Structural inequality means that COVID-19 has harmed some people more than others, while tax injustice and pallid procurement have jockeyed friends further up the canal. In ‘The Triumph of Injustice’, Saez and Zucman track tax rates across income distribution to underscore how tax injustice invigorates inequality. Their remedies have been embraced by Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Billionaires saw their treasuries blossom during COVID-19 by a total of $75.5B or 19%. The surge of pandemic riches underscores the grotesque nature of unequal sacrifice.
First responders and front-line workers risk their lives as Eric Yuan and Steve Ballmer each saw their fortunes jump by $1B. Benefitting from an economy and tax system that is wired to funnel wealth to the top, Gates and Buffett now have as much money as the bottom half of all Americans. This is juxtaposed with roughly 78% of people in the US living paycheck to paycheck, 20% with no or negative net worth and lacking three months’ worth of emergency funds. The multi-trillion-dollar stimulus plan that included a Paycheck Protection Program was guzzled by corporations- not SMEs. Banks that processed the $349B loan program booked $10 billion in fees. The poor only ponder.
With no end in sight, the mental health consequences of Covid-19 are beginning to manifest. Lives are upturned by a brew of uncertainty, grief and exacting physical distancing prescriptions. King’s College launched a Coronavirus Outbreak Psychological Experiences (COPE) study to reckon the mental health impact of public health measures like self-isolation. Using Twitter, Facebook and NextDoor, Stanford is probing the effects of social distancing orders.
In a typically open-minded intervention, the Dutch amended their ‘intelligent lockdown’ advice by counselling persons without a permanent familiar partner to give consideration to mutually satisfactory agreements with like-minded individuals to manage their human rights and need for proximity. Just as holiness can be found outside monastic life, so too we have discovered that loneliness is not only found inside isolation. Isolation triggers loneliness among people who feel disconnected from authenticity and those who feel far from people next to them.
Even those with families can feel lonely as they hide parts of themselves from the household. Then again, many who appreciate seclusion do not experience loneliness. They have no compulsion to consume all they can in life’s ‘Vanity Fair’. Fullness of consumption is not fullness of life. These individuals crave a good text like Rudolf Arnheim’s essay that makes bare how the hip that is deflected sideways in the statute of the Madonna of Wurzburg makes visible the forces at play between the Virgin and the infant. Others prefer the postminimalist compositions of Max Richter.
So why is it that isolation in the time of pandemic makes the life of these people poorer, not richer, being now obliged to the confinement that once deepened their lives. There is a well-known incident in the South African Parliament when the Honourable Madisha stated that half of the people in the parliament are stupid. The speaker asked Madisha to withdraw the statement. The Honourable Madisha replied: ‘I withdraw that statement. Half of people in this parliament are not stupid’. The Speaker then said: ‘Thank you. Let’s proceed’. At the factual level, his explicit negation changed nothing. Sometimes however, we append an implied negation because it is the only thing we can change.
We may ask the barister for a cup of coffee without cream. He may say, ‘today we have no cream, only milk — so will you like coffee without milk?’ At the factual level, coffee is always just plain black coffee, but what we can change is to make the coffee without cream into a coffee without milk by adding the implied negation- and make the plain coffee into a coffee without milk. Now in the lock down it is just the plain coffee of isolation with no possibility of the implied negation. This is precisely what happened to many people who ordinarily find isolation comforting but found confinement during the pandemic debilitating. Before the pandemic, it was a ‘seclusion without cream’. Paradoxically, volunteers and those engaged in politics through certain mediations, nurses, bakers, cashiers and those provided with the means to alter the situation, find in their work, a means to give form to the things taken away from the rest of us.
A deeper absurdity of this situation is that people who work remotely are experiencing anxiety. They are now exposed to distressing fictions of powerlessness since no change in their habits can alter the singularity of their situation. So long as the spectral reality cannot be localised, they become trapped in anxiousness and resort to futile acting outs. Like cricket aficionados pinned to a screen during a match between the West Indies and India hoping to alter a result that is becoming more visible by raising a racket. During a pandemic, it is not just older people whose loneliness is exacerbated by a lockdown — but disabled persons experiencing problems at work while doing low income and insecure work, young adults, the destitute, remote employees and those who once found happiness in the quiet confinement of their homes.