Stop the blame game, show more empathy 

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Sketch by Wong Soak Koon

We need a more rational and empathetic worldview to counter the excessive judgement being meted out at targeted groups, Koey Xan Xan writes.

It is undeniably correct to reiterate facts, but to interpret them is another matter. 

During this pandemic, the status quo is no longer applicable. It is only now that light has been shed on our revered societal structures and on how they need to be reformed to adapt or evolve in the pursuit of modernisation.

While the focus of our impetus lies in tangible things, the discourse surrounding it renders differently. 

The global spread of Covid-19 had already been predicted earlier when Sars broke out in 2002 in the province of Guangzong, China. The rapid spread of Covid-19 was expected, but despite the impending doom, but governments were too preoccupied with their politics to tackle the pandemic swiftly. And so the trajectory of this disease has not slowed down or “plateaued” fast enough. 

Enormous resources were invested in curbing the spread of this disease, shifting media attention to the role of nation-states and government apparatus. 

While many have applauded the strength of frontline staff and the people who sacrifice to ensure our safety, those who bear the brunt of the suffering are the working class, who support our political, economical and social structures.

However, the romanticisation of the effort to fight the pandemic hijacks our ability to be rational and accountable. The media portray a singular narrative to support a profit-driven industry.

The capitalist system, which exploits the vulnerable ones, is based on an evolutionist premise where the weak succumb to the pressure in the “survival of the fittest” and are thus sidelined. Such a framework is exclusive and discriminatory.

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Have we not evolved to a stage where every life matters? Is it in our instinct to oppress when we have the choice not to? Or is it ignorance or a blind eye to the injustices that others face?

An inclusive framework would require us to dismantle what divides our common identity.

But the prevailing homogenised worldview panders to the view that the coronavirus has spread through the tentacles of globalisation. At the centre of this worldview lies a global-risk consciousness, arising from shared global problems such as bioterrorism and the pandemic.

Steps taken to counteract these problems pander to the locals as it indirectly allows a process of ‘detraditionalisation’, where people question their traditional beliefs about health safety, religion and gender roles on both ends.

But this process also worsens the culture of fear and anxiety across the globe and provides fertile ground for the emergence of xenophobia, bigotry and right-wing rhetoric.

We need a breakthrough in the prevailing worldview – from a homogenous one into a much more plural and evolved perspective. The current notion of non-linear change and modernity has transformed society in a way that has become increasingly problematic. A more plural and evolved worldview, in contrast, would not only revamp our foundational societal structures but revolutionise the very conception of our collective reality.

As it stands, the demon has not disappeared but merely changed its face. And what is this demon? Classism – an evolved entity from the days of ethnicity – although in some contexts, the race card is still played feverishly in the game of political thrones.

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The elite and the top 20% still determine our policies and priorities, with a hidden self-serving agenda behind tokenistic approaches. We should not follow the path of Trump, Bolsonaro, Le Pen and other politicians who revel in the principle of Euroscepticism and coronavirus denial – for they profit and gain more through destructive and divisive forces.

Be wary of the prevailing economic model too. In the economies of scale touted in capitalist economies, competition is wiped out. The hyper-specialisation of individuals to survive in the so-called free market only increases their dependency on large profit-driven companies.  

The notion that globalisation has produced a failed utopia is mainly because of its top-down approach, hastened by rapid globalisation. When “free market” demand slumps, the state is forced to intervene to ease the economic pressure as the pandemic squeezes small-scale business holders.

The rampage of the pandemic affects those whose finances are hit. Job layoffs are rising and uncertainty is widespread. Hence, taxpayers’ money should be fairly spent on disenfranchised households.

Amid all this, a worrying discourse has surfaced. This discourse may target certain communities – partly because of the characterisation of Sars and Covid-19 as an “oriental virus”. It thus normalises racial prejudice within societal conventions.

We need more rationality and empathy among the people to balance the excessive blame and judgement being meted out. Beware – for the words we use to characterise entire communities can seep into the mainstream agenda and cause division.

To err is human. Perhaps we can all agree that we are all a work in progress. But a scorned society we are. We may look down at sheep for being helpless, yet we are unable to realise how limited our worldview is and how shackled we are to the precarious chains of life.

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The narrow worldview we perpetuate needs to end. If not, it would endlessly conjure up problems, different only in form.

Koey Xan Xan is an undergraduate majoring in anthropology and sociology in a local university  

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