The fork in the road ahead

As we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, the road before us reveals a fork. One path ahead will take us to a familiar place – the world we left behind before the pandemic, which was probably the result of human beings encroaching into natural habitats.

Jun 20, 2020

By Anil Netto
As we emerge from the coronavirus pandemic, the road before us reveals a fork. One path ahead will take us to a familiar place – the world we left behind before the pandemic, which was probably the result of human beings encroaching into natural habitats.

It is a return to a world where neoliberal economic policies dominate the thinking of government planners and business analysts. In this world, it is business as usual in pursuit of maximum profits. It would be a return to the continued obsession with unlimited economic growth (GDP growth) as a measure of success. This assumes we live in an infinite world, (never mind the depleting natural resources, the pollution, the plastic waste, the pesticides – all contributing to the loss of biodiversity).

This indifference to the plight of our common home will send us hurtling down the path of climate change, making large swathes of the planet uninhabitable.

Oh, this old world, where the arms race kills, cripples and maims. Against the backdrop of potential Armageddon, the proliferation of nuclear weapons, if unleashed, could destroy the world many times over.

But even if this frightening Doomsday scenario does not materialise, it would still be a dark dystopian world (like the kind you see in Batman movies) – subject to tyranny and  vested interests, where the underclass struggle to survive.

It is a world of surveillance capitalism and Big Data. People’s movements and choices are tracked for marketing and to snuff out potential dissent. The people themselves are dehumanised, only needed as consumers.

The wealthy are zapped away into a different gated world, where they are spared the sight of the underclass and the toiling masses.

In this dark post-COVID-19 “contact-less” world, the only contact would be on a touch screen on your mobile phones. You order stuff  which will be delivered by invisible delivery personnel and, eventually, drones.

What about all those “essential workers” whom we honoured during the pandemic? They would be kept out of sight – until the next pandemic strikes. We honour them but we pay most of them minimal wages that are largely insufficient for them to raise a family with dignity.

The same goes for our public healthcare system. Will the added investments to boost our resources meaningfully materialise?

This, after, all is the world of the big financial institutions and mega multinational firms, the rat race. It is the survival of the fittest. Forgotten would be the times during the pandemic when we reached out to those struggling. For down this path, Financial Globalisation walks with its cousin Globalisation of Indifference.

Wait a minute! Do we really want to go down this path? What about the other one, which takes us to a new world?

It is a world where governments formulate genuine people-centred policies that uplift the downtrodden and the marginalised.

In this world, the people pressure their leaders to end the arms race and ban nuclear weapons. It is a world that promotes a sustainable economy – reduce, reuse and recycle - with negligible waste. Not only that, but forests are restored and public investment goes to restoring nature and protecting the commons. In this world, economic policies are geared towards a more egalitarian distribution of  wealth upholding distributive justice.

More funds are allocated not only to boost public healthcare resources, but to cultivate nutritious organic food, grown locally, so that people’s immune systems can be boosted.

Social security nets are put in place and community solidarity strengthened. This is the Globalisation of Solidarity. Essential workers are truly honoured with wages befitting the role they play in society: a living wage, the right to form unions to protect their interests.

So which road will we take? The choice should be easy, but powerful forces and vested interests are pressuring us to move towards the dark, frightening world we left behind. You know, “business as usual”.

How do we move towards the new world which is struggling to be set free? How do we achieve that level of solidarity?

This year’s World Day of the Poor, which falls on Nov 15, 2020, bears the theme “Stretch forth your hands to the poor”.

This means more than charity, which often is just a balm to sooth the pain of structural injustices.

The Bishop of Rome calls on us to cultivate a real solidarity with the poor so that our prayer cannot be isolated from the anguish of the poor: “Prayer to God and solidarity with the poor and suffering are inseparable.”

To perform an act of worship acceptable to the Lord, Francis exhorts us to recognise that each person, even the poorest, is made in the  image of God. From this awareness comes the gift of God’s blessing, drawn by the generosity we show to the poor.

“Time devoted to prayer can never become an alibi for neglecting our neighbour in need. In fact, the very opposite is true: the Lord’s blessing descends upon us and prayer attains its goal when accompanied by service to the poor.

Francis reminds us that parish activities or projects should not get in the way of real solidarity with the poor: “The decision to care for the poor, for their many different needs, cannot be conditioned by the time available or by private interests, or by impersonal pastoral or social projects.”

It is not just solidarity with the poor we should be concerned with. We also have to express solidarity with nature, as Francis stressed in Laudato Si’ on Care For Our Common Home.

Theologian Leonardo Boff points to Unesco’s Earth Charter, launched in 2000.

Apart from the preamble, the charter has four major pillars:

Respect and Care for the Community of Life
Ecological Integrity Social and Economic Justice
Democracy, Nonviolence and Peace

Boff played a role in editing the final part of the charter, The Way Forward, which calls for a new beginning, based on the values of the charter:

“This requires a change of mind and heart. It requires a new sense of global interdependence and universal responsibility. We must imaginatively develop and apply the vision of a sustainable way of life locally, nationally, regionally, and globally.”

So the key is a change of mind and heart that allows us to search for a new beginning. This in turn would allow us go forth to rebuild and renew the face of the Earth, our Common Home. as the Spirit commands us.

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