The world is changing. It has never been so easy to share and bring people together. We are finding the best in ourselves and learning from others. But now, no one wants to meet anymore. A ghost train in the NY city subway is taking no one everywhere all day. The 9/11 memorial is now an American altar of wilted chrysanthemums.
With manic abruptness, NY is once again Ground Zero as it was on September 11th. India’s poor have been left hungry as pandemic measures forced jobless migrant labourers to flee cities and walk hundreds of kilometres to their native townships. But as Modi begged for forgiveness, Uber committed 200, 000 free rides and 100, 000 free meals to all NHS staff in England.
Once, with candles and courage, the French Dominican sisters from Bonnay and Burgundy not Balandra, in black and white trekked through the waning evening light to vespers, caring for patients quarantined at the leprosarium on Chacachacare. Between 1866 and 1917, 114,000 East Indians were forced quarantined on Nelson Island. These two facilities along with the Caura Chest Hospital were citadels of care.
Today, we are all spurred to unite in a communal effort to combat COVID-19. Francesca Melandri says that we are told that we are all on the same boat. But social class makes all the difference. Confinement in a luxe villa, listening to Adele on Alexa, as we preen our terrace gardens, is not the same as being locked up in an overcrowded ghetto flat. Nor is being able to work remotely using an App or seeing your job as a server on Ariapita disappear.
The boat, in which you will be voyaging to defeat the pandemic, will not be the same for everyone, nor is it actually the same for everyone; and it never was. Rather than a coming together, the crisis has demonstrated how for decades we have curated a political version of social distancing. The vicious politics of race that carves out an assemblage of viral ideologies that are allergic to nationals of opposing ethnic, religious and political persuasion is a blight within the contagion. More now than ever, countries are divided by political social distancing. Rouhani warned his Cabinet that “This is not the time to gather followers,” and that some politicians wear a masque of compassion for Iran.
In the midst of this calamity, politicians, empty of empathy, shower themselves with self-glorification. Their narcissistic hunger for perpetual adoration is impossible to sate. And the glum search for a lamp, that can both defy and define the darkness. With skill, the day after the government unmasked a S$48B (US$33.4 billion) stimulus package that drew on national reserves, Lee Hsien Loonga signalled that a snap election is lurking, even as his People’s Action Party and opposition parties halted door-to-door campaigning to comply with tightened social distancing measures to combat COVID-19.
He contends that early elections in Singapore will secure a fresh mandate for a new government to deal with the pandemic and keep the virus-stricken economy from being further ravaged. The choice is between an election under atypical circumstances or going into a post-pandemic economic meltdown with a mandate that is about to expire.
The red and blue state separatism of the political geography of America has even affected voters’ exposure to the virus. Democrats who congregate in metropolitan areas find themselves in COVID-19 hotbeds. Republicans in rural communities find that they have not been as severely impacted. Thus, political polarization continues within the pandemic. The neo-isolationism of American Firstism has even created a geopolitical form of social distancing.
Never before has it been so necessary to work remotely from the corner of a room at home. We are all on Zoom making important decisions while caring for our children and schooling them at the same time. We are at work from home with our children. We can hear the voice of the Italian professor of behavioural finance teaching our oldest child along with her classmates who had to return to their home countries.
There is something heroic about this new work ethic. Nobody is questioning why we are doing all of this without stopping. It certainly cannot be for more money or that we have some plan to take our children on vacation anywhere anytime soon. Nobody knows if there will be money or vacations ever again. The children don’t even know if they will graduate.
COVID-19 has presented us with a novel idea of a flat world, where we have only a basic need for a little food, and for tasks that count like loving someone. The idea that one may need ‘more’ is unreal. The impossibility of rendering ourselves commensurate with the scale of the problem is frightening. If we could give a measure to the power of the virus, we can deliver ourselves to a situation in which we could see what sort of freedom we are left with, having contracted it. But as long as this does not happen, we are trapped either in anxious paranoia or resort to acting outs that expose us to pointless risks.