Coronavirus has taught us the fragility of territories. It has also taught us that humans are territorial, instinctively. It has taught us that territoriality is crucial, at times; while teaching us that territoriality cannot be maintained without cooperation. Basically, it has taught us that human civilization—the way we have structured our lives, our money, our movements and our relations—is unequipped to address a real, brutal, beyond-human-volition kind of natural calamity. This is not to say that the virus will not teach us more; that depends on whether we are ready to listen.
Are we ready to listen, for the umpteenth time, that capitalism—the way we live in neo-liberal societies run by big multinational corporates, where the lion’s share of public funds go into maintaining the borders that we continuously cross in airplanes to earn back—has failed to protect us. The neo-liberal order is extremely dismissive of all other possibilities of economic, and consequently, social organisation. It continuously undermines socialism with the power of its seductive glam. Neoliberalism makes us consumers, hoarders, selfish. We forget to share, we even forget the relevance of sharing. Amusingly, human civilization has survived through sharing, through communities, through the collectivism; whereas neoliberalism insists otherwise.
The virus is antithetical to the neo-liberal order, because on one hand it forces us to isolate while on the other it compels us to ensure my neighbour’s safety, should I want to stay safe. This is an amusing and thought-provoking interface where we humans cannot afford to be selfish for the sake of the self. Consequently, as we stand today, nation states do not have many options but to seek help from each other even as they close their borders to isolate their people.
This pandemic has become one of the finest illustrations of self-society interaction and interdependence in the history of humankind. No Big Brother can save the world—we are haplessly reaching out to Cuba for medical help. With all their might and money, the big capitalist countries with right wing populist leaderships are failing to respond to the viral attack, whereas Cuba, a tiny socialist country, has been successful.
What is the point of an economy and a society if it cannot save human lives? Countries like India invest peanuts on health and education while allocating most of their public funds for defence. Who are we defending if not ourselves? Who is that fictitious enemy at the border that is more dangerous than an invisible nano-particle with the power to make a human defunct in a few hours? Is this not finally the hour to weigh our dangers?
The earth cannot save its humans if we do not seek help, if we still are led by the egoistic leaders who blame China unilaterally for this global health crisis. We need each other, we need to pool our resources—that is how countries across the world are effectively fighting the virus. If so, then is it not the time to rethink the significance of neoliberalism in our lives, which does not allow us enough agency to our right to live? Is it not the time to consider the importance of socialism as a viable alternative to crony capitalism for the sake of human civilization at large? We are standing at a crossroads where one must choose to save either human lives or the economy—isn’t it time that we cross the road and reach the other side?
The author teaches gender and migration at the Global South Studies Centre, University of Cologne. The views are personal.