The World After Covid-19

In the past one month, there were many articles in newspapers, social media posts and online news websites, which are more or less centered around three topics – how to end the Covid-19 pandemic; the effects of the spread of coronavirus on the daily life and economy; and what happens after the Covid-19 pandemic. Among these three, one is generating greater interest than the other two. How does life look like after the pandemic?

It is concerning that some articles and opinions present a pessimistic and gloomy picture of the world after the Covid-19. They all stood true with what Cicero once said – ‘To philosophize is no other thing than for a man to prepare himself to death’.

Indian Essayist Pankaj Mishra in his recent article, ‘Get Ready, A Bigger Disruption Is Coming’, said that “the Covid-19 pandemic reflects a systematic crisis akin to the seminal crashes of the 20th century” and he made an ominous prophecy that “coronavirus, devastating in itself, may prove to be only the first of many shocks that lie ahead”. He holds nothing in that article which gives hope for a better world after Covid-19.

But not all predictions are so dystopic, but many offer hopeless premises. In an article published in Financial Times, reputed author Yuval Noah Harari says, “this storm [corona epidemic] will pass”, and it leaves humanity two particular choices and future of this planet lies in what choices it will choose to follow: “the first is between totalitarian surveillance and citizen empowerment. The second is between nationalist isolation and global solidarity”. It’s a no brainer that exercising latter options in both the choices is worthwhile and desirable. Now, who will choose those options for us? Harari placed the responsibility on structures outside individual: science, public authorities and media. But he also said that for them to choose worthwhile options, people should start trusting those external structures.

For a long time, people’s trust in public authorities and media (and also in science to some extent) has been eroded and they no longer have enough faith in them. Once again looking back and placing the trust in them to make choices for humanity doesn’t seem to be worthwhile proposition. What is more disturbing about Harari’s propositions is that they reflect a fundamental weakness which is engrained in the humanity. Looking for external structures to always make choices shows the ‘learned helplessness’ in the individuals and ‘illusion of external agency’ prevailing upon humanity as a whole. “Learned helplessness occurs when human beings are repeatedly subjected to an aversive stimulus that they cannot escape. Eventually, they will stop trying to avoid stimulus and behave as if it is utterly helpless to change the situation. Even when the opportunities to escape are presented, this learned helplessness will prevent any action”, say Cherry & Gans in their paper ‘What Is Learned Helplessness and Why Does It Happen’. This phenomenon is now operating on a collective scale on the whole humanity because of its repeated trust on external structures and betrayal by the latter. It is clearly an ‘illusion of external agency’, which is a false belief that good things happen only because of external players and individual is helpless without it. Its time to put an end for both these perpetuating phenomena and if we don’t, only hopelessness will prevail over change.

So, what should we hope for or where should we place our bets? The answer is elementary but it still works: ‘Collective Action’. Every individual has a degree of capacity to act – to comprehend the surroundings individuals live in; to make sense of the world; to make decisions; and to work on his or her own behalf. Individuals do not always need an external structure or an agency to act on their behalf. This is not an advocacy of individualism, but pointing out to the ‘individual consciousness’, which is fundamental and an essential characteristic feature of human nature.

What is unique about this ‘individual consciousness’ is its inherent ability to form a collective with all the individuals who more or less have similar consciousness and act together as an entity to attain particular ends. This is especially seen when large number of individuals have a common aim and it is recognised by all individuals that their aim cannot be accomplished on their own and its attainment is only possible through a collective action. Certain ends necessitate collective action for their attainment, and it is in this collective action is our hope, and the only hope.

Thus, after the current pandemic, we can expect people across the globe organize themselves for collective actions. This doesn’t mean they will come together in the form of global activism for something or the other, but there will be a unity in the consciousness of all human beings. This may sound as a proposition beyond belief, but not impossible.
Today the whole world is at a standstill and whole humanity have one single aim, that is to survive. It just wanted this crisis to pass and get back to normalcy. But by the time normalcy returns completely, people coming out from this long lockdown are not the same anymore. The pandemic will put one question in front of whole humanity – what is the use of all the globalization, scientific, and technological progress we made for centuries when we are struggling to sustain a virus.

Every year, Nobel Prize is awarded to the most distinguished individuals in various fields for their contributions in their respective endeavours, who are completely unknown before that. Most mysterious of these are the prizes in the field of physics, chemistry and biology. From the time the prizes are announced, there will be many news pieces and TV programs discussing their contributions with esteemed panelists. Winners will be busy traveling across the globe to lecture thousands of people about their contributions. Frankly, it is all Greek and Latin for most people. But it is rarest of the rare that we find someone talking about how their contributions will trickle down to the poorest of the poor. One of the last notes left behind by Mahatma Gandhi in 1948, expressing his deepest social thoughts should be read in the present context – ‘I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to control over his own life and destiny? In other words, will it lead to swaraj [freedom] for the hungry and spiritually starving millions? Then you will find your doubts and your self melts away’.

Gandhi’s words put in front of us many questions which we failed to answer till date. In this lockdown period, people wanted assurance that they will have food to eat, job security, basic health facilities and a hospital bed where they will be treated in case they got infected by coronavirus. And these four basic things certainly don’t need big bang science or economics to deal with. In humanity’s efforts to reach Mars and beyond, in finding the ways to live on the Mars, it lost the connection on ground.

In India, due to sudden lockdown, internal migrant workers in various states in India now have no job in hand, and they could not go back to their native places. Now they are spending their days between borders with fear and hunger, and a little hope. A recent survey conducted by an NGO (Jan Sahas) concluded, “90% laborers (approx.) have already lost their source of income in the last 3 weeks. 42% of labourers mentioned that they had no ration left even for the day, let alone for the duration of the lockdown, 62% workers did not have any information about emergency welfare measures provided by the government and 37% workers did not know how to access the existing schemes”. While the central government did announce many schemes to help the needy across the nation, the migrants are a different matter altogether. The welfare of internal migrants is one of the major issues that both the central and state governments have to deal with post-lockdown.

Coming out from the extended lockdowns, humanity may somewhat realize that it is still primitive and not modern yet. How can we claim to be modern if we are not able to provide ourselves and everyone in our city, state or nation with most basic necessities to live a just life? There is no need for economists and philosophers to answer big questions, let them all show us how to ensure just living with quality health care and food. This is possible only when all individuals across the globe come together for collective action. There is a need for collective compulsion and let us hope this Covid-19 pandemic paved the path clear for such collective action by uniting the consciousness of all the individuals to fight for the most basic needs of their life.

Humanity should and must organise itself, erasing all kinds of boundaries it built around it, for ensuring itself with basic needs and prioritizing just living above any other thing. It should push its representatives, and not blindly trust them, to ensure food, job security and healthcare. These three are fundamental necessities for every citizen across the globe and let us hope, in the world after the current pandemic, humanity is going to voice and act together to work toward these goals.

In 1971, former United Nations Secretary-General U Thant said, “As we watch the sun go down, evening after evening, through the smog across the poisoned waters of our native earth, we must ask ourselves seriously whether we really wish some universal historian on another planet to say about us: “With all their genius and with all their skill, they ran out of foresight and air and food and water and ideas,” or, “They went on playing politics until their worlds collapsed around them””. Now it is for the citizens across the globe, as a whole, to decide whether to prove U Thant prophecy right or wrong.

Picture Credits: in.yougov.com

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