Throughout this crisis, much has been made of how governments around the world have been “led by science”, the expression used ad nauseum in attempt to reassure the populace that measures put in place are guided by expertise and not ideology. All too often, the reality of the tension between economic imperative and the duty of the state to shield its citizens from harm has been laid bare for all to see. It is not so much that those in power have paid lip service to a duty of care, even if their ideological bent has time and again revealed that the general welfare of the public is not their foremost concern, but rather that mass death will be looked upon unfavorably at the ballot box when those dead include the nearest and dearest of voters and their deaths are considered a consequence of governmental malfeasance. It is therefore necessary for governments to endeavour to act against the pandemic, to suppress its full potential for devastation were it to rip through the entire population without constraint. Simultaneously, the entire economic model is predicated on the relation between capital and labour, and the need for all to socially distance as much as possible impacts this in a fundamental way.
It is for this reason we have seen a counterattack from those on the political right who have fewer qualms about their craven desire to accumulate profit no matter the human cost, as evidenced by their indifference to the cacophony of human suffering that their politics propagate. We have heard politicians speak of how it is necessary for us all to accept risk in order to ensure the functioning of the capitalist system. This perspective has been articulated in blatant fashion, in effect exhorting us to allow our elderly relatives to die so that parasitical financial institutions might live, and also through far more subtle variants. We have been urged to consider the impact that a prolonged economic downtown will have on the most vulnerable. Undeniably, this is the case. But it also projects the idea that prior to the disruptive crisis brought about by the pandemic, those most vulnerable were enjoying an existence of security and contentment, patently untrue. The imposition of austerity in response to national debts incurred by this crisis would be a political choice, as it was after the 2008 financial crisis when the cost for that crisis was inflicted upon the public.
The right are determined to foster the illusion that there is no alternative to slashing public services and shrinking the state in order to reduce the extreme levels of debt that covid-19 will bring about. They are supported by a great number of those who consider themselves the rational, sensible and moderate centre, whose lack of vision precludes the possibility of their grasping that other alternatives exist. The same people would have perceived the eight hour working day a utopian pipe dream had they lived during the period in which collective struggle made it a reality. The reality is, this unholy alliance fears above all the confiscation of its privilege that would come about through any kind of transformative, redistributive tendency were it to coalesce as political common sense. They thus endeavour to do all in their power to stifle it, deriding it as naive. But a crisis like the one in which we are living demands radical solutions. In such moments, ruptures occur that reconfigure our conception of what is possible. We must demand a systemic model in which economic imperative does not trump the sanctity of human life. The crisis represents a moratorium on life as we knew it, the task that now falls to us is articulating the outlines of a new paradigm that genuinely values human life, rather than paying mere lip service to it.