We cannot ignore the need for us to take care of each other
It occurs to me in the midst of a global pandemic and what is essentially a nationwide lockdown that, in many ways, the primary obstacle to all the things most of us strive for -- progress, success, justice -- lies in an inability to discern the appropriate time for unity and individualism.
Let me explain.
Almost, if not all, our morals, ideals, ideas, belief systems, and thought processes are moulded by context. What we believe in at any given point in time is determined by, of course, time, and also the environment, subject matter, people.
However, as human beings, one of our biggest compulsions is a need to be understood, to come up with a convenient term, phrase, ideology which can suitably define us to the community and the world that surrounds us.
This leads to an interesting irony: A need to group ourselves together into communities while at the same time passionately believing in our own identities as individuals. This means that, while in one situation we exercise thoughts, beliefs, and actions which could be characterized by a particular school of thought, we define ourselves with terms which are contradictory or stand in direct contrast to how we act in certain situations.
The coronavirus pandemic is a poignant reminder of this struggle. The virus spreads from person to person, rests on surfaces for several hours depending on the material, is asymptomatic which essentially ensures that you could have it and be spreading it without even realizing it, affects a certain group of people more than others, and has forced many of us to be cooped up in our own homes.
In such a situation, even the staunchest individual cannot deny that he or she is intrinsically and undeniably part of a wider community, one which not only includes his or her neighbourhood, city, and country, but also the entire world.
The situation necessitates cooperation; it requires unity. The individual would find it tremendously difficult to deny the fact that merely taking care of our own personal selves will not, in the long run, save us from the virus.
All of us could be potentially carrying it and posing a threat to the community and, as such, anyone suspected of having the virus must be tested. Anyone who tests positive is a definite risk and must be treated.
And if they cannot afford testing or treatment? Can we, even if we choose to ignore the morality of it and focus on reason, afford to leave this particular individual be? Can we merely leave this person out in the cold, to fend for themselves?
We are connected, not merely because almost all of what we desire and need is a direct consequence of the existence of individuals who are not like us, but also by the un-deniability of our shared physical space and the inevitability of contact.
And who’s going to ensure that the 13-year-old tokai in Feni showing mild symptoms of the virus can go to a doctor to get tested, isolated, and treated so that it does not find itself all the way back into our apartments? Who else but the state?
The virus communicates and so must we. The state must be empowered so that they can afford to tell the kid in Feni: Do not worry. We will take care of you. And this empowerment will come, of course, from the citizens of the state, who provide it with the money to be able to do so.
Is this socialism? Is this what being a “leftist” means? I suppose so. But it is undeniably the best solution to the crisis we are now facing. Does this mean that capitalists can no longer be right-wing? Does this mean that the role of the individual is lost? Does this mean we can no longer splurge on luxury?
Of course not. And while these are interesting questions to ponder, at the end of the day, these are irrelevant. These dichotomies of capitalist/socialist, freedom/restraint, individual/herd are not solid boxes that we can put ourselves into because what we need is to realize the best approach to be taken in any given situation, and these approaches need not be tied down to a specific ideology.
When a democratic nation witnesses the persecution of a minority community, or of any person or peoples for being different in a way that does not reasonably cause harm, and is fully aware of the vicissitudes of a morally-fluid landscape, of course, the rights of the individual must be protected, no matter what the greater community says.
However, when a disease such as the one caused by Covid-19 spreads throughout the world, a rickshaw-puller is just as powerful and important as the head of state, a teenager is stronger than his or her father. We cannot ignore them and thereby we cannot ignore the need for us to take care of each other. And we find ourselves co-dependent, whether we like it or not.
Each situation we encounter requires a different set of beliefs. And this one requires us to be united.
SN Rasul is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune and a Lecturer of English at North South University. He can be found everywhere @snrasul.