By Laksiri Fernando –
It is a tragic irony. The UK, one time ‘the empire on which the sun never sets,’ today is humbled by the coronavirus pandemic. It was the first country to industrialize and then creating an enormous empire throughout the world. America or American imperialism is primarily its creation.
Apart from that horrific giant, the Britain also created Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and other colonies largely suppressing indigenous people. This pattern was followed or preceded by Portugal, Spain, Netherlands, France, and Germany to a greater or lesser extent. These are the countries largely hit by the coronavirus today.
This might not mean that the pandemic is a result of their colonial abuses. But based on their exploits, they have also devastated the nature, the forests, animal species and the climate. The present generations in these countries are undoubtedly not directly responsible for colonial aggressions. But they are also responsible for the continuation of abuses of the nature and the climate.
Who else is Responsible?
It is also not the past colonial countries who are responsible for climate change and other abuses, but also the other powers like China, Russia, India, and Arabic countries. The list goes on and Sri Lanka is not exempted. Apart from being the first country inflicted by the pandemic, China is hit again and again by the coronavirus, like a sheer warning.
It may not be that scientific to directly link the West, Colonialism, or westernization to the pandemic. However, there is a truth when we consider the link between the pandemic and the exploitative Capitalism; the latter being the main product of the West. Karl Marx and many other thinkers criticized capitalism (profit making) for the exploitation of the workers and the poor. The system kept the poor outside the gates to keep the workers’ wages low. This system still prevails internationally. The poor conditions of the poor countries are the sources through which the rich countries bring or allow migrants to work at cheap wages in their countries.
Capitalism has exploited not only the workers, but also the nature, the environment, and the climate. By excessive lifestyles for the rich and tempting the middle classes or even the workers to aspire for the same, capitalism, has turned the humans to become quite inhuman and artificial. The way the animals are being exploited for food, entertainment and as raw material is despicable. It is true that these practices were there even before capitalism. This shows that the defect is not only in capitalism, but perhaps rooted in the aggressive, violent, and selfish nature of the human beings.
During the last decades, the countries have competitively tried to ‘reach the moon’ and other planets to exploit them. They have already polluted the orbit with left-over debris or space junk. These will undoubtedly have adverse future repercussions. It is not scientific investigations on the space that should be stopped but competitive, commercial, and exploitative space travels.
Of course, the West also produced democracy partly based on ancient Greece and their notions. But the West have utterly failed to resolve the possible cataclysmic future dangers like further climate change, pandemics and (nuclear) wars utilizing democracy and international cooperation. As the things stand today, there is a great possibility of the major powers intentionally or unintentionally going for nuclear war because of trade wars, nationalist objectives, and imperial pride. Fascism can get added to it. Accidents can happen and the authorities who hold the nuclear buttons are utterly unreliable.
On all these counts, the future of humanity is quite bleak.
It is an outright mistake to focus only on climate change, global warming, or emissions. Look at the amounts of chemical, solid (iron and steel), plastic and other waste that the industries, and people discard daily? Given the present pandemic and other illnesses, the dispose of clinical waste from hospitals are enormous. Where are we going to dump them all? In poor countries? Dumping them anywhere would be hazardous.
Most horrific under the present international economic order is the abject poverty. Millions and millions of people in poor countries (not excepting the so-called rich countries) are without basic amenities like proper education and proper health care in addition to food. It is quite inhuman to neglect these problems. The present pandemic has utterly exposed the neglect and inadequacies of the health systems in developed countries. In addition to the scarcity of trained health workers, there are no adequate beds, medical facilities, hospitals, intensive care units, or even adequate oxygen or ventilators. The development of many developed countries is quite superficial. The poor are the most neglected during this health crisis. These are obvious health crimes.
The global economy contracted by 4.3% in 2020. In the US, the contraction was 3.6% and in the EU 7.4%. Japan economy also shrank by 5.3%. That was not the main problem. Millions and millions of working people lost their employment and small businesses went into actual lockdowns. That was the main problem. By the way, there are some businesses which thrive under the pandemic, but without employing many people under them.
If some governments were kind enough to implement ‘job keeper’ and ‘job seeker’ grants in 2020, those will not be available in 2021 in many countries. ‘Go and get a job’ is their cry. From where to get a job is the problem? Many capitalist governments intend to help businesses instead. The intention is to bring back the same old, exploitative, uneven, and undemocratic economies instead of any substantial change in progressive direction. In 2020, only China achieved a significant growth (2%). This does not vindicate China’s economic policies. Although claimed to be socialist, China also follows competitive economic policies for nationalist reasons.
Although the World Bank expects a 4% growth in 2021 (wishful thinking!), it is conditioned by the success of the vaccination programs still to be started in many countries. There are controversies and confusions surrounding many varieties of vaccines. Vaccination politics are more prominent than vaccination policies. Apart from COVID-19, there are now the South African variant and the UK variant. There are possibilities of new variants emerging in the future.
There are some hopes for better international relations under President Jo Biden in the US. However, this would be limited to his first term of office, if not exaggerated. A crucial challenge for him internally would be the economy. While neglecting the pandemic, sustainable development, good relations with even customary friends like the EU, and further neglecting many other liberal, democratic, and humanitarian concerns, the Trump administration managed to limit the economic contraction to 3.6%. This was exceptional compared to other Western countries. If Biden fails like Yahapalanaya in Sri Lanka, Trumpism might emerge as clear Fascism.
There are emerging authoritarian trends in all Western democratic countries, not to speak of semi or fully authoritarian countries in other regions. Now they are talking not only about rights, but also about duties and responsibilities. The military and police are being extensively used in Covid management. Emergencies, curfews, and lockdowns are also used. The liberal freedoms are limited. Young people who are used only to rights, and not responsibilities, are increasingly resisting. In addition, there are emerging resistance because of unemployment, low wages, underemployment, and economic grievances. These things will increase in the coming future.
The military coup in Myanmar (Burma) is not an accident. The deteriorating democratic conditions internationally have helped the military (Tatmadaw) to stage the present coup articulating similar rhetoric like Donald Trump about election fraud. Condemning of the military coup is necessary. Attempts to get Aung San Suu Kyi and others free are more necessary. However, the facts and interpretations should be objective. Most of the international media says that the governing party, the NLD (National League for Democracy) received 83% of the popular votes. That is not correct. We need to understand the still remaining popular base for the military and the military party, USDP, as well.
When the total seats of the two houses (nationalities and representatives) less the military representation (25%) counted, it may be around 83%. But that is not the popular vote. Myanmar still have the first-past-the post system. The NLD seats is not enough to change the present constitution unless some international actors want to create an ‘Arab Spring.’ What the international community should do is to allow the NLD and the USDP (and the military) to negotiate and come to some peaceful settlement. Too much interference would jeopardize the (slow) democratic process started in 2011. The biggest danger in near countries like Bangladesh, Thailand, Pakistan or even Sri Lanka would be to take the example of Myanmar’s military citing international interference.
The coronavirus pandemic is not going to go away soon. Thus, the political and economic confusions attached to it. Even before the pandemic, the world was not in good or reasonable shape. The reasons have been numerous. The primary reasons have been the exploitation of the working people and the poor; the environment and the nature. The other animals also were not spared. We are also animals, apparently worse than the others.
The societies we are living in are not reasonable, morally or in any logical sense. Neither the political systems nor the international institutions/relations. The leaders and many advocates preach about human rights but not follow or practice them themselves. People talk about democracy but not follow or practice the principles. There is something terribly wrong with the human nature, its aggressiveness, duplicity, hypocrisy, violence, and war mongering. The future for the human beings as appears today is quite bleak unless they change and revise and reform their societies in a constructive way. It is understandable that it cannot be done overnight, but people should go in that direction.