Slovenian philosopher sees the Covid-19 pandemic as an intellectual malaise that has exposed “the ultimate abyss of our being” and its remedy lies in the end of capitalism, writes Umair Rashid
Published by OR Books in New York and London, Slavoj Zizek’s Pandemic! COVID-19 Shakes the World is of great interest. The author is a famous Slovenian-born political philosopher and cultural critic, who is being considered as ‘the most dangerous philosopher in the West’. In his book, Zizek discusses communism, hidden politics, negligence and hypocrisy by the nations amid this Coronavirus outbreak and suggests some fight-back remedies.
The author begins by quoting Jesus that he will return when there is love, affection and solidarity between the people. If we see presently around the world there are wars, bloodshed, jealousy, wickedness and capitalist dominance, the author says, insisting the world has become a cruel place to live in. He says: if Covid-19 too can’t bring our world leaders to fight for peace and justice then what can then?
Zizek quotes German philosopher, Hegel as saying that ‘anything we can learn from history is that we learn nothing from history,’ so he doubts this epidemic will make us any wiser. Reprimanding China for her negligence in the early stages of the outbreak, the author also raises a key question that ‘what is wrong with our system that we were caught unprepared by the catastrophe despite scientists warning us about it for years.’
The author criticises China for suppression of free speech. As Hong Kong journalist Verna Yu points out, ‘if China valued free speech, there would be no Coronavirus crisis.’ China didn’t make exact information regarding this pandemic available with media and concealed the real truth from the public. The author says that sometimes not telling the entire truth to the public can effectively prevent a wave of panic that could lead to more victims as people will generally show negligence on their part. He found the mutual trust between the people and the state apparatus missing in China.
Zizek asserted the social conditions favoured the spread. . A person Covid-19 positive could travel to different countries and infect people without knowing. The author termed it pure politics by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who immediately after the outbreak offered help and coordination to the Palestinian Authority. It was not out of goodness or any human consideration, the author believes but just keeping in view that it is impossible to separate Jews and Palestinians there. So, if one group gets affected, the other is likely also. The epidemic doesn’t differentiate between a rich or a poor, a Jew or a Palestinian. That is why the author mentions Martin Luther King who had said: “we may all have come on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.” This epidemic has shattered the entire world with economies shrinking and all are hunting for some alternative to bounce back and recover.
Discussing the various elements creating panic and confusion among the masses, Zizek sees misuse of social media for circulating fake news, paranoiac conspiracy theories, and racism. These ideological viruses need to vanish. Only the information having proper source and authenticity must be made public.
The author has discusses the five stages of the epidemics that exploded at the end of 2019. Firstly, there was a denial like nothing serious is going on, just some individuals trying to make panic. Then anger took over that was racist or anti-state like the Chinese are guilty (as President Trump mentioned in one of the speech’s as Chinese virus).
In the subsequent stage came the bargaining (OK, there are some victims, but it is less serious than SARS and we can limit the damage). It was followed by depression (let’s not kid ourselves, we’re too doomed). Finally came the acceptance.
The author holds only those Chinese officials responsible who publicly downplayed the epidemic while over-protecting themselves and evacuating their own families.
Though personally disturbed because of change in the daily schedule, the is optimistic that everything will be Zezaknormal soon. However, what he insists is that even if life does eventually return to some semblance of normality, it will not be the same normal as the one we experienced before the outbreak: Things we were used to as part of our daily life will no longer be taken for granted, we will have to learn to live a much more fragile life with constant threats; We will have to change our entire stance to life, to our existence as living beings among other forms of life.’
Zizek says that while everybody is anticipating a change in social and economic system but what matters is, as Thomas Piketty has said, how we change it and in which direction? Instead of global health care for humans, the author suggests something that will help improve air quality.
Covid-19, according to Zizek has come to us as a lesson to end conflicts, barbarism, poverty and above all the capitalism, and bring peace in the whole world. Instead of pointing fingers at nations, he suggests global cooperation is required.
(Umair Rashid is an economics student at the Aligarh Muslim University)