The pandemic has made more visible the clash between the neoliberal capitalist model, its dogmas, symbols and paradigms, and other alternatives for conceiving society, economy, politics and the very idea of progress and happiness.
Neo-liberalism has always been legitimized through the cultural industry. The stereotype of a Yankee hero, able to emerge victorious from all enemy ambushes, annihilate them, take the spoils and the most beautiful girl, has been very useful
This Victor, who knows what he wants and will get it at all costs, surrounded by the corpses of Losers, is the “civilizing” hero par excellence of the neoliberal fable.
On the opposite side are the Barbarians: treacherous, inferior, Arab, Russian, Latino, Asian and African-American creatures. Although sometimes the Victor is dark-skinned, since the industry needs to trap that segment of the population, as well. And one day the perfect pair of two inseparable heroes, one white and one black, emerged from their laboratories.
The cultural machine’s objective is to make sure that no one suspects there is another way to organize society and imagine our existence. Most of the victims believed the fable. If they survived in dilapidated housing, if they could not pay for their children’s education or health care, they were to blame, as “failures,” never the system. In the jungle the strong devour the small and the weak.
But then the pandemic arrived, all the model’s cruelty was exposed in an obscene, undeniable manner, and “right-wing leaders” like Trump and Bolsonaro are left in the lurch. They know only the morals of the jungle, they have no public health care system, and the pharmaceutical industry is designed to make money, not to deal with a health emergency.
The spectacle of thousands and thousands of sick people left unattended and thousands and thousands of deaths has touched many people. Confinement has also meant more time for sensitive people to think of others, of society, of the planet.
A few days ago, a message was released from Juliette Binoche, Barbra Streisand, Almodóvar, Robert De Niro and other very media-savvy figures from the world of cinema and entertainment. They suggest re-evaluating the meaning of existence and the ecological catastrophe that is approaching. We must begin “with a profound re-thinking of our goals, values and economies.” It is a matter of survival, they say:
“The pursuit of consumerism and the obsession with productivity has led us to deny the very value of life … Pollution, climate change and the destruction of our other natural areas have brought the world to a breaking point. For these reasons, along with growing social inequalities, we believe that a ‘return to normal’ is unthinkable.”
The Progressive International was also announced, including Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Arhundati Roy and other prestigious intellectuals and politicians, including former President Correa and Fernando Haddad.
Graziella Pogolotti defined the ideological platforms from which the demand for another world is launched, not only “possible”, but essential: “Some are of ecological origin, others have a more radical leftist trajectory.” For Graziella, stopping the aggression against Cuba and Venezuela, canceling foreign debt, establishing a new international information order and fighting climate change must be part of the agenda. “Fidel,” she reminds us, “dedicated the battle of his last years to the threat of extinction of our species.”
Leonardo Boff sees the pandemic as a response from “our Common House” to attacks: “The modern myth that we are “the little god” on Earth and that we can dispose of it as we please, because it is inert and without purpose, has been destroyed.” We have treated it “with unprecedented fury,” he states. Hence, the planet “has struck back at us with a powerful weapon, the coronavirus.”
Frei Betto refers to the impact of the virus on the financial market: “Shares on the world’s stock markets lost 15.5 trillion dollars. Have the pockets of any of these speculators and mega-researchers been affected, (the most sensitive part of the human body) or poorer? And yet, before the pandemic, most of them refused to contribute to measures to combat hunger and global warming.”
In other words, the problem existed before COVID-19. It lies at the heart of the system, in the corporations and politicians who do its bidding.
William Ospina reflected on the lessons of humility left by the pandemic: “After centuries of treasuring our knowledge, of valuing our talent, of venerating our audacity, of adoring our strength, the time comes when it is our turn to ponder our fragility.”
Hollywood superheroes have never felt fragile. Of course, we’ll have to see how the film ends.