Life as we have hitherto known and cherished, is likely under a whole lot of pressure. Remember it was only 2-3 weeks back, we would casually stroll into our fav coffee joint and have our coffee cup refilled, or go into the grocery store or a walking trail without worrying about the physical proximity to others. In fact, we actively sought proximity of the ones we love and hold dear. The things that comforted us, the things we cultivated, the things that adorned what was otherwise trite and maybe even routine and somewhat boring, or even tired, are under a flux. Unless absolutely necessary we are unable to leave our usual perches. No one has ordered us locked up. The untouchables, such as Angela Merkel or Prince Charles, are succumbing to the power of this pesky little germ.
A beloved friend wrote earlier today, announcing the demise of capitalism, as we know it. The so-called engine of the world economy, may end up becoming so bruised and injured that may lose even the status of being a caboose; it’s diehard purveyors may push it off its rails, depositing it into the trash heap of history. A welcome thought indeed. But perhaps only a feel-good daydream. Not that I have any love left for capitalism but for the other somewhat practical considerations.
The nature of contemporary capitalism, indicated by Janus-faced ideology of neo-liberalism and neo-conservativism, characterised by bottomless greed, abject disregard for earth, has hitherto proven resilient enough to reproduce and rebrand itself. The prescriptions proffered by the likes of Hermann Goering, have continually since the WW2, “manufactured consent” within the so-called “free world”, as Noam Chomsky would say. One would assume that the continued exploitation of the billions of humans, living outside the glitzy metropolises built by mind-numbingly brutal colonial exploitation and extraction, genocides, slavery, wars, including those of biological and chemical varieties, is sufficient condition to relegate capitalism to the ultimate depths of Dante’s Inferno. But that has not happened.
From one side of its mouth, humanity has vigorously affirmed distaste for genocide, yet vulnerable millions are being systematically killed and maimed in so many places. Myanmar, Xinxiang, Palestine. Iran. Venezuela. Bolivia. Settler colonialism is seen as distasteful yet almost all Western “democracies”, are unabashedly abetting its entrenchment, tacitly endorsing continual encroachments over the lives and lands of the Palestinian people. Aboriginal peoples in Anglo-colonised places like Canada, Australia, the USA, are experiencing newer and sharper coercive tools and techniques. Their lands totally overrun, their cultures and languages destroyed, their ability to live a dignified life completely impaired. While “solidarity” has become a newest buzzword during this pandemic, yet the powerful are able to enforce with impunity the crippling economic sanctions on the ones they don’t like, such as Venezuela, Cuba, Iran, outside of the strictures of International Law. We lament earth’s continual inability to sustain our needs for fossil fuel and other environmentally corrosive mining or farming or industrial practices, yet we are moving along fracking, producing and transmitting filthy crude, building gigantic dams, producing GMO crops, mining coal and other seriously earth-harming minerals. We are concerned about the state’s inability to effectively contain the newest threat to our survival, the pandemic of COVID19, because even in the countries where the medical systems were universally accessed until the early part of 1990s, yet we continue to elect people to power who are demonstrably on the take from big pharma, health insurance, and private health care entities. We lament the lack of fiscal resources to look after our health and education of our children, grandchildren, yet we applaud hundreds of billions spent on production and use of the weapons of mass destruction, and other weapons. Capitalism has assumed the role, previously considered an exclusive domain of religion, of shaping us humans as perfect killing, maiming, and dehumanising machines.
The world is in the grip of a pandemic that may pose an existential threat, yet our business of killing those we don’t like continues unabated. Yemen comes to mind. Genocidal sanctions against Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua inevitably pop up to depress. In other words, when seen with the eyes of those who have not benefitted from the “unprecedented growth” in Western wealth that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall and subsequent dissolution as well as Balkanization of the Soviet Union the picture of the present is not very pretty. The post-World War 2 period, led to the transition of hundreds of millions from abject poverty to the “middle class” living. However from the time when Berlin Wall fell in 1989 to now the number of billionaires increased from about 70 in world (55 in the US alone) to over two thousand, owning almost 9 trillion USD. Almost 600 newly minted billionaires in the US alone, however, China leading the field with over 800. Such a dramatic concentration of wealth has come with serious consequences for a normal working class person. Each privatisation of publicly owned entities entails fabulous transfer of public money into the coffers of the super wealthy producing yet more billionaires. Under the guise of the so-called 3Ps (Public-Private Partnerships), further wealth is siphoned off to the wealthy. Its famously held that the currently reigning richest man in the world, pays zero dollars in tax, in other words, his lowest paid workers pay more in taxes. Effectively the top 1% of the world owns more than half of the world’s wealth.
Perhaps each dollar that goes into the bottomless pit of wealth owned by the billionaires brings at least one person closer to a total financial collapse. Each time a CEO and, usually “his” associates walk away with hundreds of millions, bankrupting the corporation that they dismantled brick-by-brick in usually broad public view, creates hundreds if not thousands of working people lose their pensions, homes, relationships, becoming part of one or another ilk of “deplorables”, as Mrs. Clinton called these during her bid for an electoral office in the US in 2016.
Privatisation has been a very effective tool for the purchase of public assets at fire-sale prices with terms as attractive as deferred payments, lack of regulations, no assurances of quality to public, etc. The items not yet privatized experience funding starvation but with the importation of the corporate culture of managerialism and lawyerism, the top brass end up receiving fabulous salaries but the bottom tier workers get less eventually loosing their jobs when their tasks are privatized, they get hired back, if they are lucky, by the new private-sector bosses with drastically reduced salaries and benefits. Resources, generally held to be in public trust, ideally stewarded thoughtfully to sustain social needs without compromising the need for environmental protections, are being exploited as if there’s no tomorrow. Ours is an age of carpetbaggers, cheats, and swindlers masquerading as philanthropists and statesmen. They have collectively nixed a spectre of the state, emerging as relatively independent, something that was found to be theoretically possible by a whole lot of post-World War 2 Marxist thinkers like Althusser and Poulantzas or Skocpol. The post-1990 saw a rather haphazard emergence of a new social contract which made some folks fabulously wealthy while leading most of us into the “wondrous world” of panhandling for loose shekels.
The post-pandemic world may prove to be yet another story of Sisyphean dimensions. The opening up of national treasures, the US announced $2.2 trillion, Canada, announced $82 billion, “stimulus” package. There’ll no doubt be some sort of “trickle down” to the legions of the newly unemployed. Many questions inevitably arise. Would the state’s need to keep people isolated indoors clash with the property-owners whose wealth is dependent upon rental receipts? How about the so-called “home owners” who are mortgaged to the roots of their follicles? The household debt in the US alone has surpassed $14 trillion during the first fiscal quarter of 2020. The Bank of Canada reports that at the end of the year 2019, Canadian households owed just above $2 trillion in debt. How’s that going to be paid? Will there be a balanced distribution of “aid” from the state? Would the saplings growing in the garden of the “brave new world” of post-COVID19 bear novel articulation of a distinct variety of Keynesianism with some basic freedoms intact or would lead to rising of an authoritarian state, rearticulating, both – human rights and social priorities. Perhaps even rejigging of what constitutes “right to life”. Would it imply that life is seen in the broader, global context instead of in its current parochial manifestation located within an individual, as the likes of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher envisaged? Could be that despite the so-called “universal” nature of the “Declaration of Human Rights”, its application and legitimacy being largely parochial with thin veneers, finally assume its essential character of universality? Does it mean that the globally accepted right to life, with sustenance and survival at its core, may finally subsume a whole lot of other “rights”, for example, right to a guaranteed income, to a private dwelling place, to medical care, to education? Would we see newer and innovative articulation of the notion of “tort”? Would disgruntled, inconvenienced, or infected individuals sue the states, or workplaces, or even other individuals for causing their misery? If quarantine or social isolation are enforced by the state through its usual coercive apparatuses, would that require rethinking common laws such as habeas corpus? Would human interaction from now require separation and the use of electronic devices? How would we be able effect social solidarity, perhaps a necessary condition for social organisation? Would the states finally allow corporations to face vicissitudes or even caprices of “free market” without hoping, expecting and receiving any welfare package from the state?
(Zahid Makhdoom is a curmudgeonly Canadian of Sindhi origin. He currently works and lives in Vancouver, BC, with his pet rock. He could be reached at: [email protected])