2020: The Year of Life and Death

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Humans have always been swaying with the ups and downs of times. We have seen the progressions and regressions in the rise and fall of civilizations. We have heard of the enlightening eras and dark ages.

The Year 2020 had the unique pattern of trajectory, given the fact that we consider ourselves positioned in the most-advanced times – an age of ‘science and technology’. We had been considering ourselves living in the world which is ‘precise’ and well positioned. The technological and scientific breakthroughs we were witnessing had turned the 21st century into high modernity phase. This age has turned us into the creatures of certainty as we assume everything to be done without taking into account the uncertain elements we are confronted with. Nobody on earth would have thought that a tiny microbe would put the world to halt. We never had anticipated history would be partitioned as ‘after corona’ and ‘before corona’.

What made the year 2020 altogether different was the nature of disaster we hit. No one would have imagined masking the faces and isolating ourselves, even in our homes. The collective fear defined our days and nights. But Nature has its own ways of balancing things; at a time we were caught in an isolationist mode, we were witnessing revitalization of solidarity. People started debating equality, and connectivity.

Humans started to realise the beauty of collective and communitarian model of fighting the crisis, thus bringing to surface the almost lost spirit of resilience. We were scared, we fought and we saw the morning sun again. This is how crises have been defeated throughout the history. The fundamental and basic elements of societal formations that were almost forgotten were invoked again. The temporary comforts of being in the false imaginaries and individualistic mode of life fizzled out.

During the  peak of the pandemic we saw startling contradictions making headlines. From politics, religion, media and even to medical science. We were caught in the dilemma of how a crisis laid bare the cryptic functioning of power structures.

Agamben the Italian Philosopher chipped in with how ‘state of exception’ has been misused by the power elites, and how humans have been considered bodies only to be controlled. We saw the supposedly ‘advanced nations’ bearing the brunt of this calamity, and Middle rung powers like Taiwan and New Zealand emerging as the model for handling the crises we were in.

Apart from handling and mishandling of the situation we saw many lessons both on individual and at collective level. When COVID-19 was not declared yet, we had sunk ourselves in the realm of precision and certainty as if we were to be staying here forever. When one dives in the cosmos and even the tiniest of dimensions we are just a speck there. The infinite Petersonian singularities that exist in our universe is just a ‘flick’ when compared to the vastness of the multiverse. This eternal lesson again flashed before our eyes.

The crests and troughs of pandemic story were shocking, and fascinating as well. When things strike at mass level truth becomes the first casualty, and we saw that from the day first as rumours spread all over. Too much of a ‘religion’ is arrogance and too less is ignorance. We came across both the extremes but ultimately it was the health and safety of the person that mattered. How beautiful can be the world when we shed our narrow derived meanings which have been thrust upon us. The story of the pandemic challenged the very basis of understanding and the order of things we had weaved around ourselves. We cannot deny the design of nature and the order of things. The misplaced and the rigid notions of individual and nationalistic behaviours came crumbling down. It felt like a quake came and flattened the forced and institutional imbalances.

This story of Year 2020 turned to be a story that brought in heroes and villains to the fore without any filters. How a doctor could have imagined to breathe less in order to make people breathe more. How could have the paramedics thought of having the face marks borne out of mandatory PPE. They surely are the Heroes of this year and deserve accolades. Every one of us who saw the difficult times through surely has the task to do much needed self-exploration, developing a broader outlook of things.

This year had the mix of newness and change of lexicons – from lockdown to quarantine. Schedules got disrupted and the everyday roles went upside down. This year dropped the message that anything can happen any moment. What is permanent is the temporary nature of things.

The warning signs of the coronavirus should aware us of the impending disasters in the form of environmental and geological changes that put humanity at risk. Even during the pandemic itself we saw cyclones, typhoons, bushfires etc. striking parts of the world. It is time for us to realise that the ramifications of our actions will be devastating and catastrophic. What the coronavirus pandemic teaches us is that if humanity is to survive, this is the time to change our priorities, values and perspectives.

As the year ends it is time to re-explore the conditions and situations we were in; how much we lost during these tough times. If we cannot have the positive takeaways from this year’s happenings there cannot be any better moment of learning for us then. The poetic and the tragic layers of the times can never be ignored; they always show up in one form or other. It’s time to embrace them and interact ourselves with meaningful lives. Adversity anticipated is adversity diminished. Ramin Jahanbegloo, a prominent political philosopher of Iranian origin, in his thought provoking book, “The Courage to Exist – A Philosophy of Life and Death in the Age of Coronavirus’ beautifully caps it up with the ever relevant line:”The courage to live the art of living is our passport to the future,”. It’s time now to add this art into our daily toolkit of life and better realise our significance vis-à-vis the changing state of our lifestyle and our environmental interactions.

Mir Sajad is  a researcher, Department of Geography and Regional Development, University of Kashmir