Sunday, 12 April 2020

COVID-19 is Not the True Enemy

Image: New Scientist
The COVID-19 pandemic is a common threat to all humankind. Much has been said about the need to put politics aside to unite against it. If only. For in this world of our making, COVID-19 is extremely political and is becoming the gateway for something far deadlier.

The pandemic was not unpredictable. Warnings and precedents have been there for years. It has only done its damage because of the political and cultural failure of all countries to build and protect strong public healthcare systems; to prepare even when they knew COVID-19 was coming; to tell the truth about it; to mount an informed and effective response; to cooperate with one another against a challenge to them all; and most fundamentally, to value real people, with real lives, over abstract totems like “the nation” and “the economy”.

But the problem goes beyond failing at a pandemic. The problem is one of power. It is of how human societies, for years, even decades, have been handing their power to those who could not care less about human death and suffering; and that these Trolls, as we might call them, are finding in this virus a springboard to launch their abuse of humankind to unstoppable heights.

The Trolls take many forms. Authoritarians, nationalists, gender-policers, and the cultists of the market all stand among them. There are many well-trod roads to Trolldom, often from opposing directions, but two characteristics bring them together:
     a) The belief that life should serve power, rather than power serve life;
     b) The subordination of all things, even truth itself, to the pursuit of that power.

The sum of the Trolls’ threat far exceeds, and will long outlast, that of COVID-19. This is not to trivialise the death and agony the virus wreaks as we speak. But COVID-19 will pass, as even the deadliest pandemics in history did. By then it will have killed hundreds of thousands of people. The Trolls, for their part, killed hundreds of millions in the twentieth century alone. They will do so again if we allow them to claim the twenty-first. And by that point they will have compromised our response to the challenges of climate change, making their threat, unlike the virus’s, existential.