Fear or Solidarity: What Happens Next in the Post-Pandemic World?
Generations prior have experienced this situation, but only now have we faced a global health emergency of this magnitude in recent memory. The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to challenge all dimensions of our lives in the unforeseeable future, shaking the foundations and exhausting infrastructures of every government and institution, sending waves of impact on socio-economic, political, cultural, and even mental outlook worldwide.
But when the dust settles, and we redefine the new normal, do we push through with fault-finding? Are we going to displace this fear we feel to others and cope by looking for someone to blame? Is xenophobia going to persist in a post-pandemic world?
I am a Filipino currently based here in Lisbon and the days leading to the announcement of state of emergency were some of my toughest days in the city. To some non-Asians, every Asian is the same—potential carriers of a deadly disease. See, I experienced four different racist incidents—from commuters giving me the eye, smirking in the metro to someone in the park shouting “Coronavirus!” at me, to even an Uber driver bluntly asking if I have the virus the moment I entered his car. More than being hateful, I chose to be forgiving, as people project their anxieties in search of a way to consciously and unconsciously handle a stressful situation. These kinds of forthright attributions and illogical judgments, regardless of personal intent and outcome, are heavily clouded by fear and anxiety.
So Who’s the Enemy?
Well, it depends on who you ask. The virus is certainly not compelled to choose who to attack against humanity, but for us humans, with all our complexities, do not look at coronavirus as the sole enemy. Others find the World Health Organization at fault for not taking Taiwan’s warning that the virus can spread via human-to-human transmission; some target China for its lack of transparency and failing to contain the virus quickly enough; others highlight the keyboard warriors, trolling, spamming, causing misinformation and an "infodemic."
On one hand, the enemy seems to be within authoritarian leaders and governments, exploiting the crisis to gain absolute power; or the widening rift between the middle class and the poor, in a war for government cash aids and benefits; or perhaps the large companies capitalizing on this collective global suffering. Will we see a new peak and layer of xenophobia and hate incidents towards Asians globally, from people projecting their fears in a convenient way to find a scapegoat to blame?
While there are certainly entities that need to take responsibility, the blame game is not the solution and these defense mechanisms can only go so far. In the constant battle to preserve our sense of self, we eschew recognition of our own flaws. Initial studies on defense mechanisms came to light from Sigmund Freud (1894), and studied in depth by his daughter Anna Freud, in her book entitled The Ego and the Mechanisms of Defense (1936). From then on, experts believe that defenses are built from the unconscious and the external reality (environment).
Then have we maybe failed to unconsciously realize that we are the plague or at least we somehow contributed to its spread? We are the Earth’s viruses and cause of her suffering? Time and again experts have warned—we barely listened. We chose the path to unsustainability. Wildlife disruption has long been the cause of plagues, as humans set foot on places they shouldn’t. The Earth is sick. And how selfish of us to put ourselves in the center of this Earth, where in fact we are just but a parcel of this 4.5-billion-year-old world? We must have a deep discernment that we co-exist with both things living and non-living, across breadths and depths and sprawls. Is humanity being prepared for a series of bigger pandemics ahead? Are you ready?
The human, just like anything and everything, is but a small part of this world, and we can be removed and erased and cease to exist if we do not change our ways—and learn from our mistakes.
Without a doubt, this pandemic has brought the world to a standstill, and nobody knows how to conduct one’s self nor what even lies ahead. Just the same, let us wash our hands of individuals or systems nourishing fear and breeding hate that could undermine our rational thinking.
It is time to leave our “normal” behind because our “normal” was the cause of the pandemic to begin with. Global challenges need a proactive global collaboration in pursuit of global solutions. Climate change, hunger, poverty, health, human rights, peace and security, and other socio-economic inequalities (might as well be called “social distancing”) are some of the bigger fights we need to overcome if we are to be ready for another pandemic in the future.
Humanity will continue to be plagued by viruses and bacteria, waiting to be triggered and awakened, if we don’t set measures globally. They will be hiding in your markets, in cities, in farms—dormant in every nook and cranny; they will be hiding in your favorite mobile application, or software, or that website you just agreed on the terms and conditions to. But the next time it gets triggered, we should be more prepared and ready than ever.
Major turning points in history have left us committing the same mistakes. The philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was right when he said, “We learn from history that we don’t learn from history.” Let us not prove him accurate once again in this critical point of humanity. It is time for this experience to guide us in revisiting the past, reassessing the present, and redefining the future. Our behaviors and policies in healthcare, governance, and human compassion must change. The world post-pandemic cannot look like the world pre-pandemic.
When this comes to pass, it does not mean definitive victory; but it surely is one if we act as a global community. It is a human achievement if we call for global solidarity and ensure that no one gets left on the other side. Let this collective experience and lived similarities lead us into a more robust and genuine international cooperation. We have the option to continue blaming the enemies—visible and invisible—but we can also prompt empathy.
Humanity is only as strong as its weakest link.
And in this blame game, no one wins.
Brian Jay de Lima Ambulo has worked for the Department of Trade and Industry and is currently a PhD Fellow in Culture Studies under The Lisbon Consortium in Portugal. If you have questions, you may email him at [email protected].