Dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us


Who can use the term “gone viral” now without shuddering a little? Who can look at anything any more — a door handle, a cardboard carton, a bag of vegetables — without imagining it swarming with those unseeable, undead, unliving blobs dotted with suction pads waiting to fasten themselves on to our lungs?

Who can think of kissing a stranger, jumping on to a bus or sending their child to school without feeling real fear? Who can think of ordinary pleasure and not assess its risk? Who among us is not a quack epidemiologist, virologist, statistician and prophet? Which scientist or doctor is not secretly praying for a miracle? Which priest is not — secretly, at least — submitting to science?

And even while the virus proliferates, who could not be thrilled by the swell of birdsong in cities, peacocks dancing at traffic crossings and the silence in the skies?

The number of cases worldwide this week crept over a million. More than 50,000 people have died already. Projections suggest that number will swell to hundreds of thousands, perhaps more. The virus has moved freely along the pathways of trade and international capital, and the terrible illness it has brought in its wake has locked humans down in their countries, their cities and their homes.

But unlike the flow of capital, this virus seeks proliferation, not profit, and has, therefore, inadvertently, to some extent, reversed the direction of the flow. It has mocked immigration controls, biometrics, digital surveillance and every other kind of data analytics, and struck hardest — thus far — in the richest, most powerful nations of the world, bringing the engine of capitalism to a juddering halt. Temporarily perhaps, but at least long enough for us to examine its parts, make an assessment and decide whether we want to help fix it, or look for a better engine.

The mandarins who are managing this pandemic are fond of speaking of war. They don’t even use war as a metaphor, they use it literally. But if it really were a war, then who would be better prepared than the US? If it were not masks and gloves that its frontline soldiers needed, but guns, smart bombs, bunker busters, submarines, fighter jets and nuclear bombs, would there be a shortage?

Night after night, from halfway across the world, some of us watch the New York governor’s press briefings with a fascination that is hard to explain. We follow the statistics, and hear the stories of overwhelmed hospitals in the US, of underpaid, overworked nurses having to make masks out of garbage bin liners and old raincoats, risking everything to bring succour to the sick. About states being forced to bid against each other for ventilators, about doctors’ dilemmas over which patient should get one and which left to die. And we think to ourselves, “My God! This is America!” …

People will fall sick and die at home.  We may never know their stories. They may not even become statistics. We can only hope that the studies that say the virus likes cold weather are correct (though other researchers have cast doubt on this). Never have a people longed so irrationally and so much for a burning, punishing Indian summer.

What is this thing that has happened to us? It’s a virus, yes. In and of itself it holds no moral brief. But it is definitely more than a virus. Some believe it’s God’s way of bringing us to our senses…Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

~ Arundhati Roy, from “Arundhati Roy: ‘The pandemic is a portal’” in Financial Times (April 3, 2020)


Notes: Photo: Arundhati Roy via bbc.co.uk. Quote Source: Thank you Beth @ Alive on All Channels

 

Comments

  1. This is really touching my all. So well expressed, truly terrifying and strangely comforting. I’m in tears, and also so deeply thankful for being alive and blessed.
    I shall also take the liberty to send this to some friends and family speaking English.
    Thanks for this share.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The most profound piece I´ve read about this situation. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. brilliant.

    “Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.” – yes.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Roy so beautifully articulates the horrific paradox of the current situation.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. He is speaking what we all are wondering. And it vibrates.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. One of my favorite authors (admittedly I can’t list them on only two hands, but still)…you feel her words to your core and echo ‘yes yes yes’

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well, I’ll break from the group. My thought is that from the scary title, to the reference to “Mandarins” to the NY Governors fascinating press conferences, it is clear to me that this author is politically inclined to place all the blame at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Yes, it is significant, but from what I read, over 98% who get it, get over it. Many, many people may have gotten it before the media got involved and thought they may have simply had a mild cold. I for one have never gone to a doctor when I had “the flu”… I stayed home, laid around and felt better a day or three later. I hope I am wrong, but much of what I am seeing (on both sides of the political isle) is a power grab, which will not be good for the Country. Just like gun control is more about control than it is guns, this current event may play out like Rahm Emanuel’s theory of never letting a crisis go to waste. The bigger problem is there is no way to know who to trust and believe these days.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’ll break from you one one point Ray. Pollution of our skies and rivers is far more severe in China, India and many other countries. And I believe as the richest country on earth, no matter what your politics, we could do better.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I loved the last two sentences.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Wow, simply wow!! Please, read this … there can’t be a better statement about how many must be feeling. At least, I feel exactly this way … “We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”
    Arundhati Roy, from “Arundhati Roy: ‘The pandemic is a portal’” in Financial Times (April 3, 2020) …

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I am standing here at my desk, fist pumping the air above my head, shouting at the trees, the snow that fell yesterday (now that’s not a pretty story), at the squirrels leaping from tree branch to tree branch, at the geese floating on the river, at the crystal clear blue sky above with nary a jet stream marring its perfection and I am yelling, “YES! YES! YES!”

    I’ll have what she wrote.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. Very well written!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. This is so spot on

    Liked by 1 person

  13. beautiful essay; thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. blessedreams says:

    Unique writing exposing us to the deep wildness of the pandemic and our own harsh realities. We ought to rethink once about our own ideas and prejudices.

    Liked by 2 people

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