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Eat death or go hungry?

  • Published at 03:05 pm April 28th, 2020
food gate
Photo: REUTERS

This is not the time to be cruel towards those who are desperate

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy,” are the famous opening lines of the French philosopher Albert Camus’s essay The Myth of Sisyphus.

Thus far, we have viewed life and death as binary opposites. One cannot be physically dead, and yet breathing. However, given the choice of doom, would you eat Covid-19, the deadly disease, or starve to death?

Due to the number of people who feed from hand to mouth on a daily basis in Bangladesh (approximately 80 million, according to some estimates), the viral photos on Facebook of government officials and law-enforcing agents taking the lockdown law-breakers to task, it seems to me, can escalate precipitously from ethical debates and virtual mockeries to violent physical conflicts.

This is a provocation, not to violence, but to cold, rational thinking. The choice between death due to starvation, on the one hand, and breaching the lockdown laws (even with the noose of coronavirus infection tightening), on the other, is not even a choice for the destitute.

Would you lull your loved one(s) suffering from hunger to ever-lasting sleep? Or, leap into action trying to feed them, knowing that you are almost certainly ushering the lethal virus to wreak havoc at home? In other words, will you eat death or go hungry?

Sisyphus, Camus suggests, swallows his arduous and futile sentence of perpetually rolling a boulder up the mountain only to watch it fall off the cliff, to demonstrate the inherent disobedience in apparent obedience -- to reveal the meaning of meaninglessness.

Similarly, faced with the futility of our daily routine -- wake up, eat, go to work, come home, eat, sleep, repeat -- we stomach the absurdity of boredom to shatter the shackles of society. To be conscious of the meaninglessness of existence, and yet, not committing suicide, is revolutionary, Camus claims. Surrounded by death, survival itself is civil disobedience.

For many Bangladeshis, with the memories of numerous disasters, droughts, and famines still fresh, going hungry is just not an option anymore; starvation, in public sentiment, is worse than going outside on a suicidal mission of making a living amid a pandemic.

Perhaps this is not the time for lawmakers and enforcers to brandish batons or bayonets. History teaches us that shooting a single pedestrian brings out a thousand; shooting a thousand invites a million. Naked aggression only weakens the fear of death.

Therefore, sensitivity and discretion are paramount. The poor are not the enemy; they are only trying to survive, even if survival seems suicidal. Killing each other will not kill the virus. “Datta. Dayadhvam. Damyata,” said the thunder in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Donate. Empathize. Control (aggression). Peace be upon us all.

SM Mahfuzur Rahman is Lecturer, Department of English and Humanities, University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh.

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