Among the many effects of the COVID Pandemic is that it has made all of us look out for ourselves. Right from the hapless citizenry who were forced to scrounge for hospital beds and even basic treatment to the middle class, who found themselves “vulnerable” and at the “mercy” of the lawless order that has emerged, the collateral damage from the pandemic has been worse than expected. If the poor simply “melted away”, then those with means also realized that being wealthy now comes with a “qualifier” of whether they were wealthy enough and more importantly, powerful enough to “ride the storm” that was the last two and half years. When each task becomes cumbersome and each chore becomes challenging, one wonders about the point of it all. Indeed, for anyone who goes about each day wondering what “surprise” is in store next (literally and figuratively), this point about the breakdown of the social contract would resonate with them. Take for instance, otherwise mundane things like ordering online. If one has to wait with bated breadth until the order is delivered and in proper condition, it is clear that things have fundamentally changed over the last few years. What more!! try booking a cab from any of the aggregators and the odds of the ride not being cancelled are as high as the eventual lack of “smoothness” of the overall journey to the destination. So, you get the drift of what I mean by an “everyone for themselves” world where nothing is certain and the only certainty is more uncertainty.
As If this weren’t enough, there has been a rise in the lawlessness of the world we live in. Browse the news for more than a few seconds or watch TV for more than a few minutes and then, one can count the number of stories on the state having abdicated its responsibility towards the people and where it is “routine” to break the law and get away with it. Moreover, there is a general sense of “weirdness” that persists, mainly from the “forced isolation” and the decline in the “value” of face to face interactions. While technology was supposed to make our lives easier, instead we have become its “slaves” and the anonymous “ether” of algorithmic control that technology has over us means that we have “surrendered” to it, rather than master it. Worse, fake news and sophisticated disinformation campaigns led by “troll armies” have resulted in the “hounding” of anyone who refuses to toe the line of the powers that be, and indeed led to the organized online persecution of vulnerable communities and individuals. This is not the “law of the jungle”, that our ancients were used to that is now coming back via the online mode. So, yes!! to use dark humor, the wheel is indeed coming full circle, which makes one wonder whether this is some technologically mediated “dark age“.
As I mentioned in the introduction, the poor have just melted away, with little thought to their well being. Right from the denial of basic rights, to the joblessness that accompanied the lockdowns with no real assistance from the state, leading to civil society coming to their rescue, to the worsening inequality and the rich getting richer and the poor becoming poorer, perhaps being poor itself is a crime!! News reports indicate that there has been an “alarming” dip in the numbers of the eligible population of working age Indians even looking for jobs, meaning that they are simply “dropping off” the radar of the workforce, making them easy targets for unscrupulous individuals to “employ” them for nefarious purposes. While some would say that these trends are the “inevitable” outcomes of a fading neoliberal order and the manifestations of late capitalism, there is really no justification for treating such outcomes as the “collateral damage” from the pandemic. The point here is that “lazy armchair” intellectual characterizations actually harm the vulnerable since the motivation to help them is dismissed by such thought leaders as necessary steps in the evolution to a post capitalist world. While one can rightfully point out that this post is another such addition to the discourse that I have just maligned, the larger point is that those societal and business leaders have a responsibility to “nudge and push” their political benefactors to act.
Perhaps the present disorder would settle down once we go back to “business as usual”. However, there is neither business or usual unless we stop the prevailing lawlessness and the fraying of the social fabric along with the breakdown of the social contract. Moreover, the alarming decline in trust or the trust deficit that we hear about along with mindbogglingly erosion of ethics and values means that we only have a short window before there is complete anarchy. The eminent philosopher, Hobbes, wrote about how “life is nasty, short, and brutish” in the times before the Renaissance and the Enlightenment in the18th and 19th centuries. We still have the power to prevent the slide to such dire predictions. While we have vaccines to ameliorate the virus, we do indeed need a potent medicine to cure the social and moral virus that is now infecting all of us!!
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