The conservative notion that there is no alternative to the mode of life forced on us by hypercapitalism collapses. It becomes evident that the reason there are no alternatives is because the democratic political system has been shaped into abandoning any consideration of alternatives. Having been expelled from the political system, the alternatives are increasingly bound to enter the lives of citizens through the back door of pandemic crises, environmental disasters and financial collapses. To put it differently, the alternatives are bound to come back in the worst possible manner.
The frailty of the human
The apparent rigidity of social solutions generates an odd sense of security among the classes benefiting the most from them. There remains always, of course, some measure of insecurity, but there are means and resources available to allay it, whether in the form of healthcare, insurance policies, services provided by private security companies, psychotherapy, or gyms. This sense of security gets mixed with feelings of arrogance and even condemnation toward all those who feel victimized by these very social solutions.
The viral outbreak interrupts this common sense and causes the sense of security to melt overnight. We know that the pandemic is not blind and that it has its preferred targets. With it, however, a common awareness of planetary, democratic-like communion is somehow being created. That is actually the etymological root of the word “pandemic”: all people. The tragedy is that, in the present case, the best way to show solidarity with one another is to isolate yourself and refrain from even touching others. It is certainly an odd communion of fortunes. Will any alternatives be possible?
The ends do not justify the means
The negative impact of the economic slowdown is quite obvious, especially as far as the largest and most dynamic country in the world is concerned. On the other hand, however, there are also some positive consequences. Such is the case, for example, with the decrease in air pollution. An air quality expert from the US space agency (NASA) said that never in the past has such a dramatic drop in pollution been observed over such a vast area. Does that mean that at the beginning of the 21st century the only way to avoid the approaching ecological catastrophe is by massively destroying human life? Have we lost our cautionary imagination and the political capacity to put it into practice?
We also know that in order to effectively control the pandemic, China has resorted to highly strict methods of repression and surveillance. It is becoming increasingly evident that these measures have proved effective. But whatever other merits China may have, it cannot be said to be a democratic country. It is extremely doubtful that such measures could be implemented, or implemented with the same level of effectiveness, in a democratic country.
Does that mean that democracy lacks the political capacity to respond to emergencies? On the contrary, according to The Economist, which earlier this year showed that epidemics tend to be less lethal in democratic countries, because of the free flow of information. But since democracies are more and more vulnerable to fake news, we will have to imagine democratic solutions based on participatory democracy practiced at the level of neighbourhoods and communities and on civic education geared toward solidarity and cooperation rather than towards entrepreneurship and competitiveness at all costs.