I wrote this essay on the 18th of March. It is interesting to see what that some things hold up and some are already different. However, I thought it would be interesting for some to see how a university student thought about this situation.
In this essay, I will not be writing about protective measures or summarising the current situation. (If you are seeking this information, please read this piece: https://medium.com/@tomaspueyo/coronavirus-act-today-or-people-will-die-f4d3d9cd99ca) I want to give you a broader perspective on the workings of the current system. I think it will be useful to have a solid understanding of the current processes because they will become even more salient in the upcoming weeks.
Coronavirus exposes the uncertainty in which humans have always lived. People in power who persuades the public into believing that they are in control, are paralysed by the world’s complexities. Citizens realise that those in power, experts, politicians, managers, journalists, do not know what is going on. There is a world-wide collapse of trust: the belief that our leaders are not just corrupt or stupid, but inept. The world has become interdependent, yet politics stayed local, unable to respond. Coronavirus is a great example of an uncertain risk that is spreading throughout the world. We can see different measures in different parts of the globe, but Euro-American societies convey the same massage. The health of the market is their key priority. This attitude will bring, in a short amount of time, a great deal of unnecessary suffering.
The system that we are living in upholds this massage. We tent to forget that liberalism is the last prevailing ideology of the 20th century (after communism and fascism). Its advantage overlies in the ideological covertness. It does not present itself as a biased system that favors particular social groups. Representative democracy scheme has not been changed since the 19th century. This framework had been developed to legitimize the new elite class, not to bring the greatest utility for most of the population.
Thus, power-holders, back then and now, are not liable if they over-breach their powers. Neo-liberal order needs close state-market cooperation. But the connection between the state and the market is often masked. Therefore, instead of protecting human security, the state protects the market. Coronavirus is not the only prevalent worldwide epidemic. It is just a symptom of a much more malign disease that has spread to all aspects of our lives. We are all infected by the neoliberal ideology and its unholy belief in market values, grounded in societal inequalities, has created today’s crisis.
Liberalism is the last prevailing ideology of the 20th century
Neoliberalism proclaims individual liberty, yet produces income inequalities. Under this belief, one has a free choice, yet one’s choice is bounded to one’s financial resources. There are systematic processes that create and sustain a two group division. We could call them the winners and losers. Those who experience the positive outcomes of liberalism and those who live inside its adverse environments. Both groups cannot understand each other because they have completely different experiences.
Winners are enjoying the liberal ideal, but this is possible due to unbearable exertion of the losers’ human capital. In addition, losers are often lulled by the reminder that they are richer than the richest medieval aristocrats. Those who are born in the “winning group” are often gratified for their accomplishments and used as a symbol for the state to show the majority that the liberal project works. One needs to examine the conditions in the 3rd world countries or at the low-paying jobs to see the genuine nature of liberalism. The fundamental problem is that neoliberalism legitimises this division. Systematic contradictions will become even more obvious because of coronavirus’s financial impact on groups that are deemed replaceable by the system’s merit. The elderly, sick, and low-income members of society.
A sizable portion of the population is living paycheck to paycheck. They cannot afford to self isolate or even have the luxury to work from home. I am not talking about 50-year-olds, but 60+ citizens who are forced to go to work. To risk their lives to have a roof over their heads. We are witnessing an ideology that should guarantee civil liberties but instead disciplines its citizens to serve the market thought educational and financial constraints. There is no real individual agency. Especially for those who are living in countries that are focusing supremely on capital markets, where the welfare state is minuscule. With many Americans living with no sick leave, under substantial credit debt, and with no additional resources to pay for the full coronavirus treatment. It is more than clear that the United States’s system will eventually collapse.
Evaluate the measures of your country. Are they more concerned about the economy or the people? For example, why the EU commission had only once-a-week coronavirus meetings when the virus has been spreading throughout Italy for almost 4 weeks? Why there was not an immediate shutdown of Italy’s borders? The statistics are clear. Sooner will governments recognize that they have to look away, at least for a short period, from the market mentality, more lives will be saved. The UK and the US are the prime examples of neglecting human security risks to not hurt the economy.
Some people compare it to seasonal flu, alas that is not right. Owing to the lack of immunity, this disease is more dangerous. It’s going to spread further. We have to talk straight to the British public. Many more families are going to lose loved ones. The British government will not take the same security measures as other European nations. Because they are contra productive.
U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Look at Donald Trump’s coronavirus briefing. You could saw only a one epidemiologist expert behind him and the rest of the people behind him were from the business sector. The message was clear. Not to ensure the public that the government has everything under their control, but to make sure the market that there will be enough labor and consumers to stimulate the economy. The timing of the briefing was not random. He held the press conference last Friday after 4 pm (closing time of the US stock exchange) to show the markets that the economy could potentially recover. Trump’s example discloses the link between politics and capital. We will see this connection even more clearly during the escalation of the crisis.
In a capitalist society, the most expendable thing is you
We cannot stop the spread of the virus. But there are still three things that the governments should do for its citizens. First, try to effectively reduce the spread of the virus. Second, provide a safe environment for those who are at the front lines: healthcare providers, firefighters, policewomen, cashiers, and others. Third, they have to unanimously communicate clear guidelines to people. A couple of issues that come to my mind: What are the exact risks of spreading the disease, if one can use DIY face masks, what to do if you need some essentials and do not have anyone to turn to? For all those questions, there has to be a coherent answer. However, most governments have not been able to manage these issues.
This is a global crisis. Look at the MERS epidemic. Similar situation with an even higher mortality rate of 35%. And not a single Western nation took any notes from Asian countries to potentially prevent the next future outbreak. Liberalism does not solve problems. It only pushes them forward. Moreover, the global crisis is already a tremendous opportunity for finical speculators. Coronavirus will be another multiplication point for global inequality.
Today’s environment is based on ever-changing interdependencies, and current democratic institutions and civic discourse are not prepared to deal with these fresh problems. To solve this crisis, we cannot turn to the market that is designed to produce short-term pleasures for the individual. Yet nature favors complexity. We as the human race, indoctrinated by liberal ideology, are slowly acting as a self-centered virus. And we all know what happens to a non-symbiotic virus. It kills the host before it can spread. The world is interdependent. Thus, the system that preaches an individual’s pleasure making is deemed to be destructive for its advocates.
by Oldřich Šubrt