by Maniza Naqvi
Today will mark the death of at least one hundred thousand Americans because of COVID. The science was clear. Lockdown. Stop movement. Distance. This would have stopped large numbers of people dying. In short, stopping the virus from becoming a pandemic meant pausing the profit principle.
The pandemic has laid bare the cruel and clear fact that pausing for people is not possible for capitalism. If the accumulation of capital is the primary principle, then humans in comparison to this hegemon are only inputs for its expansion and its accumulation—humans are interchangeable and dispensable while the hegemon of capitalism is supreme. And all else are in the service of ‘his’ malady.
Those who should have acted and acted fast and done everything they could, did not. Even though they knew what the science was saying early on. All of them. Their Intelligence services were surely telling them what was going on in China? Or were they only focused on maximizing the sales of weapons? A war on Iran? If the Intelligence Services knew then why did lockdowns not happen earlier?
The virus was everywhere on the planet but why did it explode in Iran? Did the funeral of an assassinated popular and powerful General which brought out at least 20 million people onto Iran’s streets become a deadly vector for the virus in their midst? Did that one assassination intended to start a war instead seed a global plague? A plague which may when the facts are in on what could have been done and when, might lead us to term it a genocide?
How did a disease which is somewhat controllable with social distancing, lockdowns, masks,soap, and hand sanitizers become so deadly? Would this have been a global pandemic were it not for racism, avarice and hubris? Would so many lives have been lost if racism, secrecy and greed had not played a leading role? Would a pandemic have spread as it did, had China’s leadership not been engaged in suppressing real news, silencing whistleblowers and keeping people imprisoned and fearful? Would the pandemic have occurred in the terrifying way it has and still is, if leaders across the globe made the choice to protect human life over the economy?
We like to choose easy targets to blame. Trump is an easy one. A big fat loud mouthed dangerous idiot, who sides with the rich. But, to catastrophic consequences, around the globe, except for a handful of women leaders, few have done much better. From the Governor to the Mayor of New York State and city, to the President of Brazil , what we have witnessed is a set of choices that are dictated primarily by those who control capital – the people in whose treasuries and personal net-worth capital is concentrated. The people whose personal net-worths are larger than those of entire countries.
The Stock market continues to rise—while unemployment in the US reaches 30 million people. Why—because Digital companies are experiencing a boom like never before. And one man, Jeff Bezos is poised to become a trillionaire. While another tech giant Bill Gates is talking to us about health. And yet another Mike Bloomberg is putting in place the tracing techniques which for now are to be used for this virus. And, not surprisingly, many of these political leaders are wealthy, powerful and privileged people who are linked to one another. Some are downright nepotistic—using this pandemic to bring their families into the decision making process on what should be done and how.
We know why the majority of deaths are amongst those who are vulnerable but who are seen as essential inputs for keeping the current system going. They have the low paying jobs which are highly essential. These jobs are held by African Americans and Latinos.
And the elderly fall into the category of vulnerable and essential inputs. No longer deemed productive inputs—they become profitable ones in privately run institionalized care homes. The horror of this has been made more than clear in where the virus struck first and the number of deaths that have occurred in these corporatized homes from Washington State to California to New York.
And while African Americans are disproportionately contracting and dying from the disease, they are also disproportionately on the frontlines as essential workers and are disproportionately or rather overwhelmingly the target of the police’s wrath even under the present circumstances.
While corporations face no such problem. If they are a corporation say a meat packing corporation or one making money on the flesh of the elderly—if they are corporations, they are above the law, above the jurisdiction of local and State Governments. These corporations tell Governments what they can and cannot do. Not the other way around. That is their power.
The virus is making us sick, but the virus has flourished because of this sickness in us: a sickness of greed and the unchecked need for an accumulation of wealth without any limits. These are not market economies with people exchanging goods and services in some form of equitable transactions with one other. This is unchecked capitalism which depends on vast amounts of superfluous consumption – greed, rather than need. Over 70% of the US economy depends on people consuming—and we are reminded of George W. Bush who told the country “go out and shop” a day after the attacks of September 11.
Why does public sector funded research in medicine result in private sector profit making, enormous stock buy backs by big Pharma and enrichment for Pharma executives ? Why are public sector investments in simple health equipment so threadbare? Why isn’t there a unified integrated public sector hospital and health system in the United States? It certainly was cobbled into one and hobbled its way into one during the pandemic in New York.
And most New Yorkers, like myself think that it isn’t any leader who’s crushed the curve with their policies of too much, too little, too late. It’s the people. It’s us who’ve done it. We stayed in—we’ve worn masks. We’ve done whatever we can.
Tonight the heart is especially sick. A hundred thousand deaths across the US. Over twenty-five thousand in New York alone. It is past midnight, I’ve drawn the curtains, double checked the lock on the sliding doors to the balcony. I’ve turned off the lamps one by one. From the darkness, of the room I look at the empty street outside and watch the street lights turn colors. The red reflection of ambulances blinking lights mixing with that of the stop lights bleeding down on the wet asphalt down Broadway in the soft drizzle. Not even the sound of a siren. No need—the avenues are barren.
The heart is sick. On the other side of this hurting planet a plane has crashed in beloved Karachi. After the heart cools then anguish, surely will set in and people will demand why this happened? It will sound like accusations. Aren’t these deaths of innocents due to Covid? Sentenced by greed to their deaths, those in the plane and on the ground? The deaths of innocent people. Surely they won’t be called martyrs and their deaths will not be considered a good thing, a willing sacrifice of the sacrificed?
When was the last time that the plane was properly serviced and when last was the maintenance carried out? What was the rush to open up the airline? It crashed in a densely populated residential area built on land that was zoned as part of the airport. Around the world there are far too many airports stuck in the hearts of densely populated areas. This terrible disaster encapsulates much that is wrong with our world. Why are leaders not weighing the potential domino and inferno effects of hurrying to open up the economy? How is it even possible to choose opening up the economy at the cost of risking the deaths of millions of people.
Like most people across the US, I’ve stitched face masks out of cotton napkins and elastic. A mandatory mask wearing order that came too late for thousands of lives. And how heartbreaking that finally when the order to wear masks came everyone complied in this city. The first street vendors to appear as the lockdown was eased were people selling face coverings and masks.
We’re all on Zoom now. Existing and relating online. Soon maybe we’ll leave behind avatars that will continue to go on, when we don’t. The avatars will continue to schedule and join meetings on the next iterations of Zoom, and Team and Skype and Webex and so on. I think of a dystopian scene of empty cities———only zoom meetings on and on and on…….
Most people I know are helping strangers and friends and family with cash and food to help everyone stay afloat. People are helping each other quietly without sending them any letters of how great they are for doing so.
Like most New Yorkers, I have stayed awake through the night unable to sleep, frightened and depressed by the sight on television of cold storage trucks filled with body bags outside Elmhurst hospital. The mass graveyard at Hart Island and the tent hospital going up in Central Park. I have relatives on the frontline of this—doctors. I have friends there.
And like most New Yorkers I’ve considered the unthinkable but now a possibility—-what if one of us—my family becomes sick? Very sick. What then? Do we go to the hospital? Do we rush to emergency only to be parted from each other there forever in that moment? What if we die alone and go to a grave or a body bag in a freezer? Would it not be better just to die at home-yes suffocate to death but be with those who love you? But if you love them, wouldn’t it be best to get as far away from them as possible? If you love, them isolate yourself from them?
Like most New Yorkers I have done what I can: a larder full of pasta and canned goods, Zinc, Vitamin C, D3 and a thermometer and a pulsenator awaited from Amazon. Hand sanitizers and Lysol for the air and surfaces. And 20 seconds of Happy Birthday singing with repeated washing of hands.
On May 24th, 2020, I’m done fasting along with thousands of other New Yorkers and millions across the planet. Now everyone is doing the same thing hands and feet and neck and nostrils and mouth washed at least five times a day, face covered in public, no handshaking, hand to heart, I understand what the ancients were saying—-in all the sacred scriptures, there was just one central message there will be pandemics and famines. There will be sacrifices. Every human ritual and tradition was telling us this.
I understand too, from history and the scriptures that the rich will create the myths that keep them safe—they’ll sacrifice the poor and glorify their sacrifices. They’ll come out to clap and cheer them on from on up high—from their safe balconies, as if to shout down to them, go brave men and women to the mines—you are heroic, sacrificing yourself and going to your death for our tribe. We are crushing it.
Science was telling us—that we could end this idea of human sacrifices.
But this malady has appeared just as colonization and empire did before on all our shores and morphed and remained alive—went viral, as a rampant unchecked vehicle of capital accumulation in human history—a cause of pandemics and in itself a virus and a catastrophe of pandemic proportions for all the species. That malady went viral. Witness the planet and all the species and peoples which disappeared.
The messaging by the same leaders who told us to go out and then told us to stay in, who told us not to wear masks and then told us to wear them, who told us schools will stay open and then told us they won’t open for the rest of the calendar year or more, the message from them is that the best that we the people can do, is to cover our mouths, wash our hands and do nothing, except go online to shop and meet. And yes, keep tracking ourselves and self reporting. The Age of Digital has arrived and gone viral.