the people. It takes chutzpah of some kind to first keep the pandemic a secret, ban reporters from entering its territory, and then increasing its surveillance to a degree that the world hasn’t seen before.
The crisis is posing questions to the political leaders — the kind they may not have been prepared for and as much as these questions are about economics or politics, they also are about morality — for example, will China increase the level of surveillance even after it is not required for people to social distance themselves ? Will it use the pandemic as an opportunity or an excuse to increase its control over its people. Will India’s PM continue to build his image or that of his party — by naming funds after him, will he continue to fill people with hate and venom in the name of religion, will he continue to spend money on statues or financing a religious festival. Will he continue to infantile the people by asking them to light dia or clap or bang thali? Will he continue to ignore the migrant workers or the marginalised in his speech for lockdown?
At a societal or a community level, it has been said that many a times that the virus is neutral— that is it doesn’t discriminate between the rich and the poor. But there are many examples which will compel you to believe that just like the society which favours the powerful, so does the virus — after all, the virus wasn’t strong enough to stand on its own ground and succumbed to take on the characteristics of the world we live in — the one that lacks conscience and that is discriminatory.
In India, for example, this virus is a disease caught on by the rich — who traveled in international flights and came back home — and transferred to the poor. What’s ironical is that the same “rich” people whose lives are made comfortable are ill-treating the poor by choosing not to pay them the daily wage. Another example of discrimination is when a celebrity who attends a party in the times of pandemic, gets tested positive for CoVid not once, not twice, but five times. On the other hand, four hospitals refused admission to a pregnant woman suspecting her to be a COVID-19 patient, who eventually died two days after giving birth to twins. Another dynamic is that there has been an increasing number of cases reported on domestic violence — women, who are managing household work, taking care of kids, and working are also facing the the brunt of domestic abuse and violence at home. So, in all scenarios, the virus is NOT not neutral, it does affect the daily workers, the farmers, the women more than it affects the rich, the powerful, and the alpha.
It’s easy to lose hope amongst what is happening, however as they say adversity is what you make of it — in any situation, any one of us has a choice, to be a part of the problem or to be a part of the solution. If we are wise, we will recognise our privileges and choose to be part of the solution. If you’re privileged — which you are if you have the luxury to read an article while still having a job during a pandemic — the least you can do is to not be a part of the problem — don’t be the guy who spews out anger and hate on women at home; don’t be the guy who refuses to wear a mask in public. And especially if you’re religious, don’t be the guy who does a grand pooja or havan at home to ward off the evil but who consciously does a greater evil by choosing not to pay the household help.
After all, it does help to put into perspective the current situation we find ourselves and to think about “what does this all mean” to me as an individual — do I look at it as an adversity only for myself or do I choose to look at it as an adversity for all mankind, especially for those who are less privileged than I am. And therefore, see what is it that I can do to help those who, unlike me, do not have the luxury of working from home or do not have a job or do not face the violence at home. If we look at the situation objectively, the choice is simple, but takes courage to identify and do what’s right. And what’s right is never easy.