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Social distancing makes us lose perspective

The white man is not used to death by germ while dirty latrines in Third World quarantine wards are normal. 

Published: 22nd March 2020 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st March 2020 08:30 PM   |  A+A-

australia coronavirus

A woman wearing a face mask, amid concerns of the COVID-19 coranavirus, walks on a street in Sydney on March 19, 2020. (Photo | AFP)

Ever since prehistoric people began to contend with hungry giant hyenas, saber-toothed tigers and giant kangaroos with a yen for human flesh, men have banded together against common enemies. Millennia later, in the face of the rampaging coronavirus, modern humans are behaving the exact opposite: Social Distancing. In the times of memes and messaging, nobody can resist a spin. Social distancing is the trope de jour of survival.

All through Ages and the ages, survival has been hardwired into our medulla. The early migrations from Africa were not solitary itinerants off on a long walk, but communities hunting for new horizons. Now, the virus is hunting humans. There are no new horizons to conquer. It’s the virus that is conquering humans.
The real global epidemic is fear. Like the Jews getting yellow stars in Nazi Germany, Covid-19 patients are getting ink stamps on their hands. Fear of extinction is driving people irrational. It is every man for himself out there: supermarkets are running out of toilet paper, milk, bread, soap and other necessities. Covid first infected the body, the brain and now the soul. In the grip of the contagion of fear, man is forgetting himself. Humans invented the wheel, conquered the skies and the seas, landed on the moon, made computers and cellphones—an array of achievements that promote ease of living. Today, it is not survival but comfort, which is the raison d’être of living.

The survival of the fittest is now the survival of the richest. Even in the midst of the panic pandemic, the pride of the rich is different. They are members of Corona Club Med, flying out in private jets to luxurious disaster bunkers in country estates. Actress Gwyneth Paltrow posted a selfie of Covid chic, wearing a super-expensive mask. Is the virus the vengeance of God, a microbial apocalypse destroying human pride? Dictators protect those burning the Amazon for mutual profit. Industries spew toxins into the atmosphere, melting glaciers and tampering with sea levels. Big game hunters shoot great beasts which have morphed through the cruelty of evolution, in the African savannah as if it was a video game. Meanwhile, whole countries and cities are going into lockdown. Decisions have become brutal: patients over eighty in Italy could be left to die since there isn’t enough medical support available.

Virus silos are making people lose perspective. The white man is not used to death by germ while dirty latrines in Third World quarantine wards are normal. Life in America is golden compared to life in Africa or Asia. But there are over 754 crore people in the world. More than 8,000 have died and around 2,00,000 have been infected with Covid-19 so far. We are in the midst of a survival drill. The next one will be the real thing. Since when did misery stop loving company?

Ravi Shankar

ravi@newindianexpress.com

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