a.nihil

covid19

As someone who has never been to America but having seen the country play a major role in how I think through what I watch and read, America has fallen. There was a certain zenith where the belief in the American Dream touched even the remotest corners of the planet, where almost every country wrote its national consciousness in the American model. Ruthless capitalism, selfishness and opulence were the pillars of this model, which was buttressed by the soft power of Hollywood and the internet.

Off late the fall has become even more precipitous with the twin trouble of COVID-19 and the George Floyd protests mixed to the shrill tune of Donald Trump's voice. Viewed from a distance I cannot imagine how this country has come to shape much of the post-war world of the 20th century, for now it's a joke without a punchline. Everything American seems inhuman – the notion that an individual is the center of everything is slowly eroding, we are all in this together as the COVID-19 reminds us everyday. The Neo-liberal wet dream suckers up as governments wake up to realize that people come before corporations, the virus is a wake up call for a society gently lulled into the consumerist humdrum.

Sure, the US still has the firepower to shut its critics and wrestle its way to command its superpower status. But a revered superpower is different from an ageing bully, the American Dream is no longer the incentive but the fear of the American wrath is.

#America #COVID19

Greatness. Glory. Us, the people. India, the land of the ancient great. Superpower, $5 trillion economy. A land of beauty, color, mystique, good food and IT coolies that get the job done. India, shining and proud – a collective of people who lead and inspire the world. These are all PR terms that are supposed to evoke pride in who we are, the stamp of a passport on our souls. When this rosy idea of the country is challenged, through accounts of poverty, income inequality, rising authoritarian streaks it becomes a cause to be fought against.

India like most nations today suffers from jingoistic nationalism that is formed on thoughts and ideas that not everyone has access to. Let us examine the term “Migrant Laborers” which in itself is devoid of any moral or meaning. These are the masons, carpenters, pani-puri wallahs and load bearers that camouflage in the brick and concrete dust in countless constructions sites across the country, forming the backbone of the informal Indian economy that is 81% of the total workforce.

The word “laborer” itself serves a negative function in the Indian middle-class discourse – they are still seen as the low caste (regardless that according to the Article 14 of the Indian constitution, discrimination according to caste is illegal), overpopulating and not worthy of an equal status. A poor that brings down the name of the country through their lack of effort. The middle and the political class are far removed from what poverty means, it is “those” people that inhabit the corners of their eyes, almost polluting their line of sight. The millions of middle class Indians living abroad or even working cushy jobs in metro cities are not migrants workers, no. They are Indians. The migrant laborers are Indian but not really, they will be the soldiers for future wars if needed, but people they are not.

Here lies the problem with Modi government's response to the COVID-19 crisis. It was addressed to the middle-classes of India who had enough resources to survive the lockdown but the poor were left with nothing and nowhere to go. There was no aid for those who needed it the most. The rules issued by the Modi government by now seem arbitrary and without any scientific precedent:

From the limited information available in the public domain, it seems that the government was primarily advised by clinicians and academic epidemiologists with limited field training and skills. Policy makers apparently relied overwhelmingly on general administrative bureaucrats. The engagement with expert technocrats in the areas of epidemiology, public health, preventive medicine and social scientists was limited. – Indian Public Health Association, Indian Association of Preventive and Social Medicine & Indian Association of Epidemiologists

Taking into consideration even the survivorship bias and assuming that the government has acted quick, the current spike in cases just when the lockdown is supposed to end and the spate of the migrants still far away from their homes are still critical failures that could have been avoided with scientific consensus and proper planning. We can see the results in the laborers that were hosed with chemicals, left to struggle without food, shelter or security for weeks at an end in cities that they could never call home. Why weren’t the migrants first ferried to the villages when the cases were the lowest?

“If the situation is not handled in these 21 days, the country and your family could go back 21 years… Several families could get devastated for ever… This virus spreads like wildfire… There is no other method or way to escape Coronavirus (except social distancing)… Jaan hai to jahan hai… Carelessness of a few can put the entire country in jeopardy.” Modi, March 24th 2020

Modi in retrospect looked like he was making a political gamble, if the lockdown somehow managed to eliminate the virus from the populace, he would’ve been hailed as a hero furthering his curated god-like image. But that’s not how viruses work, there was sufficient literature evidence by around the third week of March that the virus is here to stay. By the end of May the mask of foolishness and image the government has been hiding behind for two months fall apart. Daily cases are reaching a new peak everyday and by all measures the lockdown can be touted as a failure. The spin from the official mouthpieces of the government focuses on the recovery rate and how the quick action to shut the country off has paid dividends because the hospitals now aren’t full. But who is to believe the statistics that come from governmental agencies? When the government itself is in denial of inadequate testing and community transmission (”it’s a question of semantics”). With an average of 7000+ cases in the last days of Lockdown 4.0 the government is in frantic need of good public posturing. With that burden we are presented with Unlock 1.0 which has the same function as the previous lockdowns, to boost the image of the government and not saving the people.

How can we as Indians harp on our glory and feel united when the disenfranchised have been exposed in such glaring light? The natural chest thumping that the BJP resorts to when provided with a problem is absent from the discourse. The party leadership will ignore the questions about the logic of the lockdown, the situation of migrant workers, inadequate testing because how can they bring themselves to explain that India is for them a land for the few? The Indians the BJP harps about are not walking in the streets with their humble belongings, they don’t have glamour of working in the cold battlefields of Kashmir or Siachen. The laborers have metaphors that those in the higher echelons in Indian society use for denigration and shame.

For a government that always likes to consider itself better off than Pakistan or Saudi Arabia, this is time to look and learn from countries that have handled the crisis better. Germany, South Korea and Taiwan have all handled the crisis with humility. They thought about their children, about their aged, their disadvantaged and their disenfranchised. It is not hard work, after all it is the job the government has been elected to do.

#lockdown #India #COVID19

The world is picking up its pieces, wanting to go back outside into the “new normality”. Restaurants, bars, cinemas and offices waiting to be opened, money wishing to be spent and the magic of box of desire raging for attention. The impact of slashed marketing spends is seen in the stale advertisements from months ago still hanging everywhere, hungry for attention. The newspapers complain that various arms of the economy are suffering, painting pictures of businessmen, poor waiters, cinema workers and sportsmen all in the same stroke. We should be sad for them, yes, but we should also be sad for ourselves for letting an economy of over-consumption take control of our lives.

A survey by the management consultancy McKinsey also revealed that between 20 and 30 percent of the Chinese will continue to be cautious about spending money and want to consume either a little less or, in some cases, even much less. “The lockdown gave consumers a lot of time to think about what is important to them,” says Mark Tanner, managing director of Shanghai-based research and marketing consultancy China Skinny. “As consumers spend more time at home, they also have more time and reasons to sort things they don't think they need.”

With the economy opening up again, familiar messaging is inviting us to reach for our wallets again. The temptation of walking along a high street and checking restaurant menus and the urge to roam around in a mall in the haze of consumption. The lockdown for a privileged few showed that the world around us is built around the heartbeat of desire and surplus. This is not the case for a majority of people who have to live with insecurity always standing behind their economic prospects. When we go back to our earlier consumption habits we bring back a broken system without subjecting it to any scrutiny.

Glorifying supermarket workers as heroes while their replacement computer tills beep in the background is not just hypocritical but myopic. The erosion of employee rights have become profuse in the last years: from your Amazon worker to your pizza delivery person, they live on scraps of generosity an algorithm presents them. Short term contracts, no benefits or social security and no possibility to work from home or even buy a home, this is an underclass that relegates itself into the shadows of a modern Western city. The doctors and the healthcare workers? I'll leave that to your imagination. Our imaginary fears are their daily reality. These groups of workers are still working for money, not for any greater altruism we might fantasize in.

It is hard to see the faces and people behind these words, the ones who make the phone screens, dig and refine the silicon and cobalt below, the people who make the roads and buildings. What we all are untied is by our trips to the supermarket and the things we wish to consume. Our religions are Amazon, Spotify, Instagram and fucking Donald Trump. The marketing propaganda will start to flex its muscle again, before we know it we are crammed in trains and pushed around to workplaces the invisible fear now replaced by the ones we create and tame. Buying has been individualized, we only care about ourselves and perhaps the “environment”. Like all important words, it assumes an invisible mass: democracy, freedom, virus, work. It is a game we play, the act of tossing coins and getting what we want.

While walking back into the shopping streets I ask myself this. What is this? Why is this being told to me? Did I want this before I saw this? Removing the brand labels, proprietary colors and dismantling the words and symbols to see what exists behind the fog of desire. This is an important way to vote for change. The “new normal” should not be another wasted opportunity, we are the ones in power now.

#COVID19 #virus #capitalism

The current racist trend is to attribute the COVID-19 to the Chinese, holding them responsible for the global catastrophe that followed. The Chief Marketer behind this campaign is the American President himself and perhaps for a good cause. Holding the Chinese population accountable for what has transpired in the months after is equivalent to blaming a child from a broken home for her bad grades. The conspirator in this catastrophe is the saving-your-face regiment, the Communist Party of China (CPC). A party that has some uncomfortable questions to answer:

  1. Why weren't the findings about the new virus not revealed to the world much earlier?
  2. Why were the initial whistle-blowers and journalists bullied and reprimanded?
  3. To what level has the COVID-19 infected data been obfuscated?
  4. What level of transparency can be expected in the future, considering that a hard line route is being preferred for the treatment of critics over the CPC's handling of the pandemic.

The CPC will of course deceive the world with its debt, trade and manufacturing muscle, after all China has to deliver what we consume. This is a unique situation where the whole world mollycoddled by the consumption capitalism has to suddenly see why its faith in constant purchasing was flawed. The secret was in the factories hidden from from the eyes of the consumers. Designed in California, Manufactured in the P.R.C.. It also shows the fact that a brutal, authoritarian State has slowly been amassing enormous and irreversible power over the last decades and that it is time to examine our choices.

The future of the world and the internet seems to rest on the infrastructure provided by Chinese companies. China has now attained a starture worthy of imitating. With the eradication of the first wave of COVID-19 in the country through its autocratic means, China has a steady supply of countries of wanting to emulate the same model with the same privacy invasive technologies. By also claiming a moral victory against the virus (and playing part victim), China is looking to further cement its place as a trusted ally in global politics. This is a role that America is very happy to cede to China at the moment – while Trump flexes the CPC slowly creeps up in his oversight.

We should see for what it is, a surveillance state with little regard to human rights. The Communist Party of China is the architect of this glowing global status and it is not in the mood to relinquish the hard gains. The CPC with its history is a dangerous master to be in power, just a decade ago the War on Terrorism was still in full swing and democracy was the solution to all the problems in the world. We need to decide which ideological doctrine shapes our future international society. Unless it has some degree fairness and equality at the heart of it, the Communist Party of China doesn't have a chair at the table.

#China #COVID19

Death of the Global Superhero

In the next years there will be a Hollywood blockbuster with sad faced, somber actors who will play doctors and kind Samaritan. The cast and crew will encompass the whole racial ensemble of Hollywood actors. Billions will be minted, award ceremonies will be awash with tearful messages of support and celebrity charities will be overflowing with money. Black lives will matter, brown lives will matter, pink lives will matter and what not. There will be catchy slogans telling that the world cares, this movement will be copied by the movie industries elsewhere — similar stories of heroism and imitation will pop in India, China and Nigeria. Real questions of inequality, political shortsightedness and sheer human stupidity will be replaced with Hollywood's Will to Live, and the beauty and brilliance of life will be exhorted.

The reminder to all this egoistic future celebration should be: the virus has made us prisoners of our own homes and selves. There are things stronger than us that are smaller than us, and we are not invincible nor are we our economies.

The sap stories peddled by America for decades have come tumbling down in the face of a crisis the country has crumbled under. There are no glamorous American heroes that save, all the flag wielding patriotism and in your face soft power posturing can now stop. Same is the case with the Chinese or Indian national heroes. The complacency of China, the governments should also be considered. The Communist Party of will be winning the first prize with commendable participation from the Republican Party in the US and whoever the fuck is ruling in Iran. They are collective evidences of the sheer ignoramity with which political systems work without considering the people. If future wars have to be waged then they have to be in the schools and then in the countries. The enemies have never been outside, they were always with us, laughing in plain sight.

There needs to be a cultural upheaval to begin with. The rise of the American superhero, globe-trotting billionaire and the influencer can finally have some checks, the fantasy is only an inadequate extension of the capitalistic muscle. This is not something that is isolated to the Americans or the Chinese but the “hero” syndrome prevails everywhere. When we look for hope we find none because the sources of this hope have been long confined to the unglamorous sidelines. This is the time to take a call and examine our heroes and how we worship them, as with the gods they have come out to be fake.

The global recession that will surely follow will be the biggest hope. The mindless consumption will fall down and so will the way we approach media and films, what would give us hope in the hopeless times sure to follow? The class hatred will only become deep-rooted and so will be the inequality. If the recession becomes something deeper and far more tumbling, the hunger will provoke deeper questions on the way the world around has been narrated to us. Structure upon structure based on the selfish greed of what it is to be a person: the collective and the community destroyed for all purposes except for the town hall meetings Mark Zuckerberg seems to prefer. Now between all the solidarity that the government seems to be demanding of us and asking us to act in the best interests of everyone else, it is important to question the model of individualism much of modern society is built on.

This individualism is also the breeding ground for the (hero)ine, dismantling the ideology behind will help us pave way for a more hopeful blueprint of who we are and where we want to go as a collective.

#Capitalism #America #COVID19 #China

and his pots, pans and candles.

Hail Modi

Narendra Modi hasn't seen much crisis since his coming to power than the ones he has created himself. Demonetization, the CAA-NRC fallout and the abrogation of the Article 370 of the Indian Constitution are a simulated reality for him, where he created response to the world he built. The COVID-19 crisis however is something out of his dictatorial territory, it has flummoxed him and his followers and the reaction and messaging is clear and fair. There has been no live press meets but only taped words of distant balm. The first time he addressed the nation on the 19th of March, his response to the situation looked more like a middle-aged Indian's knee jerk reaction with spiritualism, dharma and a loud ritual thrown into the mix. On paper his instructions read more like a recipe to a bhajan than a pandemic response.

The reaction to the “soft” voluntary lockdown on the 22nd of March and the we-will-bludgeon-you-to-death version unleashed two days later. Millions of daily wage laborers left broke and homeless had to fend for themselves before the government machinery woke up to repeat some numbers. They still are repeating those numbers, with more preference given to covering up the situation and giving a narrative than answering questions that matter. As is the case with the Chinese, the Indian culture also values social image more than the truth, not answering a question would equal to the problem not existing. Given that India's health spending is just over 1% of the GDP, the response shouldn't come as a surprise.

Mr. Modi plays out the crisis to his core base of exhausted high caste, middle-class uncles whose end value of education is reduced to a certificate and for whom there exists answer for every problem in “Indian culture”. His appeals for banging pots and pans, lighting lamps and dancing in the streets appeal to the emotional Indian, while the rational one flinches, her voice taken away and drowned in the sea of maniacs for whom devotion has taken the place of reason. This is a planned gimmick, a testing ground to see how servile the country's populace are. The people have obliged without raising a furor, for the first time it looks like the unity of the people is detrimental. A strange fear creeps in when does not comply, almost as if a mob would be waiting outside with torches, demanding compliance.

With an easy prey found in terms of the Tablighi Jamaat congregation, the Modi government can shake off all future blame for the spread of the pandemic — it was the Muslims who did it, always. Not a word that the government didn't wake up almost until three weeks into March and then implemented a haphazard plan that looked good, not because of structure because of the emphasis. Mr. Modi's has shown time and again that he'd prefer using a nuclear bomb where simple mosquito spray will suffice, but it is not the end result he and his political force are after but the sheer spectacle of it. It is not to be forgotten that this man was facing severe opposition for his controversial anti-minority bill (read Muslim) and also presided over a brief pogrom in Delhi in February.

All these issues are clean from Mr. Modi and his party comrades hands now, the COVID 19 couldn't have come at a better time for them. In a country where information is scarce, the official narrative and all the theatrics are enough to substitute a cohesive response. We need to remind ourselves that Mr. Modi likes subtly comparing himself with Mahatma Gandhi. He is one indeed, a wolf under Gandhi's skin.

#India #Modi #COVID19