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(First published on April 4th, 2020)

Mankind is failing. On the face of it, a microscopic bug has brought it on its knees. But that is only half of the story. In these uncertain times when we all struggle to see some hope, it is clear that our collective mental faculty is invested heavily in creating more divisions instead of uniting against an enemy that should have been vanquished weeks ago. With no certified cure in sight, the novel coronavirus has once again proven that we are where we are because we never learn. Our disunity is our downfall and that is precisely why we keep sinking like a stone.

The news must have reached you. The total number of Covid-19 infections around the world has crossed one million. And that is just among the people we have tested. You cannot be sure how many others are carrying the bug without symptoms. And there is no way to accurately predict how many will die by the time it all ends. In the United States alone the current projections stand somewhere between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths. The right-wing media tries to underplay this number by informing us how many die every year of flu, drug overdose and obesity alone in the US. But, guess what? These deaths may occur in addition to those numbers. And to say, “phew, see how successful we are because we managed to restrict the total casualties to these numbers”, is remarkably blasé. The US still remains the world’s sole superpower. When it struggles what chance does any other nation have?

And what was the ask? For individuals: stay safe, practise social distancing, wash your hands regularly and show compassion. Basic stuff. So simple that a child of six could do it without much hassle. But we won’t. This is too much for our wild nature. We are not born to be locked up in our cages.

For governments? Shun your narrow-minded disagreements and work for a common solution. One vaccine to cure every patient. But that too will not happen. Far easier than working together is to blame. To invent a new enemy. But what happens to the real enemy which is so small it cannot be seen with the naked eye? In this terse reminder nature had given a simple test. Know thy enemy and thyself. And so far, mankind has failed this simple test. It refuses to see what is killing human beings and to the novel coronavirus all human beings are equal. Equally useful hosts. So what happens in reality? Politicians do politics. Profiteers make profit. Grave-diggers dig graves. And countries blame each other for the mess. If the coronavirus was self aware it would be laughing by now.

I have lost count of how many times in this space I have argued that the challenges of this age necessitate that we break free of the Cold War mentality straitjacket. I know writers far better than me are constantly arguing the same wherever they can. But it falls on deaf ears. Why wouldn’t it? If mankind starts functioning as one tribe what will become of the warmongers, pundits, wonks and creatures of hate who constantly profit from conflicts? Perhaps, mankind is worthy of redemption. But so far it has produced little evidence.

Do you honestly think that in these times of mutual distrust China, Russia and America can combine their research to find a cure? Unlikely. And then there is the matter of big businesses keeping an eye out for a possible breakthrough so that they can immediately patent it, stop its generic use and convert the misery of millions into profit worth billions of dollars. And as suffering grows, anticipation builds and world fails to unite to find a cure, the prophets of doom and destruction grow in number. Circumstances quite similar to these had given rise to some of the worst trends in history — Nazism and fascism. And remember, if such elements emerge again, they will have access to tools and weapons that the villains of our past could not even dream of.

As the fear compounds here are some rules employed by hatemongers around the world to make that possible.

Rule 1: blame the victim. From the countries which first encountered the virus to people falling ill — stigmatise everyone.

Rule 2: blame the other. You have been trying to other this or that community so here is your golden chance. Especially if it is a minority community. Far right in the US would blame the Chinese minority. Shias in Pakistan and Muslim Tableeghi Jamaat in India. Forget what the majority does. Blame the minority.

Rule 3: take selfishness to new levels. So what if people die arguing that only the fittest survive? In other words, that they deserved to die. It matters little what happens to humanity, you would have earned your retainer. Some conservatives in the West are actually actively encouraging people to get voluntary infection to prove this hypothesis.

Rule 4: obscure the true knowledge. Question science, threaten scientists, undermine genuine research, make fun of those who can help. Following their advice may help people lessen their pain and then may stop listening to charlatans hence they should be undermined at all cost. Anthony Fauci, the Director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is now receiving threats for his straight talk.

Rule 5: lie through your teeth. Spin. Spread conspiracy theories. Blame everything under the sun. Lie so vigorously that people start seeing your detractors or targets as the real enemy. You will rise in fame and your enemy will go through hell.

Rule 6: delay meaningful action.

Together all these methods will bring us down. The victory of the worst among us will ensures the downfall of all.

I have no doubt in my mind that despite severe and avoidable damage to humanity, state, society and economy mankind will be able to survive the bolt from the blue called Covid-19. The economy is down due to no fault of its own and may recover at the first sight of hope. Institutions still have the capacity to absorb such a big shock. But it may not survive the next one.

If you have not noticed, diseases are getting stronger. But consider the shocks we know are waiting out there, biding their time. Technological unemployment caused by automation and Artificial Intelligence. Decaying climate which may seriously jeopardise agriculture and life. And natural or induced human mutations which may make inequality permanent. They will arrive sooner than you know. And when humanity does not rise to the challenge history will not be kind.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 4th, 2020.

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