Before I offer my views on this subject, there is a need to explore the word ‘solidarity’ and its relevance in the context of the terrifying pandemic that is jawing mankind. Solidarity, or in other words ‘unity’ of all countries in the globe, needs to be judged with reference to its past history before we can convince ourselves of its existence in this present state of grave international crisis. Before laying down the bare essentials of argument on ‘solidarity’, certain aspects of life logically beg inclusion in this writing; a necessity for coming to my own conclusions. What I mean is that, in this time of raging pandemonium, we have to thoughtfully examine the latent causes of the menace, by analysing the link between speedily changing social parameters and scientific advancements, along with political and economic conditions.
It is really distressing to reiterate that we humans have not learnt anything from the previous history of epidemics and pandemics. Starting from the famous Black Death in the 14th century to the several pandemics in the 20th and 21st century, many hundred million have died. Here’s the list.
Spanish Flu in 1918-1919, deaths 500 million, Asian Flu – 1957, deaths 1.1 million, Hong Kong Flu – 1968, deaths 1 million, Swine Flu – 2009, deaths 575,400, HIV – 1980, deaths 25 million. (Wikipedia)
It goes without saying that in the 15th-16th centuries, social necessities, such as health care, hygiene facilities, medical or other scientific progress were barely minimal compared to modern times. Because of scant progress and less population, nature was still pristine, though for obvious reasons, most of the diseases were incurable and therefore longevity on an average was very low. But wars were waged, burgeoning from political or social rivalry; since power-lust existed from time immemorial. Yet surprisingly, even with the increase of literacy and gigantic scientific development, we’ve had to face two world wars! This itself is ample proof that we haven’t learnt lessons from the past. Wars raged in the ‘civilised’ world and in their wake humanity suffered uncountable deaths, violence, destruction of property, unmentionable torture, misery and economic crash downs. The number of deaths in each case was colossal, yet strangely, these fallouts did not permanently impact our minds. Some wise- heads were influenced, and did probe, warning us time and again about global disharmony. Many books, newspapers and films focused on the magnitude of destruction, economic ruination, and agony of torture forced by megalomaniacs like Hitler, but mass memory is transient as those of insects. Maybe the warnings appeared too ancient for proper registration. This attitude is largely due to our inveterate complacency or conviction that every obstacle will be solved by science and in future, we will tide over all exigencies that may confront us. In fact we were living in a fool’s paradise, refusing to be conscious, and knowingly careless of the horrendous consequences of such a devil may care approach. The devil of course laughed and lost no time in utilising those brilliant opportunities, in order to have his utmost fill! When several holocausts and forewarnings failed to stir the governments of different countries to take adequate measures before sudden outbreaks of pestilence, and natural or created disasters, we became panic-stricken. Now Italy, France, Spain, Germany, U.K and America are suffering relentless onslaughts of the virus, and lamenting, on what could have been controlled if they had acted earlier and promptly. In spite of their having extraordinary medical excellence, their casual approach is costing them very very dearly!
Why is global society paying for this beastly phenomenon? Why are we paying for the administrative casualness? The roots need investigation. With the turn of the 19th century, life has been on the run, thanks to scientific innovations which gifted us easy accessibility not only to the objects for survival but to a life of uninhibited pleasure. Alongside the discarded ancient tools, we have also thrown the baby with the bathwater. Scientific progress though highly laudable is still indirectly fostering excessive materialism. Materialism is pushing ethics to the sidelines. Along with this transformation, the value system, which sustains our mind and soul has been marginalized. Values are the pillars of society. Though they sometimes mutate alongside the changing times, in these so-called free societies values are deemed redundant, especially in the developed countries. Some universal norms important for mental and psychological well being are still being constantly subverted and challenged to a degree that they have boomeranged as curses of postmodern society. Individual freedom has transformed into unmitigated recklessness with universal value- system overturned. Heedless, selfish enjoyment in the name of individual rights is endorsed by governments of powerful and wealthy countries which are paying now with bloodbaths. It is an intensely fearful omen for overpopulated, poor and developing countries. The only exception is the epicentre of this killer virus is China’s Hubei province, but it is paying a huge price for it.
Now when the world is at an edge, the harsh reality has dawned, that there is at present no specific treatment for doctors against this incredibly fast-paced evil which multiplies by the second, which is air as well as touch- borne. Yes, we are terrified by the fallout. The world had yet to see such an unprecedented, all-defying power that has topped the list of viruses. There will be a solution in the near future no doubt, thanks to the untiring efforts of scientists all over the world, but not before many more lives are lost. It may sound like a horrific premonition, but this bitter truth will have to be swallowed. Science, no matter how advanced, cannot provide instant magic. Research, trials, applications…it’s a time taking process.
Power- lust is as old as life itself. Power comes in multiple forms. Political, physical, economic, mental, spiritual, etc. Political and physical rivalry generates war, conducive to economic growth or decline as per win or loss. Political, physical and economic powers are interdependent. Changes in social structures connect with them. In India and some neighbouring countries, religion too is powerful. It is often used as a weapon to foster distinctions of caste, creed, etc. to instill fear and prevent integration of people from different cultures and strata; a divisive policy to breed infighting is the key to maintaining political and economic supremacy. Literature and history reflect, that in the West, politically and economically powerful nations had invaded the pristine habitats of the native Africans, uprooted them from their soil and brought them to their own country to be utilised as slaves, thus sub- humanising them because they were not only black, poor and savage but also heathens, who needed to be ‘saved’ by proselytising. We have famously known books by renowned authors on this, such as ROOTS by Alex Haley, THINGS FALL APART by Chinua Achebe, THE COLOUR PURPLE by Alice Walker, to name a few. We all are aware that apartheid is not yet a distant past. It ended in 1990. But psychologically, has it really disappeared? I believe, traces of inhibition still remain in the modern ‘White West’. Colour and racial discrimination is less but not totally eradicated.
By this time you must have understood that I am still in search of ‘solidarity’. I am therefore picking up the thread of my discussion on power for automatically it moves us to the subject of wars. This and the previous century have witnessed several of them. Iraq, Afghanistan, Spain, to name a few. Wars are waged by the powerful to extend dominance. In the 20th century, there is no dearth of examples. Noam Chomsky said in 1975 that the Vietnam war was waged by America to prevent Indochina from developing economically. About the Iraq war he said, ‘Controlling the oil in Iraq put America in a strong position to exert influence on the world‘. The Afghanistan war that started in 1980 was nothing but a boxing arena for communist Russia and imperialist America, the latter creating the dreaded Taliban to fight the former, in order to gain control of oil pipelines. Most strange is that even after facing Hitler’s agenda of purification of race by eliminating ‘Untermenschen’ (sub-humans) antisemitism, declaration of ‘fighting Marxism’ and uniting Germany against the world, we, unfortunately, have failed to realise the fact that solidarity is not in existence even now. It will be hard to believe, but nuclear weapons are ready. Think of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Do you think they are ancient history? Not the least! All talks of peace are just veneers. Nothing else. But physical fighting may disappear, as the pandemic signals. Biological war? Maybe. Why are these experiments with viruses, thousand times deadlier than an atom bomb, in a laboratory? Why research in absolute secrecy? Why was the progenitor of the monster silent? Why was there no warning when the catastrophe occurred? Whose fault is it that we cannot find unity? No answer.
The relevant question that arises is, how do economic, technological advancement, political power, and war, impact the social environment? Leaving alone violence or oppression, why are we still facing starvation and death of millions? Why are numerous planned terrorism at their worst? Why on one hand have we rich places of worship, European and American splendour, colossal waste of food, and on the other hand poverty, hunger, famine?
Economic disparity transforms social constructs rapidly. At present old values of giving and sharing, generally speaking, have long been dispensed with. Indiscriminate and unnatural sexuality, uncontrolled food habits, nuclear living, madness for the highest careers, have contributed to fast-paced, apathetic societies. Equally true is that, with digital advancements the world has virtually come very close. Society and its many facets have become more exposed. But only virtually. If not, why do millions die by starvation, disease, political violence and terrorism? Only a few individuals and care giving groups are moved to act positively. Have advancements in science done anything to prevent these maladies?
In the domestic front, have we enough time to spend with our children and spouses, let alone the parents? Do children on an average get the warmth of their grandparents? With their well- to- do guardians, gifting them conscience- easing gadgets to compromise their absence they are turning their offspring into robots, self-centered, cold and heartless. What kind of society are we creating? Yes, we are defying our natural instincts of loving and caring for each other! Selfishness is now the order of the day. It’s hardly a surprise then, that it’s on bricks. Skyscrapers hide the sky, but we can’t deny that building towering offices and business houses lead to employment that boosts our economy. Balance in Nature’s former impartial rhythm is lost. Wealth and poverty had existed side by side before but never was the hiatus in greater than now. Mostly in poor and overpopulated countries, Nature and the natural, are replaced by housings. Land sharks are filling their own pockets. Justice is nearly non- operational. Animals are killed, and not only as necessary food. Wildlife is deprived of its own habitat. They’re roaming on the village streets in India and are being killed by people out of fear, for many people have lost their lives.
Developing countries for example, like India which has its own rich heritage of learning, wisdom of the seers and philosophy of the Vedas, is aping Western culture. Gone are the days when people used to visit their relatives and friends. Gone are the days when a guest was treated like a God. We have created a digital world with which we are technically speaking, attached, mind, body, and soul. The natural gathering of people is becoming more and more scarce. And now with this pandemic, it will possibly be wiped off the face of the earth.
The world is spending money, conducting political transactions for the business of armament. We need more weapons in anticipation of war. We trade in armaments not only for economic gain but for dominance. We don’t know the meaning of love. Like the west, youngsters have learned to utter, ‘I love you’ ten times each day to assure one’s partner that they are not splitting as of now. This once lovely earth has lost its meaning. In most cases, love is another term for sex. You don’t love but ‘make’ love. And about other kinds of love? It’s very, very rare indeed! Obviously, empathy and sympathy for strangers become unthinkable! If not, the rich people and wealthy countries could have saved billions of starvation deaths and poverty-stricken diseased. So have we brought the world together?
Do not panic. Please! Fear also births union. Some positive things have emerged from the crisis.
In this terrible situation, we must understand that Nature, both physical and human has unleashed its fury in to give us a lesson for violating her intrinsic and instinctive functions. Destruction of verdant forests, fields, and vegetation has brought in ecological imbalance. Pollution, related to the smoke of innumerable vehicles, illegal construction of factories in densely populated venues are promoting diseases in poor and overcrowded countries all over the globe. The ozone layer is becoming flimsy. Global warming is birthing monstrosities like anti-natural, unnatural phenomena. Unseasonal rains, unusual features of seasons: twisters, earthquakes, tsunamis are on the rampage! Strange, inexplicable diseases are unseating the stability of the world. Nothing happens without a reason. It’s absolutely true that we have defied Nature physically, instinctively. Animals are shelterless and hungry. We forget they have a right to live as we do. The difference is, they live in harmony and we don’t. Diseases like HIV will be rampant when people flout the natural process of love and procreation by opposite sexes by indulging in gay relationships. Where is bonding, where is normal, instinctive love, warmth, and sympathy with men and women? None. If there is, we do it by posting hugs and kisses through emoticons in the digital media.
The pertinent search for solidarity is over. Till now it has not been detected, though it is the only need of the hour. Millions of lives are decimated within seconds. With all our resources we will have to unite by extending our fraternal hand, not literally, as this disease prohibits us to do but ironically, through media which has now bonded with us. Here lies the victory of science. It has, however paradoxically, brought the world together. In these rough times when the prohibition of physical proximity is keeping us away from our loved ones, when we need calm and less anxiety, our mobiles and computers have come to the rescue. So have all kinds of media. This terrifying disease has instilled in us that we have to bond globally to kill the demon which has filled mankind with unparalleled misery! At last, we have realised with a great price, that we have indeed ravished instinctive life. We have over and over insulted mother Nature! This realisation is the need of the moment! With solidarity, we will have the confidence to fight the menace and erase it off the face of the earth. We are one big family now and there are more good people in this world than wicked. Nothing is impossible when we unite. Our doctors, nurses, health caregivers and scientists along with frontline workers in various necessary fields are sacrificing their own lives and families, working together, day and night, confronting death bravely. Let us thank Mother Nature. She has gifted us such an enemy without which solidarity would have been impossible. Much is already lost, there may be more. But realising the importance of global unity is bound to bring positive results. We now have our united soldiers and supportive people. We have become one global family sympathising each other! We, the progeny of this earth are armed with one mission which will be a definite success! We will certainly win!
Author of three publications and poetry, short stories in various other magazines. Published poems and short stories in Bengali and English. Published articles and essays in various magazines. Satabdi Saha is an ex- professor of English in D.A. College, Kolkata.