Many of our daily life events are governed by dichotomies. The world is witnessing a reorientation and reconsideration of such dichotomies and even several assumptions regarding human existence and outlook. This is not just in terms of moral aspects like honest or dishonest, love and hate, good and bad, right and wrong etc. In the backdrop of the pandemic, the popular dichotomies have started seriously considering the issue of present and future, security and insecurity as well as certain and uncertain in a dominant way. These dichotomies always existed in the human mind on the side lines similar to issues like life and death and health and ill-health which occupied perhaps a higher ranking. Due to the contextual specificities and circumstances, various cultures have internalised priorities and these are also reflected in their actions. For instance, the need to take actions when ill is determined by the context and especially availability of services.
There were always natural and human-made conduits and channels for venting and resolving some of these dichotomies. Religions, spiritual movements and worship acted as well-known spaces for reducing the pressure and as a structured channel for unburdening the dichotomous deviations that happened in life. But the current situation and the restrictions completely disabled such a possibility. The closing down of places of worship has affected this ‘unburdening’ process to a large extent. The only channel available was within the family and the ubiquitous social media. The negativities and pent-up emotions could be partly released and addressed through the all-pervasive social media which has now become the dominant preoccupation within households.
The emergence of fear of infection and death and the sudden changes in the routine activities although intended for a good cause had led to unusual abnormal responses in people. But given the enormity of the situation, the volume of these responses in the form of negative actions like suicides etc. are minimal but certainly merit attention. The exceptions such as suicides seem to have occurred in cases where some form of social isolation, alienation and loss of livelihood happened to individuals. It can be assumed that love for life goes down to some extent during such crises and emergencies.
Due to several factors, both internal and external, certain cultures have a higher degree of this love for life. It is in such cultures that issues regarding health and ill-health are discussed as a routine matter. It is also in such cultures that actions based on these discussions within households and outside with others are taken. The institutions that resolve and ameliorate problems will also be responsive here because the demands will be high. This also leads to proliferation of institutions at various levels, types of ownership and types of systems whether modern or indigenous. There occurs a synthesis of different ideas and notions regarding health or ill-health and life or death. This ‘syncretic’ philosophy or the world outlook is inherent part of existence and not confined to higher level philosophical discourse. Ready acceptance of curative orientations, medicines, treatment modalities etc. are characteristic features of some societies because of this popular philosophy.
But naturally as well, human mind is capable of handling such crises in life by constantly churning out negativities and undertaking patchwork with a dose of positivity. The world had witnessed several calamities, pestilences and disasters apart from human-made world wars. But the inherent positivity of human beings enabled societies, countries and continents to overcome the fallouts although these could vary across cultures and races. Some societies rebuilt, resurrected and renovated themselves after such calamities although the speed of these processes could be different due to several factors.
It is also important to realize that these episodes reinforced the belief that the world is not one and even the human beings often considered as a species is not one and therefore concepts like ‘one world’ or ‘one health’ remain as just empty slogans. The seventy two year old Human Rights declaration of the United Nations (10 December 1948) which ensures equal opportunities and rights to all people could not be realized even now. Many articles of this declaration like equal opportunity and dignity especially, the articles 18, 19 and 20 which call for freedom of expression, thoughts, conscience, association etc are just empty words even now. No one can underestimate the importance of such ‘oneness’ concepts but the idealist abstract notions should be made more operational and practical. It is important to address the lack of oneness especially the differentials and dichotomies within the humans. There is opportunism in our relations with other human beings as well as with other species in this earth and that feature is ubiquitous.
Many predict that after COVID-19 wanes, the world will witness a change in its outlook especially its overriding priority on economy and capital. This is unlikely given the past experiences and it is certainly possible to say with some degree of uncertainty that the dichotomies are going to stay not jut within humans but with other species or forces as well. But it may be possible that the virus, bacteria and other forces which define ill-health or health, life or death and other entities may rise as more stronger dichotomies in future as part of popular philosophy.
(The author is affiliated to Global Institute of Public Health and Santhigiri Research Foundation, Trivandrum, Kerala)