As 2021 arrives I am not planning to wish anyone a ‘Happy New Year’ while everything wrong with the world remains deeply entrenched. And anyway, nothing really changes with the mere flip of a calendar page.
Instead my wish will be for a ‘Happy New French Revolution’. This time on a planetary scale, against the corporate monarchs, the political aristocracy and a paid, proselytising media wantonly leading the world to ecological, economic and social disaster.
There is no doubt 2020 has been the nastiest year anybody can remember in decades and I know many are eagerly looking forward to its departure. The passing year, was marked by the catastrophic Covid-19 pandemic, widespread economic collapse, rising racial, ethnic, religious hatred and virtually no action on climate change.
If at all, the only positive legacy of 2020 could be that it was like a mirror shoved in the face of humanity, forcing it to confront its own sorry self and if possible learn a few hard lessons.
The most obvious issue for the world to reflect upon is the abysmal response to the pandemic and the terrible state of health systems and healthcare in most parts of the globe, including the ‘developed’ nations. As I write this, there are an average 2000 people dying every day in the United States due to Covid-19, the highest anywhere in the world, with Europe becoming the first region to cross 500,000 COVID-19 deaths, accounting for one-third of the global toll.
Ironically, these are typically the kind of numbers associated for very long with many developing countries, struggling with diseases related to malnutrition, tuberculosis, malaria, AIDS. Which brings us to one of the root causes of global health problems, the two-faced approach of the world to the health needs of poorer societies.
For instance, if Covid-19 had been a problem confined to a few pockets of Asia or Africa it is very doubtful anybody in power anywhere or in global media would have even noticed it, leave alone enforced national lockdowns. Such discrimination is linked to the historically skewed distribution of global resourcess, itself a result of centuries of colonisation and other exploitative processes, both within and across nations.
Today, the world is passing through an era of what can only be called ‘corporate monarchy’- a system whereby those with inherited wealth or with monopoly control over various streams of income rule unchecked – having subdued entire political systems, all democratic institutions and even reason and logic with their accumulated wealth. Currently, the world’s richest 1 percent, those with more than $1 million, own 44 percent of the world’s wealth[i] and the top eight billionaires own as much combined wealth as the poorest half of the human race[ii].
During the past year alone, when millions lost jobs and many more were left on the brink of starvation, the world’s billionaires added over USD 10 trillion to their already mind boggling wealth[iii]. It’s a pattern repeated not just globally but also within all countries and such easy accumulation of wealth should be declared nothing less than a crime against humanity itself.
The only problem though with the term ‘humanity’ used here is that we still live in a world where a large section of the global population is not considered human at all by those in power. The planet is still too divided between ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ races, castes, language and lifestyle groups and not every intelligent biped descending from homo habilis or homo erectus is accepted as a member of the species homo sapiens too.
And today, all these deep-seated prejudices are being promoted most vigorously by none other than the very beneficiaries of the unequal global order – to divert attention from the open loot of planetary resources they are indulging in. However, one has to acknowledge, that for many reasons, the currency of hate does circulate well even among the victims of the unjust world order, which in turn enables those in power to perpetuate their control over ordinary citizens.
Among the reasons for this strange phenomenon of the oppressed supporting their own oppressors is the power of modern propaganda, but a deeper factor involved may lie in the way we have evolved over long periods of time. In the struggle for survival humans have become hardwired to use their technological and managerial abilities to domesticate and subordinate other species and Nature itself. This has deeply ingrained the notion, even among the relatively weak or oppressed, that preying upon those even weaker is fine as long as one can look down on them as some kind of ‘aliens’ or ‘animals’ or ‘microbes’.
What this really implies is that the solutions to exploitation of humans by other humans cannot be found by merely focusing on the internal dynamics or politics of human societies alone. Addressing inequality and hierarchy will also need a serious rethinking of the ‘master-slave’ relation that the dominant homo sapiens has established with the rest of Planet Earth.
If the SARS-COV2 virus had any blunt message to convey to the entire human species it was essentially that we are not really as invincible as we have foolishly believed for too long. And that our survival is dependent not only on well-being of the human collective but also that of every other living creature on Earth. (You can’t eat a pangolin and have your pension too!)
This gives us a clue as to how we can begin to deal with the ‘mother of all dangers’ confronting humanity – one larger than any viral pandemic – that of climate change, which threatens to make the planet uninhabitable and wipe out much of the human population. Even while addressing the issue of inequitable sharing of resources, the response to this threat calls for a completely new contract with everything around that sustains us.
A new magna carta or even a deeply spiritual approach based on respect for Mother Nature, whereby no one takes more than what they can give back and certainly does not get to hoard wealth in any form. Something, not very different from what many indigenous people around the world already practice, but are heavily penalised for by the rest of our species.
In that sense the new French Revolution the world urgently requires will have to go beyond the human centeredness of the old one and extend the slogan of ‘Liberty, Equality, Fraternity’ to include ‘Ecology’ also to the list. 2021 itself may be a bit too soon but hopefully it won’t be too long before guillotines also come out on the streets of the world’s major capitals to reclaim power from monopolists of every hue currently holding sway over our planet. (Perhaps even a solar powered ‘green guillotine’, that will also ensure when finally the heads of royalty roll – they do so with zero emission of climate altering fumes)
I know all this sounds a bit macabre, but as the craziest year in living memory departs and given the current state of the world, you can’t really blame me for wishing you all a Happy New French Revolution!
Satya Sagar is a journalist and writer who can be contacted at email@example.com
[i] Credit Suisse Global Wealth Report. https://www.credit-suisse.com/about-us/en/reports-research/global-wealth-report.html