Globalisation is the most notable phenomenon of the 21st century. Its advantages have long been discussed – how it helps the global economy, expands social horizons, improves knowledge and so on. But the last few months have shown us a dark side of this phenomenon; one that we’ve immensely theorised but have rarely seen, and never at this scale.
In a globalised world, like knowledge and money, diseases don’t see borders either. The novel coronavirus is spreading fast across the world and what we have upon ourselves is a pandemic.
It has forced us to retreat into our homes and has slowed down the global economy, showing us how futile our social structures and the struggle to maintain them are. It seems like the pandemic is holding up a loudspeaker to tell us that our unsustainable, emotionally dissatisfying and downright deadly lifestyle are all responsible for the crisis. For years, we have been running a race that no one can win. We have been abusing and exploiting our planet to support the imaginary systems that apparently hold us in place. In a way, the Earth is now showing us the fragile nature of our existence.
It isn’t an easy task to bring our fast-paced, full-steam-ahead, capitalist world to a standstill, but it is for a deadly virus when the entire world is connected. Today, you just have to spend some thousand Yuan or dollars to travel from Wuhan to New York, Singapore and London. In short, a potential pandemic – from anywhere in the world – is only a day-long flight away, or even less than that in some cases.
We had always wished that we had more time; to watch that movie, paint that picture, clean our wardrobe or catch up with a friend. We had put these things on the backburner while we wheeled like a hamster to make money in pursuit of a lifestyle we didn’t have the time to enjoy.
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Well now, we have all the time in the world but we are stuck in our rooms without a choice. Sitting at home or going out is no more a matter of choice. We have the time but with strings attached. As a result, we are anxious and constantly guilty for not being productive enough because we have all internalised a capitalist idea of productivity where indulging in art, sitting at home or doing nothing do not count as fruitful activities. But is it really unproductive if it makes you happy? And is it really productive if it does not?
While we struggle with these questions, there are a lot of workers around the world working tirelessly against time to save our lives. Medical professionals are working every hour of the day to treat thousands of infected patients and find vaccines to normalise the situation. The police are trying to maintain law and order in places where the survival instincts are kicking in. Sanitation workers are cleaning our filth and there are million other people working selflessly to make someone else’s life easier.
We, the people who’re at home, comfortable enough to read and write, owe them our relaxed existence at the moment. We can’t offer them much but all our gratitude. While we sit at home contemplating what to do with all this free time, there is a whole other group of people asking a much more pressing question – where will my next meal come from? The daily wage workers, who have no idea how’re they’re going to survive without their modest daily earnings, have nowhere to go and nothing to eat. This is another consequence of a regime driven by a capitalist system. In times of turmoil, the poor suffer the most – as is evident with the present situation in our country.
This pandemic is a wake up call. It is showing us what is really important. What is and will get us through this pandemic is community solidarity and a sense of responsibility – basically everything that a capitalist structure doesn’t value. Forget structures, these are fundamentals of our existence, perhaps ingrained in our DNAs. Tribes work together, eat together and take care of each other. A doctor isn’t selling his/her services to the highest bidder and sanitation workers aren’t staying home to protect themselves. They are doing what is essential for the world right now.
In times of distress is when we see what is indispensable and what is not. And right now, what is and has always been fundamental for all of us is food, water, shelter and medicine. Capitalist structures have led to many disasters in the past, including this one, and will continue to create many more in the future. No matter how much we believe in money and how important we deem it, when the world feels like it is ending, it has no utility except a false sense of security.
Anchita Ranka is a second year student in B. Sc. Economics at Symbiosis School of Economics, Pune.