Coronavirus and Civilizational Ethos

By Yanis Iqbal

COVID-19 pandemic has effortlessly dented the ‘invisible hand’ of market. It seems that the holy market mechanisms have suddenly dissipated and the entire network of globalized economies has been hamstrung. This unanticipated devastation of capitalism has snuffed out the halo which was previously encircling over the pristine head of neoliberalism. COVID-19 pandemic has actually provided us with a beneficial opportunity to re-analyze the brutal blueprint of capitalism. The cellular components of this blueprint can be identified as rationalization and commodification. These two inevitable excrescences of capitalism have produced the capitalist culture which can be regarded as an ‘anti-human behemoth’. This article will delineate how capitalism and its associated anti-human behemoth has received a body blow due to Coronavirus. Before proceeding to show the debilitation of capitalist framework, we should firstly comprehend the methodology through which capitalism mows down the natural attribute of every person i.e. humanness.

The constant subjection of people to the harshness of capitalism has concomitantly generated two inherently iniquitous processes of rationalization and commodification. Rationalization is the menacing substitution of human values by rationality and reason. In this process of rationalization, the unquenchable desire for predictability and calculability is deeply embedded. It involves the continuous sharpening of human rationality and the corresponding squelching of humane impulses. According to rationalization, humane impulses are nothing more than erratic elements which have to be ruthlessly eliminated to achieve a perfectly calculable and predictable world. The manifestations of rationalization are in the forms of scientism and technocratic decisionism. Scientism is also interconnected with rationalization through its craving for quantification and objectivism. Technocratic decisionism is linked to rationalization through its pursuit for maximum efficiency and also due its byzantine bureaucratic functioning. Technocratic decisionism chooses to ignore the relevance of participatory decision making because it regards it as a ‘mawkishly revolutionary’ method which will ultimately impede in administrative functioning.

Commodification is the process in which everything is reduced to ‘thinghood’ or to the nature of a mere commodity. Commodification has undoubtedly affected the educational sphere most. It has used the crowbars of marketization to pry open education for the market forces. Moreover, commodification has also economized everything because it has firmly installed commodity structure as the universal structuring principle of the society. Economization entails us to invariably seek the maximization of profit in whatever circumstances. Homo Economicus (Economic Man) has been used to define the extent to which humans have been thoroughly economized. Economization is a dangerous concept to the edifice of human civilization because it want force fit them into the category of a sickeningly selfish and commercialistic person.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been successful in upsetting the apple cart of capitalism by openly defying the seemingly indestructible logic of rationalization and commodification. Firstly, the COVID-19 pandemic embodies unpredictability and ipso facto, it breaks the fetters of predictability imposed by rationalization. The ongoing pandemic was not predicted and it does not fit within the predestined framework of rationality which supposes that everything can be predicted with precision. All the layers of suffocating and super-imposed rationality are also exfoliating as people slowly recognize that rationality is not only composed of the single-minded determination to eradicate humane impulses. Secondly, the pandemic has managed to make some chinks in the rock-hard surface of commodification by facilitating mutual aid and cooperation. In the West, mutual aid groups are organizing themselves to help other people. This act of solidarity is coloring the entrenched portrayal of an individual as a homo economicus with different and sprightly shades of humanity. By deviating from the usual path of self-maximization, mutual aid groups are recognizing other people as normal humans who also possess emotions and who are in need of empathy. Social relations are anew being lubricated with communitarian ethics and people are looking beyond the debased idea of capitalistic selfishness. The establishment of mutual aid groups can also be read as a source of opposition to the scorched earth policy of privatization and commercialization which has been unleashed by governments all across the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has at least helped to subvert the practice of treating various entities as mere commodities. For example, after people cultivate the feeling of empathy, their reworked consciousness can be utilized to encourage them to build an education system that is consistent with critical consciousness. Likewise, the sensitized people can be persuaded to abjure anthropocentrism and speciesism.

About the Author:

Yanis Iqbal is a freelance writer based in Aligarh and writes analytical pieces on current affairs.

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