7 PM |Ten questions posed by the virus| 8th April 2020

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Context: Questions that would define our life after COVID-19.

COVID-19 pandemic has engulfed whole of the world. Our life after COVID-19 will be defined by questions on the prevailing organising principles of humankind.

This brings us to the 10 questions on the prevailing organising principles of humankind. In this article, we will explain them below:

  • What is the balance between economic and social goals?
  • Will there be a new understanding of power and security?
  • Can there be new globalisation where humanity and the environment take precedence?
  • How much more power will the state accumulate?
  • Will this expanding state be increasingly democratic or progressively authoritarian?
  • What will happen to the neoliberal wisdom that unbridled competition of all against all improves efficiency and brings progress?
  • What will happen to populism?
  • How exploitation of labour came into spotlight?
  • Whether we need to travel as much as we do?
  • How our idea of community and boundaries has changed?

What is the balance between economic and social goals?

  • The pandemic has revived the classical ultilitarian question in the situation of life and death. Recently Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said that, “I’m sorry, some people will die… that’s life. You can’t stop a car factory because of traffic deaths.”

  • Such a mindset has revived the utilitarian question of whose and how many deaths would be acceptable for a greater common good.
  • Ageing population has been viewed as economic burden by most of the societies.
  • The social Darwinism,i.e, the survival of the fittest is being tested for the first time so accurate to the point of causing discomfort to the humanity.

Will there be a new understanding of power and security?

  • According to Global Firepower Index, the top four military powers are USA, Russia, China and India.
  • Since 2006, Global Firepower (GFP) has provided a unique analytical display of data concerning 138 modern miltary powers. The GFP ranking is based on each nation’s potential war making capabilities across land, sea and air fought by conventional means.
  • We must note what Bill Gates said once, “We need to have more ‘germ games’ like we have war games.”
  • An unwanted encouter with the virus has shown the flaws in the healthcare infrastructure of many countries. It is time to rethink about the arm race that countries are still involved in.
  • The pandemic has the capability to change the entire understanding of power and security.

Can there be a new globalisation where humanity and environment take precedence?

  • It has become commonplace to suggest that globalisation is at a crossroads. From Brexit to the election of President Donald Trump, from the western backlash against migration to the growing trade barriers across the world, this period in world politics has been termed as an era of de-globalisation.
  • Now, as nation after nation quarantines itself, the spread of Covid-19 is challenging the way we have become used to living and arranging not only our daily lives, but also the global order.
  • The crisis produced by Covid-19 reminds us of the need for global co-operation, the impossibility of erecting impenetrable border walls, international interdependence and regional co-operation, open and democratic political societies, humane approach to global issues and responsible and morally competent global leadership.
  • Above all, it reminds us of the continuing importance of responsibly nurturing global organizations like the UN and the WHO.
  • In India till now it looks like we have not done too badly although the near future is yet to be seen. Perhaps, lockdown decision could have been made earlier or international and domestic flights could have been grounded much before. Stoppage of trains has taken place more appropriately though much of these have happened under pressure from several state governments.
  • In a sense, this crisis is God’s or Nature’s way of teaching lessons. Our scientific and technological discoveries of recent times have overtaken our souls. We forget the meaning and purpose of life and focus on consuming and enjoying whatever we can lay our hands on.

How much more power will the state accumulate?

  • Threatening the world with a long recession, the Covid-19 pandemic looks set to inaugurate a turbulent new political and economic era. Its main tendencies will become visible over the months and years to come. But the most revolutionary shift is already in sight. The state, as a guarantor of safety is coming back in the play.
  • In all countries where the novel coronavirus first spread China, South Korea, Iran, Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Italy, the state leads the war against it, imposing draconian lockdowns on entire populations, ruthlessly sacrificing personal liberty to security.
  • Whether such heavy-handed interventions will eventually succeed, they seem to be working for now in Singapore and China, countries with great state capacity is still unclear. Nevertheless, in many other countries, ruling politicians seem to realise that they will be judged by their administrative capacity to check the spread of the virus.

Will this expanding state be increasingly democratic or progressively authoritarian?

  • China and Singapore showed that authoritarian measures work while Germany showed that democratic and inclusive methods work too.
  • India which has deployed a hybrid of democratic and authoritarian measures remains an open test case.
  • In the interwar era, an expanding state assumed unprecedented powers over its citizens, metamorphosing in some countries into outright fascism.
  • The history of war and genocide in the first half of the 20th century tells us that the accumulation of biopower, the technology of control and manipulation over large groups of human beings, can enable horrific crimes.
  • Certainly, the techniques of surveillance available to the contemporary state can only further restrict human rights and liberties.

What will happen to the neoliberal wisdom that unbridled competition of all against all improves efficiency and brings progress? 

  • The virus tells us that competition is risky; cooperation could be redeeming. Collectivisation has a new life. As seen in Italy which has nationalised Alitalia and Spain has nationalised all hospitals.
  • As focussed by PM Narendra Modi in keynote at WEF at Davos in 2018, that India has always believed in the theory of “Vasudev Kutumbakam” meaning “the world is one family”. He also said that, “There is a lack of consensus between all of us – it happens even in families – however, the essence of a family lies in the fact that there is solidarity when facing challenges together….Global unity is paramount in 21st century”.

What will happen to populism?

  • Populism is a political approach that strives to appeal to ordinary people who feel that their concerns are disregarded by established elite groups.
  • Populism has two core principles:
    • it must claim to speak on behalf of ordinary people
    • these ordinary people must stand in opposition to an elite establishment which stops them from fulfilling their political preferences.
  • These two core principles are combined in different ways with different populist parties, leaders and movements. For example, left-wing populists’ conceptions of “the people” and “the elite” generally coalesce around socioeconomic grievances, whereas right-wing populists’ conceptions of those groups generally tend to focus on socio-cultural issues such as immigration.
  • The coronavirus may not knock out populism outright.
  • But, surely, multilateralism is gaining important ground as more governments subscribe to the increasingly recognised belief that the right response to the pandemic is an international one.

How exploitation of labour came into spotlight?

  • Globalisation and consumerism has led to the inhuman exploitation of labour. Under globalisation, such an exploitation has been labelled ‘efficiency’ and ‘competitiveness’.
  • The virus has brought the lives of labourers out into the spotlight.
  • Be it the labourers working 16-hour days but unable to get paid leave or healthcare in the U.S or migrant labourers in India walking several days to go home or the wretched labour camps in West Asia.

Whether we need to travel as much as we do?

  • As, noted by CEO of Mercedes-Benz, “May be we can save a few business trips now that we know that these digital tools work well”.
  • The virus has unveiled the potential of digitalization that can prevent unnecessary travels across global. This can also contribute to the fight against climate change. 

How our idea of community and boundaries has changed?

The COVID-19 crisis has let loose contradictory forces. On the one hand everyone is confined within the tiniest spaces, but on the other, the crisis has also urged us to community action.

The risks and rewards need to be spread over a longer period of time and larger expanse of space. And that is the most consequential challenge thrown up by the pandemic.

Source: https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/ten-questions-posed-by-the-virus/article31282596.ece

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