Philosophy amid COVID crisis

COVID-19 pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the poor and the marginalised though it also affects the rich and affluent.


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Today we are in a state of complete crisis because of the Corona virus that has halted the entire world. This virus has taken down the systematic organizations of many states into its knees. We begin to question the fundamental aspects of our lives regarding our existence, political positions and even our moral standpoints. Herein, I have tried to bring in philosophy to understand the situation better. Some thinkers are of the opinion that this pandemic with its state-imposed lockdowns has curbed our basic freedom. Though it has to be taken up as a safety measure, we also need to understand its negative impact. I am reminded of Foucault who had talked about ‘Biopolitics’ which is a form of governance of controlling and disciplining our bodies. It is frightening that the more the virus spreads, there is a higher chance of compromising our privacy as the surveillance of the population will increase. For instance, the Aarogya Setu app can be infringing on our privacy. Perhaps, with all these ‘new normals’, our state may be reduced to a ‘state of exception’ as predicted by Georgio Agamben where humans are just reduced to ‘Homo Sacer’ i.e., bare life without any rights. Moreover, people are having an ‘apocalyptic’ anxiety. Our society may be in a state of ‘Anomie’. According to Emile Durkheim, this concept of anomie is about the breakdown of social integration in our society. The breaking away of our social cohesions can also lead to depressions and suicides. This fear psychosis is prevalent all over the world. Hence, there is a need for us to overcome this crisis as soon as we can.

This pandemic sure reminds us of the ‘State of Nature’ of Thomas Hobbes where men were selfish and brute. Hoarding of food and medical supplies have become so common. Issues of medical-ethics have also come into the picture. Weighing of people based on their wealth and position is happening because of the limited resources. Differential treatments of patients are quite visible. When the medical supplies are limited, the ethical questions like ‘Whom to save- the young or old, VVIPs or common man?’ etc. have come up. Aristotle’s idea of Justice of ‘treating equals equally and unequals unequally’ can be brought in these situations. Domestic violence against women has also increased during this Covid-19 crisis. It has taken a heavy toll on the poor and the marginalised though it also affects the rich and affluent. It can be rightly said that all the inherent flaws of the society are reflected today.

Now, we need to learn from the philosophers and thinkers of the past to fight this pandemic. Self-isolation and meditation have already been associated with philosophers. It is high time we reflect on core philosophical concepts to better prepare ourselves for this pandemic and post-pandemic consequences. In “The Plague” by Albert Camus, he said that there have been as many plagues as wars in history, yet plagues and wars have taken people equally by surprise. The pandemic has led us to an ambiguous and uncertain time but we cannot eliminate uncertainty. In times of crisis, the only thing certain is uncertainty. We can only do our parts in fighting this unseen virus. Just like the Bhagavad-Gita talks about Niskamakarma (selfless action); we need to follow our dharma or duty without expecting any rewards. The dharma of a frontline warrior lies in saving lives. And, a common man’s dharma lies in wearing masks and maintaining social distance. We have to stick to our dharma without any hesitation. Kant’s idea of Categorical Imperative i.e., duty for duty’s sake can also be emphasised. Moreover, the Upanishads talked about ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumvakam’ which means ‘the whole world is one family’. This concept has to be inculcated and internalised by all because this pandemic itself is of a global scale. We all should also understand the utilitarian principle of ‘greatest good of the greatest number’ wherein our actions should be as such that it positively affects all people’s lives living across the globe. Moreover, Existentialist philosophers like Keirkegaard and JP Sartre have always talked about how ‘existence precedes our essence’. Accordingly, we are born as nothing and we become who we are only through our choices and actions. As Sartre would say that man is condemned to be free, it is time we choose to become people who are willing to fight this Coronavirus in unity. There is also a very popular line by Mir Taqi Mir, an Urdu poet which says ‘Jaan hai to Jahan hai’ which roughly translates as ‘if there is life, there is the world’. We have to first exist in order to enjoy the beauty of life. Hence, the ultimate goal to stay safe and healthy is emphasised.

Philosophy is not merely a discipline of knowledge, but a way of life. It will help us in building our mental strength. It can create a balance between our reason and emotions. The various niyamas of Patanjali’s Yoga can be a source of relaxation and meditation during these taxing times. It is an exercise of the body, mind and the soul. The deaths in thousands cannot be reduced to mere statistics and numbers. Philosophy will guide us in changing our minds to live well. If we change our thoughts, we can change the world. Perhaps, a Hegelian understanding of this crisis can give us new synthesis of hopes from the experiences of the past. We have to adapt to these unprecedented changes without losing our hopes. We have to stay in a positive frame of mind, reflect on our past mistakes and focus on a better future. In ‘The Plague’ by Albert Camus, he said ‘What’s true of all evil in the world is true of all plague as well. It helps men rise above themselves.” Indeed, the time has come for us to rise above ourselves.

(The views expressed are the writer's own)

First Published:May 11, 2021, 12:13 a.m.

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