The Great Rat Race: Takeaways From the Pandemic

COVID-19 is spreading rapidly and indiscriminately, truncating all human-constructed boundaries. At times, the pandemic seems to hurl toward an apocalypse — something that we used to watch only in Hollywood movies and read in science fiction books.

However, unlike the films, we are neither sure about the timely emergence of a mighty hero nor about the intervention of a benevolent divine power. But should we only wait or can we vanquish this pandemic? Can we, the ordinary people, lead a battle against it?

Living in the times of neo-liberal capitalism, we have been ensconced in the habits of consumption and achievement, and have unwittingly forgotten to appraise the ideals of learning and seeking. We have mistaken pleasure for happiness and information for knowledge. Needless to say, we swim in the whirlpool of fake news, cyber fraud and hoaxes every day. We live in an era of many choices and abundant possibilities that though offer us ample career opportunities, yet leave us with little space to sit a back and ponder the deeper mysteries of the human experience. We are endlessly in pursuit, though not actually well aware of what.

Also read: Coronavirus Pandemic: Key Lessons to be Learned

A few days ago, I was watching a short film titled Happiness by Steve Cutts, black humour film which exposes the hollowness of modern times by depicting the great rat race. The four-minute animated film is alarming in its dark comic representation of the urban void through a class of people for whom Friday nights are meant just for hangouts with friends, Saturdays for shopping for sales, and Sundays for sleeping lazily to gear up for the coming week’s race. Nobody bothers about why they are doing what they are doing.

Cutts’ film reflects on the deterioration of human selfhood, offering a warning on capitalist excesses. And, the pandemic seems to bear intriguing links with such a dark cautionary portrayal in giving a jolt to the human kind—unfolding the bareness of its existence. The pandemic has grimly reminded us about the invincibility of nature and perhaps also offered us a chance to act responsibly. Pertinently, it is stripping the illusions of capitalist glory and making us confront the banalities of human existence.

The pandemic is unleashing a tough but an apt-needed learning for all. If we have to survive, we have to think collectively. We have to introspect perspicaciously on our roles and re-engage with the experientiality of our lives. The need of this hour demands physical isolation from each other but not psychological. We need to visualise the pandemic as a crisis on the entire humanity in which each one has a deeper role to play.

Also read: Who Will Survive This Pandemic?

These are undeniably ‘hard times’, but they are also crucial times where we can recuperate from the clutches of rugged materialism. Quite surreptitiously, it is teaching us that if we aspire to survive, we have to accept and acknowledge the fundamentals of collectivism. If we have to sustain, we have to shed off ruthless hedonism and individualism, and participate in the world around us in meaningful ways. We have to come out of the shell of anthropocentricism and respect the profound vitality of this planet.

While we shut ourselves in homes, we have to put a pause on ‘othering’. We have to come to aid to the social world around us in all possible ways such as spreading awareness, reducing panic, mitigating worries of the disadvantaged, boosting strength of the infected ones, and more decisively recognising the value of life at its deep core.

It’s the time we make our ordinariness heroic and usher it in the cause of a holistic well-being. We need not wait for the right moment to appropriate the right role but can employ ourselves in the best possible ways at any given time. Because heroism lies in our ability to appreciate our humdrum existence in the large cosmos and our livingness is evidenced when we contemplate, engage, and enact with and for others.

We have to emerge as fighters in our own ordinary ways — as film heroes do not come as saviours in real life.

Payel Pal is assistant professor in english at LNMIIT Jaipur

Featured image credit: YouTube/Steve Cutts