• 2020-07-07

The Pandemic and its Consequences

Author: Dragoljub Mićunović

The Covid-19 virus has swept the globe, moving from continent to continent and taking with it the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, attacking the organisms of millions, instilling fear in billions of our planet’s inhabitants. Where has this mass hysteria caused by Corona come from when the fatality rate of those who catch the virus is significantly less than with other illnesses? Despite the fact that Corona has yet to come to the end, numerous comments and analyses on the subject have cropped up from all over the globe. It’s as though it shocked the world with its fast expansion, its resistance to pharmaceutical ‘offerings’ that do not include a cure for the disease. All the medicinal ‘profession and science’ offers us at this time is this: wash your hands and stay away from others, and the safest bet is isolation.

There’s an old saying that goes: “Snow doesn’t fall to cover the hillside, but so that each beast can find its own path.” The pandemic has revealed all the weaknesses and failures of the ‘development strategies’ of modern society and made room for us to re-examine many of the predominant values of our civilization. The real picture will be revealed to us only once the pandemic passes.

For now, the first consequence of the pandemic is the upcoming economic crisis, which will manifest as a result of the rapid increase in unemployment, but with deeper roots in terms of economic, social, cultural and political systems. It’s a banal fact that all of these ‘systems’ are closely related and dependent on each other, requiring a cultural and anthropological debate in searching for an answer to the question: where is the human race headed in its conflict with nature, a conflict we share with other animal and plant species and with the numerous conflicts within our own species?

The Covid-19 pandemic is still raging, and all of its consequences have not yet been registered and measured, but it is evident that they will first be felt in the economic sector, with the drop in manufacturing, transportation and product/market placement. Alongside the increase in the unemployment rate, consumerism will decline which in turn will slow manufacturing. Many services, especially tourism and passenger transportation will face large workforce surpluses. The banking sector will face issues finding new sources in which to place their capital securely and an inability to collect many investments made prior to the onset of the pandemic. This vicious, yet linked chain of insecurity and panic that follows any economic crisis, threatens to become one of the most difficult consequences of the pandemic which will have an impact on many social and political events. The economic crisis will also rock foundations in neoliberal economic theory, its basic postulates being: uncontrollable markets and unlimited profit increase.

The first consequences of the economic crisis arise and will continue to arise in the social sphere. Rising unemployment rates have a direct effect on increased poverty, followed by a further divide in the gap between rich and poor in society. In societies especially divided between the poor and the rich, the weakening of social cohesion is evident, as is the weakening of solidarity and tolerance, and is a source of many conflicts, in which, most often, the poor are demanding social justice through the staging of frequent protests, strikes and riots.  

Social confrontations are closely related to the political scene, political battles between opposing political groups and organisations, with opposing interests, programmes and tactics. Old, traditional political divides have been replaced with new ones, ones that correspond to current issues, to those that impose new ‘social structures.’ Social stratification, which has quickly led to enormous property inequalities, has caused the ‘erosion of the middle classes, which, as a large social class, acted as a stabiliser of social equality and has now begun to slide off of ‘a precipice of satisfied citizens’ toward a societal ‘abyss of poverty’, bringing with it and injecting revolt and fear into political and social scenes. Profit, as the highest value and ‘measure of all progress’, turbulent societies of dissatisfied masses emerge, in which the rich continue to get richer and the poor poorer.

The pandemic cause by Covid-19, which has scared the whole world, primarily due to its consequences, has percentage-wise taken the lives of mostly the poor, the elderly and unprotected persons, exposing all the sins of great inequality and discrimination in many societies, despite the many declarations of equality and rights of all citizens.

But, the pandemic has not only caused worry among individuals and the working classes that it has affected with its social, economic and political consequences, but it has shaken up and disrupted many politicians, officials and powerful bankers, those who gained their fortunes easily and quickly and those enjoying a life of ‘privileged prosperity.’  Corona and its ‘class neutrality’ may jeopardise the entire chain linked ‘system’ causing a simple ‘domino effect.’ It isn’t a ‘heavy weapon of nature’ like an earthquake, volcanic eruption, a tsunami or hurricane, but it is a ‘light weapon of nature’, reminding man that he is not the ‘all-knowing’, ‘all-powerful’ master of the world and that he has to cooperate with nature as one of its biological species, albeit unique.   

Although the corona pandemic is still active and not all is clear, impatient commentators are quick to come to the conclusion that “nothing will be the same after the corona pandemic.” It’s a fact that people, as social creatures, are accustomed to direct communication and find it difficult to deal with isolation, social distancing and reduced travel due to reduced available transportation, with ‘limited freedom of movement’ for many categories of the population.

More hope for radical changes on a global scale should be sought after in the growing dissatisfaction of a large number of poverty-stricken people, hit by the prevailing ‘development strategies’ based on neoliberal theory and the ever-increasing amount of criticisms of a greater number of respectable and competent social and economic thinkers. One thing is for certain after the pandemic: the powerful and rich will continue, in any way possible, to maintain their power and wealth, and the disenfranchised and impoverished will use their numbers and ability to organise in order to try and force change.

The epidemic has already created a certain amount of scepticism in the rapid triumph of science, which explains everything and ‘everything goes’ and which is constantly informing us that they are ‘conquering new secrets of nature’ and are ‘breaking the ceiling in terms of how powerful we are and our progress.’ However, what other surprises can we expect in the microcosm and the macrocosm, by researching the smallest and the largest found in our universe?

Modern humanity has placed its ‘faith in progress’, i.e. in the hands of science, but as with any faith, there is a certain dose of ‘naive optimism’ that many great discoveries will not be partially subjected to ‘unexpected and unwanted consequences.’ Considering the global character of this latest pandemic, its duration and expansion and the fact that most hope is directed at science as our ‘deliverer’, many new issues arise concerning the role of science plays in the fate of humankind. The isolated progress of man’s cognitive abilities is not in harmony with his moral and social progress, making a lot of room for the abuse of science. Just to mention nuclear and chemical weaponry, discoveries of the war industry and bioengineering.

This all begs the question: to what end and who does science serve today? Newton’s ocean (what-we-don’t-know), reveals itself whenever we think that we’ve unearthed and explained all there is to know. Many illnesses have been conquered by man, but many have not, and how many there are is unknown and how many are yet to be created also remains to be seen. This encounter with the ‘unknown’ should motivate the human population, as ‘curious’, active and purposeful beings, to express our talents for the greater good, and not in the interest of the corporations and strengthening of dangerous, destructive powers. The purpose of science is to serve for the greater good, as it is a culmination of many potentials, many generations of the human race, and our legacy to future generations.

Let’s not forget Giordano Bruno’s argument, while facing being burned at the stake in 1600 in a town’s square in Rome: “I will renounce everything personal, reputation and fame, priestly and professorial vocation, property, all honours, but the one thing I cannot renounce, despite all the threats and tortures, is the discovery that there are countless worlds in the universe. I cannot renounce this because this is not my property, I have only announced it, but this discovery now belongs to all of mankind.” Great scientific discoveries and findings are the result of man’s long evolution, and they have only ‘disclosed’ themselves in the thoughts and imagination of the individual, a member of the biological species to which he/she belongs and who will be incorporated in the species’ ‘evolution’ and its development.   However, how can we discover all of the potential of humankind, ‘hidden’ in the billions of brains of humanity, how do we stop this potential from disintegrating and perish? This notion was perceived long ago in human history and it is well-known that: the first measure and answer of almost all modern societies is a legally prescribed, compulsory and free basic education.

However, despite this generally-accepted knowledge and adopted laws and declarations, a large percentage of the world’s children do not go to school or they don’t finish their education, and a very small percentage acquire a university level education. Unfortunately, entry selection at the most prestigious universities in many developed countries is determined not only on the qualities of the candidates, but also on enrolment fees, and this is the case even at lower levels of education. The number of kids from small and poor countries, especially those located on the African continent, that are able to achieve the highest level of education is negligible, regardless of their potential. Deep seated poverty has squashed all hope of there every being a way out, and is reproduced generation after generation. Without a base of highly qualified personnel, successful scientific projects are not possible, nor can they be implemented.

The pandemic has shown us how fatally wrong the whole ‘strategy’ of subordinating education and science is to the interests of highly profitable corporations, which endanger and pollute the atmosphere and the environment and produce dangerous weapons of mass destruction. The budgets earmarked for education and science of many countries is miserly in comparison to their military and defence budgets. This irrational spending of vast amounts of money and personnel on researching the most powerful weapons that would cause the mass destruction of our fellow man, all in the name of ‘progress’ and the constant increase of military power and superiority over the competition, all just increase the threat of a war that would cause catastrophic devastation and the destruction of our species.

The pandemic has been harsh in showing the true faces of the world’s leading elites, their selfishness and ‘arrogant power’, without showing empathy and solidarity with the severe poverty and suffering of hundreds of millions of people, the victims of colonial and imperial rule, i.e. the rich countries of today.    In rich countries, many recurrences of threatened and repressed nationalism and racism are being expressed through increasingly massive right-wing movements and parties. These symptoms will manifest themselves even more, if the economic crisis continues to worsen.

The pandemic has ‘warned’ all countries in which consumer society and neoliberal economies dominate, that the possible confrontation between the selfish interests of the individual and the overall interests of the human species is possible. Besides the pandemic, natural disasters are also more and more frequent, as are the consequences of atmospheric pollution and global warming and the melting of the icecaps. The dilemmas of today are difficult for the global population to accept: fun and comfort, with health risks facing the future of humankind, or our responsibility to rethink current priorities and dominant values. Consumerism, conformism, the empty ‘spectator entertainment’ of mass sporting and entertainment content, our obsession with mobile phones, digitalised communication along with an increase in irresponsible social networks that poison public opinion, all serve to alienate the individual, aestheticized when it comes to social worries and the fates of a more and more dehumanised human race. These types of societies turn into masses, susceptible to the various manipulations of demagogues, oppressors and populists, as well as traditional peacemakers.

We must not underestimate the strength and passions of current ‘masters of power and wealth’ who will attempt to shift all the ‘costs of the pandemic’ onto the exhausted shoulders of the world’s poor, as they have done in all previous world economic crises. This all depends on how deep the crisis will go, which is still impossible to determine with any precision. But, in any case, it will be difficult to politically withstand the demand for a better and fairer healthcare system, greater investment in medical and human science, a more thorough universal education, greater investment in environmental projects, strict control over environmental pollution, more humane and greater care for socially vulnerable groups.

All of these measures depend on key political and economic decisions that will stop the continued neoliberal project allowing for the unlimited accumulation of wealth, and thereby the political power in the hands of an ever-narrowing group of billionaires. The liberal concept of political institutions in the rule of a liberal parliamentary democracy, without listening to the many forms of equality, seems barely sustainable, politically speaking. It is very likely that numerous protests, riots and strikes will mark the post-pandemic period, and perhaps pave the way for serious changes.

This is all tied to the challenges of a moral and cultural revival, which must not sound only utopian, as was the case with many noble projects throughout history. This idea needs to find justification in the widespread awareness of the fact that we are endangering the natural resources of our planet, that we are changing the nature of our plant and are threatening the human species’ place in it. A project such as this must not become ‘the beautiful musings of philosophers’ but the widely accepted awareness of the real threat. Crises such as the Covid-19 virus pandemic are simply this: serious warnings that provoke the responsible re-examination of our misguided confidence in the idea that the human race has a beautiful future.

Perhaps the selfish gene will once again win, as it has so many times in the past, but this will be the case only until the next global crisis takes place, when these questions will be posed more seriously and the answers to which will be humanity’s roadmap into the future.  

Dragoljub Mićunović 

This text reflects the author’s opinions and it does not represent the opinions of the Balkan Trust for Democracy or the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Belgrade.

The text was written as part of a project, implemented through financial assistance provided by the Balkan Trust for Democracy of the German Marshal Fund of the U.S.- BTD and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Belgrade.


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