The pandemic as portal

It’s late and after a long day of work I’m facing a giant pile of still more and overdue work, but I wanted to share this quotation.  It’s one that keeps haunting me.  I use it to end a lot of presentations, and it seems to move audiences as well.

I don’t think I’ve blogged it, so let me do so now.

Arundhati RoyIt’s from a 2020 article by the Indian writer Arundhati Roy. The essay reflects on how India and the world responded to the pandemic, and I recommend the whole thing for its sharp vision.

But here I want to cite its conclusion. Roy surveys the many ways people envisioned COVID-19:

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. Others that it’s a Chinese conspiracy to take over the world. 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.

Roy then offers a metaphor, and turns it to a visionary purpose:

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.

A portal through which we can imagine another world.  Who else responded to COVID like that?  And since the article appeared, way back in early April 2020, did humanity fulfill Roy’s charge?  What new world did we fight for?

Think on it.  Good night, everyone.

(photo by Augustus Binu, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29707968)

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8 Responses to The pandemic as portal

  1. Humanity has not yet fulfilled Roy’s charge and the increased distractions and divisions brought about by the pandemic are still very much with us. Why? Because our imaginations have stagnated. Will there be a revival of our imaginations? It can’t be forever lost, right? So, the fight continues for who knows how long, and we may not see a revival in our lifetimes.

    • Dahn Shaulis says:

      George, the struggle for peace and justice is perpetual. And you are quite right about the distractions and divisions.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      I fear too many examples prove your grim idea, George.
      Thinking of backward-looking calls to action: Make America Great Again, a Green New Deal. Thinking of Hollywood’s obsession with remakes and sequels.

  2. Mark Rush says:

    “Portal” is not a bad metaphor. “Paradigm shift” (a la Thomas Kuhn) might be better. We are not in another world. It’s the same one as before. The question is whether humanity will learn form the new knowledge COVID either bestowed or exposed.

  3. Dahn Shaulis says:

    Bryan, it’s hard to imagine things changing quickly and radically for the better, even though that’s what’s needed. In a previous post of yours I mentioned the need to change our perspective, from GDP and capitalism to Quality of Life (QOL) and democracy. Something I’ve been interested since the 1990s–and have fought for in one way or another for decades: the Anti-War Movement, Education Not Incarceration (DeCarcerate), Occupy Philadelphia, and the Debt Collective. Today, there are a few glimmers of hope–in resistance–across the planet.

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