Seize the Covid-19 moment

All we need is a total political reset to repurpose the human endeavour at every level

The coronavirus has shaken the world to a new entropy. From the futuristic perspective, this dynamic of ‘increased disorder’ features three basic developments in political space: uncertainty, pressure and an urge for normalcy.

All three are tied together in a ‘cause and effect’ relationship with countless socio-economic currents running underneath. In order to realise where we are, where we can drift to and where we preferably should go, let’s take a look at the situation through the three trends.

First, uncertainty. Normally, people live in a socio-cultural predictability. They don’t have to bear the stress of thinking how they would spend their day. But in the wake of Covid, uncertainty has risen to an unprecedented level.

When was the last time that something like this happened? Kids do not know when their schools will reopen. Parents are unsure when they will be able to resume their jobs in a normal manner. Nobody knows when, where and from whom, they may get infected with this virus.

It’s an unsparingly pervasive phenomenon that is affecting everyone, everywhere at every level. There is a diffused sense of unpredictability which has disrupted the regular flow of life. Everyone is asking the same dizzying questions: What will happen? When will it end? What happens after this is over? While the atmosphere is filled with an enormous amount of misinformed opinions and false assumptions, nobody has real answers. This is the state of uncertainty.

Uncertainty induces conditions of anomie in society. In theory, anomie constitutes socio-cultural failure of the system in furnishing the individual with a clear sense of purpose and patterns of behaviour to fill his/her everyday life. That’s what this virus is doing to societies. Human civilisation, from its details to its entirety is experiencing an episode of failure as never before. People, nations and world leaders are baffled, as unprepared folks can be. The general confidence level is low. No one is in any position to lay claims.

Second, what is the direct effect of anomic uncertainty? Pressure is mounting against all the dimensions of life and at all levels of civilisation. The WHO is under pressure for failing to warn the world of this pandemic at an early stage.

Societies are under pressure as some of their most cherished religious and cultural traits stand invalidated all of a sudden. The states are under pressure for not tackling this virus with an adequate health care response. Even the world order has come under pressure as Henry Kissinger has pointed out in his recently published article.

While the impact is unfelt nowhere, its manifestation has two basic highlights. One, the ultimate recipients of the Covid-induced stress are real individuals and families. Two, to whom people are looking for solutions? Obviously, towards the state. So distilling through different levels of human existence, the pressure is finally directed towards the state for delivering solutions.

The interplay of uncertainty and pressure brings us to our third point: urge for a new normal. Theoretically, there are three possibilities.

One, back to 2019: the world succeeds in eradicating the coronavirus, gets back to pre-covid-19 and all is well. But what is the realistic scenario? According to medical experts, the world being free of the coronavirus in the foreseeable future, is an impossibility. We cannot go back to a pre-corona world. So in reality, 2019 normalcy is off the table. Who knew that the times passed just a few months ago will soon become a nostalgic memory.

The world is replete with human, financial and technical resources, necessary and sufficient to piece together a universal engine of value.

Two, the new normal is worse than before. What does that mean? Governments just keep struggling to flatten the curve through lockdowns and other administrative operations. People continue to live under the shadow of death and disease. Healthcare systems continue to be overloaded.

A civilisational nightmare of global scale: hungry capitalism, madder than before. The individual is helpless, the state more erratic and its institutions more self-serving. Uncertainty and pressure remain un-eased, and a generalised condition of despondency persists. This type of normal may be unacceptable to us, but it is very much within the zone of reality.

Three, the new normal is better and more benevolent than before. What does that mean? The world has evolved enough to not let another corona-like situation happen again. People are freer and happier than before. Remember, corona is not the endgame of this calamity.

Given the havoc we have caused to nature, more catastrophes are likelier than not. So, civilisation needs a permanent and progressive upgrade. But the question is: how would this be possible and feasible at this point in time? Sounds wishful.

Actually, the time has never been more opportune. In uncertainty, things are unpredictable. When you cannot predict the future, you tend to create it. Once the status quo is thrown into discredit, change has a chance of becoming reality. This is how society, state and global order evolve and move on to a higher level.

The demand for an upgrade is not new and its fulfillment is overdue. Despite all the forces of logic and reason on its side, the noise of the capitalistic juggernaut has managed to keep it unheard so far. Bernie Sanders’ exit from the US presidential race is understandable in this context. And I don’t think the coronavirus alone is big enough a factor to change the status quo. But here is the thing. What do the people, who oppose education, health and minimum income as universal rights argue?

A laissez-faire; free market: none of governments’ business; this is how they go about it. Fair enough. But then which laissez faire principle governs the multi-trillion dollar packages to bailout hedge-funds, stocks, insurance, mortgages and banks? The coronavirus has comprehensively invalidated the classical free-market argument against the management of economy by the state for social purposes. A checkmate.

But this checkmate on the chessboard of logic holds no good, if the winning future remains uncalled to reality. The fundamental problem with the existing order is that it is consuming the future. The net pass-on to the next day is an increased hostility toward life in the form of growing ecological imbalances, susceptibility to pandemics and depleting resources. Plus, manmade disparities and iniquities along socio-cultural, economic and political planes are drawing increasing number of people into the vortex of unhappiness and despair. The nature of challenges is planetary, but it is not without a bright side.

It goes to the credit of the existing order that all essential elements required to produce a creative, sustainable and liberating ‘new normal’ are available in the system. The world is replete with human, financial and technical resources, necessary and sufficient to piece together a universal engine of value. A world of socially and politically conscious citizens, guaranteed minimum income, free health and education for all, is now reachable. Nature, though badly injured, is healable. All we need is a total political reset to repurpose the human endeavour at every level. In case we fail to do so, the entropy would tend to resettle at a level much worse than before.

The writer is an author and public policy expert

Seize the Covid-19 moment