Most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution.’ ~ Aldous Huxley, Brave New World
I wish to be light hearted – satirical, ironical and even humorous – in this essay – as we experience and endure the unprecedented 21 day lockdown.
But I wish to be insightful as well – make tragic observations and raise serious questions – as I take you on a journey, while recalling Fyodor Dostoevsky – whose novel Notes from Underground has inspired part of the title – who memorably said, ‘I don’t know how to be silent when my heart is speaking.’
Our current existential situation is more Kafkaesque than post-modern. The world is a dark comedy – loony and gloomy – with oppressive, absurd and nightmarish qualities, accentuated by social media algorithms.
The crux of the matter: we are guilty of being alive; so we have been sentenced to a 21-day imprisonment to save ourselves from dying.
The bizarre circumstances are so dystopian that even the simplest of human impulses – such as to take a walk in Rabindra Sarovar amidst soothing greenery and gentle waters of the lakes, while watching and hearing the migratory birds who have flown to the city from Siberia, Mongolia and Tibet – is a gross act of negligence, terror and crime.
Defying house-arrest is an act of war.
A granny going out to look for glucose biscuits to feed her favourite neighbourhood street dogs is as threatening as a brainwashed lunatic about to detonate a suicide vest.
Granny is a bioterrorist.
Public sneezing is like releasing weapons of mass destruction.
Catching a cold or getting a fever means being condemned to self-isolation like menstruating women in medieval times.
Coughing loudly can compel the vigilant neighbours to summon the police with the hard evidence of a video recording.
Handshake is radioactive. Untouchability is the social norm. Wanderlust is illegal. Human being is a bio-weapon.
Amidst all this, East Asian features are sparking racism, xenophobia, prejudice and violence.
If this goes on for too long – living in the state of pandemic, global emergency and ‘lock-step’ scenario – the new phrase and idea imported from the US – ‘social distancing’ – might save our body, but it will kill our soul.
Things might not go back to normal and a new paradigm will begin to emerge as the ‘shut-in economy’ as military drones and armoured vehicles patrol the streets to supervise daily life; and advanced spywares in your phone monitor your every breath.
The ‘shut-in economy’ will cause large-scale disruptions and new opportunities. But our minds will keep wearing hazmat suits, our fears won’t disappear due to sanitizers, our faces will remain covered by masks and our social life – everything associated with any gathering that imply the ‘human touch’– will crumble and collapse.
The civilisational crisis has brought the world to a crossroads; things will either go towards the good or towards the bad; but it won’t return to the pre-pandemic world.
The age-old choice between saving the body or the soul is now translating into the choice between two types of democracies or governments: pro-corporate technocratic authoritarianism or pro-people sovereign constitutionalism.
Thirteen confirmed deaths – out of Covid-19 (either S or L strain) – put 1.3 billion Indians under total lockdown, when the ‘slowdown economy’ was already in shambles.
The latest death count – on 31 March – is 32.
The last pandemic in 2009 – the H1N1 swine flu – is estimated to have infected over 1 billion people worldwide and killed between 200000 to over half a million people around the globe.
But the corporate media wasn’t running a ‘death ticker’, ‘celebrity infections’ weren’t ‘breaking news’, doomsday fatality scenarios – predicted by dodgy ‘scientific’ models – weren’t being widely publicised, ‘factory-produced’ heart wrenching stories – with common motifs, emotional colour and key words – weren’t being over-supplied by an array of global publications, the planet wasn’t under shutdown and billions of people were not put under imminent economic devastation, livelihood collapse and mental health catastrophe.
Let us leave aside the conspiracy theories (but not to consider them with an open mind is laziness, cowardice and stupidity).
Let us assume that the virus pandemic and the panic outbreak are natural; and by that I mean they are not meshed up with strategic geopolitical aims, not a 3D chess move for a total system reboot, not a hybrid bio-warfare gone out of control with an unexpected blowback, not an accidental leakage from a viral lab run by a nation’s military, not an elite agenda – de-population, forced vaccination, mandatory RFID implants or human-implantable capsules, one world currency, one world government, corporate totalitarianism and more – being pushed as per a diabolical plan of world domination, not a ‘live exercise’ of mass conditioning from the pages of a social engineering project where we are the unsuspecting lab rats of a nefarious experiment or an opportunity – opened up by a random crisis – being deftly exploited by the shadowy creatures of the global deep.
Let us ignore what Noam Chomsky – while talking to DiEM25 TV on YouTube channel – pointed out that ‘Event 201’ (supported by World Economic Forum and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that simulated a global pandemic exercise stemming from a novel zoonotic coronavirus in Oct 2019 that coincidentally happened in the US on the same day when the Military World Games started in Wuhan) wasn’t followed up by any real action or institutional preparedness that could have nipped the Covid-19 infection, instead of allowing it to fester and become a global pandemic.
Let us suspend the above and also not wonder whether ‘viruses are the new terrorists’; and whether a series of them are already on the way to mark a new era of ‘War on Virus’.
A global war where each and every one of us is a potential bioterrorist: carrying Covid-22 or Covid-26 or Covid-35 and so on, and capable of destroying the world with a sneeze.
Let us not speculate that for the moment, and become completely paranoid while imagining the consequences. Otherwise we might have to imagine a new version of ‘Mad Max Fury Road’ where ‘post-human-savages’ with apocalyptic masks are living as ‘hunter-gatherers’ in nuclear wastelands while the elites hole-up in five-star bunkers in the Antarctic and New Zealand.
Let us leave all those ideas away for the time being. Let us just understand the following – the most obvious – with precision:
The capitalism virus with the virulent neoliberal strain – Capita-Neolib-420 – has already forced ‘fully-privatised corporate-controlled governments’ around the world to drastically cut public health-care and enforce austerity or reduce welfare spending, and this has exposed the vulnerabilities of our health-care system – with insufficient beds, facilities, equipment and professionals – to deal with a sudden pandemic.
We don’t have enough of everything that is required, and the system can be easily overwhelmed and over-burdened.
So instead of quarantining the sick or the most vulnerable, everyone – including the healthy – has to be locked away.
This is only one of the numerous adverse effects of Capita-Neolib-420 that the world is already infected with, from which the elites only have total immunity.
That’s why a completely irrational lockdown appears to be a rational response. The surrender of the fundamental civil freedoms is welcomed with wild applause. Draconian laws of control and surveillance are quietly passed without protest. The large-scale anti-neoliberal and anti-establishment movements – from Chile to India – get dissolved and disbanded. Consent is manufactured for more invasive screening, control and quarantine.
And lastly, to obediently suffer the masochistic whippings by sadist authoritarian governments – without empathy or care – seem to be the most desirable act of civil pleasure.
The current maddening situation strangely looks like the virus-induced holocaust world of ‘12 Monkeys’: ‘wackos everywhere, plague of madness’.
Things are so bad that the lockdown ‘cure’ that will be more damaging than the ‘disease’ is accepted by most of the world that has been panicked beyond control by the one-sided hysterical propaganda – with deliberate omission of all counter-views – being dished out relentlessly by the corporate mainstream media (MSM), troll farms and well-crafted algorithms.
Our contemporary Howl would begin like this: ‘I saw most minds of my generation get destroyed by the media, screaming hysterical sinister, dragging the world into convulsion and madness.’
Let us consider this most vital information: ‘Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses of which few can only cause deadly disease in human beings. SARS and MERS – both coronaviruses – caused outbreaks in 2003 and 2012, after which they haven’t resurfaced.
OC43 is another member of the coronavirus family that causes a form of common cold.
So coronaviruses though similar in their shape, form and properties have a wide range of effects on our daily lives and not all coronaviruses cause lethal disease.
Covid-19 is a coronavirus related to SARS-Cov2; one has to be Covid-19 positive to suffer its effects – in varying degree as per one’s immune response – that primarily damage the lungs and respiratory functions. But the patients have a high recovery rate if they are not suffering from other ailments. (99% of those who ‘died from virus’ in Italy, had other illness)
So if one has a fever, cough and cold due to OC43 coronavirus and goes for a test for ‘coronavirus’, then it will come positive.
But this is not Covid-19, but one of the other benign coronaviruses which can be detected in a human being at any given point of time.
So testing positive for cornoavirus doesn’t mean testing positive for Covid-19.’
In spite of the above, those who are testing positive for ‘coronavirus’ is being grouped together with those who are testing positive for Covid-19. This is inflating the number of detected cases and creating a false perception about the transmission.
It is still not clear whether anyone has developed a reliable test kit to detect Covid-19, or are they simply looking for cornoavirus that is very common in human population?
Whoever is equating coronavirus or ‘novel coronavirus’ to Covid-19 is spreading disinformation and panic; and this includes various corporate MSM outlets.
When the British PM Boris Johnson said he has been tested positive for coronavirus, many MSM outlets reported falsely and irresponsibly by saying Covid-19.
The question is, whether the spreading of the false equivalence between ‘coronavirus’/‘novel coronavirus’ and ‘Covid-19’ is being done deliberately, or due to gross incompetence, neglect and ignorance?
All this makes the crisis appear as fishy, bandicoots begin to be smelt, actions of the governments look suspect and a feeling of something odd persists in the mind, while we accept the high-pitched alarm amidst a heavy stagnancy in the air that feels grim, eerie and hostile, like a haunting.
We have little choice. We have to consign ourselves to the stressful lockdown – alone or with family members, whom we get along, or don’t – trying to survive out of bare essentials, dealing with increasing suffocation, trying to avoid domestic squabbles and preparing for catastrophic socio-economic consequences, while thinking of ‘stay at home’, ‘break the chain’, ‘flatten the curve’ and ‘save the world’ when a large percentage of the poor, the unprivileged and the daily wagers are literally on the road, staring at destitution, displacement and starvation.
Not only the farmers, working class and the unorganised sector will bear the most severe blow due to the lockdown, the middle class – already choked, burdened, indebted and trapped in neoliberal web – will also get bludgeoned.
Bankruptcies, salary cuts and dismissals – affecting wide-scale demand, consumption and investment – are inevitable. Many will metaphorically fall off the cliff, without any parachute.
‘Saving the world’ by actually destroying most of it, seems to be the present consensus.
Talks about the worst global recession in recorded history have already begun. In that case the big predators – the banks and the corporations – will grab the largest share of the ‘bail-out’ or ‘stimulus’ packages, while some crumbs and leftovers will be thrown at the rest, for propaganda purpose.
Preliminary studies – after observing the recent shocks – are predicting an abyss: a potential holocaust through economic and societal collapse.
Some also arguing that we are caught between ‘death by virus’ and ‘death by economic collapse’. So a hard decision had to be taken; collateral damage will occur; pagan Babylonian blood sacrifices under the full moon will have to made.
The present consensus is, the lockdown is meant to arrest the virus transmission that potentially can go out of control, and cause a more severe economic catastrophe in the mid, or long term.
But World Health Organisation (WHO) – if you trust it – says that lockdown without extensive testing isn’t enough; one has to find the infected and isolate them. If this is not done, then the chain can start again; the contagion can continue to recur in spurts.
In that case, I fear, several cycles of ‘social distancing’ may be forced upon us through the next couple of years.
Rumours are already floating around about lockdown extensions. We might be conditioned to accept isolation, live fragmented lives, be agreeable to the shut-in economy’, obey every government dictate, view all fellow humans with suspicion and drop all plans for the revolution.
It becomes imperative that we will have to ultimately organise to defy and resist ‘social isolation’ and ‘lockdown life’ if it goes beyond the immediate need, and threaten to recur again and again in guise of safety, security and preventive cure, with a sinister agenda to service power, profit and social control, than to genuinely help us to restore normal life, human rights and constitutional freedoms.
India has opted for the ‘Western’ strategy of lockdown, but in the most draconian and harshest manner – in spite of the low spread and negligible fatalities – instead of the Asian strategy (exemplified by South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Vietnam, outside of China) of mass testing, contact tracing and isolating the infected at an early stage that has worked really well due to quick action and dogged professionalism.
While we are experiencing the first lockdown without fully knowing how things will transpire, we know for sure that the ‘death by economic collapse’ would be far more devastating than ‘death by virus’, whose present kill rate – in spite of all hype, images of coffins in stadiums and suspicious spinning of unreliable data – is still less than a ‘normal to severe’ season of influenza.
Going by the mushy reactions induced by corporate media, fake news industry and social media meltdowns, many sentimental souls don’t seem to know that people actually die!
Over 150000 people die every day, and many thousands do so due to respiratory and lung conditions; and up to 650000 a year perish due to seasonal influenza.
This is as normal as thousands of daily deaths due to malnutrition, violence and starvation on a planet – that is still getting scarred, exploited and plundered by neoliberal capitalism, neo-colonialism and imperialism – where 70% of the population live under $10 a day, and the top 10% hoard 85% of the global wealth.
No names and images of those deaths are flashed on our screens on a daily basis.
If this was done so, and the seasonal influenza figures also flashed hysterically on all screens along with heart-wrenching narratives, images and videos, then ‘Planet Lockdown’ would have to be made a permanent feature of human civilisation!
2020 has thrown up a scenario that used to be in the realm of dystopian science fiction.
But the crisis shouldn’t be viewed only as a virus pandemic; then the scale will appear as minuscule, when the bubonic plague killed over 200 million around the globe.
John Lee in The Spectator points out – in an article titled ‘How deadly is the coronavirus? It’s still far from clear’ dated March 28 – ‘On a global basis, we’d expect 14 million to die over first three months of the year. The world’s 18994 conronavirus deaths represent 0.14% of that total. These figures might shoot up but they are, right now, lower than other infectious diseases that we live with (such as flu). Not figures that would, in and of themselves, cause drastic global reactions.’
He also drives down the clincher, ‘If a new infection is causing many extra people to die (as opposed to an infection present in people who would have died anyway) then it will cause an increase in the overall death rate. But we have yet to see any statistical evidence for excess deaths, in any part of the world.’
But where will the ‘excess deaths’ come from? Even if one contracts Covid-19, 95% of the infected people recover from home with no medicine; 5% need hospitalisation and 1% need ventilator. And the virus surely doesn’t appear as lethal as Pai Mei Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique.
In the March 2020 chart by Centres for Disease Control, WHO that maps ‘Disease Deaths’ per day worldwide, tuberculosis tops with 3014 fatalities; Covid-19 / Coronavirus is presently placed at 17th position – just below Yellow Fever – with 56 fatalities.
In 2018, 10 million fell ill with TB and over 1.5 million died. We never heard a word of it on any media platform.
Now – on 30 March 2020 – worldwide Covid-19 fatalities have risen to 33,976 in roughly four months. (Compare this with 30,000 to 55,000 fatalities per month due to seasonal influenza, and much more due to pharmaceutical drugs and medical error: the two categories we never hear about, or told to fear)
Setting aside all the doubts about the veracity of this official number – whether coronavirus positives have been added with Covid-19 positives or whether people have also died with the virus and not because of it – the figure hasn’t even reached anywhere near the scale of the swine flu pandemic of 2009.
It might do so, and even exceed that; we don’t know as of yet. It is also not yet clear, whether the world has started to crumble due to a lethal spook or a funk, instead of a lethal virus.
The other big question – are we also witnessing a moron apocalypse, unable to see light in the actual data, falling to a spook, imagining the worse, chaining our freedom and destroying the global economy in the process – also cannot be answered at this moment.
But the possibility of that remains alive.
We also have sufficient signs, omens and coincidences to consider few of the ‘conspiracy theories’ – mentioned earlier in the essay – with utmost seriousness, while we try to make sense of it all, and try to see through the fog.
In midst of everything, the realisation – ‘fear has been blown out of proportion’ – is also gaining ground. I would like to add ‘deliberately’ at the end of the sentence, with a clarion call to probe further to understand who are actually benefitting from all this mayhem and madness.
Going by the official figures of infection and low fatality rate, many are still unable to find the sure-fire justification to shut down the global economy: a monumental action that is more perilous – than the virus pandemic – for the majority of humanity who live on a ‘day-to-day’ and ‘pay-check to pay-check’ basis.
To extend the nationwide lockdown in India beyond 21 days could be counter-productive; the tottering economy must be re-started and given a genuine well-planned boost; or else, we are likely to face unimaginable horror.
My final conclusion is that the monumental crisis is not only about Covid-19: the ‘life or death’ calamity has been caused by a combination of factors rather than by one single cause.
The ‘2020 Crisis’ of modern civilisation has been created by the convergence of various key elements: the virus pandemic, the media hysteria, the panic outbreak, adverse effects of – what Chomsky calls – ‘neoliberal plague’: the ruthless anti-people socio-economic policies of neoliberal capitalism, dodgy decisions by the power elites, delayed responses, disproportionate counter-measures, total lockdown, planetary emergency, impending worldwide recession, emerging mental health epidemic and prospects of shortages of supplies, displacement, eviction, starvation, destitution, food riots, civil unrest, draconian clampdown and military rule.
In midst of all this, we all have to do our own thing. The foremost task is to keep ourselves sane and humane.
But things have already started to crack up. A friend’s friend – who pointed out that even a jail has a courtyard – wrote on social media that he has started to feel claustrophobic in his apartment that he is sharing with five other family members and nasty quarrels have started to break out.
Another friend – who lives alone – tells me, she rather get infected by that ‘damn virus’ and fight off the super flu or the pneumonia by trusting her body to create the required anti-bodies, than being ‘holed up’ in her studio apartment for weeks without meeting her closest circle and fearing getting beaten up by the police if she dares to go out to buy basic essentials.
Another reveals, most of her contacts are getting totally ‘jacked up’ financially and have no real savings or support to fall back upon.
An aunt is having an emotional meltdown witnessing the tragic humanitarian crisis of the migrant workers and has lost her appetite.
Neighbours of an acquaintance have started to behave cruelly with an elderly grandfather – who is being ostracised like a leper of Biblical times – because he has a common cold!
We have been put under a stern test due to this crisis.
Psychosis, paranoia, desperation, anxiety and depression are spreading much faster than the virus transmission.
To keep oneself healthy – physically, emotionally and spiritually – is perhaps the greatest contribution one can make, during these maddening circumstances.
My survival strategy – amongst other things – will include readings of the works of the stoic philosophers: the kindred souls of the past will be the most useful companions under the agonising circumstances of the lockdown.
See you on the other side; stay safe; stay sensible.
Slate coloured clouds have gathered all around us. We will have to live within a storm. This may go on for a while. We won’t be the same when it’s all over. Take good care.
[The views expressed belong solely to the author, and may not reflect the opinions of the editorial team]
[Cover Photo: Illustration by Jonathan Wolstenholme]
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