By Uttam Sen
In a genuinely integrated world, primary health care would have been a humanitarian first concern within and across countries. Its neglect is signifying today that life is randomly in peril though it need not have been if human welfare had remained the golden rule and superseded vested interests.
As Noam Chomsky and Stephen Hawkins before him had warned, this self-serving mentality, paradoxically at odds with the universalism which had liberated man and made him prosperous, can destroy him.
Symptomatic disorders of human structure and function from the pandemic to global warming and nuclear solutions will keep testing him. There is already an ominous supposition that global warming had something to do with the coronavirus.
If we heed the warning bells, reversion to basics in values and education could define global recovery. Equitable economics could underscore the compulsion for survival. A history of general distress and occasional prosperity in South Asia can be extenuated by a revival of fellow feeling and affinity. Eclectic public opinion across the subcontinent is emphasizing the urgency of re-prioritization, critical for regional hotspots predisposed to conflict.
Economic activity for social benefit as the new normal has already turned unbelievably real. One wonders how far-reaching the transformation will be and to what extent new ideas will settle on human activity and the distribution of population and resources.
Military and economic might or domestic political prowess, as we know them today, have mostly proved to be non-sequiturs in the battle against the pandemic, more of which could follow.
Supporters of a secret 19th century sect in America subscribed only to the received wisdom of the greatest number and swept anything beyond its radar under the carpet. The attribute “know-nothing” is traced to them. There is a similar attitude abroad when people far and wide surrender to Leviathan (an autocratic monarch or state) in the hope that loyalty and commitment will bring them security, which it does to a certain extent.
But what happens when the terms of reference change and benightedness becomes an albatross round people’s necks? Military strategy, as with any game plan, seeks to attain the national objective by force or the threat of force. Political prowess is the skill of organizing public affairs and governance. Yet the objective of dousing the pandemic cannot be met by military force, nor will performance in public affairs or governance sound credible without a convincing response.
Thus, when the conventional agencies of power and protection do not suffice and disease and death stalk them, people will take stock and decide, as will their political overseers, along the foregoing lines. Ordinary people determining the unstated hierarchies of global power might, for instance, chose a President in the USA who pledges to restore the primacy of health care and has an ideology to support it, as might people in the subcontinent looking for education, health and employment across borders making the case for the unlawful use of violence and intimidation and reprisal untenable. In today’s circumstances, it would be plausible for political parties and their principals to make unheard-of turnarounds.
Even in totalitarian structures, which have their own political conventions and policy-making modus operandi, the protection of human life could take precedence over cut-throat global competition and be replaced by principles of productivity through collaboration, more compatible with the frame of mind which seeks to conserve the planet. Again it would have to be shared by commensurate concern for the human predicament from the other side.
Attention to the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality and existence across the natural and social sciences, not to mention ideology and theology, had long encouraged such resolutions.
That is what the fine print of evolving opinion is beginning to convey.
A world of finely juxtaposed contrasts, awareness and ignorance, liberalism and fustiness, altruism and selfishness, might well have created an indelible kaleidoscope for a collective denouement.